Many months ago, I explained to a senior that I had to skip a school event because I was taking an SAT Subject Test the next day.
“Just letting you know, though, those subject tests don’t matter unless you get a 500 or something terrible like that,” he said.
“Maybe so, but you need bragging rights to be a good trophy child,” I replied.
“Well, aren’t you cynical?”
“Just saying, that’s why I still care about my score even if it doesn’t have an effect on college admissions.”
I spend an inordinate amount of time reading about myself, about the teenage children of the (Asian-)American upper-middle class. The articles I read tell me that I want to be a good trophy child. They also say that I am a mindlessly conformist robot, a fragile, hapless victim of helicopter parenting. “Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose,” wrote William Deresiewicz in the New Republic.
Maybe Deresiewicz is right. The prevailing wisdom is the individualistic view that I should consider what makes me happy, figure out what I want for myself, and live my own life. Do what you love, love what you do.
“If parents provide for you only for you to become what they want, then screw that,” a friend once said to me. But I do not and cannot feel the same way. What do my parents want? They only want what they think is best for me, and they are unique for having such pure interests and motivations. Literally no one else in the world will so consistently prioritize my wellbeing over their own. I need to give something back to compensate for all the opportunities that have been showered upon me at great cost and great sacrifice.
Maid or no maid, sports car or no sports car, the vast majority of us were born with silver spoons in our mouths.
Because we really won the birth lottery. I know that not everyone at Taipei American School belongs in the same income bracket, and even outwardly wealthy families may be going through different private struggles. (I have always hated it when teachers chide students for not cleaning up after themselves by saying, “I’m not your ammah.” Not everyone has one.) Still, maid or no maid, sports car or no sports car, the vast majority of us were born with silver spoons in our mouths. This means that everything I have ever done or thought was enabled by my parentage, by my extraordinary privilege.
Okay, parents are not always right. They sometimes hold their pet irrationalities dear and engage in paranoid scare-mongering. They might feel unwarranted disdain for certain universities or entertain nightmare visions of their philosophy PhD child bagging groceries decades after college.
I am not saying that everyone should conform to their parents’ views and wishes no matter what. I am only saying that our education, both at TAS and in college, is an investment, and it is not wrong to want to provide a return on that investment. I am aware that this belief is essentially an act of self-commodification, and I still choose it. I choose it even though it may be wrong, because I believe very strongly that I owe my parents at least a fraction of the same selflessness they have always demonstrated towards me.