Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Clueless kids in Australia & America

As I have remarked before it seems to be overwhelmingly the children of migrants - particularly Asian migrants - in Australia who attend private schools and participate in such things as music performances. Long-term residents place a lower emphasis on the value of education and the value of developing difficult-to-acquire skills such as playing the violin or the piano.

It may be that new migrants face economic and cultural barriers toward employment in top jobs and hence have to invest more in their human capital to achieve what a native-born Australian can achieve with less effort*. But that does not explain the greater interest among migrants in cultural pursuits and the greater emphasis among the native-born for brainless activities involving, for example, sports such as football and for viewing totally moronic TV shows.

It seems to me that many migrant parents just have a greater appreciation of the value of education and generally of making effort to acquire worthwhile skills. They make the effort and get the rewards.

My hypothesis is that living well in a stable, wealthy society introduces an element of complacency in making effort choices in relation to aquiring skills. I don't have evidence that goes beyond casual observation to back up this story but believe there is some element of truth to it.

This NYT article deals with rising ignorance among kids in America. The US is the wealthiest large economy on earth and the largest democracy. Maths skills are increasingly woeful and general knowledge skills are poor among most of its children. The US provides an image of where our socioety will end up if the general attitudes of native born Australians to education do not change.

Australians are often stingy when it comes to many of the important things in life. They want cheap food and cheap wine and that's what is delivered in most Australian restaurants and in the disgusting fast food sector. Native born Australians also want education on the cheap and that is what is increasingly delivered in our schools and universities.

In an increasingly competitive world we will lose out longer-term as a society as a consequence of these attitudes. Of course we lose out right now in terms of being more ignorant and having less access to valuable academic and cultural values. Achieving enjoyment and pleasure from life involves acquiring skills just as does gaining a good job.

* It would be interesting to know if second-generation migrants come to acquire the attitudes of long-term native-born Australians.

6 comments:

Spiros said...

Excellent post Harry. My parents, both of them uneducated Greek peasants, placed great emphasis on education as way of advancement in a new country.

"It would be interesting to know if second-generation migrants come to acquire the attitudes of long-term native-born Australians."

They do. Eventually, out goes the violin, in goes The Footy Show.

Of course it is the Right side of politics that has long advocated that migrants should assimilate into mainstream Australian culture ("She'll be right, mate", "Up the mighty Blueys" etc) and so lose the characteristics - like a strong work ethic - that made them desirable migrants in the first place.

As a nation, we are idle and complacent. But this has been known for decades. Donald Horne said in The Lucky Country in 1964. He was being ironic, but because we are idle and complacent, we didn't see the irony.

davidp said...

Hi Harry,

One qualification to this is that migration is not random - are the asian migrants you are referring to just the class in Malaysia, South Korea, China, etc. who are the counterpart to the class of native born Australians who are also chosing to spend more on education, violin etc.

It is a bit rough to compare a group that has self-selected i.e. moved country at considerable cost to improve their income/standard of living with a non-self-selected group i.e those born here, of all sorts of income.

If second generations are different, maybe it is just regression to the (stingy) mean.

Before generalizing about Australians, it might be interesting to see if investment in education etc is higher among Australian expats in the US (or Singapore) etc.

hc said...

David,

You are right of course. The migrants are a self-selected group.

But it seems to me appropriate to compare this group with resident Australians - migration makes up about 1/2 our population growth.

Eric said...

DavidP is right, most Asian migrants are from the elite of their countries, and the ambitious ones.

Isn't India the largest democracy in the world?

The next generation will take up more Aussie attitudes, but inherit the advantages of their parents.

jc said...

Excellent post Harry. My parents, both of them uneducated Greek peasants, placed great emphasis on education as way of advancement in a new country.


I wouldn't judge them successful in that pursuit, Spiros.

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