The Cult of Above-Average

(Chapter 4 of upcoming book, How to go to school like an Asian. Book has references, will add them to blog post when I find a research assistant)

It’s un-American to be a straight A student with perfect test scores.  Such students are stereotyped and vilified as nerdy.  That is, socially and athletically inept.  From Billy Joel’s It’s All Rock and Roll to Me

“Should I try to be a straight ‘A’ student?
If you are then you think too much.”

In The Revenge of the Nerds comedy film franchise (1984-1994), all nerds are depicted as socially awkward and unathletic.  The 2001 comedy film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius depicts the eponymous hero as lacking in physical strength.  

And then there’s the American saying: 

“A students work for B students at companies founded by C students.”

(I think there’s some truth to that aphorism, we’ll get to that in another chapter).  

Americans prefer to be perceived as well-rounded than acutely talented in one area.  There’s no social pressure to be the best at anything.  Americans prefer to be generalists, jack of all trades.  Why is that?  

Now Americans love being the most powerful nation in the world, just look at the way they’ve vilified and sabotaged challengers such as Japan in the 1980s and China today.  But among themselves, they prefer to be above-average — B+ students of life — and never below average.  

Take the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which shows that Americans, regardless of ability, rate themselves as above-average.  (This includes the best performers, they rate themselves as above-average like everyone else).  Many American families of four making, say,  $40,000 a year in a metropolitan area identify themselves as middle class. Most American millionaires identify as middle-class or upper-middle class.  From a CNBC article titled  Most millionaires say they’re middle class:

“A majority of millionaires polled describe themselves as middle class or upper middle class despite being among the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans, according to the results of the third CNBC Millionaire Survey.”

And most American parents I’ve talked to about schools search for schools that are rated “above-average” for their kids.   I’m not the only one who has noticed this, check out this 2005 Wall Street Journal headline: “The New White Flight.”  It asks:

“In Silicon Valley, two high schools
with outstanding academic reputations
are losing white students
as Asian students move in. Why?”

White parents move when their schools are going to shit.  They also move when their schools become hyper competitive and elite (again, this doesn’t apply to Jews).  Here are some reasons given by a White mother in an interview published in 2013:

“Looking again at a lot of this as a parent, even though I grew up here, we don’t want our kids to go to the high school that we’re zoned for … which is an excellent school. It produces amazing graduates.… All of this stuff over there that’s, again, left out of a whole piece of the development of the child. So we want our kids to go to [another high school], which is right over the bridge here…. But to track our kids for the right schools that aren’t so over the top with kind of just a real risky, negative approach to success — we don’t want our kid to be in that.”

I saw White flight from predominantly elite high schools (nearly all elite high schools in the US are predominantly Asian) happen all over California.  In super high income San Marino (aka Chan Marino, it’s 50% Asian and its high school at one point was 71% Asian, now 60% Asian), some White parents chose to send their kids to private schools instead of their local Blue Ribbon public school.  One reason given is that Asian students are too focused on academics, as told by an LA Times headline on July 13th, 2004:

“Football Hit by Culture Blocks”

My summary of the article: White parents complained that Asians in their school district are too focused on academics and not enough on extra-curriculars, like football, to the detriment of the school.  (Even though San Marino was doing just as well or better than ever in sports like tennis and basketball since the arrival of Asians).  

Same thing happened in a suburb in Georgia, check out the Pacific Standard article published on June 14th, 2017,  “GHOSTS OF WHITE PEOPLE PAST: WITNESSING WHITE FLIGHT FROM AN ASIAN ETHNOBURB.”

My summary of the article, written by a red-dot Indian-American, Anajali Enjeti: Asians moved in and Whites in response decided to move out not because of fear of increasing crime and declining property prices and school scores, but because property prices and scores were going way up!  Some quotes collected from White parents in the article, with my interpretation in parenthesis:  

  • Nora’s good at math. There are too many kids here good at math. They’re affecting her self-esteem.  (which worries me because I’m trying to raise a narcissist)
  • Asian parents take their kids for extra tutoring. It’s not fair for the “regular” kids.  (I don’t want to spend my wine money on tutoring for my kids)
  • The high school is too competitive. My kids won’t get into a good college because of all of the Asians.  (I’m a label whore just like those damn Asians)
  • I want my children to grow up in the real world. This is not the real world. (I want my kids to compete with those with low standards, while seeming virtuous).  

The “real world?”  As in not diverse enough?  Translation: Asians, and in this case it includes red-dot Indians, aren’t considered as American minorities.  (Which is fine with me).  Even though this community looks like this, according to its author:

“…when I moved to Johns Creek, Georgia. People from myriad cultures, ethnicities, religions, and nationalities deem this patch of earth home. Persian and Indian markets bookend strip malls. Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Korean, and Chinese restaurants perch on the corners of major intersections.”

So what do these White Flight escape the Yellow Peril people mean by the “real world?”  I think they mean there aren’t enough Black and Hispanic students to satisfy their need to virtue signal their “progressive” intentions and to occupy the bottom tier of their schools so their Whites students look better.  This is what I think White parents want their ideal top 10 high school student ranking to look like:

  1. Black student
  2. Asian 
  3. White
  4. Hispanic
  5. Asian
  6. Asian
  7. White
  8. White
  9. Asian
  10. Black

Instead of this, which is more commonly the case unless the Whites are mostly  Jewish (New Jersey, Long Island):

  1. Asian
  2. Asian
  3. Asian
  4. White
  5. Asian
  6. Asian
  7. Asian
  8. Hispanic
  9. White
  10. Asian

American Anti-Elitism

I propose that the American obsession with being “above-average” and “average-at-worst” has to do with the American notion that the US is fundamentally an anti-elitist middle-class nation.  That is, a healthy and powerful US is imagined as populated mostly with and governed by independent (jack of all trades types) middle-class citizens.  Americans are especially uncomfortable being associated with anything that insinuates elitism, which they associate with corruption, excess, and unfairness.  American democracy is predicated on the idea that elites are an affront to American values.  The US, after all, was *imagined* as being born from a revolution against the British Crown and Aristocracy.  (I don’t think that’s true, but that’s the narrative I learned as a student in the US).  

And it’s precisely this fear of being branded as “elite” and therefore not “progressive” that may be why most Americans brag about being, and are usually at best, B+ students in school and in life.    

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