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Immigrant Tiger Mothers

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Many of us read the excerpt of Amy Chua’s The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in The Wall Street Journal.   More than 5,000 Journal readers commented on the WSJ’s website, more than any other article in the Journal’s history.  The Chinese tough love approach to childrearing infuriated many.

I was not altogether astonished by this strict approach to parenting.  Not surprisingly, immigrant parents want their children to take advantage of opportunities denied them. Chua’s essay brought to mind Amy Tan’s novel, The Joy Luck Club.  The opening passage tells of a Chinese woman who bought a duck that “stretched its neck in hopes of becoming a goose, and now look [it is a swan]  too beautiful to eat.”   The duck/swan image “a creature that became more than what was hoped for” symbolizes the mother’s dreams for her daughter.

Having taught English to hundreds of immigrants over the years, I heard so many stories of parents forced to leave everything behind in Romania, Iran, Cambodia and Viet Nam.  Whereas many Americans have given up on the American dream, immigrants fervently believe in it.  Their profound optimism and belief that their children will become “more than what was hoped for” reinvigorates America. Their children’s success is their success.

Does curiosity influence longevity?

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

I have a dear friend, Irma, who celebrated her 101 birthday this summer.  Irma lives in her own home in a retirement community, does not use a walker or a hearing aid and drives over to her friends’ homes and library on her golf cart.  Her mind is so sharp that UC Irvine gerontology has been studying her.  One of seven children born to a family in the Midwest, only she and a younger sister survive.  A frail child, Irma grew up on a farm in Kansas.  Farm chores, she says, made her strong.

After college a friend suggested she come on out to California.  Interested in business, Irma enrolled in UCLA and received an MBA. She taught business courses till her ’60’s and then became a stockbroker.  While teaching business, she took sabiticals and traveled round the world.  When she retired, she moved to Laguna Woods Village in Orange County.  One of the first residents, she raised funds for the hospital and the library and was the director of the library some 20 years.  An ardent hiker, gardener and birder, she also founded the local chapter of the Audubon chapter.

When asked what she attributes her remarkable health to, she replies:  “a sensible diet and a positive attitude.”  I would add one other factor:  her curiosity about people, places and current events.  It’s her curiosity that engages her in life and makes her so vibrant.

My recommendation to parents is to stimulate your child’s innate curiosity.  Yes, there are wonderful nature shows on tv but take your child to the natural history museums and other places of interest in your city.  Teach them to love nature. Explore the outdoors and vacation at one of our great national parks.  Yosemite is a favorite of mine. Life is an adventure.  Instill this in your child from a early age.  Develop interests and share these with your child.  Teach them to live life with passion as my friend Irma has.

“Who’s Oprah?”

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

 spent Christmas with my daughter and son-in-law and their little ones in their 1890’s Victorian home in Texas.  My daughter homeschools her children.  The eldest, now eleven, has “graduated” from homeschool and is in sixth grade at a private school and is thriving socially and academically. 

One evening my two oldest granddaughters asked my sister and me to play a game in which you draw cards with fantasy dreams such as “an indoor swimming pool” or “a visit to the Eiffel Tower.” For four players, four cards are drawn and each player discards one card, the fantasy dream least suited to the other players.  The challenge is to give the remaining cards to the player that will value it the most — points range from 3 to 1.  The player with the most points wins.  It’s a fun game, full of surprises.  “You’d rather have a cottage on the beach than a trip to Italy?”  a player might ask.  “Yes, that way I’d have a year-round vacation,” someone might answer.  The game promotes lively discussion.

I drew a card whose fantasy dream was an appearance on Oprah’s show and gave it to my sister.  Ecstatic, she immediately awarded this card three points.  My nine-year old granddaughter turned to her and asked, “Who’s Oprah?” 

“Who’s Oprah?” my sister and I repeated to one another, mouths agape.  Later we reflected that the family uses their tv (out of sight in an upstairs den) essentially to view movies.  They do not watch television at ALL.   Oprah, herself, who paradoxically does not espouse watching television would be proud. (It was Gail who insisted the guest rooms at her palatial Santa Barbara home have televisions because unlike Oprah, guests watch tv.) 

I got to thinking how television has taken over our family life.  If it’s always on during family time, it’s like another member of the family.  At my daughter’s, evenings are truly family time where parents or older siblings read to the younger children and all play games.

