Can we really achieve diversity with no discrimination?
Recent years, there have been many protesters on campus looking for diversity; as UCLA is short for “University of Caucasians Lost among Asians,” many minority groups are underrepresented. While I do think it’s great to have diversity, I think having the admission program go easy on some groups rather than others is not the real solution to a problem. I believe the problem extends from culture and value backgrounds of different groups. The university admission system is obliged to take students that are most fit to study and compete in an academic environment(which yes, I will agree that the way they identify “fitness” is completely flawed, but they try). In some cases, we probably all notice that schools also take the best fit people to compete against other schools in certain sports/activities.
Some cultures value grades over balance
Now I’m not looking to get into the zone of being politically correct or incorrect, but I will state beforehand that this blog is mostly about criticizing some Asian cultures and values. I think if a kid studies all day long since the first grade, gets extra practice problems when she finishes homework while others are outside playing, stresses about college and SATs since freshman year of high school, gets “illegal punishment” from berserk parents every time she gets a B in class, and takes on all those extracurricular activities that she may or may not like, just to get into a good college, she probably deserves to get into a decent college (at least compared to the kid who just played games most of the time).
I don’t think any group is really smarter than another, but just some groups have the cultural background to study like it’s their destiny so that they don’t embarrass their families, ancestors, and everyone that is affiliated with them. Asians aren’t really good at math (To save my ass: I simply hear this comment a lot and I do not endorse this statement); it’s kids who do 20 practice problems everyday after finishing their homework since third grade that are good at math(which regrettably or not, was not me).
Luckily, issues that disadvantage college minority groups can change, and should change. I believe that providing a better education as well as promoting more studious environments and values among the minority groups from elementary school to high school is the true solution for diversity in college. With good policy making, these are all possible.
Fit vs Diversity in Sports or the Entertainment Industry?
If you want to speak about diversity (and discrimination) on things that can’t change, I propose that every NBA team should require at least 2 White guys and an Asian guy (which still isn’t fair in the absolute sense) on the floor at all times, as there seems to be a clear absence in diversity in the name of “fit”.
We might even need to make a rule that the Asian guy should have the ball at least 3 times in a game, because that probably won’t happen without.
We also might consider having diversity in physical attractiveness in the entertainment industry, because if you pay close attention to the industry often, you might notice that non-gorgeous looking people seem to be discriminated in getting lead roles in movies and such.
Ultimately, universities look for people that have the best potentials in being successful in society after graduation, so the reputation of the school would expand, as well as receive some alumni donations. It is true that by just looking at GPA, SAT scores, some extracurricular activities and a couple essays, you can’t really tell if one would be successful in society, but that’s how the university works even throughout college and into the work force, and until you figure out a better way that is cost-effective, there is no point in blaming the school itself.
Why do Asians study like crazy?
So why do Asians study like crazy anyway? What’s wrong with them? It’s really ingrained in the Asian culture that studying is everything. Getting into a good college is more like an end itself, rather than a means to an end, which is to get a successful job.
As I went back to Taiwan and saw my Grandfather(88), after six years of not seeing his only grandson, one of the first things he asked was, “when are you going to get your masters?” Oh yea, not being here for awhile, I forgot that whether I want to get a masters or not isn’t even a question.
My aunt showed similar kindness as she innocently mentions, “when you get your masters in this degree, I’ll do blah blah blah” (blah is Mandarin Chinese, so don’t even try to read it).
If I was still in middle school, whether I wanted to be a doctor or not would not have been a question either. These are just all assumed: if you can be a doctor, be a doctor, and if you can get a masters, get one.
Now being an entrepreneur doesn’t require an obliterating amount of education, but I remained polite so I won’t piss off the whole family and put my parents in shame. They who started to save money for my education(almost $40,000 a year including living fees) since they were married deserve to have some peace.
Going back to ancient China
So the reason why many Asian groups value education and degrees comes from the ancient traditions in China. During the old days, and I mean so old that I didn’t even know how to ride a bicycle, the only way to become rich and prosperous is to take this mammoth national exam, score well, and become a government official.
During the time, most people were only peasant farmers and could not afford an education. The ones who did went for an education, which is pretty much a no-brainer even without the education.
