Summer programs, interests and career development

This is what I share with some people today regarding summer activities.

Summer is a good time for club activities, with once or twice a week meeting, like builder’s club (design models with Lego), weaver’s club (making stuffs with fabric or yarn), writer’s club, forensic club (solving crime mystery like lawyers), even origami club.

By the end of summer, you can either hold a contest or a show just to showcase children’s summer achievements.

Its benefits include developing or enhancing interests and making a good use of summer time.

For writing club, there are many writing contests nationally. We can encourage kids to participate in one of them.

Let’s try to avoid using class format. Class form sounds more formal and intimidating than club. You want kids to be relaxing and casual, like sitting in a round table with a lead instead of a teacher, an authority figure.

Regarding management of the kids, two things should work:
1. An agreement like a rule that kids should follow and the consequences for failing to follow.
2. A lead person, which anybody can play that role. You really want to develop leadership talent within instead of seeking outside authority.

It’s like the old style cadres who is elected within the group, even rotating that role. Why do we need a teacher to lead when we have leader within us? It’s like you don’t trust kids can manage themselves well or not?

If you want them to develop extraordinary skills and talents, it’s better to start with out-of-box thinking and unconventional teaching method. This way you can attract more people.

Of course, whoever leads, we have to give instructions and directions. There’s always the first time, which is the most challenging part. Once we pass that challenge, road ahead should be smoother

It’s better to experiment with new approaches of learning and class management. You don’t want your class to be one of those after school knowledge cramming activities. You want to leave a legacy of being unique in developing full potential in each one of the participants.

I think most people are still encased in the conventional concept about education, that is, its purpose is to learn some knowledge. You have to realize that there are plenty of people with knowledge. But without the ability to utilize or maximize their knowledge, in the end, they cannot escape the fate of being nothing but an instrument at other people’s hands.

Make friends and be Healthy children at school and at home

I read this article today Healthy School Year and thought of sharing with parents here, even though some of us already knew this, even though my children have all left home. It is a good one and I wouldn’t let go any good one without sharing it here.

“Grades may matter less than parents think By Natasha Persaud Feeling socially connected as a child could be more important to future happiness than good grades, according to new research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. The Australian study tracked more than 800 men and women for 32 years, from age 3 onward, to discover pathways to adult wellbeing. Their model of wellbeing involved values such as:
(1) believing life is meaningful,
(2) social involvement at work and at play,
(3) having coping skills,
(4) and kindness and trust.
Remarkably, economic security wasn’t included because previous research suggests it’s not that important to happiness.

Why Parents and BFFs (Best Friends) Matter During childhood, parents and teachers assessed whether participants were confident, well-liked by peers or excluded from activities. During adolescence, the now teenagers performed self-assessments that gauged personal strengths, friendship quality, parental support, participation in groups and overall life satisfaction. Having someone to talk to if they had a problem or felt upset was very important.

Why should social interactions early in life matter? The study authors posit that it promotes healthy ways of relating to oneself, others and the world. The research, while preliminary, might be eye-opening for parents. While grades are important, fostering a good relationship with your son or daughter is more so. Likewise, helping your child form positive friendships may help him or her enjoy a truly good life later on.”
End of the article.

New education guideline: children must learn about evolution

The end of new Dark Age.
This is how I felt when I read on 4/9 an article from New York Times site, “New Guidelines Call for Broad Changes in Science Education.” Two key points will mark the end of Dark Age in America, if they are followed.

(1) On Climate change: “Educators unveiled new guidelines on Tuesday that call for sweeping changes in the way science is taught in the United States -including, for the first time, a recommendation that climate change be taught as early as middle school.”

(2) On evolution: “The guidelines also take a firm stand that children must learn about evolution, the central organizing idea in the biological sciences for more than a century, but one that still provokes a backlash among some religious conservatives.”

The guidelines, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, are the first broad national recommendations for science instruction since 1996. They were developed by a consortium of 26 state governments and several groups representing scientists and teachers.

This is only a guideline. I don’t expect all people will accept and follow it. Still, it’s a progress.

“Ph.D.s in general have a less than 50 percent chance of having a full-time job”

I used to think one can never go wrong by getting more educated, like going to graduate school, then to Ph.D. Not long ago I heard this from NPR, my favorite radio station.

What I learn is a bit discouraging. “…job numbers released by the National Science Foundation show that people with doctoral degrees in those technical fields are struggling to find work in their industries.”

“Jordan Weissmann, an editor at The Atlantic, analyzed the latest NSF figures. Upon graduation, he says, ‘Ph.D.s in general have a less than 50 percent chance of having a full-time job, and that percentage has been decreasing for about 20 years.'”

“Worse yet, as of 2011, approximately one-third of people graduating with a doctoral degree in science, technology, math or engineering had no job or post-doctoral offer of any kind.”

In fact, it is more than discouraging. I don’t know what to make of it, but it is certainly scary, as if the U.S. with its poor economy is no longer able to provide enough jobs for those with a doctoral degree. I guess we won’t be able to see many foreign students in our doctoral programs here.

The elective courses of middle school children

On the weekend of 1/12/13, a friend of mine called about the elective courses for her son’s first year of middle school.

Since they only have two electives and there are many courses that the children are interested in taking, parents are often at loss what to choose.

Some courses are year-long one, which means you have to take it for both fall and spring semesters, like orchestra and foreign language. With a foreign language, you won’t learn much if you just spend a year or two on it. If the children take these orchestra and foreign language, they will not be able to take anything else. This is what I asked my daughter to do when she started middle school.

My original intention was to have her on both of them throughout high school years. If she could take six years of French, she would be able to master the basics and would be trilingual by the time she applied for college. Of course, with music, as I had seen its benefit on my son, so I wanted her to keep it till she leaves for college, its positive impact would be lifetime long.

The only problem here is this is a parent’s plan. A parent’s plan can never succeed without children’s cooperation and implemention. My daughter gave up music when she entered high school and quit French by her second part of junior year.

Here’s the result:
(1) she did not learned as much as she should;
(2) She wasted time;
(3) She could have taken some electives to exploit and broaden her interest in other areas;
(4) Because she didn’t do well in French, her French grade hit the lowest bottom and hurt her other area, too;
(5) It turned out parent is responsible for all this.

When I look back, I think my daughter might be better off taking whatever class she was interested in at that time.

Children are different and have to be dealt with different parenting style. It is a much bigger challenge to the parents if the children are headstrong. In making any plan for the children, a parent has to take into consideration the child’s maturity and responsibility.

P.S. my daughter is going to Manhattan with her school at noon today. This will be her last visit to Manhattan for competition since this is her senior year. Wish her good luck there.

In donation, both quantity and persistence count

Since my son’s first year of college, I made the point of donating to his school every year. I told myself I might not be able to make a chunk of addition, but it would all add up if I can keep on doing it, a few hundred every year.

I didn’t miss a year since then, even if we were financially tight when he was in college, even if we try to save for my daughter’s coming college expenses.

Last week, we had a big credit card bill, that donation being one of the large charges. I told my daughter of this annual donation. “Many of my colleagues spend around $25 a week on lunch expense. Since I bring my own lunch and plus I do away with many other feminine vanity expenses like makeup, nail polish, jewelries, etc, I can very well donate this saving to some worthy cause.”

