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How corrupt are Ivy League admissions?
November 28, 2012 1:25 PM   Subscribe

The Myth of American Meritocracy. Ron Unz, former publisher of The American Conservative, has challenged many of the magazine's "paleocon" readers with several recent articles on ethnicity (including His-Panic, which questioned links between immigration and crime, and Race, IQ, and Wealth, with a skeptical eye toward that subject). But in his latest (long!) article, The Myth of American Meritocracy, Unz will challenge many kinds of readers, as he makes the case for persistent, extensive ethnic discrimination in Ivy League admissions, which for decades, he argues, has been extremely biased in favor of under-qualified Jewish whites at the expense of well-qualified Asians and non-Jewish whites.

Here are the 120 Endnotes to the article.

Here is the Sidebar, Paying Tuition to a Giant Hedge Fund.

And here are the Appendices, Quantitative Sources and Methods.
posted by dgaicun (80 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, boy.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:28 PM on November 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Heh - writeup takes a bit of a turn at the end there...
posted by Artw at 1:32 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Discrimination against Jews in academia is pretty well documented. If he's right, a whole lot of people who studied this before him are wrong.
posted by phrontist at 1:33 PM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Discrimination against Jews in academia is pretty well documented. If he's right, a whole lot of people who studied this before him are wrong.

It's a long article, but he does discuss the Jewish quotas. I'm guessing any tilting in favor of Jewish applicants he'll find in more recent decades, which would be a separate from study of admissions practices in the first half of the 20th century. I'm not sure he's demonstrated any pro-Jewish bias, because it's an article that's way too long for me to read at work.

That said, I think aiming for meritocracy by having meritocratic admissions policies at elite schools is backwards. Harvard will never be a force to advance a meritocratic society simply because there are more people with merit than there are seats in Harvard.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:39 PM on November 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


This evidence of a massively disproportionate Asian presence among top-performing students only increases if we examine the winners of national academic competitions, especially those in mathematics and science, where judging is the most objective.

But if we assume that colleges want a student body that isn't totally dominated by engineers, chemists, mathemticians, etc., then even if Asians dominate all mathematical and scientific competitions, that doesn't mean that they should dominate enrollment—because some spots will go to people who are frankly no good at math and science. (Except at places like MIT or Caltech or RPI or whatever.) (I don't mean to say, by saying this, that Asian high school students are crappy humanists, but that looking only at performance on science/math competitions hobbles the argument.)
posted by kenko at 1:41 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


1. There's nothing necessarily contradictory between the documented discrimination against Jews through much of the 20th century and a current tilt in the opposite direction. He does address this in the essay directly.
2. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see patterns of discrimination (formal, informal, or unconscious) that reinforce current ethnic enrollment patterns at the expense of other groups.
3. This guy, though, is a grade A troll.
4. I am interested, however troll-ey he is, that there's now some room for critique of meritocracy from the right. I prefer Chris Hayes's version though.
posted by feckless at 1:46 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It might be important to note that the author himself is Jewish. This post is sort of oddly framed... on the other hand, it's hard to give the "American Conservative" any benefit of the doubt with regards to issues of race, IQ, and social achievment.

I think the case for discrimination against Asians at the Ivies should be fairly straightforward; the problem is that it probably doesn't result as strongly from racism as the older Jewish quotas. The basic problem is that Harvard and the other Ivies should have never been anything other than finishing schools for rich WASP men. Their current roles as centers of American intellectual and scientific life (a role built on massive government support during the 20th century) doesn't work except to perpetuate various forms of ill-founded elitism (not just illfounded based on race).

there's room for elitism in education, but the idea that a single school or group of schools is the "best" is just wrong. it would be better if every University of "State X" was a little Harvard
posted by ennui.bz at 1:51 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Discrimination against Asians has long been known at Ivies. I'd never heard allegations of discrimination in favour of Jews, only about discrimination against in the 1960s and earlier.

Whatever the case may be, we can be sure that this article will set the cat among the pigeons.
posted by atrazine at 1:52 PM on November 28, 2012


No evidence of this at the time I spent there (Class of 5742)
posted by hal9k at 1:55 PM on November 28, 2012 [19 favorites]


it would be better if every University of "State X" was a little Harvard

I understand that they prefer The University of State X.

But we at State X University (Go Fighting Unknowns!) are the true Harvard of the Midwest™.
 
posted by Herodios at 2:11 PM on November 28, 2012 [30 favorites]


Pretty interesting stuff. Even if you take issue with his charges of pro-Jewish bias at the Ivies, his basic conclusions about the competing models are pretty helpful: 1. Pure meritocracy is actually pretty unrealistic and not conducive to a productive community at a University or in larger society. 2. Pure diversity without regard at all to merit would be similarly unworkable. 3. The current mix is resulting in shitty leaders (cf Neo-cons) and unfair bias against particular groups.

His solution however is totally bonkers, though kind-of in an awesome way. "Make it Random!" Not gonna happen. I think a more realistic solution is DE-EMPHASIZE THESE INSTITUTIONS. Take away their special status in Government funding, stop electing people who went to Ivies as opposed to anywhere else, work against these perpetual elitism machines and their institutional stranglehold on business, journalism, politics, and hell even comedy writing lol. Harvard out of the Simpsons now! Or something.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:12 PM on November 28, 2012 [19 favorites]


oy vey
posted by Damienmce at 2:14 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait, did they actually spend that long debunking the link between race and IQ? Is there really anyone in this day and age that actually believes that? Did they also do studies on debunking phrenology, too? Because man, would that be an exciting read!
posted by corb at 2:15 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually find myself reading The American Conservative a lot these days. They are publishing a lot of good writing, especially on war and "security" issues.
posted by grobstein at 2:16 PM on November 28, 2012


Wait, did they actually spend that long debunking the link between race and IQ? Is there really anyone in this day and age that actually believes that?

Are you seriously asking that question?

In case you are, the answer to your question is yes.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:16 PM on November 28, 2012


One person's discrimination against X may another person's preference for diversity or empowerment of Y.
posted by oddman at 2:18 PM on November 28, 2012


Sadly, things like a belief in the inferiority of non-whites does not go away just because you pass some laws.

The belief in the intellectual inferiority of Africans was used to justify human slavery, centuries of it. And it was probably only the more thoughtful people in the slave owning societies who even cared to justify it; I'd imagine that a lot of people just didn't care if it was monstrous, or somehow supposed to OK since its victims were believed to be subnormal, since it was benefitting them. You can't just expunge that shit from a culture so easily.
posted by thelonius at 2:22 PM on November 28, 2012


I'm not certain I buy this. The first time I went to Harvard Square I was amazed at all the incredibly wealthy-looking, blonde-haired, blue-eyed people there. They talked with fucking wealthy accents. I didn't know people actually talked like that in real life. Wearing pearly white clothes and everything.