Once you score well on the exam and become a government officer, supposedly you will bring prosperity and honor to all your family and ancestors. You basically aren’t worthless anymore in a monarchy society once you have some kind of scholarly title.
It has been that for thousands of years, and scholars were always the most looked up upon, as kings and emperors always listened to them(think Confucius).
Western cultures view education as a means to a great career instead of an end to itself
In the US, things are a bit different. People look up to individuals like Bill Gates, who quit his degree at Harvard, started Microsoft and were able to pay his bills quite well, while having some extras for entertainment.
The whole system of what is “great” and “prestigious” has some differences in the cultures. In the US, being prosperous IS prestigious, excluding activities such as drug dealing etc.
At this point I shall admit that I have been talking in extremes and absolutes, and that a common idea of prestige and such is still shared among the cultures. It is impossible to talk about any group as a whole without making statements that are generic with tons of exceptions. I have only been talking on a relative basis, as a PhD is certainly prestigious in the US, just not AS valued as in an Asian society.
In many Western countries, education is the means to an end. You go to school so you can get a better job with your better degree. Many times you can evaluate is it worth the money to get that education(and I have learned in my econometric class at UCLA, that according to some data, on average you only make around 46 cents more per hour after each year of schooling).
But in Asian societies, getting a strong degree is almost like an end, for the strong social status(which is also created in people’s mind) of a high degree is the determination of if one is successful.
I can almost say in modest certainty that many Asian parents would be prouder of a child who went to Harvard but for some reason couldn’t find a good job than one who went to a bad college but has an extraordinary job.
Unconvinced: Do these kids really study like crazy?
OK, some people pointed out that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and people in the US value education the same way. Let me tell you this to be convincing:
A good amount of middle school students from Taiwan live like this (this includes many many of my personal friends): they would go to school at 7:30AM. School ends at 5:00PM. Then they go to after-school school to improve in school (like a Kaplan except 60% of the students are forced to go by their parents), leave after-school school at 10PM. Then they have to finish after-school school homework, and then their real school homework, and then they go to bed.
As far as I know, not that many middle school students live like this in the US. A few years back, students needed to go to school on Saturdays too (they Westernized). And in your 3rd year of middle school, you are forced to stay in school to study for your exam till 8PM every day.
Here’s another example. I remember those annoying tests that for every problem you get wrong, the teacher takes a big stick and hits you in the palm. It hurt like crap. When that happens, it’s always a long line of students waiting to be hit by the teacher. Do the parents go to school and yell at the teacher? No. The parents go to school to APOLOGIZE that their children created problems for the teacher.
In the US culture, parents have more power than teachers. But in many Asian cultures (I know Taiwan best, but many other Asian friends confirmed the same thing), the teachers have more power than the parents and the parents are often apologizing. That’s just a difference in cultural value.
Some observed dysfunctions of valuing grades over everything
For many Asian students, getting into an university is where life ends. Then another life independent of their past starts once they get out of college. However, there are some negative consequences to it, besides the high stress and suicide rates of students.
Since getting into college is everything, once students from Asia (not Asian students in the US, and no not ALL countries) get into top universities, they start to slack and have fun all day, instead of really acquiring knowledge as they are there for. The system also makes it that your GPA hardly matters as long as you pass, so that’s all people aim for. Getting into graduate school is simply determined by another test at the end of college years.
I know this because I every friend I talked to who grew up in Taiwan, China, Japan, Korea all said in middle school and high school, they were extremely stressed and suicide rates were higher. Once people get in college, what people do all day is slack off. “They made it, so it’s time to relax instead of learning.”
For that reason, when it comes to universities, students in the US actually study harder than those in Asia (yea, amazing right? Even after all that partying). This clearly shows that it’s pretty dysfunctional when a culture places the value of “grades” over “education.” You’re not there to learn, you are there to score.
This is just some thoughts based on the observations I have in society and an attempt to explain the origins of it. If you happen to disagree with anything and have better insights about things, feel free to criticize this and enlighten me. Politeness is appreciated but sometimes too much to ask for from Anonymous Commentors, so trolls are welcome too. Have a great time!
(For a BIZZARE list of what people search for in order to find this post, click here)
Would you like Yu-kai Chou to work with your Organization?
If you are interested in working with Yu-kai Chou for a business project, workshop, speech or presentation, or licensing deal, please fill out the form below.