For U.S. Youth, Intellectual Achievement is not Cool


US television portrays intellectuals as objects of ridicule.

According to Cross-Cultural Analysis of Math Students by Titu Andreescu, Joseph A. Gallian, Jonathan M. Kane, and Janet E. Mertz, there’s a social stigma associated with mathematics among American teenagers:

Many USA-born white and historically underrepresented minorities who are gifted in mathematics do not participate in MATHCOUNTS, AMC examinations, or, even, school mathematics clubs and teams.¬†When asked why, a typical response is, “Only Asians and nerds do math (extracurricularly).” In other words, it is deemed uncool within the social context of USA middle and high schools to do mathematics for fun; doing so can lead to social ostracism.

It’s not just achievement in math that is shunned by USA-born white and historically underrepresented minorities. They don’t want to excel in English either.

In the national spelling competition, as with math contests, entrants and winners are more likely to have names like Pratyush Buddiga (2002), Kavya Shivashankar (2009), and Ananya Vinay (2017) than Betty Robinson (1928).

For too many U.S. children and teens, it has become cool to be ignorant. American teens get the idea from the media that education is for nerds, foreigners, or snooty geniuses.

Take for example the characters depicted on television.

Whether it’s an oafish sit-com like The Big Bang Theory, a streetwise cops and robbers show like Law and Order, or a self-consciously intellectual show like Bones, educated people are depicted as snobs or socially-inadequate nerds. The characters one is supposed to identify with use nonstandard grammar like “between you and I” and “Me and my colleagues examined the documents.”

Parents can counteract the dumbing-down effect of the popular media. It may not be easy, but the academic success of second-generation Asian children shows that it can be done.

List of Spelling Bee Champions since 1925

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One Response

  1. Thanks for this post. I’m going to go look at the original article, and I’ll be sure to post this on facebook. *sigh* Such as sorry state of affairs!

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