Tag Archives: general


I teach composition and book club on Saturdays at an SAT academy, which is codespeak for a near-entire Asian (ethnic Chinese, Korean, Indian, and Vietnamese) first generation immigrant parent clientele who want a place to send their kids from 7th grade on. My kids spend three hours every Saturday with me for a year, then I teach summer school, often to some of the same kids. Understand that most of them live in Asian enclaves in which they rarely run into white people, much less black or Hispanic. The public schools they go to are 80% Asian, then they go off to public or private universities that are 40-50% Asian, they (thus far) marry other Asians and will eventually form additional enclaves and renew. I always start off every new year by asking the kids to estimate the percentage of the American population that is Asian–the lowest guess ever has been 15%. Most of them guess 30%.

I love it. I have my doubts about the impact this same population is having on public schools and college admissions, but my affection for the kids themselves knows no bounds.

It’s a book club, and the primary emphasis is on vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing in different forms. But I nonetheless include a great deal of instruction on “white people world*” and most of them soak it up eagerly. I am often the first person they’ve met who has told them that watching more TV is actually helpful, that good grades are nice but only if they are accompanied by actual knowledge and achievement which is not the same thing, and who understands but gently mocks their parents’ demands. I can only be satisfied by them thinking for themselves, and there are no grades—a topsy turvy world for these kids.

Each class quickly grasps that I will mention things that they’ve never heard of, and that they should know of, and that I think it’s a problem, or at least a deficit. And periodically, the deficit will be so significant that I immediately act to remedy it.

Which is what happened today, when we were going over the news of the week. They all knew that Whitney Houston had died. It took me a while to realize that none of them could identify a single song of hers.

“Seriously? I Will Always Love You? Never heard of it? Hmmf.”

“Was she really popular?”

“Oh, hugely so for about 15 years back in the 80s and 90s. She came from a talented family. You’ve probably never heard of her mom, and probably wouldn’t know Dionne Warwick, but Aretha Franklin was her godmother, and…..” I see the blank looks.

“Oh, come ON. You do too know Aretha.” They all shake their heads. “You have too. What’s annoying is that you’ve heard her and just didn’t know it was her, and you SHOULD. So I’m going to play her most famous song, you’re going to go ‘oh, yeah, I know that song!’ and from now on you are going to know who Aretha Franklin is.” I am thumbing through my Android as they assure me they have no idea who Aretha Franklin is. Their assurances last through the opening of “RESPECT” and then , as her voice comes on, sure enough….”

“Oh, is THAT Aretha Franklin! I know that song!” and they are all cracking up because they are doing exactly what I told them they’d do.

“Now. Never forget who Aretha is, okay?” They nod.

I then play two Whitney songs. Not only had they heard them before, but one of them had “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” on her Ipod.

Don’t worry, parents, we talked about art and Asher Lev, too.

*Yes, I know, there’s a certain irony in my calling it “white people world” when I’m explaining Aretha and Whitney.

Who am I?

  • I’m currently a teacher, in my third fourth fifth  ninth year of teaching. I’ve taught at 3 4 schools including the one I spent a year at as a student teacher. I have three secondary academic credentials.
  • I primarily teach high school math: algebra 2, trigonometry, pre-calc, with the occasional dose of geometry, algebra, or pre-algebra.
  • I also teach US History and English Language Learners.
  • For ten years, I was a private tutor and test prep instructor, teaching every major test except the MCAT. I worked for multiple companies and private clients simultaneously, tutoring in all academic subjects except science.
  • I have extensive experience teaching a wide range of subjects to Asian American and Hispanic high schoolers. My experience working with African American high schoolers is primarily in math topics, and  the sample size is much smaller; there just aren’t a lot of African Americans in my area. I have experience teaching every academic subject but science to whites from fifth grade to high school. I’ve also taught test prep (GRE, LSAT, GMAT) to college graduates. The mental ability of my students ranges from barely functional with IQs just at or slightly below 90 to genius.
  • I’m a parent. I was a suburban parent of an originally under-achieving son long before I became a teacher and, as a teacher, I am extremely sensitive to the aggravations of the suburban parent.
  • I have two Master’s degrees, neither of which I found terribly difficult, and I do not do well in formal education.
  • Neither of my parents graduated from college, and I am the only college graduate of their four children. Only one of my uncles or aunts is a college graduate, and only 4 of my 21 cousins. My grandfather was a college graduate, and my son will be. Real. Soon. Now. has an Economics degree. (whoohoo!) We’ve all done quite well for ourselves, with or without college degrees. My attitude towards education is best described as utilitarian. I snicker when people speak of the joys of lifelong learning as a goal for the general population.
  • I’ve been registered as a Republican since 2000, although the first time I voted for a Republican presidential candidate was 2008. I’m not conservative–I say that not in disdain, merely to ensure understanding. I am not a fan of the left; I have disliked and in many cases despised it long before I registered as a Republican. The best way to describe my political outlook would be “Skeptic”.
  • My content knowledge is pretty extensive. My IQ, for what it’s worth, is somewhere above 3SD–I was selected for this study, which had these results. But my spatial and visual abilities are much weaker than the other tested IQ areas, which holds me back in really advanced math*. 

    I am, in short, pretty smart. No one knows better than I do that “smart” and $4 gets you a large latte at Peets. Smart is useful to me, but I don’t feel even slightly superior. I am one of the many under-achieving white folk of the world.


  • For most of my working life I was self-employed or a contract worker. I liked it. Still do; I have several part-time jobs.
  • I like to argue about interesting topics. I find almost everything interesting.
  • I have to fight the urge to smack people who declare that reading is objectively superior to watching TV or movies.
  • “You were right” are words I get a lot. If only people delivered them more in the present tense, and took my advice first. Alas.