the luke warm generation
Posted June 8, 2012on:
at the heart of what I started out saying yesterday is not really about nature vs. nurture, but more specific than that. Except I guess I derailed at some point and was too sleepy to backtrack, so I’ll pick up the thought again today.
The question of today is, how will my kids write their personal statement for college?
In my generation, we have fascinating coming of age stories to tell: as immigrants, as small town kids, as working class in a rough neighborhood… these are the narratives of my life, my friends’ lives, even the ones who are my parents’ age, like Jim and Helen. The majority of people I know, I would say about 95%, have very interesting narratives. And these narratives are interesting because their story lines resonate with mine. Jim might be a Jewish guy growing up in Long Island, son of a doctor, but he has stories of working as blueberry picker in Maine for 25 cents a bucket, or another summer job up near the coast of Maine, shelling crabs. At any big formal dinner table, this crazy opinionated guy who builds MRI machines for a living now and teaches scientists all over the world from time to time can talk about knowing what an outhouse looks like or says, oh no, that’s not how you kill a crab, to cut it up properly, you need to first yada yada yada… It’s the kind of humble beginning and the story of an individual rising up from hardship that bring everyone’s attention to a person. At least in my line of work, it was the shit that made or break a personal statement.
a tangent: when I was applying for college the first time around, I specifically eschewed the immigrant overcoming hardship narrative because I thought it was being used to death, and I considered myself lucky in comparison to everyone else I knew, so I decided to just pick choice B – write about an accomplishment you are most proud of. I wrote about how I was fed up with badly translated romance novels and decided to just learn Chinese on my own so that I wouldn’t need to deal with that crap. Within 6 months, by the virtue of putting in 6 solid hours a day (every minute of my free time practically) memorizing chinese characters by sight, listening to chinese radio and pop music with Chinese caption, I managed to read through the first novel entirely in traditional Chinese. To this day I’m still amazed at the passion and commitment I had at 15. My essay was actually very interesting and fun to read, even now when I look back at it. It was well written, thorough, and honest. My English teacher at the time, someone feared by all seniors in my school because she was old fashioned and formal, and often failed kids who messed around, she told me it was one of the most interesting essays she has ever read. Well, UCLA rejected my ass, though it accepted my friend, who had identical stats as me. She used an immigrant hardship storyline.
Fast on the uptake, the next time I applied (transferring out of community college), I wrote a sweeping epic of the Fall of Saigon Youth. It actually made me want to gag so I had to put in some humorous lines here and there, to lighten the mood. Every single school I applied to, they accepted me. Grrrrrrrr.
Anyhow. In my generation, we get stories that are often repeated with some variations, but somehow people don’t get bored. And at the heart of these stories, it’s divided into 2 camps: one lacking money, and one lacking love. Or, the masterpieces, they would have lacked both.
My friend who is now a high school English teacher, has a love/hate relationship with her job. She’s in a school district that is average in test scores, lots of immigrants, lots of ESL students, lots of kids from rougher neighborhoods. So she’s screwed, because funding is bad, classrooms are crowded, funding sparse, teachers’ resources overstretched. One time I asked her, could you try for a better school district, something like Albany (where we live)? Her immediate response: NO. That would be her worst nightmare. She said she hated her life the most when she did student-teacher teaching rotation through Albany High. Here’s a 9/10 school district in terms of rating. Parents are progressive, diverse, well educated, blah blah blah. What happened? The kids were terrible. The worst of them refused to work hard, had a bad case of entitlemen-issues, self centered, and would drag their parents into a fight with the teacher to avoid doing work. The not so terrible ones are apathetic, living their lives anesthetized because of all the cushions they got around them growing up. These are well loved kids who are also well provided for. They don’t see their teacher’s interest in them as necessary, so when the teacher challenges them to get something out of their apathetic attitude, the responses are “I dunno.” These kids just like being comfortable, as life has been made for them all along.
These are the lukewarm kids, and I’m afraid of them. They are bland to talk to, and boring to observe. They show more indifference than they wanted to. Underneath that cushy surface, they might be compassionate or righteous, but those senses are sometimes too feeble to fight against lassitude. These are very decent human being. They are polite, fair, courteous even. But they are lukewarm. That was the heart of the conversations my brother-in-law and I are having. We are afraid that by handing comfort to our kids so easily, our kids become sedated to life. They will be sweet obedient kids, but you can’t get a rile out of them. They might not be wacky, or silly, or have consuming passion for a cause (not celebrity worshiping, ugh). They might just breeze through life not reaching the depth of their souls.