Monday, August 25, 2008

priv200808An Olympic Perspective on Diversity

Special Web column for Asian Week Aug 25, 2008

489 words

Obama has focused Americans on the conversation of diversity and excellence. We are a nation that carefully selects school superintendents, democratic convention delegates, and appoint public officials and hire executives carefully to reflect the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of America. But the Olympics show us that all of our conventional wisdom about affirmative action and radical liberation are dead wrong.

Can we truly celebrate a winning basketball team of diverse talent when all of them are African Americans? Can a gymnastics team composed completely of European American women be fair? In this age of Title IX and gender equity, why are Olympic athletics judged without regard to racial proportionality in outcomes? When we have committed to create standards where “all will succeed” without ranking people, why do we continue to specially recognize only the best 3 athletes?

Why did China, whose athletes are almost completely of one ethnic group, the Han Chinese, get the most gold medals, while Japan beat diverse America in women’s softball? Why were women relegated to softball instead of baseball? The United States clearly can credit the wealth of our economic system for winning the most medals, yet some of the fastest and best runners come from economically disadvantaged nations such as Jamaica and Kenya. Why was there no outrage at the dominance of Nordic peoples in the javelin toss, or West Europeans in mountain biking? Blaming the plight of the have-nots on the bad intentions of the have-groups is widely applied to world economics, politics and education, but why not athletics?

The Olympics is not about creating a world where everyone is proficient, or is given an equal opportunity to win at every sport. When it’s not just about participating, it’s about competing to be the best in the world. And who is the best is not determined by what race or gender you are, or how free or controlled or wealthy your country is, but by a host of factors, none of which is necessarily fair. The best may come from the north or the south, by someone from a wealthy or a less affluent nation, from a very large or very small country, by someone with heritage from any of the world’s continents. When it comes down to it, nobody is equal to anybody else, and only the few can ever be the best.

No athlete declares their race, ethnicity or heritage. Nobody compiles statistics to prove which peoples suffered from unfair discrimination that must be rectified by race-based remedies on the part of Olympic committee or judges. No one is required to take a high stakes test to meet a “high” standard of fitness or suffer the consequences. Now as John Lennon once sung, the Olympics can let us imagine a world or nation where we live in peace in harmony and we can celebrate both excellence of the few and the participation of the many, without hurting each other and arguing over who is to blame why some groups get more than others.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Real Asian Education: Not Excellence For All
It's not your father's education. Now it's about reforming society, not teaching. Marxism's brave new producation targets sought to erase inequality, but brought famine and poverty. Today, federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind legislate that "all will succeed". But kids are suffering under unrealistic goals and in the name of "higher order thinking", they get math books don't teach math, and reading methods that don't teach how to read. Washington's Terrry Bergeson is running for re-election as state superintendent up here in Washington waving a 90 percent WASL high stakes test pass rate as proof that "all high school graduates will reading and compute at a high level".
If John "not my baby" Edwards promised that every school should be excellent, would Asian parents really stop aspiring to send their child to the "best" schools and push their children to be the best when every school and child is "equally excellent"? If excellence is to exceed average, isn't a level passed by 90 percent a very low level of performance? How could any diploma set at such as level good enough to guarantee admission to Stanford or a job with Google, when in truth you would still have to (*horrors*) compete to be best? My elementary kids wrote better than the high school papers in the bottom 10 percent that I graded. The ugly secret is that the pass levels in every state are set by officials to whatever it takes to fail everybody the first year, but pass all but the worst by their "deadline" for success. The 90 percent pass rate is just the statistical rug that hides that our WASL and every other test has still not escaped the curse of underperformance. It is a lie to claim success for all when ethnic, income, language and disability groups continue to fail at 2 to 4 times the rate of average, with the best scores going to the most affluent and best educated ethnic groups.
It was protests from "back to basics" parents that led California to junk the worst of whole language, which dropped phonics, spelling and grammar, and fail the new-new math like the miserable Mathland which tossed out standard arithemetic in favor of singing, writing, and finger counting. There is nothing progressive about requiring everybody to jump as high as the university bound. Soon, all California 8th graders must pass algebra when many never mastered arithmetic. My son had to write sentences on his first day of 1st grade with no instruction. His math books had cutting, pasting, and card playing but no actual instruction in carrying, long division or common denominators. Now his high school "Core Plus" shortchanges basic algebra, but critically asks "if John's IQ is 75, is he retarded?" Asian parents need to be able to critically recognize nonsense when the emperor has no clothes, and put an end to misguided "reforms". Promising or demanding excellence of all is doomed to fail. The true ancient wisdom America can, but hasn't learned from an Asia that has never believed that all students can be "best" is to simply teach challenging material to memory, and reward only the the highest achievers with the grade of "excellent".