Evenings seemed magical in their living room, the Christmas tree sparkling in the bay window.  I imagined Christmas back in the 1800’s — the family together enjoying each other’s company, providing their own entertainment.  Children grow up so fast.  Don’t deprive yourself or them the time to enjoy them.

Happy New Year! Thank you for a GREAT 2010!

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Let me take a moment to thank you a GREAT 2010!  Last month, my publisher informed me that my workbook was in the TOP three sellers for the month of November at Infinity Publishing. 

Sales of my workbook are nearing 10,000 copies.  Teach Your Child the Multiplication Tables has been #1 on Amazon under “multiplication tables” these past three years.  I owe it ALL to my faithful customers who through word of mouth have made my workbook a success. 

Had my son not resisted learning the tables through rote memorization, I would not have developed my method.  So as always, Scott, thank you for leading me on this extraordinary journey.

My little workbook connects me to the world.  Through PayPal orders on this website, I learn how someone in Singapore, London or a remote town in Maine heard of my workbook.  I’ve received countless emails from families telling me the difference my workbook made in their child’s life.  Thank you so much for sharing your stories, those from parents and teachers of special needs children are especially poignant.

Moms and dads, every day you confront routine problems in your children’s  lives and solve them.  I encourage you to share your innovations with other families by bringing these to market.  I believe if more of us would do for other people’s children what we do for our own, the world would be a better place.

                                      Wishing you Happy Times this New Year!


Wishing you and your family Happy Times this Thanksgiving

Friday, November 26th, 2010

On the front page,  the testimonial page, of every workbook I sell, I write, “Wishing you Happy Times!” and then I sign my name.  My wish is twofold:  not only do I want mastery of the times tables  to be a happy experience for your child but I also wish you  and your family Happy Times.

At the Thanksgiving dinner table yesterday, I reflected on all the blessings bestowed on my family:  good health and happiness, a daughter and a son and a son-in-law and daughter-in-law I love deeply and, of course, my daughter’s five little ones, the last two are four-year old twins. 

I also reflected on my journey with my little workbook and the families I’ve gotten to know through it both at book and homeschool fairs and also through emails from PayPal customers.  For your loyal support, I am extremely grateful.  You’ve shared your experiences with me, some extremely poignant.  That my little workbook has made a difference in your child’s life makes me truly happy.

                                 Wishing you and your family Happy Times!


The Parent Trigger? Parents of children in failing schools are no longer “waiting for superman”

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Saturday, The Wall Street Journal had an op-ed piece by David Feith on “The Radical School Reform Law You’ve Never Heard Of.”  Apparently, some parents of children in failing schools in Califronia are no longer waiting for superman but, in fact, have become superman.  Perhaps a more apt image would be Dirty Harry in that these parents advocate “pulling the trigger” on failing schools.  In Los Angeles, where a high school student has only a 50% chance of graduating and a 10% chance of going to college, it is hardly surprising that an activist group called Parent Revolution is demanding reform.  If 51% of parents sign a petition, they can force administrative changes, invite a charter school to take over the school or shut it down.  Amazing . . .

Thousands of parents have already pulled the “parent trigger” by opting out of the public education system to homeschool.  At homeschool fairs, I’ve met hundreds of parents who in order to “save” their children had to withdraw them from the public schools.  Some are parents of special needs children whose needs were not attended to, some are African-American parents who do not want their children particularly their sons “socialized” by their public school peers and others are parents who are fed up with the bureaucracy.

Go to a homeschool curriculum fair and you will be surprised by children who are genuinely interested in learning and unfailingly polite to adults.  Is it because these children spend more time with adults or because their teacher-parent devotes one-on-one quality time with them?  A homeschool parent knows if his or her child is falling behind in math or reading or acting out in class and can remedy the situation.  We need to replicate the homeschool experience by having classes with fewer students and weeding out those who are hell-bent on not learning and thus keeping others from learning and making a teacher’s life impossible.  Another benefit:  homeschooling gives families great flexibility in scheduling extracurricular activities such as sports or music lessons, visiting museums or taking family vacations. 

The assumption is that homeschool families are typically middle-class and can afford to homeschool.  That is not the case.  Many families struggle to get by and still homeschool.  They feel the material sacrifice is well worth it.  I doubt that in their home, their children have a “50% chance of not graduating from high school and a 10% chance of attending college” as David Feith states is the case for the average student in Los Angeles.

