Immigrants win in academic decathlon

Nearly half the competitors on a Tempe high school’s academic decathlon team are recent immigrants. The Arizona Republic reports:

High school student Carlos Ballesteros began learning English just over a year ago. Since then, the teenager from Mexico wrote an award-winning essay during an academic decathlon competition.

Ballestero’s teammate, Mauricio Leon, also is a foreign-born student excelling in speech, language, and writing. He too recently mastered the English language and already has won several medals for his speaking and interviewing skills.

Both students are part of an ethnically diverse academic decathlon team at Tempe’s Marcos de Niza High School. Nearly half of the team members began speaking English just a few years ago, but most of them shine in the categories of writing, speech and communications.

In the competition, students demonstrate their abilities in math, language and literature, economics, science, music and art.

The Marcos students come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Asian, Hispanic, Russian, Romanian and Peruvian.

The students say their love for reading and literature helped them learn the language quickly. Some also said that watching American television helped them grasp English.

The team must have a terrific advisor.

It’s not typical for new immigrants to be able to give a good impromptu speech or write a winning essay. It is common to see foreign-born and first-generation students winning in math, science and engineering competitions. Spelling, too, as as Glenn Reynolds writes in his MSNBC column. Many native-born American children are discouraged from competing — except in sports — lest they damage their self-esteem or suffer from stress.

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  1. Many native-born American children are discouraged from competing — except in sports

    It’s sports too.My daughter was in a basketball league where they didn’t keep score.Needless to say she wasn’t in it very long

  2. Finally! Something positive on this site reagrding public education!

  3. I was surprised by Jack’s comment about “Finally! Something positive on this site reagrding public education!” I had never thought of this site as being one that slams public education. I decided to go through the articles currently posted and see how many were positive, negative, or neutral. One thing that the process brought home to me is that it is hard to classify articles because the process is so subjective. As an example, the “Enriched by vouchers” post seems to be a positive development to me but I can see how someone else could consider the content of that post as negative or neutral.

    My admittedly subjective results show:
    5 positive
    10 Negative
    7 Neutral

    A pretty good average when you consider that it is the exception that tends to get commented on instead of the rule.

    For those interested in how I scored see below. Otherwise, skip the rest.

    If there is an interest in multiple people scoring the posts I have post your opinion with spaces between each categorization and using + for positive, – for negative, and = for neutral. I will summarize the results later today or Sunday if anyone is interested. Your data needs to be in this format
    (+ – = – = – = = – – – + = – + + = – – + – =) so I can easily import it into Excel and count it.

    –Headings and my opinion of category–

    January 31, 2004
    Immigrants win in academic decathlon
    January 30, 2004
    Defining equality down
    Feds for phonics Negative
    He didn’t turn it in
    Welcome, new addict
    January 29, 2004
    No-frills college
    Reading Dickens in Baghdad
    Sex and drugs in the suburbs
    January 28, 2004
    Your public school has self-esteem issues
    Cheaters prosper
    January 27, 2004
    Missing history
    Needs improvement
    January 26, 2004
    Show them the money
    Mona Lisa frowns
    The look that screams
    January 25, 2004
    Too smart to teach
    Teaching kids how to feel
    Enriched by vouchers
    January 24, 2004
    This is not a joke
    Ave, Latin

  4. Post WWII higher education used to be counted on to makeup those deficiencies in K-12. However, the past two decades have seen a great deal of erosion in the quality of university graduates. The flagship university of each state, i.e. University of (your state here) used to be counted on to produce solid graduates. That is certainly no longer the case. Those universities in many states are now being “CUNY-ized” see Hot-tubs, opulent recreational facilities, instructions on sexual romps, luxury dorms, cable-TV, and net-surfing are higher priorities at many state-funded universities. I teach in one of the natural sciences while there is always a solid core of genuinely interested students those numbers are falling. I don’t blame, companies for looking overseas for intellectual talent. Besides IT, see how this is happening in the pharmaceutical industry:

  5. David McCuistion says:

    I have been teaching in the high school environment for 12 years now. I have read and heard several comments regarding the “condition” of the educational system in America. One subject that is never talked or written about is the lack of interest in a large percentage of high school students to learn anything below the surface. Students deplore studying, especially core subjects of no interest to them. While they will research via the Internet, scanning books in the library is boring and a waste of time to them.

    Critical thinking is “to hard” and “to much like work” to be of any value to them. The common answer to any questions relating to percentages of any data is “lots.” Fun to them is laughing and having a good time and moving onto the next laugh or fun-filled event. The “fun” of working to achieve a goal or self-fullfilment is of no interest. Working their part-time job at Burger King, Wendys, KFC, and the likes to earn enough money to pay for their car insurance so that they can drive is their priority. School grades and anything assoicated with learning is of no concern. Their “other job” KFC takes priority what should be their “main job” in their life.

    There is a percentage of high school students who do want to attend college and receive all the benefits of the education. However, the percentage of that group is small that has any kind of work ethic to become equal to or superior to those students/immagrants who value an education and will do whatever it takes to be successful.

    Until the Amercian youth decides that education is a superior need, American Businesses will continue to outsource and seek talant from abroad, especially if it will mean having to pay a smaller wage overseas than it would here in America.

