Category Archive 'Stanford'

04 Dec 2017

A Chinese Look at the Western Elite

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Puzhong Yao.

Puzhong Yao was born in China, but has studied and worked at some of the most elite institutions in the West, and he still finds the mindset of the Western elite strange.

[L]ike the Evangelical Christians, my life was changed by a book. Specifically, Robert Rubin’s autobiography In an Uncertain World (Random House, 2003). Robert Rubin was Goldman Sachs’s senior partner and subsequently secretary of the Treasury. Only later did I learn that certain people in the United States revere him as something of a god.

I first bought the book because I was puzzled by the title, especially coming from a man who had achieved so much. I had always thought that things happen for reasons. My parents taught me that good people get rewarded while evil gets punished. My teachers at school taught me that if you work hard, you will succeed, and if you never try, you will surely fail. When I picked up the book, I was studying math at Cambridge University and, as I looked back at the standardized tests and intense study that had defined my life until then, I could see no uncertainty.

But since reading Rubin’s book, I have come to see the world differently. Robert Rubin never intended to become the senior partner of Goldman Sachs: a few years into his career, he even handed in his resignation. Just as in Rubin’s career, I find that maybe randomness is not merely the noise but the dominant factor. And those reasons we assign to historical events are often just ex post rationalizations. As rising generations are taught the rationalizations, they conclude that things always happen for a reason. Meanwhile, I keep wondering: is there someone, sitting in a comfortable chair somewhere, flipping a coin from time to time, deciding what happens in the world? …

I don’t claim to be a modern-day Alexis de Tocqueville, nor do I have much in common with this famous observer of American life. He grew up in Paris, a city renowned for its culture and architecture. I grew up in Shijiazhuang, a city renowned for being the headquarters of the company that produced toxic infant formula. He was a child of aristocrats; I am the child of modest workers.

Nevertheless, I hope my candid observations can provide some insights into the elite institutions of the West. Certain beliefs are as ubiquitous among the people I went to school with as smog was in Shijiazhuang. The doctrines that shape the worldviews and cultural assumptions at elite Western institutions like Cambridge, Stanford, and Goldman Sachs have become almost religious. Nevertheless, I hope that the perspective of a candid Chinese atheist can be of some instruction to them. …

It was the summer of 2000. I was 15, and I had just finished my high school entrance exam in China. I had made considerable improvements from where I started in first grade, when I had the second- worst grades in the class and had to sit at a desk perpendicular to the blackboard so that the teacher could keep a close eye on me. I had managed to become an average student in an average school. My parents by then had reached the conclusion that I was not going anywhere promising in China and were ready to send me abroad for high school. Contrary to all expectations, however, I got the best mark in my class and my school. The exam scores were so good that I ranked within the top ten among more than 100,000 students in the whole city. My teacher and I both assumed the score was wrong when we first heard it.

As a consequence, I got into the best class in the best school in my city, and thus began the most painful year of my life. My newfound confidence was quickly crushed when I saw how talented my new classmates were. In the first class, our math teacher announced that she would start from chapter four of the textbook, as she assumed, correctly, that most of us were familiar with the first three chapters and would find it boring to go through them again. Most of the class had been participating in various competitions in middle school and had become familiar with a large part of the high school syllabus already. Furthermore, they had also grown to know each other from those years of competitions together. And here I was, someone who didn’t know anything or anyone, surrounded by people who knew more to begin with, who were much smarter, and who worked just as hard as I did. What chance did I have?

During that year, I tried very hard to catch up: I gave up everything else and even moved somewhere close to the school to save time on the commute, but to no avail. Over time, going to school and competing while knowing I was sure to lose became torture. Yet I had to do it every day. At the end-of-year exam, I scored second from the bottom of the class—the same place where I began in first grade. But this time it was much harder to accept, after the glory I had enjoyed just one year earlier and the huge amount of effort I had put into studying this year. Finally, I threw in the towel, and asked my parents to send me abroad. Anywhere else on this earth would surely be better.

