In the mosaic of America, three groups that have been unusually successful are Asian-Americans, Jews and West Indian blacks — and in that there may be some lessons for the rest of us.
Asian-Americans are renowned — or notorious — for ruining grade curves in schools across the land, and as a result they constitute about 20 percent of students at Harvard College.
As for Jews, they have received about one-third of all Nobel Prizes in science received by Americans. One survey found that a quarter of Jewish adults in the United States have earned a graduate degree, compared with 6 percent of the population as a whole.
West Indian blacks, those like Colin Powell whose roots are in the Caribbean, are one-third more likely to graduate from college than African-Americans as a whole, and their median household income is almost one-third higher.
Equating "coconuts", as American blacks often call them, with Jews and Asians is one extravagant comparison. It's true that they outperform American-born blacks but that does not say much. They are nowhere up to the Jewish/Chinese/Japanese standard.
Kristoff's basic but ludicrous point is that IQ and achievement generally are all due to working hard at your education and that all three groups he mentions do so. I will leave the Jewish/Asian aspect of that aside for the moment and just concentrate on the "coconuts". Their success is largely a reflection of a strong immigration effect. People who have somehow got themselves out of a Caribbean hellhole such as Jamaica or Haiti and re-established themselves in America are obviously smarter than those who stay behind in their scenic but poor, corrupt and crime-ridden homelands. So they do better in America because they are smarter to start with. They are an environmentally-selected superior subset of their parent population. Most of their success follows from that. The first generation too tend to have better motivation, having grown up in a society lacking welfare payments. It's basically work or starve where they come from. And they do of course tend to pass work-oriented values onto their kids. So attitudes do play SOME part in their success. But there is no sign that they are about to rival Jews in Nobel-prize-quality work!
The rest of Kristoff's article is, as far as I can see, just a rehash of points that I have rebutted already in my previous commentaries on Nisbett. See here, here, here and here
One point I have not seen mentioned before, however, is this doozy:
One large study followed a group of Chinese-Americans who initially did slightly worse on the verbal portion of I.Q. tests than other Americans and the same on math portions. But beginning in grade school, the Chinese outperformed their peers, apparently because they worked harder.
So Chinese pre-schoolers did not speak English well but rapidly caught up and surged ahead once they went to a real school. It has apparently not occurred to Kristoff that the Chinese littlies might have not been good at English or understood their classes at all because they mostly heard Chinese at home!
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