Archive | January, 2011

Guest Blogger: Jessica Iannetta

31 Jan

Every so often I will invite someone to post a guest blog for a different perspective.  Today I ask Ms. Jessica Iannetta, a graduating senior from a local public high school, to share some of her thoughts about college admissions, a process that she has just undergone.  I think you will enjoy what she has to say.


I’m the oldest kid in my family, which means that I’m the guinea pig.  I do everything first, figure out where all the pitfalls are, and then watch as my younger brother benefits from my mistakes.  The college process was no different.  After months of research and countless sleepless nights, I made the decision to apply Early Decision to Syracuse University’s S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and was accepted in December.  I learned many things during this process that don’t show up in college guidebooks, so I’d like to help out all my fellow guinea pigs by passing on some things I’ve learned through my experience.

1. There is more than one best-fit college for everyone.

There’s a lot of talk about finding the best-fit college, but it implies that there is only one best-fit college for each person.  When I started looking at colleges, I knew I wanted to major in journalism.  In the end, I had two top choices.  Other than the fact that they both had excellent journalism programs, they couldn’t be more different.  Elon University is a 5,000-student school located in sunny Elon, North Carolina.  Syracuse University is a 14,000-student school located in snowy Syracuse, New York.  Although I ultimately chose Syracuse because it was closer to home and had a more rigorous program, I firmly believe I would have been happy at either school.  There is more than one perfect college for everyone.

2. Apply early action for your own peace of mind.

Although the November deadlines associated with Early Action can be stressful, it’s worth it in the end.  If you apply early action, it’s non-binding and you find out much earlier than regular decision.  This is a good thing because the college application process has a way of turning calm, rational people into raving lunatics.  As others around you get into college, the pressure will magnify and suddenly you’ll begin wondering whether you’re going to get into college at all.  Even if the school is not necessarily your top choice, applying early action will give you peace of mind that you’ll be going somewhere next year and makes senior year much less stressful.

3. “You become a college applicant the day you enter high school.”*

This applies especially to freshmen and sophomores.  Everything you do in high school will go on your future college application so don’t wait until junior year to start thinking about it.  The classes you choose and the grades you get your first two years in high school will play a big role in determining which colleges you can get into it.  Don’t take off your first two years only to regret it when it comes time to apply to your first choice college.

*In the interest of full disclosure, the above quotation comes from Peter Van Buskirk, the mastermind behind the college admissions website The Admission Game.  The website is helpful but I especially recommend going to hear one of his talks in person.

4. Don’t jump off a bridge.

The old saying “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” certainly applies to the college admissions process.  Just because all your friends applied to Ivy Leagues or to one certain school or have submitted 15 applications doesn’t mean you have to as well.  The application process can get very competitive and it’s important to remember that what’s right for your best friend or your sibling may not be right for you.  Resist the temptation to jump off the bridge with everyone else.


Book Review: The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose

19 Jan

For this week, a change of pace.  Some of you know that I love to read and write book reviews.  I stumbled upon this appealing memoir by Kevin Roose who wanted to experience Christian college “with as little prejudgement as possible.”  So he went undercover as a transfer student at Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, controversial leader of the Moral Majority.  From his experiences at Liberty, he penned The Unlikely Disciple-A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University (Grand Central Publishing 2009).

It is a journey into the heart of the southern, mostly white, conservative evangelical sub-culture, a culture almost as foreign to Mr. Roose as another country.  Then a sophomore attending Brown University, Mr. Roose could not have picked a college more different than Brown, a liberal Ivy League university.  Liberty bills itself as the world’s largest Christian university with 29,000 undergraduates with strict rules prohibiting drinking, dancing, and physical contact between the sexes: “Liberty was founded as a conservative Christian utopia, and by those standards, Brown, with its free-spirited student body, its grades-optional academic scene…is a notch or two above Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Throwing himself completely into Liberty’s academic and campus life, he joins a 300-person church choir and takes Liberty’s core curriculum classes like Evangelism 101, Old Testament Survey, and History of Life, a creation studies course.  He gives up cursing – “Without cynicism and cursing, what will I say to people?” – and drinking – “My mind is razor sharp, and my eyelids are defying gravity” – to fit in.  He prays and adopts the evangelical jargon.  He even ventures on a mission trip to evangelize to beach-going, hard-partying college students in Florida during spring break.