So yes, there's still a WASP bias going on.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:26 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hope this thread will be as long and utilitarian as one of those giant rolls of toilet paper in gas station bathrooms...and please let's all avoid the easy/lazy/whiney/whiteknight potential derails? You can certainly open the can of worms that is "university admissions in the United States are ridiculously biased in many ways both obvious and not so much" without necessarily being racist or anti-semetic or who knows what. In fact just about the only completely indefensible stance on this would be "everything's fine, I don't know what this guy's complaining about." That would just be laughable on its face.
posted by trackofalljades at 2:27 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait, did they actually spend that long debunking the link between race and IQ? Is there really anyone in this day and age that actually believes that? Did they also do studies on debunking phrenology, too? Because man, would that be an exciting read!

It's called "human biodiversity" or "race realism", and it's a neo-eugenics, neo-scientific racism movement on the rise on the dirty fringe corners of the internet in the same way MRA and other regressive ideologies are. It's a worrying phenomenon, and it would be good to have some blogs debunking their claims, actually.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:39 PM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


The "collapse of Jewish academic achievement" narrative makes perfect sense to me--as Unz points out, it's completely typical of other immigrant groups. However, I'll admit that my Jewish spidey-sense started tingling a bit at "By contrast, a similarly overwhelming domination by a tiny segment of America’s current population, one which is completely misaligned in all these respects, seems far less inherently stable, especially when the institutional roots of such domination have continually increased despite the collapse of the supposedly meritocratic justification."
posted by thomas j wise at 2:51 PM on November 28, 2012


I'm not certain I buy this. The first time I went to Harvard Square I was amazed at all the incredibly wealthy-looking, blonde-haired, blue-eyed people there. They talked with fucking wealthy accents. I didn't know people actually talked like that in real life. Wearing pearly white clothes and everything.

So yes, there's still a WASP bias going on.


Well, this seems rigorous.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:52 PM on November 28, 2012 [21 favorites]


I'm not certain I buy this. The first time I went to Harvard Square I was amazed at all the incredibly wealthy-looking, blonde-haired, blue-eyed people there. They talked with fucking wealthy accents. I didn't know people actually talked like that in real life. Wearing pearly white clothes and everything.

So yes, there's still a WASP bias going on.


This is anecdata, obviously, so I'm not sure we can come close to saying "there's still a WASP bias going on" based one time you were in Harvard Square. It's also true that some of the richer neighborhoods of New England are just like that even absent Harvard as an institution and as a Southerner from sticks it was jarring for me the first time as well.

I'm also not sure this anecdata is particularly useful, even as anecdata. If the comparison is between non-Jewish whites and Jewish whites, it doesn't matter if all the non-Jews are rich WASPs, just what their relative numbers are versus Jewish students. A student body that was 10 people, all white, with 3 Jewish students would vastly over represent Jewish people versus the population of the United States, even if the other seven walked out of the pages of a Brooks Brothers catalog.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:57 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jewish sounding names? At my non-Ivy League college where the student population today is about 20% Jewish a proportion which I think was higher at the time, I knew a hispanic Jew of Latin American descent with a Catalan last name and a guy with a stereotypical "Jewish Sounding Name" (like "Finkelstein" but not that) who was both Jewish and of Asian ethnicity as he'd been adopted from overseas.
posted by Jahaza at 3:17 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, boy.

Oy vey.
posted by notme at 3:24 PM on November 28, 2012


The first time I went to Harvard Square I was amazed at all the incredibly wealthy-looking, blonde-haired, blue-eyed people there. They talked with fucking wealthy accents.

You were probably standing right outside the Porc. The rest of us were in the Science Center library cramming for orgo.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:28 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


OFFS.

From the point of view of the modern American private elite university, American Jews whose families have been here more than two generations *are* pretty much unmarked "white" now. Their over-representation (if it exists, and I speak as a half-Jewish half-WASP graduate of one of these places who is approaching 20 years of teaching as faculty in another, with 10 years at major public universities in between for grad school and my first teaching job) is not the result of any overt selection bias in favor of Jews as such, although there may be some residual ethnic affinity or preference in any decision process involving diverse communities of people.

The presence of higher-than-population-level numbers of Jews in elite universities has much more to do with Jews' intergenerational success at assimilating into the higher and more financially and culturally elite levels of "whiteness," which provide a substantially over-representative portion of the pool of qualified applicants to elite colleges. With the exception of the perpetual surfacing of Israel/Palestine issues that divide all from all on the typical American campus in a typically annual ritual of mass stupidity and moral panic, you would barely notice the identity politics of Jewish students as any different from the WASPiest of WASP students, unless you yourself had enough tribal affiliation to pick up fairly subtle signs (so and so is not in class because of a Jewish holiday, let's say). It's the standard American combination of meritocracy and white privilege. It's a sign of the value of meritocracy that this is the case, but it's typical of the US's historically hybrid system for each newly successful or assimilated ethnicity to pull the ladder up after them. WASPS included. Blacks, Native Americans, Alaska and Pacific Natives, refugee and new immigrant communities, and some Latino communities often excluded..

Plenty of very bright Asian and Asian American students doing exceptional work in my Ivy League humanities classes by the way, reminding me of my Jewish classmates from the 1980s in their aspirational desires to honor their parents' investments in their practical pursuit of secure futures through STEM fields and their discovery that these aspirations re overdetermined by the tradition of immigrant ambition, the logics of generational social mobility, and the ecosystem of racial privilege that they entered when they arrived in or were born in the US Their parents (I advise half a dozen Asian American students at any given time, so I hear this story a lot) still want them to be doctors or engineers, but they are finding ways to combine that with studying art history or ethnomusicology and often with exceptional results at least among students I've advised (from whom I also learn a lot of new science myself, by the way). That these don't exist is an utter canard at this point, and the same stereotypes were lobbed at Jews in the 1950s and 60s. Robots. Automatons. Memorizers. Bullshit. People are people. Everyone wants to create and interpret as well as calculate and solve.

I know a Vietnamese immigrant in Seattle who came here as a refugee in the 70s with nothing at all. She cooked in a Pho shop near the UW where I ate lunch every day. She had thee kids. They all now have bioscience PhDs from MIT, Stanford, and Cornell, in that order. Talk about valuing education, imagine being a single mother cooking soup for 20 years until your kids all have PhDs, now add some don't-speak-English and live-in-a-tough-neighborhood, and stir. Never mind whatever trauma she went through in the Old Country or getting out of it. Shit's mighty real in a family like that. And we're lucky as hell they exist. But some of their kids will probably be designers and video artists too. I'll bet.

All of this of course depends at the center (and not just the margins where you find the most ambitious people of all classes) on social mobility and having much better income equality than we have now, and a growing job market. So the dynamics are tight and getting tighter of late, there's more competition, and more sniping at the margins of the process. Higher education -- shorn of its bullshit legacies of elitism -- remains really important for society. We need -- the world needs -- highly educated people in all communities. Meritocracy has to be relative to history and privilege and social need. You want to see what a college or graduate level education can do for someone, recruit, mentor, and devote yourself to students from truly underprivileged backgrounds of all ethnicities (but recognizing that race and ethnicity do often correlate with privilege and advantage that starts in the womb with quality prenatal care and extends into every aspect of child development). I've been focused on it for 20 years, it's the reason I'm a teacher, and it gives me far more optimism about the future of higher education than seems to be the fashion right now that I have seen lives and futures transformed over and over again. It's an awesome feeling. But it needs to scale to the whole system, as someone said above there will never be enough seats at Harvard.