She applauded my choice. Of course, I hope she will do the same in the future.

When the child becomes mature and responsible for his own studies

Last week when I talked to my sister over Skype, she told me of some good news about her son after he started his third year of middle school in China.

“He is getting better at managing his own study now,” she said. In the past, prior to a test or exam, if you asked him “Have you prepared well for the exam?” He would always say yes. But the test result showed his lack of preparation.

This year he would test himself without looking at the answer. If he catches his own mistakes, he would pour more effort on those weak spots. The result of test confirm his effort.

I would say the boy cheated himself in the past. He knew he was not fully prepared, still he did not want to work more, hoping these questions that he wasn’t sure of would not show up in the test.

Now, he is mature enough to know he should be responsible for his study and his future. Ultimately, he will be the only one who gets hurt if he keeps on this self-cheating game. Good for both my sister and her son. I am glad for both of them.

When the monitor is an MD…

On 8/30, we had a monitor from San Diego. She handed me her business card which I didn’t pay any attention. But my colleague noticed that she was an MD. “She is an MD. What does she do here doing monitor work?” came the question.

We could tell from her foreign accent that she is not a native here, even though she sounds very smart. Next I heard some negative comments and gossip about her, like she got her education in a foreign country and is not good enough to become a doctor here, so she ended up doing monitor job. She is actually a senior CRA for early phase clinical trial.

She reminds me of a friend of mine who got her education and work experience back in China, came over, took the needed courses and passed all the exams to become an MD, but couldn’t find residency in three years. Last time I heard from her, she is a medical monitor for a clinic trial.

While I feel sad for people like this monitor and my friend, I can also identify with them in that both of us are over-educated for our position, which, in a way, is a waste of time and life. This is something I hope my children can avoid in their lives.

You do not really need a PhD unless you go to the world of academia.

Summer programs, activities benefit the children

I am so glad that my daughter had a wonderful time at CM in Pittsburgh. The more I talk with her, the more I am convinced of the benefits of summer program or activities on the children.

If it is financially affordable, high school students should participate summer camp or summer program or any summer activities away from home out of town.

It is an opportunity for the teenagers to learn to be independent, adapting to a new environment, dealing with and interacting with strangers. Kids become mature faster in this out in the world experience.

I was not surprised to learn from my daughter that there were plenty of Asian kids like her in this summer program, which meant Asian parents are more willing to invest in their children’s education. In fact, my daughter’s roommate was a girl from Xi’an, China. Of course, she met and made friend with many ABCs like her.

Education in China, a challenge to parents in America

On the 4th of July holiday, I read an article on BBC, “China: The world’s cleverest country?” by Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent.

The article talks about the remarkable achievements in education in China as demonstrated in the highly-influential Pisa tests, the Programme for International Student Assessment, held every three years by the OECD.

The test results in China showed the “resilience” of pupils to succeed despite tough backgrounds – and the “high levels of equity” between rich and poor pupils.

It also shows strong commitment and investment individually and collectively in education, “investing in its future, rather than in current consumption.”

Asked about success, “In China, more than nine out of 10 children tell you: ‘It depends on the effort I invest and I can succeed if I study hard'” instead of luck or aptitude as we often hear in Western countries.

“They take on responsibility. They can overcome obstacles and say ‘I’m the owner of my own success’, rather than blaming it on the system,” as most low performers in America do.

“Education is a field dominated by beliefs and traditions, it’s inward looking. As a system you can find all kinds of excuses and explanations for not succeeding.” “It’s a terrible thing to take away the global perspective.”

On the question about “the rising stars in Asia, Mr Schleicher says it’s a philosophical difference – expecting all pupils to make the grade, rather than a “sorting mechanism” to find a chosen few.

Participation is success: an erroneous claim

My daughter and I talked about it on 5/30. We both have heard of this and have watched how some parents clapped their hands for their children’s effort, like throwing a basketball even though it did not get into the hoop or playing a game even though their team did not win.

I told my daughter if you participate, make every effort to win. Don’t participate for the sake of participation.

After all, the purpose of competition is to filter out the losers and those who make greatest efforts can win. It doesn’t give you a good feeling if you always watch others claim the trophies. In the long run, participating without ever winning anything will hurt the self-esteem of this participant.

Entitlement Mentality among some Children

This is especially true with today’s children in China. Children with this mentality believe they are entitled to this or that from their parents. It is their parents’ responsibility to support them even after they become adult or graduate from college.

They become upset or frustrated or even mad easily if their wants or desires are denied by their parents. They also tend to have a hard time to delay gratification, having underdeveloped coping skills. To make them happy, they need to have it when they want it.

To be sure, with one child per family in China, parents can put all their money on this one child’s education. That is, if they have the ability and are willing to. By no means do they have to, especially after their child has graduated from college. Of course, by no means does this give the adult children the excuse to rely on their aging parents.

Like the entitlement programs in America, this entitlement mentality, more often than not, tends to yield undesirable consequences.

Hard Work will Pay off

Today is my sister’s birthday. I talked to her a few day before. She is always busy as she devotes all her non-working hours to her son’s education.

To be sure, her son is not as smart as she wishes. But given her guidance and persistent effort, he is very much up to the grade, which really proves hard work can make up to certain extent.

I told my sister of two things that have helped her son. (1) He listens to her and does what she asks. This is a huge help. (2) He knows working hard is the only way for him to get ahead, so he has been putting strong efforts at his study and has seen the fruitful result of his diligence.

Hard work will pay off for everybody.
Happy birthday to my sister!

Time to Remove No Child Left Behind Act

Make no mistake here. No child left behind is a very lofty idea and very enlightening, too. But if the government metes out punishment on the schools and teachers whose students fail in state math and reading tests, this policy is no longer laudable.

The real danger of punishing teachers for students’ failure on tests come when teachers, for fear of losing their jobs, focus their time and energy on testing preparation instead of on learning. This reminds me so much of the practice in China. The end result is generating a bunch of students who are experts in taking tests but are weak in various ability.

Schools are important, but ultimately they are important only in the sense that they are to prepare students for the time when students no longer need school.

We have more time, energy and better memory when we were young

Last Saturday morning I sent my daughter to a school competition at JCCC at 7:30 AM and then came back home, got ready for library’s tax service at 9 AM. I did not get back until after 3 PM. Thus the whole morning was gone without my usual morning exercise.

Toward evening, I walked to a neighborhood Walmart to make up for the missed morning exercise. I came back from the walk, feeling very tired, more so than normal morning walk or run.

After I came back, I told my daughter and asked her if she understand why I felt so tired. She said it was because I was already tired by the end of the day. On the other hand, I should not feel tired in the morning after a night’s rest and morning walk only serves to refresh me up.

Her words make me think of this. Isn’t it also true that in learning that it is easy for people to learn new stuffs when they are young. We have more time and energy and better memory during our younger years. Children are much better equipped for learning. It will be a huge waste if we don’t make the most of these so-called “Golden Time.”

