When being third is better than being second

Last year I mentioned a kid in one of my posts.   A nice enough young man lacking communication skills and in my view proper decorum when speaking to others.  His speech full of “What?” and “No” other one word replies I felt were improper when speaking to adults.  I used his poor speaking skills as a teaching point to my own children.   The reason for his poor decorum I laid at the feet of his parents.   I’m sure it grated on his teachers.   

My wife’s reply was basically “So what, their son is at Harvard.”

His parents were not focused on teaching their kids polite speech.  Rather, their cold calculation was based on simply getting their kids to the best college possible. 

They wanted their sons to go to Harvard.

The oldest son did just that.  Valedictorian.  Math wiz.  A special talent.  As such it’s tough in any culture being the younger sibling of a kid that went to Harvard. Or Yale.  Etc.   But what happened over this summer I found simply shocking.  I just couldn’t believe it.   I thought I had seen and known everything, regarding the manipulative ways of Chinese Parents when it comes to managing their children’s’ futures.  Turns out I had not.

This bright young man belongs within the school district of perhaps my states most competitive high school.   As his older brother did, he instead applied and was accepted into a special magnet program a considerable distance from his own public high school.   It was a wise decision, as while the size of the school itself is the same as his own local high school, it is far less competitive, and yet the top graduating students still are accepted into elite universities.  This year it was Stanford and the Ivy League.

This young fellow was in Debate and more importantly, was sure to participate in a sport that if he excelled, was sure to make him stand out. 

The sport he chose was fencing. 

He was an excellent fencer.  And he stood out.

Even better, at the end of his first semester he was ranked number #5 in a class of over 850 students.  

He was well adjusted to his school.

Everyone was happy and the future looked bright.  His parents continued to volunteer, doing everything they could to earn the good will of the high school administration come recommendation letter time.

Everyone was happy and everything was going great.

So what the hell happened?

Once the Spring Semester was completed grades went out.  Straight A’s for the Young Man!

Yet there was a catch.  Turns out this fine young man was now ranked #2 in the class. 

Good news, right?

Tell me what parents wouldn’t like that?


Nevermind his ranking had improved from #5 to #2 over the course of a semester.  The parents weren’t thrilled.  Indeed they were both upset and worried.

The #1 ranking you see was held by two kids.  And even more traumatic one of those was another  Chinese kid.  Turns out this kid had gambled and taken more advanced courses then the others.  And the gamble paid off quite handsomely.  As such his GPA was so far ahead of the #2 ranked student that barring a monumental collapse on his part (say a B), he was obviously going to be the valedictorian of the class three years from now.  

That’s right.

In the eyes of the other kids’ parents the game was already over.  Never mind it was only the beginning of the sophomore year.  Second quarter in a football game.  

During my daughters freshman year I had frequently seen the warm, happy glow of his parents. Obviously still proud and just thrilled their first child was enrolled in Harvard.  Kicking ass and taking names. 

But now the game was up.  I’ve told you in the past how Chinese Parents have no “fear” of an “American kid” (read anyone not Chinese!)  They just don’t.   My daughter’s upbringing from Day One, despite her Tiger Mom, is still over the course of time radically different from that of a typical Chinese kid. 

Let us use This Fine Young Man as an example. 

While my daughter secretly hopes to get invited to Prom as a sophomore, and has discovered online shopping, I am more than confident neither “prom” nor “online shopping” has EVER parsed the lips of this kid.   

We have to remember it’s beyond hard being a Chinese in America when your aspirations are Harvard or Hell.  Many Chinese parents only tongue partially in cheek would rather send their kids back to China than to a State School. State Schools Suck. SSS.  Simple as that.  

I remember clearly the words of another Tiger Mom I have the displeasure of knowing,

“I will feel like a failure if my kid goes to a state school.”

The Chinese feel they are not just competing against each other, but against the Koreans and the oncoming onslaught of the Indians. 

Anybody else (read non immigrant Americans) are only so much warm butter their sharp knives routinely cut through.   All I can say is that’s just the way America is.  Especially the private schools.  They don’t have to explain anything to anybody.  The influx of Chinese coming to America, having and raising families here has simply turned on its head the two hundred year old notion of American meritocracy when it comes to college admissions.  Remember the concept of American Meritocracy predates the SAT.  Predates the ACT.  Predates advanced placement classes.   Rather, Johnny and Billy were to come home from the fields, memorize Shakespeare and perhaps Locke, definitely know the Old Testament and some basic understanding of mathematics.  Then upon graduation themselves either become a teacher or a preacher.  American Meritocracy was more about managing the time one had, between perhaps planting the harvest, chopping wood and going to church.  It didn’t involve 5 hours of expensive, daily SAT prep under the guise of Tiger Mom. 