So I came to the UK in 2001, when I was 16 years old. Much to my surprise, I found the UK’s exam-focused educational system very similar to the one in China. What is more, in both countries, going to the “right schools” and getting the “right job” are seen as very important by a large group of eager parents. As a result, scoring well on exams and doing well in school interviews—or even the play session for the nursery or pre-prep school—become the most important things in the world. Even at the university level, the undergraduate degree from the University of Cambridge depends on nothing else but an exam at the end of the last year.

On the other hand, although the UK’s university system is considered superior to China’s, with a population that is only one-twentieth the size of my native country, competition, while tough, is less intimidating. For example, about one in ten applicants gets into Oxbridge in the UK, and Stanford and Harvard accept about one in twenty-five applicants. But in Hebei province in China, where I am from, only one in fifteen hundred applicants gets into Peking or Qinghua University.

Still, I found it hard to believe how much easier everything became. I scored first nationwide in the GCSE (high school) math exam, and my photo was printed in a national newspaper. I was admitted into Trinity College, University of Cambridge, once the home of Sir Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and Prince Charles. …

Warren Buffett has said that the moment one was born in the United States or another Western country, that person has essentially won a lottery. If someone is born a U.S. citizen, he or she enjoys a huge advantage in almost every aspect of life, including expected wealth, education, health care, environment, safety, etc., when compared to someone born in developing countries. For someone foreign to “purchase” these privileges, the price tag at the moment is $1 million dollars (the rough value of the EB-5 investment visa). Even at this price level, the demand from certain countries routinely exceeds the annual allocated quota, resulting in long waiting times. In that sense, American citizens were born millionaires!

Yet one wonders how long such luck will last. This brings me back to the title of Rubin’s book, his “uncertain world.” In such a world, the vast majority things are outside our control, determined by God or luck. After we have given our best and once the final card is drawn, we should neither become too excited by what we have achieved nor too depressed by what we failed to achieve. We should simply acknowledge the result and move on. Maybe this is the key to a happy life.

On the other hand, it seems odd that this should be the principal lesson of a Western education. In Communist China, I was taught that hard work would bring success. In the land of the American dream, I learned that success comes through good luck, the right slogans, and monitoring your own—and others’—emotions.

RTWT

29 Jun 2017

Saying “Homework Was Easy” Deemed a Microagression by Stanford Prof

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Ruth Starkman, writing specialist for Stanford University’s Department of Computer Science.

HeatStreet records another PC landmine that today’s elite college students at Stanford have been warned to avoid.

To the mounting list of ways to possibly offend other students on college campuses these days, you can now add talking about your homework.

“Sure, you had no ill-intent, and absolutely nothing racist in mind at all,” Stanford Prof, Ruth Starkman writes in the Huffington Post. But by merely uttering the words out loud, you risk a microaggression because you don’t know who in class may have struggled with the assignment, she says.

Trying to explain why an assignment wasn’t too hard for you is also a microaggression, Starkman advises students at elite colleges like Stanford. So don’t even think about telling peers if you’ve already been exposed to a subject or idea in high school.

“Not everyone went to your high school, had your fortunate circumstances, or such a dazzling delivery room arrival, and even if they did, they might still be suffering because of the genuine challenges of the assignments,” Starkman writes.

Fundamentally, Starkman says, some students struggle while others breeze through because of an injustice—namely “unevenly distributed knowledge.”

In Starkman’s mind, any student who comes to an elite university with a decent educational foundation is excelling because of their wealth and privilege. “Chances are,” Starkman writes, “your parents paid substantial sums of money for that knowledge, either in property taxes in highly resourced school districts or in private education or in pricey enrichment.” …

“Your response ‘I already had this in high school’ really means ‘not only do I have rich parents, I somehow took exactly the right courses to be perfectly prepared,’” Starkman writes. “Congrats if you did. Try not to be a jerk about it.”

05 Apr 2017

2017 Elite College Admissions

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Mic Network reported:

When Ziad Ahmed was asked “What matters to you, and why?” on his Stanford University application, only one thing came to mind: #BlackLivesMatter.

So for his answer, Ahmed — who is a senior at Princeton Day School in Princeton, New Jersey — wrote #BlackLivesMatter exactly 100 times. The risky decision paid off. On Friday, Ahmed received his acceptance letter from Stanford.

