Thursday Born

The everyday life of a psychiatry resident (who was born on a Thursday).

Ignorance is Frustrating

with 7 comments

I’ve been following the responses to Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” excerpt with much interest, which is what made me finally get around to writing this post. My parents have always pushed me quite hard, and it’s had a net positive effect on my life. While I think that Amy Chua was excessive in her methods, I believe in the idea that it is okay to push your kids. To know that they can do better and to tell them so. Honestly, I just wish I’d had slightly more emphasis on work ethic versus innate intelligence. That when you “work smart, not hard,” you still have to work. Still, my complaining about that is a bit like complaining about getting a 98% on a test.

From first to ninth grade, I knew my class rank. I knew if I was first, second, tenth or fifteenth or whatever in my class (and continuing to have cable or internet was contingent upon my maintaining an approximate rank; I never found out if my mother actually would have canceled either subscription, because that was incredibly strong motivation for me!). Even though the lists weren’t posted anywhere, people weren’t so shy about it so you knew approximately where everyone else in your class was (roughly 90-100 of us in each grade). You also found out who was at the top of each subject. One year a new guy won all but one of the prizes; we were all very relieved when he skipped a grade the next year.

High school, in the US, was a bit different. No more exact ranks, but at the end of every semester, there was a list posted of the students who made Honors (GPAs between 3.0 and 3.5) and High Honors (3.5 and above). I can’t imagine that this is at all common in the US, but I liked it. Unlike in Ghana, I wasn’t taking the exact same classes as everyone in my grade. Here, there were Advanced classes and AP classes and people were pretty stratified academically, so this allowed me to get a sense of how the people I was taking classes with were doing compared to me.

College was a bit of a grab bag. Some classes I had no idea where I fell, and in others it was very clear. For various reasons, college was my least favorite educational experience. Moving on to medical school. The first year was all Pass/Fail, which I loved, but our professors were fairly generous with the statistics of how people did.

There has been none of that this year, now that we have grades (Honors, High Pass, Pass and Fail). Not a single course has given us even the mean. We had a class meeting in November, and the official stance is that it’s up to the Course Masters to decide to release that information or not, which is fair. What surprised me is that someone else then stated that they don’t want that this information released, because they worry that it will change the friendly atmosphere of our class.

Really? … Really?! That was my immediate mental response. That’s still my response. We’re not graded on a curve and everyone can get honors if everyone does well. Why would knowing, roughly, where everyone else is, suddenly turn us into monsters? It’s not like we’re asking for a list to be posted with everyone’s exam score.

Knowing where I fall in my class has never been a bad thing. It’s either an ego boost, or needed motivation. Are our self esteems so fragile that we can’t handle knowing that almost everyone got Honors but we only got a High Pass?

Any thoughts on this matter? Do I feel this way only because of how I was raised by my parents and because of my educational background?

Written by Aba

January 27, 2011 at 11:55 am

Posted in Medical School

7 Responses

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  1. It’s interesting to read about your parent’s version of ‘Chua-ian’ upbringing, especially since Amy Chua gave a shout out to Ghanaian parents in her WSJ article. I have personally been grappling with these two contrasting forms of nurturing: the cuddly, ‘you can do it’, ‘we are proud of you no matter how you do’ version, versus that of your folks — ‘no cable or internet until you bring home the first prize’. It’s scary to think that in different parts of the world, entire educational systems are built on one or the other.
    I also grew up in Ghana, and from first grade through high school, class rank was the name of the game. You’re either first or you’re nothing at all. Then there is liberal arts nature of education in the US which for the most part, focuses more on breadth of knowledge, and leaves the pursuit of expertise in any particular field to the student. I felt more driven in Ghana because of the incessant competition with my classmates; however I matured a whole lot as a student in the United States. I guess my point is, each educational paradigm has its pros and cons, and you (and I) should be fortunate to have experienced both of them.
    Yes, ignorance is frustrating and I think your reaction to your classmate’s fears about making the averages public is for the most part due to your upbringing. You’re curious to know where you stand, which, in my opinion is totally acceptable. In your spare time, you should read comment #27, on David Brook’s response to Amy Chua (
    Btw, I came across your blog a while ago, and me like. You have a new subscriber. I recently decided to try my hands at blogging. Wish me luck.

    Kojo Amissah

    January 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    • First, thank you for reading and liking my blog! And for writing such a thorough comment!