We don't only need engineers or biologists either, and "we" is a complicated word here. Every American community (every community) needs educated leaders, with a wide range of skills and experience and knowledge and networks. If we think of the community and not the individual student as the target of affirmative efforts to change lives through education, we transform the paradigm and stop arguing about 19th century pseudoscience. We don't have time for that any more.

Open education initiatives are important here too. In a real meritocracy it shouldn't matter how you learned what you know.
posted by spitbull at 3:39 PM on November 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


Legacy admissions, which make up a decent chunk, perhaps 25% or more, will tend to skew white, of course.

I am a little conflicted, as I think it sucks to discriminate against Asians, but I also understand the desire to have a diverse student body.
posted by snofoam at 3:39 PM on November 28, 2012


Jewish sounding names?

Yes, this. My Jewish husband doesn't have a "Jewish" last name, and our half-Vietnamese daughter doesn't have an Asian last name either. Given that both populations tend to marry outside their race/religion, his counting mechanism deserves serious scrutiny.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:39 PM on November 28, 2012


Not to derail but Harvard just hired this guy. This clearly speaks of the values they uphold.
posted by elmono at 3:40 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there really anyone in this day and age that actually believes that?

If by "anyone" you mean "the consensus of cognitive neuroscientists", then yes. The general intelligence factor has very high heritability. You may have noticed the number of sperm banks who cater to patients wanting the seed of intelligent donors and the lack of those patients who want the seed of dullards.
posted by Tanizaki at 3:49 PM on November 28, 2012


Missed the edit window, but I should have said "qualified" applicants to elite schools above (that qualified "qualified" in quotes, that is). Because of course if "qualification" is imagined as some sort of Platonic ideal, it's very easy to use it to naturalize historical privilege, which is what has happened historically in American higher education with periodic conservative bullshit fads for a "core knowledge" or Western Civ or cultural literacy focus.

As I have gotten older, and especially because I work in a field where the research process itself is intensely social and physically often rigorous, I have come to see different kinds of intelligence more clearly now, and to probe for "real world" intelligence (social skills, physical skills, speaking skills especially) not with any intention to reverse discriminate, but because I have learned that the various kinds of book-smart/number-smart people who tend to pass through the academic filter system are often NOT AS GOOD at research in my field -- objectively -- as people who might be less quick with an equation or a complex theoretical abstraction in literary theory, but who can produce data of significantly better quality because they are emotionally and physically intelligent in some remarkable way. No special accommodations, as I also find that people with social and physical intelligence just have not had the same opportunities to develop their capacity for abstraction or writing elegantly or whatever before, and they take to it just fine when mentored. Not always, either. But then I have lost track of the number of really smart students I've known who have flailed at actual research because they were too freaked out to change a diaper or deal with being teased and tested. (If it helps to imagine what I mean, I'm basically a cultural anthropologist.)

So who is "qualified" to earn a PhD in my field? And who gets to set those filters? And how do we deal with a pool of applicants that is already filtered through prior levels of preference for certain kinds of intelligence over others?

The root problem here is in abstracting intelligence and ability to learn away from actual relational human contexts. If you use IQ or standardized tests as your data, you're already wrong. The question is can someone solve some set of significant problems in the world if educated in the tools for conceptualizing as well as solving those problems as they now exist.

Every community has problems, and there are many problems in our world that depend on a diverse skillset and range of kinds of intelligence to collaborate in their solution.
posted by spitbull at 3:56 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


it's hard to give the "American Conservative" any benefit of the doubt

Just as an aside, The American Conservative under Unz is a pretty interesting journal, not worthy of this kind of offhand dismissal — in my judgment (and I say this as someone who disagrees deeply with most of the political opinions they publish) they're becoming a real force for better political discussion in America. They're very committed to publishing iconoclastic arguments, often ending up in conflict with the "epistemic closure" of commentators within the Fox bubble of ideological orthodoxy. In some cases, of course, as I suspect is true here, their drive for heterodoxy and diversity of opinion might be laudable while the actual opinions it leads them to publish were still pretty reprehensible.
posted by RogerB at 3:56 PM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


It is kind of interesting to me that there's not much discussion of diversity in terms of family income and wealth. Leaving aside for a minute the problems with cultural biases in standardized testing and the perhaps dubious wisdom of relying on one test to rank-order people (which I don't at all intend to minimize) I wonder what we would see if a school were to adopt Caltech's basic system but had to pick, e.g., 5% of its students from the 5% least wealthy families, 5% from the next least wealthy 5%, and so on.

(Probably a lot of families would try to game the system by hiding their money - but apart from that, I mean.)
posted by en forme de poire at 3:58 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


If by "anyone" you mean "the consensus of cognitive neuroscientists", then yes. The general intelligence factor has very high heritability.

corb was asking specifically about a correlation between race and IQ. Is there a consensus among neuroscientists that heritability of intelligence is specifically tied to race?
posted by rtha at 4:01 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


huh, just saw this: "one-third or more of today's college graduates are over-educated for their current employment" [1,2,3]
posted by kliuless at 4:09 PM on November 28, 2012


That's the fault of the economy and the jobs it offers, not education. You cannot be over-educated.
posted by spitbull at 4:12 PM on November 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


but what 'information' are we supposed to be learning/imparting?
posted by kliuless at 5:25 PM on November 28, 2012


It would in no way surprise me if Jews were overrepresented among Harvard undergraduates, say. But that's because Jews aren't randomly distributed throughout the population. They're more likely to live in/near cities, for a start. If for every Jewish person in the country, you found their non-Jewish demographic doppelganger and looked at that 2% of the population, I'd bet they're overrepresented among Harvard undergraduates, too.
posted by hoyland at 5:28 PM on November 28, 2012


I find it hard to believe that this article isn't informed by anti-Semitism. The author makes lots of vague allegations, assuming that his audience will connect the dots. When you look at them closely though, they're full of unquantified assertions. For instance, he suggests that the end of anti-Jewish quotas was the result of
pressure surely facilitated by very heavy Jewish ownership of America’s major media organs
I don't know what his evidence for the pressure itself is, but he provides no evidence at all for its "facilitation". Saying that this "surely" occurred really means that he can't or won't prove it but he expects us to agree with him. His assertion implies that the owners of these "organs" (stop snickering in the back there) were exerting editorial control - where is his evidence for this? Unz also uses weasel words to avoid quantifying his assertions: he says that the "very heavy" Jewish ownership included "eight of nine major Hollywood studios, and many of the leading newspapers".

