Thursday, November 5, 2009

Edumacation in the ameiricka and like such as.

A bit more RAGE before this week ends:

A few weeks ago, the in-laws were in town. It was good to see family and was good for The Wife and my daughter to see their extended family, too.

During a discussion with my father-in-law, it came up that I have very few natural born citizen friends that I have met at the Lab. An off-the-cuff analysis:
  • I have to take three steps up the chain-of-command before I reach a superior who is a natural born citizen of the United States..
  • Of the postdocs in our group, natural born citizens are in a minority.
  • Of the people that my wife and I consistently hang out with, zero are citizens. All are either employees of the lab or spouses of employees.
  • A clear, though not rigid, trend forms when examining age of scientists here along with nationality: most of the natural born U.S. citizens are of the cold war era; the US-born scientist is an aging generation.
This was no surprise to me, as I have become used to being in the minority back in graduate school (when I graduated, I was indeed replaced by a Chinese student.) This was a great surprise to my father-in-law, however. Like electronics, most cars, and everything from Walmart, good scientists are frequently becoming an imported commodity in the United States.

Why is this? We kicked around several ideas during our conversation, ranging from the overall quality of the education system in our country to the attitude towards science and math in mainstream culture. We were just speculating; it was a rather grim endeavor.

One of my pet theories is the demonizing of the educated populous by those who glorify ignorance. See Exhibit A. When did stupidity become a source of pride?


  1. I think it has more to do with work ethic than anything else. My observation in grad school was that most of the non-U.S. citizens grew up in a culture where hard work was valued very highly. However, in the U.S. there is a lot more emphasis on fun things: even in lower grades, clubs, sports, etc. have a tendency to take precedence over education. We tend to think our fun times are more important, whereas it seems like the non-citizens just work ridiculously hard and sacrifice a lot of personal time. I think there are plenty of intellectual people who choose not to become high level scientists out of laziness (i.e. ME!) more than ignorance (or maybe I'm that too).

  2. Also, I think the attitude towards math and science is more positive. There are popular tv shows like Chuck and Big Bang Theory that are all about being highly intelligent. Also, there are whole channels dedicated to science: Discovery, The Science Channel, etc. I don't know that they would be so popular if there wasn't some positive attitude towards math and science.

  3. Holy crap, you're on a comment rampage!

    I do agree concerning the work ethic point.

    I hope you're right concerning the attitude towards math and science, but I haven't seen that yet. You, however, are much more in touch with younger generations. It would be nice to see an increased appreciation for science.

  4. Yes, when my students are taking a test and I don't feel like doing real work, I surf my Google Reader. This is how I keep sane.

    Also, I mentioned to my students that I had a planetary science background (when we were talking about units and I said I am VERY picky about including units because I have a science backround and NASA missions have failed because of problems with units) and I was amazed at how interested they were. We probably spent 30 minutes with them asking me questions about the planets and NASA and aliens on Mars, etc. Many of them mentioned watching things on tv and they were just totally into it. I decided it was a teachable moment and we didn't do what was planned that day, but they loved it. And this is inner city, low-income kids, so I think there is more interest than it seems. They're just all too lazy to ever work that hard.