Sunday, September 9, 2012

How Well Does The Smart Redneck Thesis Hold Up?

Frequently I like to reexamine the world to see how well my world model fits it.  It is a useful exercise that is rarely undertaken enough.
The core element of the Smart Redneck thesis is that there is a significant element of the US population comparable to the group I call the 'second sigma', but with a stronger focus on mathematical/spatial intelligence than verbal and a decidedly more rural slant.  Obviously I know these people exist, because I interact with them on a daily basis in professional and personal settings.  But let's look now to see if we can see any strong evidence of them in other contexts.

If one consults Mu Alpha Theta (which is a national competitive mathematics society of long pedigree and wide scope---I participated with some success back in the 80s myself), you'll see some curious results

You'll note that the consistent winners these days seem to come from Vestavia Hills and Buchholtz High Schools.  Vestavia hills was a strong force back in the 80s when I was involved, Buchholtz if I remember correctly was not.  Vestavia Hills is in Alabama and Buchholtz is in Florida.  Are those redneck states enough for you?  By the way, when I say redneck I'm in no way being insulting---I like this group in general a lot more than the second sigma and they are way more useful.  Vestavia is fed pretty strongly by the old Huntsville space and military complex, so lots of sons and a few daughters of engineers there, and Buchholtz likewise from the area around the University of Florida.  UF is actually a pretty major producer of engineers---enough such that one year there their student government was overrun by the 'Engineering Party'

The National Merit competition actually discriminates against this set, because it uses 2x verbal plus 1x mathematics in its selection index.  This is allegedly done to equalize sex ratios of National Merit Scholars, but one has to ask, is this not actually also an example of structural competition between the Smart Redneck class and the more SWPL Second Sigma?  Certainly it dovetails with the evidence of statistical discrimination against applicants with activities like JROTC, FFA, or 4H.
This is actually a big deal, because to be honest, the PSAT was the most lucrative test I ever took.  Generally you could get a full ride to an undergraduate STEM degree at your home state's flagship university even if you were a white guy back in the late 80s if you were a National Merit Scholar.  For a lot of smart rednecks, that's a bigger deal than elite institution admissions (altough those are insanely important as regards the national question). Anyone know if that has changed?


Anonymous said...

I scored 29 on the ACT with little to no prep in 1987-88. That was enough to be a national merit finalist, one cut below you. But that earned me a Michigan tuition grant to a college of my choice, it was not need based at all. Score this high and you get money, period.

I went to an inexpensive private and the set amount covered all of my tuition. Got married halfway through and new wife got a job and covered our room and board. Graduated with zero debt.

Current day, I know of a kid who scored 36 on the ACT. national merit scholar, 4.0 GPA, the works. Case Western still wanted his parents to cough up $20k/year for him to bless their campus with his presence. Ridiculous. he ended up going more local, less "prestige" but with almost all costs covered, including room and board.

Greg said...

I'm Canadian, so I don't really know, but is that organization nationally representative?

If you search by state, there seems to be many more chapters per capita in the South.

eg. Alabama 165 chapters
California 64
Florida 301
Georgia 84
Illnois 56
Louisiana 79
Massachusetts 18
Michigan 12
Mississippi 110
New York 61
Ohio 37
Pennsylvania 27
Tennessee 108
Texas 197

Jehu said...

There are a lot more chapters in the South for some reason, but it is a national organization. Often they have their national conventions in places like Hawaii. They also have some chapters outside the US, which are bundled into one of their 4 regions. The two conventions I went to in my day were in Seattle and Knoxville.
I'm not really certain why the organization is so much more vigorous in certain states. Probably comes down to personalities.

Allen said...

I entered college in 1997 with a National Merit scholarship, so your observation held true for at least another decade. (Also, I live in Vestavia Hills. But I have never been involved in competitive mathematics.)