“I was actually stunned when I opened the update and saw that I was admitted,” Ahmed said in an email. “I didn’t think I would get admitted to Stanford at all, but it’s quite refreshing to see that they view my unapologetic activism as an asset rather than a liability.”

On Saturday, Ahmed posted his answer and acceptance letter on Twitter with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. …

Ahmed has already been invited to the White House Iftar dinner and recognized as an Muslim-American change-maker under the Obama administration.

In 2016, he interned and worked for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign after leading Martin O’Malley’s youth presidential campaign. In November 2015, Ahmed gave a TedxTalk in Panama City, Panama, discussing the perils and impact of stereotypes as a young Muslim teen.

When the next student mob assembles at an elite college to run some middle-aged professor out of town for defending Free Speech, this is where its leadership will be coming from.

08 Aug 2010

The Best and the Brightest

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Historian Victor Davis Hanson points out that the past explains how America got where it is today.

If one were to survey the elite campuses around 1975 and talk to those in law school, poly sci, or the humanities, then imagine them 35 years later as our elite leaders in government, the media, the universities, the foundations, and the arts, one could pretty much expect what we now have.

The present symptoms that characterize both our popular culture and current governance — shrill self-righteousness; abstract communalism juxtaposed with concrete pursuit of the aristocratic good life; race/class/gender cosmic sermonizing with private school and Ivy league for the kids; crass and tasteless public expression; a serial inability to take responsibility for one’s actions; the bipartisan mega-deficits; the inability to cut pensions and social security for the baby boomers — from the trivial to the fundamental, all derive from a bankrupt cohort that came of age in the sixties and seventies.

We see the arrested adolescence and hypocrisy that come from that sermonizing generation, whether in Al Franken’s puerile face-making, the ideologically driven suicide at Newsweek, the steady destruction of the New York Times, John Kerry’s tax-avoiding yacht, the Great Gatsby Clinton wedding, Michelle on the Costa del Sol, Nancy Pelosi’s jet, Tim Geithner’s tax skipping, or the constant race-card playing of a Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters. Yes, one walk across the Yale or Stanford campus circa 1975, and one could see pretty clearly what sort of culture that bunch would create when it came of age and was handed power.

17 Feb 2007

University of Illinois Drops Indian Mascot

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The University of Illinois is declining to fight NCAA sanctions, and is surrendering its 81 year old mascot Chief Illiniwek.

Of course, the poltroons running the University of Illinois are a long way from the first academic administrators to bow to the forces of political correctness. Indian mascots have been dropped by a great many colleges, universities, and high schools all over the United States. The most famous examples are probably those of Dartmouth and Stanford who gave up mascots completely when they dropped their beloved Indians.

Why do the PC busybodies always get to win these things?

There seems to be a basic rule of life that to become a college president or high school principal, you have to be a small-minded conformist, coward, and lickspittle, who can be relied upon to cringe and kowtow in the face of any fashionable cause.

They abolished the Newtown (Fairfield County, Connecticut) Indian back in the 1990s. The Indian mascot had been selected by the Newtown High School’s predecessor, the Newtown Community School, in 1919, as part of a whole body of symbolism adopted in enthusiastic identification with the supposedly virtuous characteristics of pre-18th century Indian residents of Newtown’s immediate Connecticut environs.

The Indian was replaced with a wholly imaginary and entirely bogus mascot called “the Night Hawk,” a choice based obviously entirely upon alliteration. I wrote a letter to the local paper (including illustrations) explaining that no actual nocturnal raptors which were not owls, in fact, existed, and that the nighthawk was, in reality, a name conventionally applied to Chordeiles minor, one of the Caprimulgidae, wide-mouthed, insect-devouring relatives of the whippoorwill, traditionally called “goatsuckers,” on the basis of a folk belief in the purpose of their wide and hairy mouths.

Before long, Newtown students were appearing at games, attired in “Newtown Goatsuckers” t-shirts.

The school administration responded by banning the wearing of Goatsucker, as well as Indian, mascot devices.


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