    While there may be problems with the educational system in America, no one solution will correct those problems. However, the main problem, I believe, is less with the system than with the value system, or lack of it, being grown in America. Families lack the fundamental values that made this country great — religion, morals, ethics, standards of behavior — and are failing in their responsibility to teach them to their children. While young people have rights of human dignity, they also have the right to be taught the foundational philosophies that have sustained America. Instead they are being taught other philosophies that erode and belittle those beliefs upon which make for a great person as well as a successful community, state and Union.

  6. Ross — I think sometimes Joanne just puts a negative spin on posts that are positive. For example, this one. Instead of letting it stand as a great school with a “great advisor,” we get the very negative final sentence.

    FWIW, most schools I’ve been in have academic teams; you just don’t hear about them the way you hear about sports teams. They exist under the radar. Everybody knows who is on the boy’s basketball team; very few people know who is on the forensics team or even that it exists, in spite of it being state champ.

  7. Michelle Dulak says:

    Rita C.,

    Amen to your last paragraph. I was on the DUSO (Duchess, Ulster, Sullivan, Orange counties in NY) math team the year we — no, didn’t beat the NYC A team (which always won), but came in second. ‘Twas a famous not-quite-victory, but I doubt even the locals heard much about it.

  8. When I worked for the San Jose Mercury News, I continuously lobbied for more coverage of academic competitions such as academic decathlon, Mock Trial, math Olympiad, etc. Other than robotics competitions, which lend themselves to photos, there wasn’t much. Even the robotics was covered sporadically — not like the Merc covers high school football, basketball or soccer.

  9. Rita,
    Point well taken. One thing I like about this site is that a large number of the people who post are critical about perceived flaws but are also will to offer suggestions about what specific improvements should be made. I don’t continue visiting sites where all they do is complain all the time because if I disagree with the complainers it just keeps my angry and if I agree with them if makes me depressed. 😉

    I much prefer sites that say “Here are some things we are doing right and let’s keep doing them and here are things we think are being done poorly along with suggestions on what I think would make matters better!”.

    Have a great weekend,

  10. Anonymous says:

    David McCuistion has made one of the most cogent and compelling posts I’ve seen on Joanne’s site. The rest of us nibble around the edges. This guy gets it.

  11. At the first high school I went to, our math team scores were reported with the other sports team scores (as was the It’s Academic team, Computer Team, Chess Team, and Debating Team.) Our school pretty much was on top in the county (Howard County, Maryland) for every single Math Competition the year I was there – we had an excellent team. And our team made up the bulk of the county’s team which went to the national competition.

    At my school, any victory was worth noting — we were used to success, and we were obnoxious about it. This was a “regular” high school, not a magnet school.

  12. Why is it that people seem to mystified by the fact that native-born students don’t work as hard, or want to attribute their lack of effort to some external source?

    We live in a time of unprecedented wealth, and the whole *point* of wealth is that you *don’t* have to work as hard (or at all). We’ve provided for our children so successfully that no matter how little effort they put in, they are never in any danger of serious suffering.

    Thus, (and this is no fault of theirs, biology dictates that we don’t do work we don’t have to), our present generation is fated to take it far easier than previous generations, much to their parents frustration. Over the years, our education system has adapted to them, not the other way around.

    Is there a solution? I don’t think so (heck, I’m not going to let my child starve…) except to try and counteract biology and instill as much of a work-ethic as I can. How successful will I be? Can nuture beat nature? I’ll find out in 10-20 years.

  13. Tom West, you’ve nailed it. And by providing so much to the kids, parents are raising their children to be the kind of people — shiftless, spoiled, with an exaggerated sense of entitlement — who will despise them. I see these young adults every day, and many of them are headed for tragedy. After all, Mom and Dad, the checkbook, and the alibis don’t last forever.

  14. This is almost a cliche: immigrant makes good in America, where education can equal success. I love reading about the American Dream being realized.

    But check in in two generations. You’ll probably see a lot of lazy, spoiled products of easy living. My own grandparents cut down trees to farm or dug up iron ore so they wouldn’t starve. My parents went to college and became middle class. I have never had to work hard. Every struggle has been chosen. Failure wasn’t much of a threat. Luckily, I had some ambition, because outside influence would lead me to inertia.

  15. Alex Bensky says:

    There must be an error in these reports. It is well-known that the educational system is in thrall to the patriarchal, white, bourgeois power structure that opporesses people of color and those of other cultures.

  16. Voice from the Agora says:

    Although I agree with several points made by Mr Reynolds, I wanted to comment on his statement that

    “America is richer than the rest of the world because we have smart people who work hard, under a system that encourages them to do so by letting them keep (most of) the fruits of their labor”

    The belief in that statement is one of the problems facing our educational system. There are many reasons why the U.S.A. is richer than the rest of the world that have nothing to do with how hard the smart people here our working-or how smart they are compared to smart people from other countries.

    The college and university system here,especially the private sector, promotes this false sense of U.S. educational superiority, so that they can justify the outrageous tuition bills that exist today.

    The danger will become more apparent in years to come, when a brilliant college grad from India or China beats out the best from our educational system for jobs at a similar salary.