i stand corrected


Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong

I remembered, after my last post, a conversation I once had with a friend.

“My teachers told me I was stupid.”

I looked at him. “They did what?”

“They told me I was stupid.”

“That’s terrible! Why would your teachers say that?”

“I don’t know. My grades were bad.” He looked out the window. The sun was sparkling on the water. It was a surprisingly clear Hong Kong day.

“Your grades were bad because you didn’t study, not because you’re stupid.”

“The education system is messed up.” He glanced back at me and then down at the table. There was a checker board there, in case we’d brought pieces to play.

“Well, if . . .”

“No one ever told me why I needed to learn, I just had to. So I didn’t care.”

“You didn’t think English was important?”

“The teachers didn’t know English! Only rich kids who go to international schools know good English.”

I waited. “That’s not true. Listen to you.”

His dark eyes flashed. “They were wrong.”

I ended my last post with these words: “Oh we westerners and our dreams.”

I have realized, due to personal reflection and a very astute comment, that I was WRONG.

This isn’t a case of East versus West. This is a societal clash. Here is what Mike West, a Hong Kong native, had to say:

“The last line of your post, it kinda struck a nerve. I know you are probably not trying to compare Asians to Westerners, but trying to compare poverty-stricken and ‘well off’ people.

There are many Asians who have the luxury of dreaming, and ways of fulfilling them, too—rich kids who are sent to international boarding schools, or even just ordinary kids that just graduated from HKU.

At the same time, there are many Westerners who don’t have the chance to dream—people brought up in poor families who are now working in Walmart or cleaning school bathrooms . . . and can’t for the life of them find better jobs.

I was born in Hong Kong. When I was three, I went to Singapore for five years and then moved to Vancouver, where I have lived ever since. I am one of the “privileged Asians.” I was taught by my parents (Asian to the core, completely alien to western culture) to dream big, and do big.

There is an age old Chinese saying that describes Asian parents’ desire for their children to reach for the stars: (translated) They “hope their children will become Dragons.” In Chinese culture, dragons symbolize royalty, luxury, and power; in ancient times, the “biggest” dragons were the emperors of their respective dynasties . . .

This isn’t about Westerners and Asians, it’s about different classes of people, the rich and the poor, the dreams and the lingering thoughts of when one’s next meal will be.”

And here is my response:

“You know, you make a really good point. A really, REALLY good point. I completely agree, and I suppose I shouldn’t have said it like I did. It’s just . . . I guess here in the States people tend to have more opportunity to rise in social status than many people in other countries. There are numerous stories of people like Ben Carson rising from poverty to reach a potential no one would have ever imagined possible. You don’t hear of those stories nearly as often in other countries. BUT . . . You are right to say that those stories are few and far between . . .

Culture is so complex. It’s hard to generalize. Obviously Asian cultures tend to be more family-oriented while here in the States we are considered individualistic. Even in rich circles in Hong Kong, for example, kids are often pushed to excel in doing something of their parents’ choosing rather than what they themselves truly love . . . But even that is a generalization.

Your comment is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing. I will try to be more careful in future posts not to make such remarks.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!”

Thank you, Mike. I mean it.

Image credit: Pinterest

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38 thoughts

  1. We in the west, in the U.S. in particular, have a hard time with concepts of worthiness, success, and achievement. Too often, if not always, we equate success with wealth and status. If you’re, say, an excellent poet, or artist, but only have a “day job,” remain at a low income, then you have not really succeeded. But that view would apply in more than one culture. That view would apply to any culture that is repressed in some way, not just American culture.

  2. That’s another thought provoking post from you, Jess. Thank you for sharing. There’s absolutely something wrong when education system only brings perpetual inequality. There’s an illuminating post written by my Soul Sister, Sharon Karvonen in her post: http://aleafinspringtime.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/the-housewifes-guide-to-tackling-poverty/

    She wrote:
    “In the minds of many, education is seen purely as acquisition of knowledge to primarily secure a good life in terms of financial security and material wealth. Education is seen mainly as a ticket out of poverty. This narrow-minded view plus a lack of vision of the education system has churned out multitudes of trained personnel with no greater ambition than to acquire vast fortunes. This perpetuates the rift between the rich and the poor.

    But if the deep and true purpose of education is harnessed, it would also mean moral and spiritual education where our children are taught not only to achieve academic excellence but equally crucial, to cultivate compassion, develop service, high ethical and moral standards which would never tolerate our current system of governance and distribution of wealth.”

    I can see there’s much truth in what Sharon said, and there’s also much truth in what Mike said. As much as education is power struggle, it is also class struggle. For the poor the idea of having a dream is deeply intertwined with the idea of what to eat next, whereas for the rich it is about what big achievements can be accomplished. The greatest challenge of education is not about creating quality teachers, but the greatest challenge is how to create a spiritual based system of education that allows free access to everyone, hence eventually allowing the distribution of wealth to take place. Rabindranath Tagore’s idea of education is exemplary in the light of this notion.