Parental Guidance and Children Resistance

Criticizing your children’s work can be rather unpleasant to both you and your children. For some parents, they simply quit playing that role, for the peace of all. They’d rather spend some quality fun time with their children.

“Let the teacher do the job of giving criticism. Kids listen to their teachers,” said one parent. Actually, kids don’t rebel or act out their discontent to their teachers as they do to their parents.

Talks like this always bring to my mind memories of my father asking me to write book reports or movie reviews. The most disagreeable part is what happened after the first writing. To be sure, my father was never content with my first draft, much as I tried to please him. He always came up with suggestions and criticism and always asked me to revise it.

He insisted that the first paragraph was like a door which should tell readers what was inside the room. Next I should keep my promise by focusing on the topic mentioned in the first paragraph. If I jumped from one paragraph to another abruptly, he would show me how to glide through paragraphs seamlessly with the proper connection.

It is amazing that I still remember all these, even if, as you can imagine, I resented doing any of those extra work at that time. Again, looking back, we must admit that parents always try to do the right thing for the children in the long run, even though it is unpleasant at the moment.

Be Your Child’s Role Model, So We Were Told

During the last weekend of last month, I told my daughter to find her own role model in life so that she has a better chance of staying on the right track in life. Not that I have doubt in her ability to keep doing the right thing but I want her to keep doing it no matter what happens.

I often talked to her about some famous people, hoping she could find something inspiring, but that day I was surprised that she told me I was her role model and so was her brother. That was a compliment. “Because you have your goal and have never given up,” she said. I guess there are more than that.

I am glad to learn this because it is not an easy task to be a role model to a teenage child. As children move into teenage years, we not only face cultural and generation gaps, but also are further challenged by the rebellious spirit of the youngsters. When the children see you as their role model, it means they accept you and the values you represent. What a delight when that happens!

Accelerated Program for Advanced Students

Last month we had a new doctor working at our clinic. She has a Chinese last name and physical features but not from China. I shared with my daughter my impression about this doctor. She is either very smart or very hardworking. Normally it takes 8 years of education, 4 years undergraduate plus 4 years medical school. She completed it all in 6 years in an accelerated 2 plus 4 BS/MD program. After that, she had 3 years of residence and 3 years of fellowship in her specialty. She looks like in her 20s.

You have to be really excellent in order to be accepted into any accelerated program. And you have to apply for this program. When my daughter was in elementary school, she was advanced in reading and math. She was reading 12-grade level books when she was a second grader. I should have done something like getting her into an accelerated program, but I don’t think neither I or her teacher had done anything to keep her challenged.

The teacher was following “No child left behind” policy. I should not count on her teacher to provide enough intellectual nutrients. I am sure things would be different if we had done something during her elementary school years.

In America Children Have Too Many No School Days

Today is Martin Luther King day. No school today. Our office also closes for the day.

Children’s attitude toward no-school day is a sign of their growing up and become mature. I remember my daughter used to be excited about any no-school days. She even expected a lot of bad weather days so that there would be more no-school days.

To her, it meant no homework, nothing but play. Even after I told her to work on some long-term projects during these no-school days, she still expected no school days somewhat to be relaxing, insisting no-school meant no work. Thank goodness, she has outgrown this attitude, a sign of being mature and responsible.

I used to complain a lot about American kids having too many no-school play days. I still think so. But then, if teachers leave children to the parents, it is up to the parents to make most of these idle days. After all these years of dealing with teachers and schools here, I have come to this conclusion: for your child’s education and his future, you really cannot count on any schools or teachers.

Grade, Hope and A Second Chance, A Teacher is more than a Teacher

When I was a teacher, I knew I was not just lashing out grades to my students. I thought of long-term percussion of my grading, knowing a bad grade would follow my students for all their lives. Some students never came to me, asking for a second chance. But for those who did, I knew they cared and I never refused them.

I talked to them, making them understand that I could give them a second chance but in real life they might not have the luck to meet people who are willing to give them this second chance, therefore they might end up having a bad mark in their record for all their lives.

I might not be a good teacher but in the long run, when students look back and reflect upon this, they will learn a lesson, heavier than a grade. I knew I was working with young people and they have a long way to go in their lives. Don’t we have the saying — “young and foolish”? I don’t want their youthful foolishness follow them all the way.

If a student thinks he were a loser because of a bad grade, he would give up trying and start heading downhill. What happens next is he will slip to the bottom faster than he has thought. I would do anything to prevent this downward movement.

The tragedy is not many teachers realize this downward triggering role that they can play in a student’s life.

Six Effective Study Skills

Early this year, my mother told me of these study skills over the internet. She asked me to share them with my children. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and found it lately.

I am not sure if I have posted it. I shared with my daughter who agreed to give it a try. I am sure people will benefit from this.

(1) Be focused in class–you always get more done by pure concentration.
(2) Train your memory–ability to retain knowledge.
(3) Enhance your reading comprehension
(4) Develop your writing skill
(5) Learn to take notes with images
(6) Learn to manage well study process

Don’t Bite Off More Than You Chew

On the evening of 4/1/2011, I talked with a friend of mine in China over the Skype. She told me of the experience of one Princeton student. An unpleasant one, to be sure.

For some reason, the girl alway dreamed of becoming a college professor of mathematics. Though she was admitted into Princeton University, she was toiling heavily all the way through her first three years.

Finally, on her final year, she broke down upon learning from one professor that she was not cut out for mathematics. In the end, though she managed to graduate from Princeton, she wasn’t able to land a job and to this date, is still unemployed and disoriented.

I was wondering if she could have fared better than this in her life journey if she had been better adviced before she headed for mathematics professor dream.

Not an April Fool’s Joke

On April 1 2011, a Friday noon, the manager of our team told us that she was going to resign in two weeks. I was a bit shocked at first, thinking she must be making an April Fool’s joke. But some of my colleagues opened my eyes to some facts which made me see that her leaving was out of necessity.

After KUMC purchases our company, the two research departments will naturally become one under one manager. While the one at KU has a PhD and MBA, our manager has a Bachelor. Our manager might be squeezed out after KU buyout, even though she is also very capable and experienced. Hence, she left on her own before she was told to.

To me, this emphasizes the importance of one’s education in the long run. If you plan to climb up to a higher level of management, very often higher than a bachelor degree makes big difference.

Guidance that Parents Can Provide to the Children

On the way back home from school on 5/17, I asked my daughter if she felt superior in one sense. At first she couldn’t understand. I explained that not many parents can share their wisdom and their life’s experience as much as I do with you. Not many parents are in the position to give advice and provide guidance to their children as I have done. Proper advice can help children avoid taking detours in their career path, so that they can go beyond the limitation of their age and lack of experience and advance ahead of their peers. That’s why high school provides school counselor and mentor. That’s why some Chinese Aunties ask me about their children’s education.

She agrees with my assessment, even though she thinks I have given myself more credit than I deserve. At least I have kept in mind children’s education all the time.

Children with proper parental guidance should be more mature and feeling superior to those without, unless they choose not to follow this guidance.

