Translating Education Mindset into the Real World

By Kim-Vi Sweetman

Elm Staff Writer

Say you got an “A” on a paper or a test: you’d be feeling pretty good about yourself, right? A’s are awesome. Now, imagine you got a “B:” you’re still feeling pretty good about yourself. Sure, it could’ve been a little better, but it’s still a pretty decent grade. If you got a “C,” however, you’d probably be upset. Anything below a “C?” Well, let’s not go there. That’s enemy territory. Isn’t that how we think about our grades?

Now let’s look at the Asian stereotype: A is for Average, B is for Beatings, C is for Castration, D is for Death, and F is a word that we’re not allowed to print in newspapers. To paraphrase: anything below an “A” grade will get you nowhere. Do you think that’s “harsh?” What if we held everyone to this standard? Then it would be called “fair.”

Raise your hand if you’ve read some of the excerpts from “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” If you haven’t heard about it, here’s a rough summation: a Chinese mother and American father raise two daughters. By American standards, the mother was extremely harsh: both daughters had to learn piano, had to excel at all subjects, and were not allowed to complain. In one scenario, a daughter had to stay up all night practicing until she could play a piece correctly. The mother was seen as too harsh, adamant that her daughter would play the piece right while the father was too soft, wanting her to try another day. In the end, the girl learned to play the entire piece, and went on to be happy. Was her mother too harsh?

American culture focuses on the child: how we can help the child, support them, what the adults owe to the children. By contrast, in Asian culture, you owe a lot to your parents. To repay your parents for all they’ve done for you – raised you, cared for you, paid for your education – you do well in school. It’s not just that you do well for your parents; you’re doing well for yourself. Nobody’s going to catch you if you fail out in the real world. You’re going to be on your own. Americans, however, are so focused on how bad that would be if the child failed, that we put all these safeguards around ourselves. Still, we’re rather lax about our education.

How many of you reading this are peer tutors or writing consultants? How many of you have a peer tutor, visit the Writing Center or talk to your teachers? I’m not saying that any of those are a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s wonderful that Washington College is willing to nurture and  support all the wonderful talents we have here. The problem is when students become passive about their education. There’s someone there to catch them, or there will be extra credit work to do later, so it’s okay to do poorly on an assignment. You’ll make it up later. I’ve done the same thing. It’s frustrating, however, when a student goes to their peer tutor and simply says, “Explain everything.”  How much time and effort do you invest yourself before taking that step?

It’s similar with what classes we take: “X” major/grad/med/vet school requires “X” class, and we need “X” for distribution. Shouldn’t we be taking classes not only to fulfill a requirement, but because we enjoy the material?

Maybe we should start holding everyone to a higher standard, instead of just the students who have grown up with that mindset, or students who are aiming for grad school. You’re here to learn, and you – or your parents, or the person who donated money for your scholarship – are paying a lot of money for it. So go out there and take charge of your education! It’s your life, and you’re the one who will answer for it in the end.

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