Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thinking too much never helped anyone get an A in English

My 14-year-old son is now confronting a new problem in high school. He is, according to his English teacher, “thinking too much”.

He came home last week with an 84 out of 100 in a vocabulary test because he, unfortunately, has been thinking too much about words and their contextual, non-contextual and metaphysical meanings.

Why won’t my son think straight? Does he want to be left behind at school?

And with this event blotting the joy from our November holidays, I offer the following points of advice for my son so he won’t languish in high school and embarrass his high-achieving Indian American parents who, like all other Indian American parents, have very specific dreams for where their son will be going to college in 2012 even though they themselves have attended questionable community colleges and state universities.

1. Don’t read between the lines. Stop wondering WHAT is in a name.

Did I ask you to plough through Kafka on the shore during the holidays?
Haruki Marukumi’s work is not for the wimpy and it does you little to tax your brains to solve riddles. Even though Wikipedia may offer some other explanations, "Kafka" is really just a proper noun. That's all.

2. Will you stop reading comics?

Yes, I know Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer winning Maus is wondrous but you shouldn’t read artwork and writings about the holocaust anyway because it’s amassing knowledge that, once again, will cause you to start thinking about things which is precisely what we’re trying to avoid doing. Ditto with your fondness for Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.

3. Consider your other media options, honey

I’d rather you spent some time in other media, sweetie. Too much reading is why you’re reading too much into everything and ending up with shameful grades like 84 on 100. Your ancestors never settled for anything other than a 100 on 100 and they often went after the extra-credit 4 points by demonstrating that they had memorized meanings word for word in the same order that they were given them. And, honey, I’d rather you arm yourself with some sleight of hand for the challenges of the next generation. Playing Halo may teach you to worm your way through a burning 5-star hotel, a priceless skill in these troubled times.

4. Stay left-brain-centric. Where did right-brain get us anyway?

Don’t trust everything Daniel Pink says in his work ‘A Whole New Mind’ about why right-brainers will rule the future. Mr. Pink says folks like your dad are passé. He says your mother will rule the future. We know who brought in the green in this family so far and who will bring more of it in the future. Let’s not kid ourselves here because I need to use our family credit card for that gorgeous pair of Blahniks that I'm buying at Nordstrom this Christmas season.

Keeping that in mind, make a decision by the end of 9th grade on whether you’ll concentrate on computer science or bio-medical engineering. Everything else is fluff, son, that won’t bring in the moola. No, not economics or investment banking, please.

5. Don’t look up the word

Are you looking up a word in the dictionary as you read? Yet again? Munchkins, I told you it’s such a waste of time because it interrupts the flow of your reading and it’ll get you thinking which, as you know, is risky. What did the teacher say was the meaning of that word? THAT is the meaning and nothing else. No, no, looking up “Rotogravure” in the dictionary is pointless. How many times are you going to encounter this word again anyway?

6. Sweetheart, the classics are overrated

You’re nuts to go through with this crazy plan of yours to finish all the classics of English and American literature before you’re done with high school. I’ve analyzed Canterbury Tales, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Mill on the Floss in the days when there were no Cliff Notes and Wikipedia. It hasn't helped me any. Why should you care what happens to Michael Henchard in Mayor of Casterbridge? Has it shaped anything in you other than, say, your resolve to not lie or drink? But, son, what am I here for? I could tell you that in one-tenth the time it takes you to read these books.

Finally, dear, I’ll leave you with this thought about which, again, I don’t want you to think too hard. Just remember that when English poet Alexander Pope wrote these famous lines in the 17th Century,
“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring”,
he didn’t have access to Google and Wikipedia.

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