Great Expectations: Generation and Cultural Gap

Last Saturday evening, while chatting with my mother over the Skype, I mentioned children’s education should include a musical instrument and a sport event, the idea that I talked about in my 5/13 posting. I told my mother that education should aim at bringing out happy individual with knowledge and ability. A happy individual has a cheerful personality, strong character, and ability to stand on his own feet in society. I have paid attention to children’s personality, making sure they develop an open, positive and sunny personality– the main ingredients to personal happiness.

My mother said when we were little, they only made sure that we had food and clothes and books to read. Their only hope was we could find some job to support ourselves when we grew up. Great expectation! Really?

To be sure, my parenting of my children is vastly different from that of last generation’s. In fact, I have tried to align my expectation of my children with their expectation of themselves. It took me some time to explain this idea to my mother. Call it generation plus cultural gap.

Sport Participation, Musical Instrument and School Work

On 3/18, my son went to Europe with a few friends to enjoy his last college spring break. In the afternoon, I took my daughter to her skating lesson. There were many Chinese parents attending their children’s skating.

I told one parent that a child’s education was not complete without a musical instrument and a sport event. If school work challenges their brain, sport their body and the mastery of one musical instrument challenges both. On top of this, both sport and music contribute in their own way to building a strong character –perseverance, focus, goal-setting, and competitive spirit.

This parent told me that since her child started figure-skating, she became more open and self-confident. Sport has boosted up her self-esteem and brought a change in her personality. Isn’t that wonderful!

Where There Is a Will, There Is a Way

This is a true story of a colleague of mine, an individual as rare as giant pandas, that is, you really don’t have the chance to meet a person like her. Hence, I reached out to her, rendering her unreserved support.

She is a 30-year-old single mother of two, one 12-year-old, the other 5-year-old, full-time employee, recently awarded full-ride scholarship, one of only 10 people from across the U.S. selected out of about 12,000 applicants for full-ride scholarships to her chosen University under the Project Working Mom program.

With the scholarship, she will continue working on her bachelor degree and will go all the way to get her PhD. in psychology. Her dream started when she was in second year of high school. But it was delayed because of a baby when she was 18 and the need to make a living and support her two children. More than a decade has passed, yet she still holds tight to her dream.

Now she is more than ever determined to pursue her dream degree. She knows her road ahead will be full of hardships but she is resolved to let nothing stop her until she reaches her goal.

Great News about Piano Practice

On 10/30/2010, while my daughter was in her art lesson, I was reading a magazine Scientific American. We used to subscribe it when my son was in high school. There is an article in November 2010 issue, “Hearing the Music, Honing the Mind.” This reiterates the benefit of music in our brain. Below is the key point.

If you listen to your mother and practice piano for an hour in the afternoon, these music lessons can produce profound and lasting changes that enhance the general ability to learn.

“Assiduous instrument training from an early age can help the brain to process sounds better, making it easier to stay focused when absorbing other subjects, from literature to … calculus.

“The musically adept are better able to concentrate on a biological lesson despite the racket in the classroom… They can attend to several things at once in the mental scratch pad calling working memory, an essential skill in the era of multitasking…”

For this reason, I hope my children will keep up their piano or violin practice even after they are out of school.

Develop Your Own Philosophy of Life and Follow it Through

On 12/2/2010, my daughter asked me about Lynndie England. This prompted me to think about the importance of one’s philosophy of life.

Lynndie England is famous for her role in the infamous torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad during the occupation of Iraq. The pictures reveal without any doubt a perverted mind. It is ridiculous to hear her self-defense and her all-out efforts to whitewash herself of any wrongdoings.

In a May 11, 2004 interview with Denver CBS affiliate television station KCNC-TV, England reportedly said that she was ‘instructed by persons in higher ranks’ to commit the acts of abuse for psyop reasons, and that she should keep doing it, because it worked as intended. England noted that she felt “weird” when a commanding officer asked her to do such things as “stand there, give the thumbs up, and smile”. However, England felt that she was doing “nothing out of the ordinary”.

“England maintains that she was goaded into posing for the photographs by her then lover and more senior fellow soldier, Charles Graner. ‘They said in the trial that authority figures really intimidate me. I always aim to please.'”

Lynndie England’s experience emphasizes the importance of developing and following your own philosophy of life unwaveringly. This includes, among others, a clear sense of right and wrong, no matter what others say. Do the right thing always. If it is wrong either morally or legally or whatsoever, do not do it, no matter what, even if you are under the highest pressure. At the very least, always follow the golden rule of “Do-unto-others-as-you-would-have-them-do-unto-you.”

A single bad deed never fails to boomerang, even though good ones might disappear like nothing happens. Lynndie England could have avoided this scandal if she had a clear idea of her philosophy of life and a tiny bit of sense of right and wrong.

A Better Way of Learning

On 10/24/2010, my daughter complained of her European History teacher’s homework. Instead of putting out questions for students to work on, the teacher asked the students to create their own questions and then answer them.

Immediately, I see the advantage of this approach. It can actively engage students in learning, better than handing them questions. In order to do a good job, the students need to think critically and creatively. The students learn much more than the subject matter itself.

When I was teaching sociology courses back in 1993 till 1996, I created a list of questions and asked my students to seek answers while doing reading assignments. I thought it a better way than simply giving out reading assignments.

If I had a chance to teach these students again, I would do as this European History teacher did. If I had a chance to work with little children about their reading, I would try this method, too. Because it is such a superior method of teaching!

The Hyatt Skywalk Collapse and the Professional Responsibility

Yesterday morning we went to Union Station as part of their Saturday science seminar for students. Yesterday’s topic was on the collapse of the Hyatt Skywalk on 7/17/1981 in Kansas City, Missouri, causing 114 death, the then deadliest structural collapse in U.S. history. This happened nearly 30 years ago, hence most of these students had not heard of this tragedy.

The speaker gave a detailed analysis of the serious flaws in the design and engineering of the architecture. These flaws are the root cause of the collapse.

I think it a very good lecture for the young people in that they could learn what professional responsibilities means and the deadly consequence of the irresponsible behavior on part of some professionals.

Build Your Nest While You Can

On 11/23, a very cold Tuesday afternoon, I took my daughter to Border’s to get some closing sale. From there, we went to Costco to buy a bag of pomela, a giant citrus fruit. When we left the store, we rushed into our highlander, feeling very cold. At this moment, both of us thought of this verse and began chanting it aloud, as if it could drive away the coldness.

I am pretty sure I have dwelled on this topic many times before so much so that even my daughter can recite it. This was on an elementary school textbook. So many years have passed and with so much goings-on, I can never forget the story of Hanhao bird. The story goes like this.

When the sun is warm and bright, all the birds are hard at work, with the exception of Hanhao Bird. When a bird reminds Hanhao of getting ready for the cold weather, Hanhao said, “The winter is still far away. I will enjoy myself in this sunny day.”

Hanhao plays all the way until the winter arrives. At night when other birds are resting in their cosy nests, the shivering Hanhao regrets not to have built one for this moment. He keeps chanting this verse. The next day when the sun is out and Hanhao starts playing again, forgetting all about his nest. Thus, eventually he dies in the midst of cold winter night– a lesson for us all.

The Pathetic Case of Shopaholics

This is from reading on 9/18/2010 an article on shopaholics carried in Psychology Today. There are three types of shopaholics.