I applaud the parents of the Parent Revolution.  It is time the public school system made our day by being accountable and putting the needs of children ahead of their own.

To read the article, go to:…/SB10001424052748704462704575609781273579228.html

AfterMATH of the election?

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Listening to all the pundits analyze the aftermath of the election, I was struck by the word aftermath.    Its  Old English derivation is: “a second crop, as of grass that grows after the second mowing.”  The modern meaning is: “the result or consequence, especially an unpleasant one.” 

For me, the word seemed to mean after-the-MATH, that is, the vote counting and the projected winners based on percentages of precincts reporting.  Election night is all about the MATH (a night of numbers, patterns and percentages), so to me the day after is literally the afterMATH, a time to analyze what the numbers of last night mean.  What does the Republican sweep of  the House mean (a referendum on the Presidency? as some pundits assert) and how will the sweep affect the administration’s policies?  I am hopeful that education reform will be a high priority. 

Speech writer for a winning candidate!

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

As a former English instructor, I am often asked by friends for help revising their teen-ager’s college entrance essay. Lately, I have received requests to fine-tune resumes of acquaintances who have lost jobs; no surprise in this economy. Once the political campaign season started, I let it be known I was interested in working with candidates running for office.

A Korean-American candidate, running for city council, contacted me and asked me for help with the delivery of a speech announcing his candidacy.  I took one look at the speech and said, “Where I can really be of service is helping you write a better speech.”  The candidate, who came to this country at the age of 19, had a compelling rags-to-riches story.  “Let’s present the movie of your life to the voters,” I told him.   To describe his journey, I wrote:  “I arrived in Orange County with $200 in my pocket and a suitcase full of dreams.”

Hearing the candidate deliver the speech I’d written for him the night he announced his candidacy was indeed an outstanding moment.  “My Peggy Noonan moment,” I tell friends.  Today my candidate and his supporters celebrate his victory.  That I helped a hard-working immigrant to our country realize his American dream is extremely gratifying. 

Election Night, It’s all about percentages!

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

guv77ca4upaw3caz8ki62cab46e4ycagrdr7xcagfqi0gcao8pqqical8svcoca8dksxqcaf5vyjgcaa5chdqcahuw8dlcajw4cvwca3wymjocatf1jezcaruq2ohcaazpbkacaqiax7fca2kiaaqI voted absentee  in the comfort of my kitchen amidst my notes on ballot measures.  So for me, no early morning trek over to the polling booths at my local elementary school or a quick dash this afternoon. 

This evening many of us will be riveted to our television screens waiting for election results.  For those of us in California, it will be interesting to see whether Meg or Jerry wins. Gallup polling predicts Jerry. The Fiorina/Boxer race appears to be close.  As you watch the results this evening, why not take a few minutes to explain to your third grader how tonight is about not only counting the votes but about analysts making predictions based on the early returns.  What does it mean that X candidate will win by 25%?  How is it X candidate is the projected winner based on an early lead of 12%?  Will that percentage change over the course of the evening? Tonight math matters.

                                        [Image from]

“Libraries Are the Medicine Chest of the Soul”

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010



This quote, an inscription over the doorway of the library in Thebes, appeared in a friend’s blog (  Her blog entry prompted me to write the following:

Books we’ve read reveal
who we were at a certain time.
Leafing through them
we see snapshots of who we were.
Why was that novel chosen?
And what did it mean to us then?

Great books we’ve read
take us back to a moment in time.
They’re like a visit with a good friend.
The conversation resumes
and we settle in and enjoy.

Every home should have a library which includes your favorite books.   Children’s bedrooms should have a bookcase filled with treasured books.  Be sure to add to their collection through trips to bookstores.

If on a budget (and who isn’t?), borrow books from the library or buy them through the “gently used” bookstore run by your local library.  Should your local library not have one, you can usually find a used book bookstore in your town.  At a quarter per book, you will soon have a box of books to take home. 

By making a trip to the library or bookstore a highlight in your child’s week, you are embarking with your child on an extraordinary journey, filled with great characters and wild adventures.  Books like good friends can comfort us during difficult times as well as inspire, teach and entertain.  Good books are lifelong friends.