Oct 4, 2009

I've begun researching a piece about teenagers who kill themselves. It is partly a story of mental illness and partly a story of the pressure parents put on their children to get into the best schools.

For example, there is a hairdresser in Palo Alto who trained to be a breast cancer surgeon in China. But she and her husband decided that the most important thing was to get their child into a UC school. So they found relatives and moved to America, to a neighborhood where they could get their child into The Gunn School, a public school for the children of Silicon Valley executives and Stanford University faculty. Gunn feeds many kids to Berkeley and UCLA. As far as this woman was concerned any other UC school, with the possible exception of UC San Diego, was a sign of a failed education.

This is not a new story certainly, it's just that every few years people forget. Or if they are immigrants, particularly from China, they just never thought about it. The third edition of The Hurried Child came out in 2001. But who reads that anymore?

Here is another anecdote. One day recently an 11-year-old boy comes to a local Montessori school to make a presentation to his class on the subject of the Terracotta Army soldiers of Qin Shi Huang. The boy arrives with elaborate maps showing just where the soldiers were found in Xi'an. He has photographs. He has a bullet point presentation on his computer and most amazing, he has a box filled with sand and small handmade replicas of the soldiers — so you could see just how archeologists found them....

The boy gives the presentation, which he prefaces by saying he got some help from his parents. He shows great poise. At the end there are questions and at one point he begins to cry. The teacher goes to him. What's the matter? The boy inconsolable. But this is a wonderful presentation says the teacher who has been struck by how extensive this presentation is.

The boy looks up, "I didn't do it. It's not my work." The teacher is able to calm the child but later, he falls down on the sidewalk and bangs his head on the cement.

Later, the teacher talks to the mother, who admits the role she played in putting together the presentation. She is an artist. And she agrees that she went to far, that she took away her son's expression, in part because of her own A personality desire for excellence. Nevertheless, she gets the point and promises she will pull back.

A week later the boy arrives in class with a history book. The margins of every page are filled with yellow stickies, each with several ideas and arrows pointing to the text.

What is this? asks the teacher.

"My father," says the boy. "He wanted to help me get ideas."

1 comment:

Anjuli said...

I think this is the hardest lesson a parent has to learn- the releasing of a child into their own 'personhood'. This is a topic so close to my heart, I would not want to get started on it- I might never stop. I'm the one the suicidal children come to...expression their lack of perfection- when in my eyes they are the most perfect human beings around.

"Who told you, you aren't perfect?"

"Well, I never made the Dean's list"

"Why do you think you aren't successful?"

"Well...my parents actually wanted me in Harvard, but here I am in SPU instead."

And just 2 months ago, a dear friend of my son's- at age 24- jumped from a highrise building to his death. He was a top athlete - top scholar - great looking guy, had been on billboards- but he just never felt he was achieving enough....it was just never enough.