Tuesday, June 24, 2014


America's Cult of Ignorance is No Match for Asia's Cult of Intelligence

I have a bit of a problem with John Traphagan's assessment here, or maybe his definition of intelligence, particularly around Japan (I can't really speak to other Asian countries with authority, only anecdotally).

As one who has traveled to Japan frequently over the last 20 years, has Japanese and expatriate family and friends from all walks of life, and is well-versed in Japan's education system from primary school through college, as well as one who has mentored and tutored young Asian female college exchange students, I find the regurgitation model of education -- a decidedly UNintelligent model -- is standard, and should not necessarily be used as a yardstick for intelligence.

Critical thinking and thinking outside the box is extremely undervalued in Japan, and unquestioning adherence to hierarchy and "authorities" -- teachers (who are often using textbooks that skew history and promote institutionalized racism), favored students (often class-based), and that old familiar specter, the guvmint -- is par for the course. I have found unequivocally that students I mentored from Japan and other Asian countries found it extremely difficult to both form their own opinions and demonstrate deeper understanding about politics or literature, even from a place of safety, namely one-on-one. I have met teachers in Japan who taught English language and could not understand nor communicate with me, because they were taught only sentence structure -- what you need to pass a written test -- not vocabulary or conversation. I have a family member who has an MA in Japanese Literature from a Princeton-level college in Japan, but who doesn't know much about authors outside of the established canon, even those authors who were extremely influential internationally but possibly seen as "deviant" by the government, such as Inagaki Taruho.

This is not to say that Japanese are unquestioning robots, or lack intellectualism; on the contrary, I find that many Japanese I encounter have a curiosity about the world, will engage with you about current events, have opinions that are diverse and informed, etc. But this is not a culture that encourages free thought and conversation, and often finds it at best vulgar (which amuses me to no end) and at worst an indication one is a radical danger to society. This is also apparent in my friends' lamentations regarding lack of freedom and fulfillment. A lifetime spent under this yoke when there are bills to pay and obligations to uphold and so. much. pressure. to conform does no one any favors when it comes to cultivating any true "Cult of Intelligence."

The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.

That said, I have no beef with the author's assessment of the US and our own dearth of critical thinking, but I do value our culture's encouragement of questioning what we're being fed. Obviously, math and some aspects of science may not apply here, but this is where I go back to the Traphagan's definition of intelligence. One cannot claim a "Cult of Intelligence" -- especially as juxtaposed with the US and our supposed "Cult of Ignorance" -- without vast demonstration, encouragement, and celebration of critical thinking.



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