In a later section he says that
Although Princeton’s current president is not Jewish, all seven of the most recent Princeton provosts stretching back to 1977 have had such ancestry, with several of the other Ivies not being far behind.
First, I observe that he has quickly glided from Princeton University's president to its provost, who is "the chief academic and chief budgetary officer of the University, under the President". When he says that "Princeton’s current president is not Jewish" he really might have said that Princeton has only ever had one Jewish president: Howard T. Shapiro. Why does Unz not mention tyhis? Presumably because it doesn't support his case. Why doesn't he compare the number of Jewish trustees, given that they actually appoint both the president and provost? I suspect that again, it doesn't support his case. In any event, the way Unz jumps from one sort of appointment to another and his unexplained selection of that particular position without explaining why makes me believe that he is not writing in good faith.

Unz's Jew-hunting is a favorite pursuit of anti-Semites; I note that once again he uses the unquantifiable term "Jewish ancestry". What does this mean? Surely it doesn't mean someone who actually identifies as a Jew, or he would have said so. Does it mean both parents? One? A grandparent? He says that the problem is that
as our liberal intellectual elites regularly emphasize, unconscious biases or shared assumptions can become a huge but unnoticed problem [...]
I suppose the slur against "liberal intellectual elites" is par for the course, but what's the problem with the Jew-y, very Jew-y provostship of Princeton? Why, the
decision-making occurs within a very narrow circle, whose extreme “non-diversity” may lead to lack of introspection [...]
After a quick browse I could only find a reference to the ethnic background of one of the seven he lists: Paul Benacerraf (1998-2001) is "the son of a Moroccan-Venezuelan father and Algerian mother [...] born in Paris". Unz is effectively saying that Jews are all the same; that Benacerraf's life in Venezuela and Paris; his experiences as a refugee; being raised by parents born in Africa; all of this is irrelevant: the salient point is that he is a Jew and that a university provostship that includes him is less diverse than one which has, e.g., someone like Princeton's current president, who is white. And born in Canada.

Incidentally, Benacerraf's biography says that he "has taught continuously at Princeton since his first year as a graduate student [i.e., 1960]. Currently James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor, he chaired his department from 1975 to 1984 and again beginning in 1992. He has also served the University in an array of senior administrative positions, including associate dean of the Graduate School (1965 to 1967), associate provost for special studies (1968 to 1970) and provost (1988 to 1991)." I have no reason to think that the other provosts weren't equally suited to their position - but Unz doesn't address this at all.

There's lots of nasty stuff in the last half of Unz's long, very long essay, much of which is a diatribe against "liberals" who are against the death penalty, or who under-estimate the percentage of Presbyterians in the USA, or who had (before becoming interim Director of Admissions at Wesleyan) "screened food-stamp recipients and run a psychiatric half-way house", but I couldn't see much point continuing, any more than I bothered trying to make sense of his claims that Jewish IQ's are higher - or not! - or "quite skewed, being exceptionally strong in the verbal subcomponent, much lower in math, and completely mediocre in visuospatial ability". Except, you know, for people like Richard Feynman, famously known for inventing diagrams to explain nuclear physics.

This essay isn't an analysis, despite its wonk-y attempt to quantify demographic changes. It makes qualitative claims purportedly based on quantitative data, but it doesn't actually provide the data. It seeks to convince by implication, cherry-picking its examples to support its point. Unz, with his frequent appeals to race, ethnicity, and inchoate conspiracy theories, is a lazy pseudointellectual writing pap for other racists.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:46 PM on November 28, 2012 [15 favorites]


So the real question is: How corrupt is Ron Unz?
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:51 PM on November 28, 2012


I'd just like to point out Simpson's Paradox (where relationships in aggregated data are found to be consistently reversed in disaggregated subsets) is kind of mind bendingly cool and is something you always need to watch out for in these cases. The defining example is an examination of sexism in grad school admissions.
posted by srboisvert at 6:10 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Even aside from legacy admissions, which have an obvious financial incentive for universities, currently successful groups are going to be overrepresented in successful applicants, given better schools and nutrition, more stable homes, less need to get jobs outside of school, etc. And then there are legacies.

So his point is, what? That Jews are a successful group in society? OK. Asians are an interesting example but a category that is sort of uselessly broad. I bet that if you compared 3rd and 4th generation Chinese- and Japanese-Americans with Jews, the numbers would be almost identical. Comparing them to recent Hmong and Filipino immigrants? Of course the results are different.
posted by msalt at 6:21 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know a Vietnamese immigrant in Seattle who came here as a refugee in the 70s with nothing at all. She cooked in a Pho shop near the UW where I ate lunch every day. She had thee kids. They all now have bioscience PhDs from MIT, Stanford, and Cornell, in that order. Talk about valuing education, imagine being a single mother cooking soup for 20 years until your kids all have PhDs, now add some don't-speak-English and live-in-a-tough-neighborhood, and stir. Never mind whatever trauma she went through in the Old Country or getting out of it. Shit's mighty real in a family like that. And we're lucky as hell they exist. But some of their kids will probably be designers and video artists too. I'll bet.

No, Asian parents don't actually value education. They value financial security, and coupling that with their unexamined commitment to a Confucian-based hierarchical schooling, you get, in America, streams of S.T.E.M. heads as the output, and side streams of selective fallout.

As an Asian American who has been through the system, I have seen a lot. And I have read a lot—sociologists have written plenty on specifically the political, social, familial alienation of 2nd and 3rd generation Asian Americans; as I understand it, this is standard stuff in East Asian studies. It occasionally surfaces in the mainstream (c.f. Amy Chua) but the fact is most people don't have the contexts (note the plural, because, yes, there is a bicultural prerequisite) to understand what's really going on. My opinion, held also by other Asian Americans, is that those rags-to-intellectual-riches success stories are extremely problematic because they are not representative narratives. And equally disturbing is the idea of my fellow classmates being "creative" (and yet again in the narrowly-construed sense of creative arts (as opposed to, say, political creativity): art, music, media, video games—how is this different, in a characterization of motive, from the stories of how inner city young black men unrealistically and disproportionately aspired to play basketball the rest of their lives, i.e. not only for status and dignity but also a rejection and rebellion [and yes, rebellion as the extreme antidote to unquestioned conformity] of educational control, whether the source of that authoritarian control is conservative parenting, or institutional stupidity); what is at play is a kind psychological foreclosure at the generational level, an actual lack of a well-rounded education. The psychological toll of it is immense and lasting, and "rewards" of the likes of a Ph.D. union card pale in comparison. Utterly.