What emerges is an entertaining, thoughtful and even-handed chronicle of his semester on the other side of the God Divide.  He befriends his fellow students and dorm-mates, many of whom he finds to be warm, genuine, funny, and intelligent.  While he admires them, he laments that “Liberty is a place where professors aren’t allowed to take chances with their course material…where academic rigor is sacrificed on the altar of uninterrupted piety, where the skills of exploration, deconstruction, and doubt…are systematically silenced in favor of presenting a clear, unambiguous political and spiritual agenda.”  For the sake of its students, he’s “praying for a turnaround.”  His prayers may be answered, as the new leadership at Liberty appears to loosen up some rules.

In the end, the friendships Mr. Roose formed from his time on campus left the deepest impressions: “…I had experienced immense spiritual growth at Liberty…the warmth of my…Liberty friends had been a better apologetic device” than any sermons or class lectures.  His maturity and skillfulness as an engaging writer are evident as he portrays Liberty students, faculty and administrators as complex, multifaceted human beings and not one-dimensional caricatures of fire and brimstone Bible-thumpers.  Even his views of Rev. Falwell undergo fine-tuning as he conducted the last print interview of Mr. Falwell and witnessed the outpouring of grief on campus upon the death of the Liberty founder.

While he does not buy into every aspect of the Liberty ethos, Mr. Roose’s book offers hope that personal relationships can bridge over troubled waters of any cultural divide.  The Unlikely Disciple is a fun read and the author’s capers on campus will suitably amuse readers.


Chinese Mother Redux

13 Jan

It’s Day Five of the publication of Amy Chua’s essay “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” on Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and it’s still the number 1 read, emailed, and commented article on the WSJ website.

Her article continues to roil passions on all sides and now with the release of her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, reviewers have had a chance to read the book and give their opinions.  I’m a notoriously slow reader and thanks to the power of social media, I’ll just provide this link to a review written by Jeff Yang, (he’s a friend of a friend).  It’s well written and hope you enjoy his insights.   

I promise this is the last time I’ll blog about her. 

On a related topic, I had mentioned the documentary “Race to Nowhere” by mother-turned-filmmaker Vicki Abeles in a previous post.  I found out that my local public high school will be screening this documentary on March 1, 2011.  It’s about the pressures that high school kids face today in America.  I’m excited to see it and will give a “review” on this blog afterwards.  So stay tuned.

Thank You Amy Chua

12 Jan

Amy Chua’s essay in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) about Chinese parenting has struck a collective nerve with a jolt not unlike the one you experience when the dentist probes your sensitive teeth during an examination.  To date that article has generated over 3,500 comments on WSJ’s website.  Will it reach 5,000 comments before this dies down?  Bookies are standing by waiting to take your bets.

Seriously, in the interest of full disclosure, I have Ms. Chua to thank for the record number of visits to my blog.  Thank you all for reading my two cents’ worth and for your many comments.

For better or for worse, her article has already affected the way I parent:

I allow my daughter to watch TV and DVDs as long as she finishes her schoolwork and studying.  I also allow her to play her iPod music when she’s doing homework (I do have misgivings about this one but that’s another story).  So today being a snow day in our area, we all woke up to a more leisurely pace.  I just treasure snow days for giving us a break from our busy lives.

My daughter puts on a Taiwanese DVD to watch while she eats breakfast.  It’s a typical soap opera: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy gets cancer and amnesia (what are the chances?), girl marries someone else, boy is cured of cancer and amnesia, blah, blah, blah.  In real life, amnesia does not happen that often but apparently a high percentage of it occurs in Taiwan.

I ask her about her plans for the day and she tells me about the homework she has.  Thanks to Internet connectivity, her teachers can assign additional homework on snow days and they have.  She then turns her attention back to the Taiwanese soap opera and continues to watch it even though she has finished breakfast.  I hesitate and frown, feeling like I should tell her to stop watching and get going.  Then I realize exactly what is going on: Amy Chua is making me question my parenting decisions.

Perhaps guessing what was on my mind, my daughter says to me, “You know, it’s just as important to relax too.”

Thank you Ms. Chua.


Chinese Mothers

10 Jan

Amy Chua’s essay in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has unleashed a firestorm of comments in the blogosphere.  At last count, there were over 1,700 comments and growing on the WSJ site and many people are forwarding the essay to friends and family and re-posting it on Facebook and other social media.  With its deliberately provocative title “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” she compares Western and Chinese parenting strategies and offers a hair raising example of how she got her daughter Lulu to master a difficult piano piece.  Ms. Chua herself is extremely accomplished – Yale law professor – and is coming out with a new book, her third, about how to parent the Chinese way.  No doubt the publicity from this controversial essay will help launch the book on the bestseller list.