(1) Emotional shopaholics, “Shopping brings me out of a depressed mood,” said one of them.

(2) Bipolar shopaholics. When certain people with bipolar disorder hit a manic high, the first thing they think to do is shop. “When I was high, I couldn’t worry about money if I tried so I don’t…”

(3) Obsessive shopaholics. If you feel an urge to buy the same top in eight colors or to replace your coffee maker monthly because you keep finding “better” models, you may be an obsessive shopaholic. They must shop to feel that everything is OK.

When you reach to such a deplorable state, obviously something must be wrong with your life or with your feeble mind. Either you need to have a worthy goal to reach or a meaningful engagement to make you feel worthy and proud. I surely wish my children and my dear readers never fall this low.

Read to the Babies, as Early as You Care

This is from my reading of Psychology Today on 9/18/2010. There is an article reporting a research on the factors that contribute to the success of high schoolers. There are three findings.

(1) Word perfect. Babies raised among books obtain an average of three years more schooling than book-free children. That mean babies should be read to as early as possible.

(2) Boys chase girls. Boys score low in class that girls dominate. I don’t have convincing explanation on it. Probably, girls tend to bring out their best when they compete with other girls. And boys lack of the drive to compete with girls.

(3) Clique here. Seniors with more close pals have high GPAs. This is very much understandable when classmates serve as study buddies and help each other to reach their common goals — good grades.

What LA Public School Really Needs in Order to Completely Turn around

On the Sunday of 8/22/2010, I read an article by CHRISTINA HOAG, Associated Press writer, “LA unveils $578M school, costliest in the nation.” Here are some facts that make the whole story absolutely ridiculous.

(1) The new building will house the same old group of teachers who have created 50% dropout rate and one of the lowest performance schools in the U.S.
(2) Schools with worst performance are often rewarded with the highest funding – New York City has a $235 million campus; New Brunswick, NJ, a $185 million high school.
(3) This came in the time when nearly 3,000 teachers were laid off, with many needed programs slashed.

The assumption behind this colossal spending is people attribute the poor school performance to lack of good facilities, instead of honestly confronting the real issues of parental responsibilities, the student’s lack of interest and any much-needed work ethics, and on top of its all, the whole culture that breeds the main student body .

I don’t have ready data to back up this but I strongly believe on the average the U.S. public schools spend far more than the average schools in China, yet the performance and achievement are depressingly lower here in the U.S.

Let’s face this simple fact: education is not something you can buy. Emphasis on education is inherent in a culture. You find it in most of Asian and Jewish cultures. Without a thorough cleaning of the whole culture involving predominantly Hispanic and black student body, this bleak situation will remain stubbornly hopeless, regardless how many millions are poured into these schools. It will only get worse as this student body grows bigger.

Avoid Rush Hour the Night Before

On the Monday morning of 7/12/2010, after one week break, my daughter started the first day of the second session of summer school. She got up at 6 AM, busy getting things ready. Finally we hopped on the car at 6:34. By the time, we got off highway 35, it was 6:47. Five minutes later, we passed Quivira and had less than 1/4 miles to go. Normally we have reached school by 6:52. Today, because we were about 5 minutes behind, we had to wait for 7 minutes before we could reach the dropping spot. It was 6:59 when she stepped out of the car.

I don’t know where the classroom is and how much she has to go before she enters her classroom. But I know clearly we could have avoided all the morning rush if she had got her clothes, school notes, and school bag ready the night before. The next morning we left at 6:30 AM and arrived at 6:49. I hope my children can learn a lesson from what happened on this morning.

History Should Make One Wise

Next year my daughter is going to take European history class. Meanwhile, we just learned that a high school friend of my son majors in history at Wash-U. My daughter asked me what was the use of learning history. I told her of the word of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

“Reading makes a full man; conversation a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man writes little, he needs to have a great memory; if he converses little, he needs to have a present wit: and if he reads little, he needs to have much cunning, to seem to know, that he does not. Histories make men wise ; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend.”

You may be wondering why history makes one wise. When you study history, you have to be able to think in term of time and space and understand events and their relationships, then search for the answer for why event happened the way it is. History enhances your research and critical thinking ability and of course writing ability, too. Plus, it is so much fun reading about history. After all, don’t you want to know the rise and fall of Roman Empire?

Family Rules from an Ancient Chinese Father

During fourth of July long weekend, I grabbed a book on ancient Chinese teaching and bumped into this piece. To be sure, it is a fairly long one. I refrain from torturing my daughter into memorizing the whole piece. Instead, I asked her to learn a tiny part of it.

The main idea of the first part is the following.
(1) Get up early. Clean around and put things in order. Go to bed early. Make sure the door is locked and the windows are closed. The key point is to do something useful after you get out of bed as opposed to watching TV or playing games or surfing the net mindlessly.

(2) At each meal, you should alway remember they don’t come by easily. There are lots of works involved in the making of your clothes. The main point is: nothing comes by easily. Do not waste anything.

(3) While you prepare for the rainy days, you should start digging well before you feel thirsty. The message is self-explanatory, that is, you save for the time when you need it urgently.

To be sure, this is not the first time that I drill these messages into their heads. I know repetition always works.

Don’t Disregard Study Environment

My daughter’s summer school schedule goes from 7 AM to 12 noon. During the first session, she returned home right after school and didn’t start doing homework until late in the evening. During the second session, her brother suggested that she go to the library right after school and try to get all homework done there. It helps her to focus on her work. It is also good to be away from refrigerator and other type of junk food.

It has been two weeks since she started going to the main library. Yesterday, on the way home, I asked her if she got more things done at library than at home. “Oh yea,” she quickly replied.

This reinforces the idea that I had before, that is, the environment and the atmosphere are the factor that parents should consider if they intend to develop a good study habit in their children.

Don’t Shortchange Your Children By Depriving them of Being Bilingual

While I was walking early on the morning of 6/27, I was listening to a book on confronting business reality. When the book hit the topic of outsourcing to China, I thought of some incidents related to Chinese language.

First, I learned of a Chinese parent talking about making his children learn Chinese. “They are going to work here in U.S. Unless they will work as Chinese interpreters, what’s the use of learning Chinese?” This is the first time I hear of such an excuse of not bringing bilingual kids in a Chinese family here in U.S. I have seen cases where Chinese parents painfully struggle to communicate with their adolescent kids in English, being shamefully looked down upon by the children whose only means of communication in their Chinese family is English. The children have every reason to shame their parents, because the parents’ English is so embarrassingly outlandish, after having stayed in the country for so many years.

Second, I heard some internet software companies started turning to China for outsourcing their developer job. It would be a big help if the company can communicate with the Chinese developers in Chinese. In other words, Chinese are gradually becoming both partners and colleagues of the American companies. How can one say knowing Chinese is not relevant to one’s job. You can say the same thing to people working at any fast food restaurant in KC but cannot speak Spanish because most of his colleagues speak Spanish.

Finally, language is an instrument. The more instruments that we have mastered, the better positioned we are in facing the global challenge. It is especially attractive when children can master this instrument effortlessly by simply growing up in this language environment.