I've watched my fellow Asians, all these years. And this is the story I see.
posted by polymodus at 6:34 PM on November 28, 2012 [18 favorites]


I see that, and I understand it, but I don't think it's restricted to (east) Asian Americans. Many other recent affluent immigrant communities such as South Asians, Middle Easterners, and Eastern Europeans likewise have high emphasis on educating their young to go into secure professional careers such as STEM, medicine, and law. Perhaps these immigrant groups tend to have parents who are professionals who already are of those backgrounds. A self-selecting feedback loop.
posted by Apocryphon at 6:43 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm Jewish and applied to an Ivy League school, but didn't get in. Apparently, I am not Jewish enough, or things were different 21 years ago. : ) (I did get in everywhere else I applied, though)
posted by SisterHavana at 8:17 PM on November 28, 2012


Ivy League admissions...[are] extremely biased in favor of under-qualified Jewish whites at the expense of well-qualified Asians and non-Jewish whites.
Yes, I'm sure that this home truth will really "challenge" the readership of the American Conservative.
posted by anewnadir at 9:21 PM on November 28, 2012


OK, so I was with this guy right up until he started trying to identify Jewish NMS semifinalists by their names and assuming that, because he didn't find enough, Jews' academic performance has suffered. Then he starts trying to justify himself by comparing "particularly distinctive ethnic names," but he compares the names "Cohen" and "Levy" with "Wang" and "Kim." After having told us, earlier in the article, that 1 in every 5.5 Korean-Americans have the name "Kim." I don't know how many Jews are surnamed Levy, but it's sure as hell not 1 in 5.5.

As an example, I've just checked my alma mater's Hillel's website. Of the seven board members listed there, three have stereotypically Jewish surnames; four do not. (Two are almost stereotypically WASPY-sounding.) Anyway, how would he propose to deal with names like "Adler" or "Roth," which are common among both Jews and non-Jews of German ancestry?

You seriously cannot count Jews this way. This is not statistics, it is complete bullshit.
posted by ostro at 9:23 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


You seriously cannot count Jews this way. This is not statistics, it is complete bullshit.

I think it would be possible to use names to count people of a given ethnicity. You need to be pretty sophisticated about it, though, and have some pretty reliable data about, for instance, the distributions of surnames in various populations over time. That would be statistics.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:59 PM on November 28, 2012


The slightly creepy focus on Jewish students seems to be distracting everyone. He could have cut it out of his article and still have hammered home a very good takedown of the US's elite college admissions. His proposal of a randomly-selected pool of students is great, especially for dialing back the egos of most of the people who come through those schools.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:28 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


The slightly creepy focus on Jewish students seems to be distracting everyone

Funny that. If you want to be taken seriously don't spout slurs.

There are many much more cogent and less racist critiques of elitism in US higher Ed out there. This one is pure trash.
posted by spitbull at 2:32 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


especially for dialing back the egos of most of the people who come through those schools.

Chip on your shoulder much? Why would it do that rather than simply create even more class-stratified cohorts? The influx of high achieving Jewish students in the 1960s hardly dialed back the egos of the legacy WASP aristocracy whose share of the student body thus declined. Instead they retreated into exclusive enclaves within the exclusive enclave.

Random admission is not an uninteresting idea, but it can't be just winning the luck lottery for a few students. We sort of have it already for working-class and non-elite minority students. It's not random in process, but it might as well be for all the effects it has on broader community advancement.
posted by spitbull at 2:38 AM on November 29, 2012


most of the people who come through those schools.

I teach in one. A huge portion of my students -- a definite majority -- are not your stereotype (from another era entiretucker stuck up egotistical entitled snobs. Most are broadly middle class and ambitious to make positive change in the world.

And most are worried they won't have good economic futures too, correctly or not, and can see the structural problems even from their lucky perches.

Compared to the folks I went to school with at another Ivy in the 1980s, they are far less entitled, actually.

Don't blame kids for the system.
posted by spitbull at 2:41 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry to pepper the thread, but every time this comes up I think we are looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Educational justice in the long term must be focused on preschool and early primary school options in distressed communities. By the time you're debating college admissions, it's too late to intervene at a process level and expect corrective results. Thousands of new teachers, massive school lunch programs and investment in teacher salaries and school infrastructure not tied to the property tax base and prenatal care programs and quality daycare programs would achieve more than opening all the ivies for 5 years only to working-class students. You can't succeed at Harvard or Slippery Rock State if you don't finish high school or you can't do long division in the 9th grade or write a paragraph in the 6th grade.
posted by spitbull at 2:49 AM on November 29, 2012 [13 favorites]


spitbull: no, the students at elite universities are not at "fault" for anything. But they - and their teachers - often exaggerate their abilities in comparison to top students at non-elite universities. My SO has taught at three universities - including an Ivy - and found that the students were bright at the elite universities, but no more capable than his top students at the non-elite university. But public opinion does believe them to be far more capable.

I've had problems too, as a TA at an Ivy - some students were handing in work that would get Bs or Cs at a state university, and complaining if I didn't give them at least an A-. I even had to grade inflate in one class to maintain the grade spread that the professor expected: he expected (and enforced) a grade spread that had 1/2 the class getting A- and up, when the TAs had a spread (based on reading the papers) more like 1/3 getting A- . (Note: he hadn't actually read the papers, and didn't read them - he just insisted that we regrade them to his expectations). I've even had three plagiarists (in a class of 17), and another who complained when I gave her (bad for high school) paper a D.

These weren't the majority of my students. The majority were bright, capable and hard-working. But the majority were also not brighter/more capable than the A/high B students at my middle-ranked Canadian undergrad, and while they worked hard, they also had more support in the way of residence amenities, libraries & library hours, lack of commutting, shorter hours at part-time jobs, etc. Few students at an Ivy, no matter their home situation, work 30 hours a week to help their parents pay rent.

I really like the lottery idea: take the capable students and then do a lottery. Life is a lottery - just ask anyone with a serious health problem. And I, among many others, are getting tired of our new "meritocratic" elite.

The author does suggest that one effect of lottery based selection would be that the elite schools would lose status and organizations would look elsewhere to recruit as well: this would be good.
posted by jb at 6:37 AM on November 29, 2012


Is it worth mentioning that Unz is himself a Jew?

There's a long history of accusing non-conforming or non-Zionist Jews of being self-hating, which I wouldn't expect to see here on Metafilter, but I'm seeing a pretty high ratio of disdain to evidence-refutation here. He's using accepted techniques for estimating ethnicity where demographic data is not supplied, and he's properly taking account of things like Simpson's paradox, indeed, his argument depends on it:
When examining statistical evidence, the proper aggregation of data is critical. Consider the ratio of the recent 2007–2011 enrollment of Asian students at Harvard relative to their estimated share of America’s recent NMS semifinalists, a reasonable proxy for the high-ability college-age population, and compare this result to the corresponding figure for whites. The Asian ratio is 63 percent, slightly above the white ratio of 61 percent, with both these figures being considerably below parity due to the substantial presence of under-represented racial minorities such as blacks and Hispanics, foreign students, and students of unreported race. Thus, there appears to be no evidence for racial bias against Asians, even excluding the race-neutral impact of athletic recruitment, legacy admissions, and geographical diversity.