      Before I get a miffed phone call from my mother, I have to defend her and say that she wasn’t quite that harsh. She threatened to take away cable and internet, but that was after my grades had slipped a little, and they never actually did take them away from me. My parents were surprisingly lenient about a lot of things (I was allowed to quit piano lessons at age 10 because I didn’t like the teacher I had and we couldn’t find a new one).

      I am definitely thankful for having experienced both the US and Ghanaian educational systems. Sometimes I wish I had stayed in Ghana longer, for I would have had a much stronger science and math background before college. But on the other hand, I would have never had the rich extra-curricular theater experience I had in US high school which, to this day, is something I highly treasure.

      Both educational systems do have a lot to offer, and it actually bothers my mother a lot when people completely trash the US system. It has a lot of faults, especially the public elementary and secondary schools. But its universities? There are so many of them that are just amazing environments for personal growth and development. My parents tried very hard to strike a balance between the two different forms of nurturing, and I think they did a very good job. We’ve never felt like their love for us was conditional on our success.

      That comment on the NY Times article was really good. Thank you for sharing! And good luck with your blog! :)


      January 27, 2011 at 5:44 pm

  2. very good commentary. I too grew up in Ghana and cherish the opportunity I was given to be educated. Like the second commentator said, both educational systems have its pros and cons.
    As a budding instructional designer, I am very interested in how people learn and what they can do to achieve their dreams. The evolution of education has taken all kinds of turns and paths esp. here in the states. Most of it based on politics, civil rights, income level and social environment.
    If you compare both countries, you will quickly recognize that despite our great educational system in Ghana it is difficult to get a richer experience in terms of trying out other interests that makes you a more rounded person. This is what we luck and eventually affects us and our Ghanaian economy because people don’t realize they can go to school for a second career, write a book or volunteer.
    The US system is evolving, the recession has taught us to live with less and do more online training etc.
    visit to see what I am talking about.
    So in a nutshell there is a lot to be done on all levels, however personal responsibility and motivation to succeed is a personal choice.


    January 27, 2011 at 11:54 pm

  3. I might be one of the ones that think Ms. Chua is just way out of line. African parents sometimes get a bad rep for pushing their kids too hard too and I will say that mine did push me but they never pushed me in directions that I wasn’t willing to go myself. Children are pretty fragile and I think that what Chua was really missing was balance.

    I’m with you, Aba, when you say that on some level, kids need to be pushed to fulfil their full potential. But I also think that depriving them of some of the more light-hearted and fun things that a childhood affords is not only unnecessary but cruel.

    Growing up, emphasis was placed not on where we ranked in the class but on how well we were doing overall. I think that’s the difference between Chua’s methods; all her emphasis was placed on how well her kids were doing in comparison to others. My parents just wanted to make sure we were doing the best WE could do.

    It’s interesting reading all the varying points of view on this. Whatever the opinions, I think Chua has done what she set out to do – raise awareness of her book!



    January 28, 2011 at 2:43 am

  4. Am really glade you took your parents piece of advise cousin. More greese to your elbow and God will surely see you through.

    Susanna Nana Aba Brookman-Amissah

    January 28, 2011 at 4:32 am

  5. There is such a fine line between motivating kids and being too hard on them. I think a lot of it depends on how you were raised and a lot depends on the individual person. My husband does really well with “tough love” but I am much more responsive to gentle prodding. Lol.

    However, I don’t understand the recent push to get rid of grades and sports scores. There are some schools that don’t keep score when the students are playing because they don’t was the losing team to feel bad. That is just silly! Kids need to learn that failure and setbacks are a part of life. If you are getting a bad grade, work harder. If you lose a game, practice and move on. If we keep trying to protect our children from EVERYTHING we are going to raise a generation of individuals that won’t be able to take care of themselves.


    January 28, 2011 at 8:55 am

  6. At my school, for our pre-clinical years they did release the average and the standard deviation for each exam so you knew where you fell. But overall, all of our courses were completely pass/fail. No one will EVER seen any of our grades on individual tests or courses, our transcripts just say “P”.

    But now that we’re on rotations, we’re being graded for the first time. We have honors, high pass, pass, low pass, and fail. I know what your classmate means about the fear of classmates turning into “monsters” with this change. Now that I’m four weeks into rotations, I can see some people are definitely back-stabbers due to the change in how we’re graded. It’s kinda scary. I hope this isn’t the case, but you might be overestimating the friendliness of your class. Med students can be RUTHLESS!!!

    Marianne DiNapoli

    January 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm

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