- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Maybe we need to wake up. The other day I went to the site of Bell Labs, one of the nation’s premier research outfits. I clicked at random on a research project, Programmable Networks for Tomorrow. The scientists working on the project were: Gisli Hjalmstysson, Nikos Anerousis, Pawan Goyal, K.K. Ramakrishnan, Jennifer Rexford, Kobus Van der Merwe and Sneha Kumar Kasera.

Here is a pattern I’ve noticed at countless research organizations. In the personnel lists certain groups are phenomenally over-represented with respect to their appearance in the general American population: Chinese, Koreans, Indians and, though it doesn’t show in the above lists, Jews.

Asians make up a few percent of the country, yet there are company directories in Silicon Valley that read like a New Delhi phone book.

If Chinese citizens and Americans of Chinese descent left tomorrow for Beijing, American research, and graduate schools in the sciences and engineering, would be crippled.

Jews are 2 or 3 percent of the population. On the assumption that Goldstein is probably Jewish, and Ferguson probably isn’t, it is evident that Jews are doing lots more than their share of research.

Now, why are so many of these very small groups doing important research for the United States? That’s easy. They’re smart, they go into the sciences, and they work hard. It’s not affirmative action. These groups produce.

If a first-rate Indian physicist applies for a job, and Bell Labs hires him, nobody is doing anything wrong. The question is not whether these groups perform, or why, but why the rest of us don’t.

It is the general dumbing-down of American education. Consider mathematics. When I took freshman chemistry at Hampden-Sydney College in the mid-1960s, it was assumed that students knew algebra cold.

The assumption was that people who weren’t ready for college should be somewhere else. Today, remedial classes in both reading and math are common. We seem to be dumbing ourselves to death.

I recently had children go through the high schools of Arlington. I watched them come home with badly misspelled chemistry handouts from half-educated “teachers,” watched them do make-work science projects that taught them nothing about the sciences but used lots of pretty paper.

So help me, I once saw, in a middle school in Arlington, a student’s project on a bulletin board celebrating Enrico Fermi’s contributions to “Nucler Physicts.”

It looks to me as if a few groups are maintaining standards and the rest of us are drowning our children in self-indulgent social engineering, political correctness and feel-good substitutes for learning.

I note that we are also farming out more of our programming to people in India, which means that counting names at American institutions underestimates the extent to which the country becomes intellectually dependent on others.

Where is it leading? How long can we maintain a technologically respectable economy if we are, as a country, no longer willing to do our own thinking?

The Mathematical Association of America runs a contest for the extremely bright and prepared among high-school students. It is called the United States of America Mathematics Olympiad, and “provides a means of identifying and encouraging the most creative secondary mathematics students in the country.”

An unedited section of a list of those recently chosen: Sharat Bhat, Tongke Xue, Matthew Peairs, Wen Li, Jongmin Baek, Aaron Kleinman, David Stolp, Andrew Schwartz, Rishi Gupta, Jennifer Laaser, Inna Zakharevich, Neil Chua, Jonathan Lowd, Simon Rubinsteinsalze, Joshua Batson, Jimmy Jia, Jichao Qian, Dmitry Taubinsky, David Kaplan, Erica Wilson, Kai Dai, Julian Kolev, Jonathan Xiong, Stephen Guo.


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