Times: 1700 Years of Universal Talmudic Male Literacy Helped the Jews Succeed in America

Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof makes a startling observation in the midst of his analysis about why Asians, Jews and West Indian blacks have succeeded at an above average rate in America.
Jews and Chinese have a particularly strong tradition of respect for scholarship, with Jews said to have achieved complete adult male literacy — the better to read the Talmud — some 1,700 years before any other group...The parallel force in China was Confucianism and its reverence for education.
We thank Kristoff for his endorsement of the values and achievements of our learning. We think though that it's not just the literacy of the Talmudic culture, but also the content of what is taught.

A Talmudic life is a traditional, critical and examined life. The entire ethos of Talmudic society, as well as that of its correlatives in the other cases, that is to say, what people read and how they are taught to think - all of that is more important to achievement than the raw skills of literacy.

Here are a few other excerpts from the article.
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.

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.

These three groups may help debunk the myth of success as a simple product of intrinsic intellect, for they represent three different races and histories. In the debate over nature and nurture, they suggest the importance of improved nurture — which, from a public policy perspective, means a focus on education. Their success may also offer some lessons for you, me, our children — and for the broader effort to chip away at poverty in this country.

Richard Nisbett cites each of these groups in his superb recent book, “Intelligence and How to Get It.” Dr. Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, argues that what we think of as intelligence is quite malleable and owes little or nothing to genetics.

“I think the evidence is very good that there is no genetic contribution to the black-white difference on I.Q.,” he said, adding that there also seems to be no genetic difference in intelligence between whites and Asians. As for Jews, some not-very-rigorous studies have found modestly above-average I.Q. for Ashkenazi Jews, though not for Sephardic Jews. Dr. Nisbett is somewhat skeptical, noting that these results emerge from samples that may not be representative.

In any case, he says, the evidence is overwhelming that what is distinctive about these three groups is not innate advantage but rather a tendency to get the most out of the firepower they have....

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.”

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