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3222Legacy of toiling in rice paddies 360 days a year produces math whiz kids

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  • carmen_cebs
    Nov 30, 2008
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      Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, says:
      "We give kids from around the world the same set of math tests, and
      every time we get the same results: America is just below average,
      and then at the very, very top are Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan,
      South Korea, and Taiwan. It occurs again and again.
      There's an ultimately unconvincing argument that this has to do with
      IQ. I think what it has to do with is culture. Asian culture has a
      profoundly different relationship to work. It rewards people who are
      persistent.
      Take a random group of 8-year-old American and Japanese kids, give
      them all a really, really hard math problem, and start a stopwatch.
      The American kids will give up after 30, 40 seconds. If you let the
      test run for 15 minutes, the Japanese kids will not have given up.
      You have to take it away.
      I argue that this has to do with the kind of agriculture pursued in
      the West and the East going back thousands of years. I have
      ancestors who were peasant farmers in Western Europe in the Middle
      Ages. They probably worked 1,000 hours a year, if that. In the
      winter, they slept. They drank a lot of beer.
      These Asian cultures are all wet-rice agricultural economies.
      Growing rice is this extraordinarily complex, labor-intensive
      activity that requires not just physical engagement but mental
      engagement. So a farmer in 14th-century Japan or 14th-century China
      was working 3,000 hours a year - three times longer. I know it
      sounds hard to believe, but habits laid down by our ancestors
      persist even after the conditions that created those habits have
      gone away."
      http://money.cnn.com/2008/11/11/news/companies/secretsofsuccess_gladw
      ell.fortune/index.htm?postversion=2008111212
      From New York magazine at
      http://www.nymag.com/arts/books/features/52014 :
      And then there are the math geniuses who, as anyone can't help
      noticing, are disproportionately Asian. Citing the work of an
      educational researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, Gladwell
      attributes this phenomenon not to some innate mathematical ability
      that Asians possess but to the fact that children in Asian countries
      are willing to work longer and harder than their Western
      counterparts. That willingness, Gladwell continues, is due to a
      cultural legacy of hard work that stems from the cultivation of
      rice. Turning to a historian who studies ancient Chinese peasant
      proverbs, Gladwell marvels at what Chinese rice farmers used to tell
      one another: "No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails
      to make his family rich." Contrast that legacy with the one derived
      from Western agriculture¬ówhich holds that some fields be left fallow
      rather than be cultivated 360 days a year and which, by extension,
      led to the creation of an education system that allowed students to
      be left fallow for periods, like summer vacation. For American
      students from wealthy homes, summer vacation isn't a problem; but,
      citing the research of a Johns Hopkins sociologist, Gladwell shows
      that it's a profound handicap for students from poor homes, who
      actually outlearn their rich counterparts during the school year but
      then fall behind them when school lets out. "For its poorest
      students, America doesn't have a school problem," Gladwell
      concludes. "It has a summer-vacation problem." So how to close the
      gap between rich and poor students? Get rid of summer vacation in
      inner-city schools.