However, if we separate out the Jewish students, their ratio turns out to be 435 percent, while the residual ratio for non-Jewish whites drops to just 28 percent, less than half of even the Asian figure. As a consequence, Asians appear under-represented relative to Jews by a factor of seven, while non-Jewish whites are by far the most under-represented group of all, despite any benefits they might receive from athletic, legacy, or geographical distribution factors. The rest of the Ivy League tends to follow a similar pattern, with the overall Jewish ratio being 381 percent, the Asian figure at 62 percent, and the ratio for non-Jewish whites a low 35 percent, all relative to their number of high-ability college-age students.
Unz has been doing some truly great work tearing down the edifice of IQ fundamentalism over the last year or so: not just the disgusting anti-Black Charles Murray nonsense, but the flipside fantasies of IQ superiority that academics have been less willing to challenge because they often make up a part of our origin stories and self-image.

There are several footnotes where Unz is taking on Ivy League Jews specifically for their opposition to the admissions of other ethnicities. This is an internecine intramural debate, perhaps, but it is an important one for elite Jews to have. All the fantasies of the intellectual and cultural dominance of Jews that we've enjoyed over the last forty years (which were transparent reactions to fascist fantasies of Jewish inferiority) must be replaced with data and evidence and, ultimately, some humility and fallibilism.

Yay Unz. Boo haters.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:22 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


jb, I agree about evaluation inflation. But it's so much more pervasive than the Ivy League.

A lottery approach is also interesting.

and this:
I've watched my fellow Asians, all these years. And this is the story I see.
posted by polymodus a


I don't dispute the veracity of your experience or the existence of a substantial literature to back up a lot of what you say. But in my close-up view the same forces that pushed Jews from the sciences to a broader interest in the humanities and arts fields (essentially, achieving intergenerational economic security) are operating on Asian American students and families.

And I do dispute the essentialism of saying it's all or nothing. I'm sorry, but my Seattle Vietnamese friend *does* and must value education as such, not just security. Her kids are bioscience PhDs, not businesswomen and men. There are a lot of easier ways to make money than that. They could easily have been MDs, right? Or econ PhD quants. It might not be that science as such is valued directly any more than by any other broad community, but the idea of labor that both provides security and contributes something substantive to society is not reducible to a Confucian stereotype either.

The issues you cite formed the core of Jewish-American literature and other arts in the middle of the 20th century. Asian American actors and poets and novelists are already claiming places in mainstream culture (sometimes poking fun at these very stereotypes and their truths they sometimes illuminate).

In the end we are all shoppers anyway.
posted by spitbull at 7:33 AM on November 29, 2012


I meant dead, that is.

Evan Soltas (bloomberg) on the "real" costs of college and why income inequality makes education more expensive for all, which of course falls unfairly on poorer students, and this in spite of elite colleges basically giving away tuition costs to a token population of working-class admits.
posted by spitbull at 7:35 AM on November 29, 2012


spitbull, read your link. I don't think it means what you think it means:

"Wealthier families now pay more than ever to send their children to college. But for much of the middle class, the real net cost of college has not changed significantly; for much of the poor, the expansion of aid has increased the accessibility and affordability of a college education."

Progressivity is good.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:57 AM on November 29, 2012


Jewish sounding names?

I wish I had a Jewish-sounding last name. We in the Alberts family seem to have lost the Jew-privilege sweepstakes.

Some Jews have all the luck. You know, guys with names like Colon, Abbas, Abdallah, or Vallejo.
posted by snottydick at 8:55 AM on November 29, 2012


Sorry to pepper the thread, but every time this comes up I think we are looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Educational justice in the long term must be focused on preschool and early primary school options in distressed communities.

A.k.a. The Wire, season 4.
posted by ersatz at 8:59 AM on November 29, 2012


The Soltas link seems to be denying tuition increases matter, due to differential pricing.

I find it unconvincing. Price discrimination does, of course, exist. Once, for fun, I checked out Princeton's online calculator. At the time, if you were an undergrad coming from a family with an extremely low income (either $10k or $20k per year), the expected parental contribution was about $600 and the student contribution was about $2 or $4k - this was less than I paid per year at a public Canadian university on tuition alone (I can't remember if their costs included room and board - they might have).

But how many people whose families are that poor can actually do the things that are required to get into an elite university? They are far more likely to end up at a community college or poorer state university which doesn't have the funds to offer deep discounts, and tuition at state universities have been sky-rocketing. That's the real source of increased student debt, not the minority of students who attend private universities with strong endowments, even though they make for good anecdotes.

The tuition increases at state colleges and universities is a cost off-load of education, from the general tax-payer (including all those who benefited from cheap education in the second half of the 20th century) onto current students - and this really does adversely affect poorer students. As far as I know, you don't get any discounts at a state university for being poor, you just get more debt than richer students. (Unless you are lucky and can attend one while living at home - which can increase stress, but is cheaper).
posted by jb at 9:12 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Real earnings for young college grads have fallen by over 15% since 2000, or by about $10,000 in 2011 dollars - "Don't be misled by claims of a 'high' or 'rising' college premium, that is indeed true relative to high school (or less), but many of those wages are down even more. In absolute terms the return to college is not doing well."

Middle-Skill Jobs Are Lagging - "from 1980 until 2010, job growth happened 'disproportionately' at the high and low ends of skill levels. The middle-skilled jobs lost in recessions haven't been recovered in rebounds. Meanwhile, low- and high-skill jobs don't lose any notable ground during downturns and grow in better times. That means the pain of recessions is felt almost exclusively in the middle of the skills curve..."

That's the fault of the economy and the jobs it offers, not education. You cannot be over-educated.

The three dimensions of inequality: global, educational/technological and plutocratic - "Industrial technologies emerge and they are highly productive and also capital intensive. So we move into a world of plutocrats and merchant princes: people in the cities, either off the farms or from overseas, competing against each other for jobs. And we get the extraordinarily stark widening of American income inequality up until the mid-1920's or so. This then calls forth a political reaction. Call it progressivism, call it social democracy, call it--in Europe--socialism. The idea is that the government needs to put its thumbs on the scale, heavily, to create an equal income distribution and a middle class society."

Why I Agree With (Some of) Friedrich Hayek
Friedrich Hayek is generally regarded as the apostle of a brand of economics which holds that the market will assure the optimal allocation of resources — as long as the government doesn't interfere. It is a formalized and mathematical theory, whose two main pillars are the efficient market hypothesis and the theory of rational expectations. This is usually called the Chicago School, and it dominates the teaching of economics in the United States. I call it market fundamentalism. I have an alternative interpretation — diametrically opposed to the efficient market hypothesis and rational expectations. It is built on the twin pillars of fallibility and reflexivity...

I was struck by a contradiction between the theory of perfect competition, which postulated perfect knowledge, with Popper's theory, which asserted that perfect knowledge was unattainable. The contradiction could be resolved by recognizing that economic theory cannot meet the standards of Newtonian physics... Hayek argued that economic agents base their decisions on their interpretation of reality, not on reality — and the two are never the same. That is what I call fallibility. Hayek also recognized that decisions based on an imperfect understanding of reality are bound to have unintended consequences. But Hayek and I drew diametrically opposed inferences from this insight.

Hayek used it to extol the virtues of the invisible hand of the marketplace, which was the unintended consequence of economic agents pursuing their self-interest. I used it to demonstrate the inherent instability of financial markets.

