Drooling on the Pillow

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Kid 

Opinions are iffy things these days as they imply a judgment and judgments become profiling and prejudice according to who or what is in the crosshairs. Not that people don't have opinions; like they say, they're just like noses, everybody but Michael Jackson has one. But you do have to be more careful these days unless you enjoy getting caught up in the multiculti mulcher.

Even if it's your own daughter.

These thoughts were aroused by a Professor Reynolds link to the Carnival of Education:
Last month, as I averaged the second-quarter grades
for my senior English classes at T.C. Williams High
School in Alexandria, Va., the same familiar pattern
leapt out at me.

Kids who had emigrated from foreign countries
such as Shewit Giovanni from Ethiopia, Farah Ali from
Guyana and Edgar Awumey from Ghana often aced
every test, while many of their U.S.-born classmates
from upper-class homes with highly educated parents
had a string of C's and D's.

As one would expect, the middle-class American kids
usually had higher SAT verbal scores than did their
immigrant classmates, many of whom had only been
speaking English for a few years.

What many of the American kids I taught did not have
was the motivation, self-discipline or work ethic of the
foreign-born kids.
As most of you know, my daughter Grace is Chinese. We adopted her when she was just under a year old, so everything she has learned about life and how it works, she learned in the U.S. of A. Increasingly, of course, this education comes from her peers as the 'where the hell did that come from?' moments have become daily events. Things fly out of her that were patently not installed at home. Mostly good things.

In most ways she's a prototypical American kid. She's a stone tomboy, sports-mad and addicted to cartoons. She pretends to hate reading, but once you pry the remote from her hands and turn off the TV, she'll find a book. She sees no real purpose in any food other than macaroni and cheese. Her understanding of the complex social structure of the playground is Jesuitical. Everything -- every single thing -- is an opera, but she bounces back almost instantly from every tragic event. She's a happy kid, still, at nine, open-hearted, affectionate, with a sense of entitlement Hillary Clinton would envy. Occasional dark forebodings of her teen years will erupt, but for now, she talks all day long and loves to be tickled.

Here's the alien part.

She had a week off recently and got a ton of homework to do over the break. She came home and, without being asked, sat at the kitchen table, opened her books and did it. All of it. Then she practiced her piano and then turned on the TV. She always does her homework as soon as gets home. She becomes anxious if she's not convinced one of her answers is correct. If I look at it and assure her she's right, she'll usually accept my word. She has, to quote the link above, 'the motivation, self-discipline or work ethic of the foreign-born kids'.

Let me assure you, she didn't get this from me.

There's also this; she will grouse and argue and very occasionally fly into a temper over a perceived intergenerational injustice or an onerous request. But she has never once in eight years that I can think of, defied me or her mother.

What's up with that?

Are we simply the luckiest parents in America or does this (careful, now) stereotypically immigrant and even (whoa, Nellie) Chinese behavior, mean something? We have had plenty of opportunity to observe immigrant Chinese families up close and there is a submission from the kids to their parents that is startling in comparison to typical American-born families. And that "self-discipline and work ethic" stuff is very evident among Chinese-American kids. Just check out the MIT year-book.

This nature/nurture stuff was a snake pit even before the subject of ethnicity became so sensitive. Older people, like her grandmothers have no problem figuring out Grace. She's the way she is because she's Chinese. Younger people insist the credit belongs to the Goddess and me, which I blushingly refute by saying, truthfully, she came this way. The most I'll admit to is that I haven't completely wrecked her. Yet.
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