I deem it a waste of resource, an opportunity lost and even an unfair shortchange to the children if their Chinese parents fail to bring up bilingual children. Alas, by the end of the day, it takes some wisdom to be a good parent.

Teaching More Than the Language to Chinese Children

On May 8, a beautiful Saturday, we went to a friend’s house for a dinner gathering. As usual, we parents were chatting over dinner table while the kids had their fun upstairs.

One topic that struck me as very interesting, that is, teaching Chinese to the next generation and enhancing parent-children relationship.

Many Chinese parents, in an attempt to assimilate their children into mainstream American culture, insist on English-only environment at their Chinese homes and thus deprive the youngsters the opportunity to learn Chinese while they were young.

I learned of the wretched experience of a Chinese father. He is one of those unwise parents, engaging in nothing but English with his daughter when the girl was little. Now his teenager daughter turns away from him because she cannot speak Chinese and his English sounds too outlandish, rudimentary and outrightly embarrassing to her. The combination of generation gap and cultural gap tears the two apart to an irreparable point. Now vainly the sad old dad cries over spilled water. It is not funny to witness the scene.

Their first home provides the only Chinese language environment for these ABC children. With a large part of their waking hours being exposed to English environment, the Chinese parents really don’t have much chance of raising bilingual second generation ABCs.

Here’s the key to keep in mind — if Chinese parents do not go out of way to teach Chinese to their youngsters, they not only deprive the kids of the chance of being bilingual but also run the risk of alienating themselves from their English-speaking children. Remember it is no use to cry over spilled water.

Where Will 99 Percent of Graduates Go?

Continued with yesterday’s posting on American education and elite society. I was reading SMS year book of this past year, the 2010 Heritage Supplement and noticed this interesting phenomenon. There are about 250 high school graduates from SMS who are heading for colleges this fall. Among them, one will go to Northwestern University, one to Washington University in St Louis, one to Cornell University, and one to Columbia University. They make up about 1% of the graduates, the rest 99% go to either JCCC or K-State or KU or anywhere outside the top rank. This is the crowd. This is the flow. Thus the rudimentory hierarchical structure is taking shape with a tiny 1% on the top, sitting far above the 99% mass of society. There will certainly be change in this structure, as some might drop from the top and others climb to the summit.

For my children, if you want to be one of the crowd, you follow the 99% of the folks. Otherwise, stand above 99% of your peers. While life is easy for one staying with the crowd, it is never easy to be one of the top one percent. The road to the top is especially difficult for Asian Americans as there are so many over-qualified applicants for so limited places in top-ranking institutes of higher education. Tough decision and rough road ahead.

Money Cannot Buy Things that Really Matter

We all know that money, though important, cannot buy things that really matter to us, home, time, sleep, knowledge, health, respect, love and life. Here it is again from a friend of mine. I want my children not to lose sight of big picture and essentials of life while pursuing success in life.

When you have money–
You can buy a bed but cannot buy enough sleep;
You can buy a book but cannot buy knowledge;
You can buy healthcare but cannot buy health;
You can buy a house but cannot buy a home;
You can buy position but cannot buy respect;
You can buy clock but cannot buy time;
You can buy sex but cannot buy love;
You can buy blood but cannot buy life.

Attention, Power of Focus, and Intelligence

Last week, my son forwarded me a blog entry by Jonah Lehrer on this topic.

Lehrer introduces in his blog a recent experiment by neuroscientists at Rutgers, which demonstrated that general intelligence is mediated by improvements in selective attention. The results of these experiments “provide evidence that the efficacy of working memory capacity and selective attention may be causally related to an animal’s general cognitive performance and provide a framework for behavioral strategies to promote those abilities,” and “that intelligence is really about the ability to control the spotlight of attention. After all, having access to facts doesn’t matter if we can’t focus on the facts, or figure out which facts are actually important. (Herbert Simon said it best: ‘A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.'”

Think about internet and ocean of information together with so many kids with study problems. It all boils down to one problem, not intelligence but lack of power to focus and to concentrate their attention for long.

Challenges Facing Parents and Public Schools

Last Monday, 4/5, I heard of this news about Blue Valley school district board decision. The board, faced with a significant budget shortfall, “will save $1.8 million by allowing a slight increase in class-size guidelines. Student activity fees will be doubled. The district will save another $2.6 million through a variety of other budget cuts.” It has to cut here and there in order to trim $3 million.

The news reminds me of the result of a Saturday’s state competition on 4/3. I learned that in recent years private schools have been the leading teams going national.

With budget cut in recent years, I am not surprised to see the decline of public schools. Both parents and public schools across the board are facing unprecedented challenges in keeping their quality and competitive edge with shrinking budgets.

Money Cannot Solve Problems with Public Schools

Kansas City (KCMSD) spent as much as $11,700 per student on a cost of living adjusted basis, much more than many large districts in the country, bringing student-teacher ratio to 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of major school district in the country.

You think you would get the expected result? Wrong. School performance, social integration, achievement gap, and graduation rate remain stubbornly unchanged. Even with tremendous amount of money pouring into school, it is still unrealistic to expect any miracle from a school district whose students come from poverty-stricken areas with most of families headed by low-educated single-parents.

Education starts first and foremost from one’s family where a child spends two-third of his day and has most interactions and influence. Family is where one’s aspiration, dreams, motivation to rise in society, and vision of future are cultivated and encouraged. Family is the root of all for every one of us.

This is as much a social problem as an educational one. Perhaps, instead of giving money to school or trying to get a new crop of teachers by laying off the old ones, we should turn our eyes to parents and invest some resource in educating parents in any poor-school-performance district or at least get their cooperation. Nothing can be done until you get to the root of all education problems — the culture and the family.

The First Golden Rule is to Follow the Rule

On the way from her school to gas station on 2/10/2010, I was thinking of going home directly because my daughter was going to have a test the next day, but I needed to get gas for the car and also get something else from grocery store. I told my daughter, “Sometimes I am really torn between the desire to make you happy and the need to make you work hard so that you can have good grades and get to place of your dream. I know grades are not important and there are many things in life that are more important than grades. But still we need good grades because that’s how people measure you when they don’t know you.”

“Well, we have to go by the rule. Plus, I won’t be happy if I don’t have good grades and not be able to go where I want to go,” said she. I am glad she is so much mature now, at least more mature than some of my adult friends.

To certain extent, socialization process is one of learning and following the rules of the society. Most of successful individuals are good at playing by the rule for their advantage. For example, they realize what is needed to get into a school or a company, so they adapt themselves so that they present themselves as exactly the kind of person for that school or the company. I am not sure how much individuality is preserved in the process and how happy or unhappy they are, but success will guarantee one more freedom to break the rule. A nice thing to look forward to. Until the day we become the ones who make the rule, we have to follow the rule laid off by other rule-makers.

When Children Fail at school, Parents Are the Real Criminals

On last Monday morning, 3/8, I heard on my way to work news on education again. “The Education Department is launching 38 investigations into possible civil rights violations by schools and colleges in more than 30 states. Secretary Arne Duncan makes the announcement Monday in Selma, Alabama, where he will join civil rights leaders to commemorate the 45th anniversary of one of the bloodiest clashes between protesters and state police.” Next we learned more news about the achievement and education gap between white and non-white, that is, black students trail far behind white in math and English, etc. Of course the system and the teachers with prejudice were blamed for this black failure in school.

