ancient asian math secret: rice farming

Outliers: The Story of Success is the latest book from New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point. In it, he examines the myth of self-made success and identifies "outliers" as those who have "been given opportunities, and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them."

Here's a NPR story on the book: 'Outliers' Puts Self-Made Success To The Test. Yay. Okay. Whatever. You're entitled to your crackpot theories. But at one point Gladwell attempts to look at why Asians kids tend to outperform others at math. He actually suggests that the key to supreme Asian mathematic prowess can be found in—I kid you not—rice farming:
"One of the puzzles that educators have thought about for years is why is it that kids from Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong [and] China vastly outperform their American or Western counterparts in math," Gladwell says. "They score way, way, better than American kids do."

Gladwell says he thought that Asian children might be inheriting a particular cultural legacy from their parents and their society that was helping them succeed in math - and he says he found the answer in the agricultural tradition of rice farming.

"Rice farming lays out a cultural pattern that works beautifully when it comes to math," Gladwell hypothesizes. "Rice farming is the most labor-intensive form of agriculture known to man. It is also the most cognitively demanding form of agriculture... There is a direct correlation between effort and reward. You get exactly out of your rice paddy what you put into it."
Am I the only one who thinks this theory is absolutely ridiculous? Sure, Asians might consume a lot of rice. And a lot of Asians are good at math. But this does nothing to explain the millions of Asian kids who excel at math but have nothing to do with rice farming.

Dude, I absolutely suck at math. But I'm not blaming that on the lack of rice farming in my family background. Granted, I haven't read the book, but what he's hypothesizing here is simply crazy. Not that anyone seems to mind. Outliers is currently the number one nonfiction book on the New York Times Best Sellers list. There are going to be a lot of people out there believing that the secrets to math can be found on a rice paddy...

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