In my theory of reflexivity I assert that the thinking of economic agents serves two functions. On the one hand, they try to understand reality; that is the cognitive function. On the other, they try to make an impact on the situation. That is the participating, or manipulative, function... Reflexivity introduces an element of unquantifiable uncertainty into both the participants' understanding and the actual course of events...

Frank Knight was the first to identify the unquantifiable uncertainty inherent in financial markets. John Maynard Keynes and his followers elaborated his insight. Classical economists, by contrast, sought to eliminate the uncertainty connected with reflexivity from their subject matter. Hayek was one of them.

Human beings act on the basis of their imperfect understanding — and their decisions have unintended consequences. That makes human affairs less predictable than natural phenomenon. So Hayek was right in originally opposing scientism... Because perfection is unattainable, it makes all the difference how close we come to understanding reality. Recognizing that the efficient market hypothesis and the theory of rational expectations are both a dead end would be a major step forward.

As in that earlier time, the political controversy on the role of the state in the economy is raging today. But the standards of political discourse have greatly deteriorated. The two sides used to engage in illuminating arguments; now they hardly talk... I am profoundly worried that those who proclaim half truths as the whole truth...
We're making too many "efficiency" innovations and not enough "empowering" innovations - "These transform complicated and costly products available to a few into simpler, cheaper products available to the many... Empowering innovations are essential for growth because they create new consumption. As long as empowering innovations create more jobs than efficiency innovations eliminate, and as long as the capital that efficiency innovations liberate is invested back into empowering innovations, we keep recessions at bay."

viz. "82% of the increase in population from 2005 to 2050 will be due to immigrants and their children"

cf. "He says that since the financial crisis, government spending has supported the economy and so profits. But a pick-up in growth requires higher consumption, and the only way to get that is through higher incomes, which must come from profits. US corporate profits peaked at the end of last year at over 10 per cent of GDP, he says, and are now 9.3 per cent. The long-run average is around 6 per cent."

also btw...
Mobile phones—especially 3G ones—make economies grow faster - "By increasing the flow of information, mobile phones improve productivity and efficiency, and open up new markets and new kinds of business all across the economy... There are one billion global mobile 3G subscribers, making up 18% of all mobile users, an increase of more than one-third on 2011."
posted by kliuless at 9:14 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


oh and...posted by kliuless at 9:33 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as I know, you don't get any discounts at a state university for being poor, you just get more debt than richer students.

I'm sorry, but that's just not so.

I was really surprised by this data when I first started looking into it, as I've long campaigned against administrative bloat and the state defunding of higher ed. Clearly there's a lot of crazy stuff happening in all sorts of corners of the academy, from for-profits to state school athletic investments. But in aggregate, we're just not seeing the inequality effects that get articulated by Very Serious People.

At the margins, yes: some of the worst off are getting taken in by for-profit scams. But that's a bit far afield from the original FPP topic, don't you think?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:53 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hm. Reminds me of the time my Georgetown interviewer sent me home for having the wrong pedigree.
posted by schmod at 12:45 PM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, but that's just not so.

The blog you linked to claims that "Students aren’t taking out a lot of loans per capita: there’s just more people taking them out than ever."

However, the average student debt has increased. Nor is this increase explained by a few outliers going to expensive private colleges and universities - this link notes that the median student debt also increased between 2004 and 2008 - and at the highest rates for associate degrees: "The median student loan debt for associate degree recipients has increased by 4.4 percent per year (inflation adjusted)." That's per year, so a lot more than just 4.4% over four years.
posted by jb at 12:48 PM on November 29, 2012


[Hey linkdump commenting is fine but there has to be some connection, an obvious connection to why you're posting them in this thread.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:02 PM on November 29, 2012


The post is about 4 year degrees between 2000 and 2011. Sure, fine, for four years in the middle there things looked a little dicey, especially in the 2-year degree market, which was almost completely driven by the for-profit scams, not public community colleges.

If you cherry-pick timespans and fine-tune the precise degree, you're going to find that kind of price movement, but it's not a sign of a larger trend. (Notice that's also the housing-bubble period.)

The biggest jumps have been in non-profit, private 4 year universities, anyway, and that's in exchange for pre-financial crisis unemployment levels and high lifetime sheepskin-effect wage premiums. And even there, it's been a relatively modest price rise.

What does this have to do with Jews in the Ivy Leagues, again?
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:09 PM on November 29, 2012


Oh, and I agree with a lot of Unz's arguments, but using the NMS as a benchmark introduces some HUGE selection biases.

NMS semifinalists are selected from the pool of top PSAT scores (administered in Sophomore Year). Coincidentally, there's quite a bit of very subjective criteria that goes into choosing the actual finalists and scholarship recipients, but Unz isn't talking about those groups, so we don't have to worry about those biases...

Back when I took it, the NMS cost money, took a lot of time, and wasn't actually all that similar to the real SAT. Basically, its only real function was to qualify one for scholarships. If you somehow manage to get one of the 2,500 NMS scholarships awarded nationwide, the thing is only actually worth $2,500.

Really, you might be better off [asking a legal adult] to play the lottery.

If you want to draw conclusions about the pool of NMS semifinalists, you need to ask yourself about the pool of people who are actually taking the PSAT. Do they want to waste a Saturday morning for a comparatively small sum of money that they probably won't get? I could make a few socioeconomic arguments for why you'd see lots of middle-class Asians taking the PSAT, but comparatively few well-to-do Jewish students (regardless of intelligence or academic performance).

Also, personally speaking, I was a very different student when I took the PSAT compared to when I took the SAT and applied for college. It's a two year gap. When you're 16, a lot can happen in 2 years. It's an indicator of academic performance, but it's not a holistic one.

Again, I really do believe that the American college admissions system deserves a thorough ass-whopping. However, the data isn't perfect, and some of the data that Unz is making to fuel his argument might be inaccurate or incomplete. His point about Jewish overrepresentation might deserve an article in its own right, but it's really a red herring to the larger point that he's trying to make.
posted by schmod at 1:21 PM on November 29, 2012


[Hey linkdump commenting is fine but there has to be some connection, an obvious connection to why you're posting them in this thread.]

Yeah, kliuless, I love your stuff but only about 1/10th of those links are even modestly related to the FPP. If I had my way, you'd just post each of those bullet points as its own FPP, though. The dumps of totally unrelated stuff are mostly just wasted.

I appreciate the prison articles, though. (Here's some more for you!) Thanks!
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:21 PM on November 29, 2012


kliuless: "Real earnings for young college grads have fallen by over 15% since 2000, or by about $10,000 in 2011 dollars "

I have two BA's. Please tell me what planet I can move to where I can be making $51,666 a year, because right now it's more like $15,666. At very best.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:38 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's just more in re: "That's the fault of the economy and the jobs it offers, not education. You cannot be over-educated." i think it's relevant...
posted by kliuless at 1:45 PM on November 29, 2012


I don't dispute the veracity of your experience or the existence of a substantial literature to back up a lot of what you say. But in my close-up view the same forces that pushed Jews from the sciences to a broader interest in the humanities and arts fields (essentially, achieving intergenerational economic security) are operating on Asian American students and families.