    Thank you again for your post, many blessings and much love to you ♥

    • And another illuminating comment from you, Subhan. I really like what Sharon and Henry had to say. What *is* success? Too often it is defined as financial security and little else… And yet my mind wanders to those who ARE well off, and to how happy they are—or aren’t? Wealth does not bring happiness.

      Right now I am doing what I love—I’m writing. But I’m poor as a church mouse in so doing. Does this mean I am unsuccessful? If I never publish a well-received novel and become rich and famous, have I lost?

      And your views of what the purpose of education should be. Interesting. I agree that education is about far more than learning to dot our “i’s” and cross our “t’s.”

      Oh, so many angles to consider. So much food for thought—and future posts.

      • Thank your for being another light in the heart of humanity, Jess. What you are doing now will one day culminate in the creation of a work that would help others to find light in their hearts, I am sure of that. You are blessed and loved.

    • Have you enabled Zemanta? I can’t remember where to find it on the dashboard, but I could figure it out. When you post something, to the right at the bottom of your page, there will be a list of recommended articles. Often they are articles on other blogs, but I’ve been adding and linking to my own to I can try to make related content known.

      Does that help?

  3. I loved that line – I took it at as more fatalistic. I think our educational system predisposes us to dream – not reality. In Korea, my students were tested and tested. Many thought this was wrong – I had to admit it was practical. A child was tested for elementary school – to see where the child would be placed due to aptitude. It would steer a future mechanic to that trade – and yes it worked. So, yes it killed the dream in a manner of speaking – here we are tell all students they can go to college and dream big! They fail and are not prepared for anything else – so, we westerners are predisposed to dream due to the system of education. I remember when the men came to test me for private school – I was 4 years old!

    • Predisposes us to dream… But to succeed? We’ve all seen how the American education system is failing its students. We rank high in confidence and dreams but little else.

      It’s true the Asian education systems tests and test and forces memorization, often without explanation. At least that’s what I’ve heard from friends. (Obviously I never studied under that system, and the school I taught at was a private Christian school, far different from the mainstream…)

      Again, there are so many different facets to this topic. I could take it a hundred different directions… Did you grow up in Korea?

      • I grew up stateside – surrounded by missionaries coming and going to the uttermost parts of the earth – and always returning to stay with us and influence me. (and my father wondered why I had a travel-lust)
        I just love your mind in that it is open! Your worldview is so understanding – now where will you go next?

  4. Jessica, in my post V Day, i shared that my daughter was labeled “slow” by our singapore standards. it has nothing to with with wealth in our society, as english is taught as first language whether one is in a govt or international school. it is the system that sucks (sorry for using this term).

  5. So good. As a teacher, (and honorary life long learner) I’ve always believed it was a duty, strike that word, replace with “joy” to instill the Joy of Learning in students, which for some includes the “why”… which one hopes gives Wings to Dreams. Thanks!

    • I’m glad you liked it. I agree. I loved making learning fun for my students last year. Which is why I couldn’t understand why a teacher would tell a student they were stupid! Every student has the ability to succeed.

  6. Oh wow, I never thought my comment would spark a post from you Jessica. I wasn’t really trying to correct you per se, I was just trying to bring another perspective to you. Being that I am Asian, and lived in a couple of different countries in my life, just like you, I can say that I am a true mixture of East and West.

    I was brought up with Eastern values and grew up in the Western culture, now that I am old enough… I am embracing both of them. And I can say that it opened my eyes, and made me realize how big the world is, and how small we actually are.

    • I very much enjoyed your comment, and, as I said, I’d already been thinking along the same lines, anyway. I am very much a Western girl who was exposed to the Eastern culture somewhat late. But I am so grateful for that exposure, and it has made me want more and more. I want to see more of the world and to try to understand its people. We are all different, and, yet, in some very striking ways, also very alike.

      Thanks for the good conversation!

  7. I liked this back and forth and of course the world would be a better place if more of us could say, “I stand corrected.” We might learn something.

    • Thanks, Terri. The way I see it, my blog is a vehicle for the expression and exchange of ideas. It’s me voicing thoughts I’ve had and insights into things I’ve learned over the past few years to get feedback. I don’t claim to be an expert on anything. I’ve never formally studied East-West relationships; I can only share my personal experiences. I learned from Randy years ago to be open to perspectives outside my own personal sphere. There is much to be learned from everyone.

  8. Jessica, due to my soccer career I’ve traveled to many many places in the world including ‘Western defined’ 3rd-world countries, and every where I’ve been, both opulent and impoverished, I’ve found one common theme: the poor families want the rich lifestyle and the rich want the anonymous ‘poor’ lifestyle (material risks & responsibilities suck-out their lives!). Both economic classes have their voids & drawbacks; the trick of happiness, contentment, peace, intimacy, et al…resides with neither.

    • Dear Professor Taboo, you are so incredibly right. I am glad to know that you and others feel similarly to myself. Happiness and success—they’re about something else… Oh, this thing called life. Funny that we all find it so confusing.

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