Have you ever wondered why Indian-American children are often the winners of national spelling bees and geography bees? The Wall Street Journal staff did and they have theories.
Take for example this year’s Scripps Spelling Bee. The top three finishers are all Indian American. In fact, this is the fifth straight year that an Indian American had won the Spelling Bee, and the tenth time in the last 14 years.
A similar scene happens at the National Geography Bee. This year Indian Americans took the top four positions.
But why do Indian Americans succeed at these events or as The Wall Street Journal called it “ ‘The Desi Hunger Games’?”
“[Amardeep Singh, an associate professor of English at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania] says Indian American success in bees is probably due to four factors: the positive reinforcement effect; highly educated immigrant parents; the Indian educational system’s emphasis on rote learning; and the competitive advantage provided by the “farm leagues” for South Asian American children, such as North South Foundation.”
“Mr. Singh believes that it is also the enthusiasm and passion of the children themselves that complements parental pressure to succeed.”
“The first generation immigrant parent brings with her/him a set of memories about how education works and what is to be valued. For Indians that is a memory of endless class tests doled out on a regular basis to evaluate our ability to retrieve information — spellings of words, names of world capitals, cash crops of states, length of rivers, height of mountains, and a plethora of minutiae charmingly labeled as General Knowledge,” adds Sharmila Sen, who taught English at Harvard University and is currently executive editor at the Harvard University Press.
“In America, we find out that our children are educated at the secondary level in a radically different way [to in India]. So, when we find out about the great American tradition of the bee, we think we can assimilate as well as anyone,” she told IRT.”
“Ms. Sen believes that Indian American parents encourage kids to process information in a way we were once encouraged to do, and we value the rewards that come with that form of information processing.”
So what do you think? (Please be nice and not racist.)