At first I couldn’t decide whether she was being tongue-in-cheek in exaggerating the strictness of her rules and overriding her children’s preferences and being their taskmaster.  But as I read on, I realize that she was completely serious.  Her analysis of why Chinese and Western parenting methods vary is uncomfortably accurate and I would add, a matter of cultural differences.  Under her analysis, I would be considered a Western parent, even though I am first generation American of Chinese heritage.  While I don’t parent the way she does, I am familiar with how the Chinese method works, having seen variations of it.

Such extreme methods do seem to produce results.  The Chinese pianist and successful international recording artist Lang Lang had a tumultuous relationship with his father who relentlessly pushed him to practice hours on end. He acknowledges that he missed part of his childhood because of all the practicing but believes that was what it took for him to be where he is today.  A piano teacher I know of (not of Chinese ethnicity) who likes to yell and threaten her students turns out award-winning young pianists each year.

But I worry about those kids for whom piano or violin is just not their thing and no amount of pressure from parents or teachers will change that.  Ms. Chua’s parenting philosophy will not brook allowing children the freedom to find their own interests and passions.  And she harbors an unfortunate cultural bias against sports and drama, both activities that can do much to build up character and confidence in children.

I also worry that our society’s over-emphases on achievement and performance comes at the expense of character building.  Learning from mistakes and setbacks, figuring out how to overcome obstacles, and raising gracious children who possess integrity, should receive equal attention.  I don’t want my daughter to grow up believing that her self-worth is tied to performance, but rather that she is worthy and loved because of who she is, her personality and character.  But I can just see Ms. Chua sneering at that.

There’s so much more I could explore about Ms. Chua’s essay (e.g. does it perpetuate stereotypes? Do Americans feel threatened by Chinese success?) but I wanted to get my two cents worth out there today.  I welcome your thoughts and comments.


Helicopter Parent

5 Jan

Recently I had occasion to wonder, “Am I turning into a helicopter parent?”  Defined as an overprotective, overbearing parent who “hovers” over her child, taking care of (or control over) her child’s life whether the child wants or needs it, helicopter parents have gotten a bad rap in the press lately and are being blamed for raising a generation of children unprepared for life’s setbacks.

When I first heard this term, I was so aghast at the concept, I vowed never to become one.  But being part of a generation used to scheduling play dates and making sure that our little ones are exposed to every sporting, musical or artistically life-enhancing activity imaginable, I’m figuring out the boundaries when it comes to college admissions.

This issue confronted me when it came to registering for the SAT and ACT tests.  My daughter recently decided that she was going to take the standardized tests in spring.  In the back of my mind, I kept meaning to remind her to register for the tests.  Alas, my addled middle-aged brain kept forgetting.  Finally, when a friend urged me to sign up early to avoid being shut out at the test site, I went online to register without waiting for her.

I thought, I’ll just go into the website, select a test venue and pay for it – it’ll be simple.  Instead, the website took me through a litany of questions about my daughter’s college preferences, the majors she is interested in, her current subjects in high school, her GPA, her extracurricular activities and so on.  Many of the questions I could answer but as I continued clicking through – the questions seemed endless – I grew steadily uneasy.  Hmm, perhaps she should answer these questions?  Judging from the wording, the website evidently assumes that the student is filling out the questionnaire.  But then in a mixed message twist, the website expects payment by credit card; few teens I know own credit cards.

Little did I know that registering for the SAT and ACT would become a metaphor for setting boundaries between parent and child in applying for colleges.  Since we’ve embarked on my daughter’s college search, I have needed to remind myself that she is the one going to college, especially when I’ve spent too many bleary-eyed hours reading college guidebooks or trolling college websites.  I’m not the only neurotic parent.  Kelly Dunham wrote a helpful checklist of do’s and don’ts for parents and students during the application process (New York Times, December 15, 2010).

Much as I’m invested in helping my daughter find the right college and getting in, I don’t want to drive her college search.  So I hesitate, uncertain about what to do next.  The webpage stares back at me, its blinking cursor oblivious to the tug-of-war in my head.  I look for a way to skip ahead and go directly to payment; luckily the website lets me do that.  After successfully registering her, I make a mental note to talk to my daughter about going back and filling out the questionnaire herself.

She’s going to college, not me.


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