But if the Chinese think they are the first to have the bar raised high simply because of who they are guess again.  Better yet just go back in time and ask the Catholics, the Jews…(especially the Jews), Black America.  Anyone of color.  Period.  The Chinese are just the latest in a long line of ethnic peoples having to work harder, be smarter than “anybody else”.  And you know what?  This newest interpretation or this latest example of preferential treatment is fine by me.

I’ve seen many of these kids close up.  A few are well rounded. Most are not.  It scares me these types of kids (regardless of color or ethnic group) might someday run the country.  If they don’t have a mental breakdown first before graduation.

Still I applaud the tenacity of the Chinese Parents to adapt without outer complaint to the rules imposed upon them from haughty private schools, with their own worries and concerns.   We need diversity in our colleges.   Yes, I know and I understand what everyone else does, ie many of the other minorities accepted Hahhvad couldn’t hold your jockstrap. I get it.  We all get it.   But don’t look for sympathy. You are wise not to openly complain.  Because we see what your kids go through and well we don’t give a damn about the injustices thrown your way.   We’re simply too busy on our own lives.  Twice a week I wonder if my own seemingly well-adjusted daughter will be able to make it through high school with her sense of humor and mental wellbeing intact.   Or will she just tune out in college and get by with Straight C’s?   When she says “I’m never having kids, “I fucking believe her.

It is all so easy to despise these types of folks.  They engineer their children to perfection, than watch them dye their hair blue as soon as they leave the gnarly clutches of their crazy mom. 
But to take the comparison a step farther, somebody has to go to Cornell.  Or Brown.  Or even Dartmouth. Somebody has to go somewhere else.  Not everybody can get into Yale.  Or Princeton.  Or Hahhvad.   These schools are full of kids rejected by Harvard.  Some admit it, some don’t.

Long ago I wrote a post about the Chinese eating their young.  The jist of the post was simple enough.  Somebody has to lose.  Somebody has to finish second.  To “US”, finishing second is not a ticket to Purgatory.  Maybe even something to “brag” about. 

“Hey there, my child graduated second in a class of 800 students!”


So, it was for this family.  Being ranked number two wasn’t good enough.  The happy smiles of the parents, the relationship with the high school administration they had spent much time cultivating.  Dropped like a hot stone held by a child.  With nary a look back. I think like many others, this high school administration overnight saw their knowledge of Chinese Culture take a sudden leap.
One day a warm smile.  Another day gone without notice.

All because their child wasn’t ranked number one.  In a class of over 850 students.  Being number two simply wasn’t good enough.  Still, if not for the sad context, the decisiveness of this Chinese Family cutting the cord with this high school I’m sure was quite illuminating.

The Machiavellian behavior of a country is at times to be expected.  But to watch people, not countries, act this way is a sight to behold.  Stunning really.

Would the Chinese have acted in such a manner if the #1 ranked kid was White….Black…Hispanic?
Probably not.  I’d say definitely not.

The parents will say the kids’ interests were taken into account.  Though the kid himself may disagree.

I readily admit it’s fun watching a Chinese Family know when it’s been beaten.  The Chinese only fear others like them.  Certainly not a Susie or an Ashley.  They knew they were competing against someone just like them.  Same mentality.  Same game plan.  Same way of doing things.   No way number two was gonna be able to jump over number one.   Number One made sure of that.  You don’t think number one knows who number two is?

They took a gamble.  Load up on advanced placement classes early. Get an early lead.  And it worked!

Yet it is also sad to watch a Chinese family getting out competed.  If only for the poor kid.   And what happened next is even stranger.

The poor kid transferred back to his local high school.   His class ranking?  Surely if you are number two at your old high school, you are only going to transfer up for a higher ranking, correct? 

He’s number three now.  

What’s the catch?

Neither number one nor two are Chinese.  Nor Asian.  The Chinese Parents think they have a fighting chance.    They like the odds.


  1. Yeah, but they go to Harvard to study engineering... Which is like going to Morton's Steakhouse and ordering chicken tenders.

  2. hahahahahaha

    Fuck that was funny.

    At least they can say those immortal words, "My son went to Harvard", followed silently with the inevitable, "while your white daughter with the fat ass who turned my son down for prom only went to a state school"......


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