I lost my patience hearing talks like this when people presented the gap of achievement together with the role of school and teacher. Why wasn’t there any talk on the role of the parents in students’s failed school performance. It is ridiculous to expect teachers to dispense discipline instead of imparting knowledge. As responsible parents, we all know very well that no real learning is possible with proper discipine. Teachers are to teach not to discipline bad-behaved children.

We will never be able to narrow this school achievement gap if we refuse to confront honestly the problem that is rooted in the culture, the one that has failed to raise good students and succeeded in supply most to the U.S. prisons. Without a thorough cultural shakeup, we can get nowhere no matter how much money we squander into the system.

Tips For Children with ADD Discipline Issues

On Sunday afternoon, 1/24, I was in Xi Dan Beijing Booktore looking for some books for my children. Oh boy, what an ocean of books and people, pressing breathlessly around you from all directions. I got hold of a translated book originally written by Eric Jensen on brain enrichment. What a glorious goal! I never allow myself to miss a chance to rake my brain. So I bought the book, even though I am sure I won’t have the time for it.

There are a few pages on children with ADD (attention deficit disorder), which I found interesting. I realize there are way too many children in the U.S. being diagnozed with ADD when in fact it is more a matter of discipline than physical problem. The book partially confirms my prejudice.

There are many treatments for ADD children. Instead of using drugs and other similar chemical therapies, the book recommends that the best therapy is management and development of certain techniques. This is nothing but applying some disciplines on children, to which I agree without any reservation

Here are some therapy tips.
(1) User planner, stick notes or calendar as a reminder for deadlines and anything that need your care.
(2) Make a list of to-do-task when you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that need to be done. Manage each task from this list.
(3) Use key words to help you focus on task on hand
(4) Divide time into small chunks and allocate tasks for each small timeframe. Strictly complete each task without given time.
(5) Use plan instead of impulse

Good luck to both children and parents.

Developing Good Habit, Key to Good Parenting

My mother shared with me an article on children education, entitled “Habits determine a child’s destiny” written by some expert in education. Below are some notable notes from the reading.

Children without exception want to do well at school. The trouble with those not-so-good children is they are bedeviled beyond themselves by some bad habits. On the other hand, the key to good students is their good habits. Habits are certain stable and automatic behavior that links the stimulus and reaction. A habit is initially formed when a behavior is repeated and maintained in at least 21 days and become stable after 90 days.

A habit is restricting on the surface but liberating in essence. You seem to be restricted from doing the undesirable things, yet it liberates you from ever thinking of not doing it at all. That is, you avoid doing thing of low value without ever thinking of avoiding! Isn’t that wonderfully energy-liberating!

Good habits bring you many unexpected good opportunities while bad ones ruin you without your knowing it.

A Russian educator once said something like this. Good habits are an asset deposited in one’s CNS (central nerve system), which will continuouslly appreciate over time, enabling a person to benefit from its endless interests. On the other hand, bad habits are moral debts which will continuously accumulate and augment to an uncontrollable mass pressing on your nerve till your last moment. As the result, you will never be able to pay it in full in your lifetime and eventually it will lead you to total bankruptcy. In my mother’s own word, a bad habit will push you over a thousand-depth cliff. What a horrible nightmare!

The Purpose of Education

What a boring topic, as if I did not know it! I am sure people from background can come up with different understanding on this question.

The question popped up in my mind when I was chatting with my relatives in China. The more they talk about schooling, the more I feel lost. They spend so much time on preparing for the exams, all kinds of them, so much so that you feel exam preparation is the center of gravity, the core of education, leaving you wondering what, in the end, we want to get out of education, other than good grades.

Einstein was once quoted saying something like this. “What is education? It is whatever left after we forget all that were taught to us.” Educational process is like water flowing through our brains; the deposit is what we eventually get from this process.

Grade reports are rather superficial and temporary when comparing to a person’s ability to think, analyze, search and research, persistency in goal-setting and pursuing, personal integrity, responsibility and reliability, and all the fine qualities that will accompany and benefit a person in the long years to come.

Alas, I just realize there are so many things that are more important than a mere good grade. Still, for now, I love good grades. The more, the better.

Treat Others as Others; Self as Self

An old man gives a youth four pieces of advice:
(1) treat self as others
(2) treat others as self
(3) treat others as others
(4) treat yourself as yourself

Following the first advice, you will be able to better endure whatever sadness or happiness that you have when you imagine how others feel in your situation. With the second one, you will be able to feel the joy or the pain that others experience. The third one emphasizes the fact that each individual should be accepted and respected on his/her term, that no one shall impose his/her will upon others. The last one is this — we are responsible for our own lives.

It is so easy to forget accepting others and treating them with due respect, especially within family members or between intimate relationship. And very often we fail to be responsible for ourselves and our commitment. We would be much wiser and happier if we could take to heart these advices.

Everything will End up in Bubbles if We Always Wait for Tomorrow

A day before the eve of New Year.
On Monday after I got back from work, I asked my daughter what she had accomplished in a day. “Oops, I have not thought about it, but I will think about it tomorrow,” said she. My son said, “You should always think about what you should do at the beginning of the day instead of at the end of the day. Otherwise, you will think there is always a tomorrow to get things done.” His words reminds me of a poem called The Song of Tomorrow. It goes like this, “Tomorrow after tomorrow, with endless tomorrows. Everything will end up in bubbles if people always wait for tomorrow…”

A Sad Combination: Big Temper and Weak Character

An acquaintance of mine started his Ph.D program and had to give it up after over a decade. I know of many people who can be characterized as having a big temper but small character, steel-strong in trivial fight but cotton-weak in the will to rise up. When he is expected to complete a task within a certain time-frame, he fails again and again and has to push back this time limit. For all people like this friend of mine, it is mostly because they are not strong enough to break out of their comfort zone and do what they have to do. A loser has to break away from his/her loser habit in order to cease to be a loser.

I always tell my children, “A man got to do what a man got to do” and “Tough it out if toughness is needed.” If you lose, there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever. You can get back to your comfort zone only after you have fulfilled your commitment to yourself and to others. If you make one commitment or set one task for yourself, stick to it until the job is complete. If you start a journey, like that lovely tortoise, don’t stop until you reach the end.

I have seen too many cases where a person so ridiculously fails simply because he/she cannot tough it out, all being the direct outcome of a weak will and character, the ruin of it all. Therefore, the building of a strong valid character should be on top of all parenting efforts. With that, everything else should fall in their right place.

Starting Extracurricular Activities As Early As Possible

A friend of mine asked about college application. Here’s one important success ingredient.

I can never overemphasize the importance of extracurricular activities. I identify this as one of the essential components in college application. These non-academic experiences throw more light than GPA and SAT on your personality, passion, interests, potentials, maturity, ability, and leadership. A sustained commitment to a well-chosen activity is a rare quality found among high school students. If GPA and SAT tests your academic power, extracurricular activities expose the human side of you, making them to see a whole person with full spectrum.

