Thanks and 再見 (Goodbye)

By Grace Peng

I would like to thank Jim for the opportunity to share some of my concerns here.  I found my co-bloggers a very stimulating bunch.  Unfortunately, our family was OBE, (overcome by events). Before committing to this, I had cleared the activity with my husband, my daughter, and my boss. Originally, I did not have any schedule conflicts.

But then, my husband was called away for a field experiment.  I had another health flare-up.  My daughter developed a cold. I caught her cold. My husband will be leaving soon again to present his experimental results to his funding source. I was asked to help out on another project at work. Our life has insufficient margin.

In addition, I have been riveted by the situation in Japan.

I wish that I had more time to devote to discussions about immigration policy and how it impacts STEM in both the home and host countries.

Are H1B workers sojourners or immigrants?  What about their children?

This has particular resonance because my father came to the U.S. for graduate school; hence my sister and I were raised here as Americans. One uncle went to college and grad school in Japan; his children were born and raised in Japan. They consider themselves Japanese (though not all Japanese share that feeling). Other uncles also came here for grad school.  Some stayed here; some went back to Taiwan.

We are in an international competition for talent, and some of the public rhetoric is very counterproductive.

I had also hoped to write about my family's experience with public education. Our family has seen firsthand the difference in California public education for the talented tenth in the 1970s, 1980s and today. The STEM workforce is comprised of people who have both the talent and drive for complex and difficult work, and the means to develop their potential.  While a disproportionate number come from established STEM families, many are also recruited.  My husband, a child of immigrants with little formal education (but great curiosity) is a product of San Diego's seminar program.

The state of California provides $50,000 to our school district to meet the special educational needs of 800+ GATE (gifted and talented) students. One autistic child, requiring a dedicated classroom aide, can cost the district the same amount of money.

Moreover, NCLB high-stakes testing competes for classroom time with open-ended inquiry without clear-cut answers. Kids that are expected to "top out" on standardized tests can be left behind in the triage. This problem disproportionately impacts bright kids in struggling schools. Gifted kids are three times as likely to drop out of school than average kids  We've left bright kids and their families to fend for themselves--a horrible waste of human potential.

And then there is the whole tiger mom thing.  This magazine published two very thoughtful responses in the form of Sandra Tsing Loh's "Sympathy for the Tiger Moms" and Caitlin Flanagan's "The Ivy Delusion."  I would like to quote from Cloud, a scientist/mommy/blogger, in "Tiger Moms and Pseudoscience Rants":

What makes me most sad about this discussion, though, is the charge I've seen raised on both sides, that the other type of parents just don't love their children as much. Wow. I doubt that is true. It is a very inflammatory comment, because implying that people in another culture or ethnicity don't love their children as much as "we" do makes it easier to demonize that other group of people. I think the truth is that almost all parents love their children with a force that is as strong as it is universal and difficult to describe. The world would be a much better place if we could all take a step back from the various conflicts that we're involved in and remind ourselves that the people on the other side love their kids just as much as we love ours.

That brings up the point I made in "Thoughts on Tigers and Dragons." 

My mother once told me that people took entirely the wrong lesson from the Chinese adage, "When you raise a dragon, expect to get singed."

She said that people used that adage as an argument for raising docile and compliant children. But she was of the opinion that the world needs more dragons and less sheep. Her takeaway lesson from that adage is to raise a dragon and not take it too personally when you get singed.

I firmly believe that my mother is right. Authoritative parenting leads to a cowed populace, willing to accept authoritarian regimes. And that's why I accept that I will be singed once in a while in the name of democracy.

Happy pi day!

Grace Peng has a day job at the intersection of science, technology and governance/policy. She also does a split shift at home as a mother and wife to a field scientist. She blogs about science, the culture of making, and work/life issues at Bad Mom, Good Mom.