Monday, June 8, 2009


Rising Above I.Q.

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...

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...

A common thread among these three groups may be an emphasis on diligence or education, perhaps linked in part to an immigrant drive...

Among West Indians, the crucial factors for success seem twofold: the classic diligence and hard work associated with immigrants, and intact families. The upshot is higher family incomes and fathers more involved in child-rearing.

What’s the policy lesson from these three success stories?

It’s that the most decisive weapons in the war on poverty aren’t transfer payments but education, education, education. For at-risk households, that starts with social workers making visits to encourage such basic practices as talking to children...

The next step is intensive early childhood programs, followed by improved elementary and high schools, and programs to defray college costs.

Perhaps the larger lesson is a very empowering one: success depends less on intellectual endowment than on perseverance and drive. As Professor Nisbett puts it, “Intelligence and academic achievement are very much under people’s control.”

This approaches the sort of stuff that conservatives have been shouting into vacuums for 40 years and called racist for their efforts.

The success of West Indians calls into question the notion that it is white racism that accounts for racial economic disparities.

Dramatic economic disparities between immigrant groups undermine Kristof's simplistic notion of "immigrant" drive.

In the end, Kristof comes close, but is unable to get his head around the meaning of this data. As he describes it, perseverance and drive come, above all, from the family and community. It is hard to see how the programs he advocates for address that. In the end, the most evident conclusion to draw, is that the best way to help people is to strengthen families and communities and support cultures of achievement rather than dependence.

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