Very often extracurricular experience is also rewarding and life-enhancing, yielding more fruit in the long run than you realize at the moment. These experiences provide unique material for essay and interview topic.

Back to the practical side, the more extracurricular activities you get involved, the more admission index points you accumulate in your favor, the greater chance you will have for thing to go your way. This is especially written for my daughter.

P.S. I just read this quote from a book that my son recommended me during his Thanksgiving breaks — “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” Herbert Spencer.

English Proficiency: Critical to Success after Graduate School

Last weekend, I talked with a friend of mine over the phone about young Chinese students over here for graduate education. She was glad to report to me that her nephew, the son of her brother, went back to China and got a teaching position at Shanghai Shifan University (an institute for bringing out teachers). The young man stayed in US for a year and 5 month for his master degree in economics and went back after graduation. He first got a job teaching English at New East Institute teaching English, later landed this job, teaching economics in English. She told her nephew to find American roommate while he was in US and he did. See how much progress in English he had made in this short period of time.

I applaud for the young man’s success in his job-hunting. Indeed, it all fails, one can always pick up a job as an English language teacher, using his/her language skill. On the other hand, I have learned of many cases where young Chinese students still cannot communicate well with ordinary Americans even after three or four years of living in America.

The first step toward real language learning is to break out of one’s comfort zone by living with non-Chinese-speaking roommates, soaking yourself in this language as much as possible. Thus, you are forced to think and speak English whenever you open your mouth. Just as there is no excuse to trifle away your life, there is no excuse whatsoever to waste this opportunity to enrich yourself in this English language speaking environment.

As with everything else in your life and as I always say to my children, it is your life, your choice and your responsibility.

Kick a Habit — the Great American Smokeout

“Every year, on the third Thursday of November, smokers across the nation take part in the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout® by smoking less or quitting for the day on the third Thursday of November. The event challenges people to stop using tobacco.” — Thus, I was told.

I read something on the subject and share its insight here. “Many experts believe smoking is only about 10% physical addiction and a whopping 90% psychological addiction. Your body will recover fairly quickly from nicotine withdrawals (the worst symptoms usually abate in three days or less), but your psychological dependency on cigarettes can be much more difficult to defeat.”

So well said! Smoking is actually like all habits, like computer gaming, internet surfing. Habits are hard to break because of our strong psychological addiction and dependency. In fact, all of our deeply-rooted habit has psychological base which makes so stubborn to break.

Experts on it suggest doing a self-analysis before taking any habit-changing moves. Make a list with two columns. Label column one “Why I Do it” and label column two “Why I Want To Quit Doing it.”

In column one, list all the reasons and benefits you can remember as to why you started doing it in the first place. In column two, list all the benefits and advantages that you can think of if you quit doing it.

The more reason and benefits that you can think of for column two, the more mental and will power you can harness and the more motivated you are in breaking from the old habit. I think this self-analysis is very important for anyone to break any undesirable habit. I shared it with my daughter — we all live through each day, driven mostly by habits. Some habits lead you to succeed, while others lead you to the opposite direction. Be watchful of your habits if you care where you are heading.

A Chinese Jewish Mother Wrote of Her Experience in Israel

A friend of mine in Los Angeles sent me a writing by a Jewish mother of three. Growing up and being educated in China, this Jewish mother immigrated to Israel early 1990s, with her three children.

The main idea of her writing is to proudly demonstrate how Jewish children are taught to make money, pay for what they get from earliest years of their lives, starting from their home. Before long, all of them, mother and her three children become shrewd business Jews. There is no free service even at home — the writer/mother gets paid for her household work done for the children, the youngest child receives payment from her two brothers for a Jewish drink. The children made egg-rolls at home and sold them at school. I’m wondering if the young children pay their rent for living at home.

It gives me a rather uneasy feeling after reading her writing, as if the whole gravity of living weighs on making money, the more, the better. Is it supposed to be this way? Have I missed anything in my upbringing of my children? To be sure, I have done so much for my children and have not charged them a penny. Or should I?

I used to believe home is the place where we work, like it or not, and don’t get paid in term of money, as long as it is our own home. It is more like a volunteer work, where we do for free, except very often we don’t do it willingly. Because household work can be backbreaking, especially after a day’s work. Still, for some reason, I find it hard to accept the concept that our children pay us for the service we render out of parental love and responsibility. In fact I don’t think it a desirable practice to charge children for our service as parents. If that were the case, I don’t really need to go out working, simply serve my children and get paid. I told my daughter of this, she thinks the practice goes too far, “It’s not like a family any more.” Well, certainly not a Chinese family.

On the other hand, we have to do household work, endless of it, much as we don’t like it. It seems unfair for parents to do them all while the children are capable of helping out. How can we make children pitch in voluntarily at home, if not using Jewish way? I don’t think I have done a good job in this area as my children never lend a helping hand when I expect them to.

Get a taste of Jewish teaching below,

Original, Unconventional and Success

It has been nearly two years since I first talked to my daughter about getting some work experience either by working for others or starting her own company. We all agreed that work experience was very crucial to her future success. At first, money-making is not the concern. Yet, so far nothing has happened.

Yesterday evening, I raised the topic again. “How about setting up a business that helps students with SAT preparation?” I threw out this suggestion. I said we all tried to capitalize our own assets, that is, what service we can offer others. Since you have worked on SAT preparation, you can reflect upon this experience and try to make it valuable to others.

My daughter thought the idea not feasible, “People would hire someone much older than I am,” said she. She thought people had prejudice regarding the age of people they would hire for help.

Indeed, prejudice does exist when people prefer older and experienced tutors as if younger ones were not qualified. Prejudice is not right. It is up to us to wipe any prejudice of this kind. If we don’t do anything, we actually feed in and thus perpetuate this prejudice.

Moreover, keep in mind this. When you set up a business, it does not mean that you do all the job. You can always hire someone to do what you cannot do. You have to rake your brain and be able to come up with solutions when you have your own business.

This I keep telling my children — if you want to be like everybody else and end up being mediocre, follow the convention. If you want to be successful, be original, unconventional and resourceful in your thinking, your planning, and your action.

Task-Oriented vs Time Oriented

I often heard parents mentioning how much time the children put into this or that activities. For some times I employed the same method on my children — you need to practice piano at least half an hour everyday. This does not necessary yield desired result.

Lately, I discover we might be better off if we can be flexible in imposing rules of study. From my past experience, I have seen failure in both methods if not employed properly.

For example, when you insist on children’s devoting one hour on practicing piano, what you often see is children play around the piano for an hour without getting anything done. When you ask children to complete homework, they would spend the whole evening on 10 math problems which they could very well get it over in 30 minutes.

In reality, task-oriented method works best on piano or skate practice when quality is top concern; time-oriented one works best on homework when you need to get it over in the smallest amount of time. I told my daughter, “Never mind how much time you put into practice, as long as you reach the goal you set for yourself.” With her math homework, I ask her to find out how much time one problem will take, then multiple that number with the number of your math problem is the total time needed for you homework.

For myself, I use task-oriented method at home doing my own amateur plus hobbies. At work, I often use time-oriented method, trying to get the task done as soon as possible.

Now, everybody, including the children, is happy with the correct study rule now.

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