Fortnightly 2: “Let me teach like the first snow, falling”

Apologies if you saw this already on Facebook, but this is still my big news of the fortnight:I’ve been dreaming of this for about two years now.

It can be incredibly alienating to study or work in science/math/tech if you’re a girl, black, Latino/a, low-income, etc. So with the Blair Magnet Foundation, I’ve started a scholarship program to identify ~40 promising 3rd-graders and provide three years of highly-accelerated weekend math classes. We’re calling it the STEM Talent Pipeline Program. (Tax-deductible donation link here.) After years of planning, we finally held our orientation for the first kids and their families, and that’s the photo you’re seeing above. CUTIE ALERT *siren emoji*

With kids this young, the gaps are way smaller than they grow to be by high school, so our team hopes that early intervention will make a big difference and will set them on a life trajectory leading to elite math/science/engineering careers.

Importantly, we’re not forcing these kids into churn-and-burn, rote memorization. (Have you ever noticed the tellingly ambivalent facial expression embedded in the Kumon corporate logo?) Instead, we’re working with the Art of Problem Solving to deliver really high-quality, deep math for youngsters. We want to feed the kids into the pipeline leading to Montgomery County’s elite middle- and high-school STEM magnet programs, which themselves send kids on to some of the country’s top college STEM departments. I really think we’re going to change some lives here.

Video of the Fortnight — Don’t be a sucker

Given the events in Charlottesville, I submit to you this interesting anti-fascism video produced by the U.S. military in 1943. Clicking that link will take you to a short clip; full video is here. Obviously, anything filmed in the 40s is bound to contain some anachronistic attitudes toward race (and freemasonry…) so consider being charitable as you watch. I sure wish someone had taken out a $9 billion ad buy of this in October 2016.
“You see, they knew that they were not strong enough to conquer a unified country. So they split [us] into small groups. They used prejudice as a practical weapon to cripple** the nation…Remember that when you hear this kind of talk, someone is going to get something out of it, and it isn’t going to be you.” (**Please excuse the abelist language there.)

Journal Paper of the Fortnight — Be good to your daughters

Here’s a paper that’s not actually from the past fortnight, but I’ll pass it along because I only just heard about it. Gompers and Wangfrom Harvard tell us the following:

  1. Silicon Valley venture capital firms — who dole out money to early-stage companies — are more likely to hire women partners if the male hiring partners themselves have daughters.
  2. Firms with better gender balance had *drumroll* better investment performance and made more money.

This one got some fun press coverage, too. I’m reminded of an NYTimes piece from last year about how “changing gender roles look less threatening when it’s [men’s] children who benefit.” (Why Men Want to Marry Melanias and Raise Ivankas)

Article of the Fortnight

Quite a tragic story of death and identity and what it means to invent an identity in America. “Asian-American” identity is a made-up hodgepodge of distinct racial/ethnic backgrounds, but it’s also all we have. I’ll paste below some of the identity-oriented exposition, but check out the article for the heartbreaking story of death and alienation:

“Asian-­American’’ is a mostly meaningless term. Nobody grows up speaking Asian-­American, nobody sits down to Asian-­American food with their Asian-­American parents and nobody goes on pilgrimages back to their motherland of Asian-­America. Michael Deng and his fraternity brothers were from Chinese families and grew up in Queens, and they have nothing in common with me — someone who was born in Korea and grew up in Boston and North Carolina. We share stereotypes, mostly — tiger moms, music lessons and the unexamined march toward success, however it’s defined. My Korean upbringing, I’ve found, has more in common with that of the children of Jewish and West African immigrants than that of the Chinese and Japanese in the United States — with whom I share only the anxiety that if one of us is put up against the wall, the other will most likely be standing next to him.
Discrimination is what really binds Asian-­Americans together. The early scholars of Asian-­American studies came out of the ‘‘Third World Liberation Front’’ of the late ’60s, which pushed against the Eurocentric bent of the academy. When Asian-­American-­studies programs began spreading in California in the early ’70s, their curriculums grew out of personal narratives of oppression, solidarity forged through the exhumation of common hardships. ‘‘Roots: An Asian-­American Reader,’’ one of the first textbooks offered to Asian-­American-­studies students at U.C.L.A., was published in 1971; the roots of the title referred not to some collective Asian heritage but, the editors wrote, to the ‘‘ ‘roots’ of the issues facing Asians in America.’’
The project of defining Asian-­American identity was largely limited to Ivy League and West Coast universities until 1982, when Vincent Chin, who worked at an automotive engineering firm in Detroit, was beaten to death by assailants who blamed Japanese competition for the downturn in the American auto market. When Chin’s killers were sentenced to probation and fined $3,000, protesters marched in cities across the country, giving rise to a new Pan-­Asian unity forged by the realization that if Chin, the son of Chinese immigrants, could be killed because of Japanese auto imports, the concept of an ‘‘Asian-­American’’ identity had consequences.
Asians are the loneliest Americans. The collective political consciousness of the ’80s has been replaced by the quiet, unaddressed isolation that comes with knowing that you can be born in this country, excel in its schools and find a comfortable place in its economy and still feel no stake in the national conversation. The current vision of solidarity among Asian-­Americans is cartoonish and blurry and relegated to conversations at family picnics, in drunken exchanges over food that reminds everyone at the table of how their mom used to make it. Everything else is the confusion of never knowing what side to choose because choosing our own side has so rarely been an option. Asian pride is a laughable concept to most Americans. Racist incidents pass without prompting any real outcry, and claims of racism are quickly dismissed. A common past can be accessed only through dusty, dug-up things: the murder of Vincent Chin, Korematsu v. United States, the Bataan Death March and the illusion that we are going through all these things together. The Asian-­American fraternity is not much more than a clumsy step toward finding an identity in a country where there are no more reference points for how we should act, how we should think about ourselves. But in its honest confrontation with being Asian and its refusal to fall into familiar silence, it can also be seen as a statement of self-­worth. These young men, in their doomed way, were trying to amend the American dream that had brought their parents to this country with one caveat:
I will succeed, they say. But not without my brothers!

GIF — Boing boing

Quite remarkable GIF of a laser-etched metal so hydrophobic that water droplets bounce like those rubber superballs from your childhood. [h/t: University of Richmond via Kane]

Shout Outs

  • Shout out to the 3rd-graders in that photo for making me look tall for once in my life. Except for the 9-year-old right in front of me who is literally only a head shorter than me despite being a full 4–5 years away from needing to shave.
  • Shout out to Paulumnus Alex Ma ’17 for the excellent Samir Paul Fortnightly beard logo.
  • Shout out to friends of the Fortnightly Ed Cupaioli and Jess Sanders for the start of their marriage!
  • Shout out to Beth, Brad, Diana, Fran, Girish Uncle, Heather, Jill, JJG, Kenny, Liesl, Linda, Lynn, Michelle, Nate, Ryan, Susan, Ted, Varun, Yuning, and anonymous puzzler for donating to the Pipeline project!

Poem of the Fortnight — Undivided Attention — Taylor Mali

My favorite part is, of course, the ending — a plea, almost a prayer for some outside intervention on behalf of the teacher.

A grand piano wrapped in quilted pads by movers, tied up
with canvas straps — like classical music’s birthday gift
to the criminally insane — is gently nudged without its legs
out an eighth-floor window on 62nd street.

It dangles in April air from the neck of the movers’ crane,
Chopin-shiny black lacquer squares and dirty white crisscross
patterns hanging like the second-to-last note of a concerto
played on the edge of the seat, the edge of tears, the edge
of eight stories up going over — it’s a piano being pushed
out of a window and lowered down onto a flatbed truck! — 
and I’m trying to teach math in the building across the street.

Who can teach when there are such lessons to be learned?
All the greatest common factors are delivered by long-necked cranes
and flatbed trucks or come through everything, even air. Like snow.

See, snow falls for the first time every year, and every year
my students rush to the window as if snow were more interesting
than math, which, of course, it is.

So please.

Let me teach like a Steinway,
spinning slowly in April air,
so almost-falling, so hinderingly
dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane.
So on the edge of losing everything.

Let me teach like the first snow, falling.