And that's supposed to be a good thing? All it tells me is that the history of American minorities is repeating itself. What a waste to society. You refer to abstract "forces", but these forces are fucking painful. The research exists to be read, and they say these forces were costly and detrimental to n>1 generation immigrants.

And I do dispute the essentialism of saying it's all or nothing. I'm sorry, but my Seattle Vietnamese friend *does* and must value education as such, not just security. Her kids are bioscience PhDs, not businesswomen and men. There are a lot of easier ways to make money than that. They could easily have been MDs, right? Or econ PhD quants. It might not be that science as such is valued directly any more than by any other broad community, but the idea of labor that both provides security and contributes something substantive to society is not reducible to a Confucian stereotype either.

No, your 1st gen parent friend has zero inkling of what it takes to become a scientist. I see this argument made over and over by outsiders on behalf of Asian parents, and it fails because it doesn't consider the needs and interests of the children. Talk to her offspring about how they felt growing up and how they feel now looking back (and to put it bluntly, provided they haven't already bought into the professional/whitecollar ideology that so taints contemporary society anyways and numbs people's ability to think critically).

You know what else Asian parents actually value? Status. It is ingrained in their social fabric, and few actually ever see the light and decondition themselves of it. I dare you to use the vocabulary of professional credentials (Ph.D. M.D., J.D., whatever string of latinate acronyms you want) to a roomful of young adult Asian Americans. It will divide the room into roughly two camps: one that still believes and is invested in a stupid and psychologically wasteful version of "American dream", and the other that will experience a kind of transference as they recall all the times they've had to navigate the conflicting interests and value systems of two cultures, between Scylla and Charybdis. Yes, it is that awful, precisely because the stakes are so high.

So, yes, my rhetoric is extremist because I've seen enough, and had enough.

The issues you cite formed the core of Jewish-American literature and other arts in the middle of the 20th century. Asian American actors and poets and novelists are already claiming places in mainstream culture (sometimes poking fun at these very stereotypes and their truths they sometimes illuminate).

I thought I was pretty clear previously, but I don't interpret Asian American cultural inroads to be a happy or positive thing. I see this phenomenon as both necessary and inevitable. Cultural representation by a minority is such a complex topic of analysis that to suggest that I should feel otherwise about this smacks a little of privilege, I am afraid.

In the end we are all shoppers anyway.

I refuse to define myself by some kind of sociological consumerism. Such a state of existence offends me to the core. I would rather die. Surely I'm not the only one out there who feels this.

Children cannot shop, but yet they are real people with actual futures.
posted by polymodus at 5:16 PM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, your 1st gen parent friend has zero inkling of what it takes to become a scientist.

My 1st Gen Vietnamese parents pushed me pretty hard to succeed. Not for the education in itself, but for the financial security it gave them. I wasn't allowed to watch tv, or read fiction, or have a social life. Despite all this, they had absolutely no idea how to actually go about doing any of this -- apply for college, figure out financial aid, etc. I still remember how mad my dad got when he realized he had to pay for my college applications.

I'm really glad it worked out for your friend's family, but for mine, it led to misery, resentment, and feeling so much pressure in high school that I once burst into tears because I was late to school and I was scared it would screw up my chances at college. All my siblings got into good schools, but I'm the only one who finished, in large part because my parents had no clue how to actually support us, only high expectations that we had no idea how to meet.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:41 PM on November 29, 2012


Snickerdoodle wrote: My 1st Gen Vietnamese parents pushed me pretty hard to succeed. [...] Despite all this, they had absolutely no idea how to actually go about doing any of this -- apply for college, figure out financial aid, etc.

That's very interesting. This seems to be a common experience for first-generation immigrants: they don't know how to prepare themselves to surmount barriers because they don't know the barriers are there. I've read lots of accounts of immigrants trying desperately to get around an obstacle that really isn't such a big deal, or failing to distinguish between things that are a matter of personal discretion and things that are institutional rules. As a consequence they get described as "pushy" or treated with a sort of amused condescension - but really, why should they know the unwritten rules of a different society or know the sort of questions they need to ask?
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:07 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


polymodus, I can't keep up with all your straw men. You may be Asian American, and as a social scientist I am perfectly aware that the research you refer to exists (but is hardly as monolithic as you imply).

I'm telling you that, despite your experience, my experience is different. You may be Asian American, but I've been teaching at the university level for 20 years. I have known dozens of Asian and Asian American students quite well, and I don't recognize the totalizing stereotype you defend as fair or even close to accurate about such a diverse population.

Also, the shopping comment was meant to be ironic, not reductionist. Sorry if that wasn't clear.
posted by spitbull at 7:11 PM on November 29, 2012


Spitbull, I was very close to many of my teachers and professors, and still communicate with several of them. They had no idea what was going on below the surface, and I would have been mortified if they had found out. Polymodus' views are very consistent with what I and other "high-achieving" first or 2nd gen Asians have experienced. We tend to only talk about it amongst ourselves, because there's a certain shame to complaining when we are lucky to have done "well" despite such poor beginnings.

Seriously, I was in middle school and going to my siblings' parent-teacher conferences. I handled all interactions with utility companies, the IRS, and everyone else who needed to be talked to in English. I chaperoned high school dances as a college student so my sister would be allowed to go. I figured out how to navigate the college admissions process on my own, and subsequently guided my siblings through it. You could call it admirable, but it's sort of a mindfuck too. And I think that all he's saying is the inspirational "model minority" stories are not benign; they add to the culture that treats Asian issues as trivial and puts even more pressure on Asian kids.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:46 PM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Samuel Goldman responds: Meritocracy, Jews, and the Liberal Arts
I find several of Unz’s conclusions unconvincing. I’ll leave entirely aside statistical issues on which I am unqualified to pronounce (I scored only 580 on the math SAT, and was not what Unz calls a “quality” applicant). And I’ll merely echo Tyler Cowen’s discomfort with Unz’s methods of counting members of various ethnic and religious groups, which include inferring their backgrounds from their names. The problem is not only that these methods resemble the Jew-hunting of classical anti-Semitism. It’s that they ignores the complexity of origins and identity in a society characterized by intermarriage among religious and ethnic groups.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:10 AM on November 30, 2012


Goldman's review of Hayes' Twilight of the Elites makes no reference to Michael Young's Rise of the Meritocracy, though Young made basically the same points in 1958 - that "meritocracy does not oppose unequal social and economic outcomes. Rather, it tries to justify inequality by offering greater rewards to the talented and hardworking." (quote from Goldman, talking about Hayes, but he could have been talking about Young's point).

That said, here's a philosophical critique (PDF) of Young - which I haven't had a chance to read yet (I'm going to, though I'm skeptical - Young's Rise felt pretty damn relevant when I first read it in circa 2000).
posted by jb at 9:57 AM on November 30, 2012


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