keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Crossing Over: One Woman's Exodus from Amish Life
by Ruth Irene Garrett with Rick Farrant
192 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir

The pedestrian prose of this semi-ghostwritten memoir with an eye-catching premise does capture Irene's voice; it's only that her voice is not particularly compelling. Thankfully, I can't say the same for her story. This was a quick and enlightening read. I've always been fascinated by the Amish--I've seen buggies go by on the road, when I drive to Lancaster--and their "bubble" of traditional life in such a modern world.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges--and Find Themselves
by David L. Marcus
244 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education

An interesting and compelling addition to the admissions case study subsubgenre, in the tradition of Jacques Steinberg but from the guidance counselor's (GC's in admissions lingo) perspective. Smitty sounds like a wonderful counselor, although I have some qualms about his ethics (handpicking all of his counselees, "special projects"). And of course it's ironic that he started a private consulting practice charging $330/hour immediately after retiring from the public school system. Good advice here, reiterating much of Harry Bauld's excellent advice [review forthcoming] on essay-writing and useful-but-not-brilliant tidbits like taking the ACT (considered to be more straightforward).

What I found interesting, in a personal level, was that Smitty didn't even know of Deep Springs's existence despite his decades of work in and intimate knowledge of the admissions world. I suppose he never recommended TASS/TASP to his students, either, which is a pity. Lee (a Korean-American overachiever) would have thrived at DS, based on his portrayal in the book, even though after a semester at NYU he claims otherwise. --Well, everyone thinks that their college of choice is the best ever after they've attended and experienced it. Other colleges could be just as "good" for you, and possibly--le gasp--"better" in an objective sense.

Anyway, as far as college admissions books go, this is definitely one of the better ones. And up-to-date, covering the competitive 2008 cycle, which counts for a lot.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America
by Leon Dash
279 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction/Documentary

This book is a semi-compilation of a Pulitzer-Prize-winning article series Dash wrote for the Washington Post. It tells the story of Rosa Lee, a typical (or so Dash presents her) example of the black urban underclass. Her story starts off as compelling and poignant, but about a third of my way through the book, Dash's disjointed storytelling became merely repetitive and boring. The "plot" is a depressing cycle of multi-generational poverty/welfare/drug use, i.e. a case study of a poor urban black family. Ultimately, interesting for the academic sociological information, but not remotely entertaining for me as a "regular" reader.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Shape of the River: Long-term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions
by William G. Bowen & Derek Bok
472 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education

I meant to finish reading this, I really did; but again, library time constraints beckon. For future reference, I got to page 112, a little under 1/4 of the way through. I will try to write up what I wrote with relative objectivity, but I shan't hold back from interjecting (biased) commentary. From skimming the rest of the book, Bowen and Bok seem to have done a great job documenting the success of minority students admitted to highly selective institutions, years after they graduate (or don't graduate).

For those who don't know, Bowen & Bok are two former Ivy League presidents (of Princeton and Harvard, respectively) better-known within higher education for their later, controversial work on SAT scores and admissions expanded to all races; in comparison, this earlier publication consciously simplifies the world to black and white. In the later study, B&B found that when using white as the baseline, blacks and Hispanic [not necessarily Latin@, since federal race classifications include Spain origin as Hispanic] students received a significant boost while Asian students were actually negative, i.e. in order to be considered equivalent to a similar white applicant, s/he had to score higher on the SAT.

All data in this study was based on a detailed database combining information from 28 colleges and universities, who are listed on p. xxviii-xxix. B&B do a reasonably good job of straddling the fence, providing evidence for and against both sides of the affirmative action debate. I'll be discussing mostly the information that I want to remember, i.e. anti-, but first I'll summarize the opposing details and encourage you to read the book for yourself. In essence, the black students who would not have been admitted under a hypothetical race-neutral process go on to exceptional achievements despite their weaker academic skills.

So let's start with the definition of race-neutral: it is NOT admitting by the numbers. B&B grouped black applicants by SAT ranges and posited that they would have the same probability of admission as white applicants in the same ranges. This causes the overall chance of admission for black students to drop from 42% to 13%, versus an overall chance of 25% for white students. The real-life Berkeley example bore out this hypothesis remarkably, although B&B make no mention of the large increase in Asian students as a result of race-neutral at the UCs (31-3). Similar drops in enrollment would occur at the most selective law and business schools (45), where "black applicants [to business schools] were 2.7 times as likely to gain admission as whites with comparable records. Hispanic applicants were 2.8 times as likely to be admitted" (45-6). For med school, the median pre-med science GPA for accepted students was 3.1 for blacks vs. 3.6 for whites; correspondingly, "the median test scores of blacks accepted to medical schools was lower than the median for whites who were rejected" (46). This establishes that regardless of what happens later--and much does happen later--admitted black students (and presumably Hispanic students) are less qualified in comparison to white students (and presumably Asian students). Speaking of which--I find myself constantly wondering how Asians fit into this world, as Hispanic students are much more similar to black students in profile than Asians are to whites. "The real racial divide in America was and remains black and white" (xxvii, Shelby Steele qtd. by Scott Shepard 11)--I absolutely, positively disagree. Such a statement--from someone implied to be one of the "scholars from the black, Hispanic, and Asian American communities" (xxvii)--erases the existence of Hispanic, APA, and Native American peoples from "America" and the importance of a multicolored discussion of race.

Prior to affirmative action in the late 1960s, "the selective colleges would rather be selective than integrated" (qtd. in 5)--nothing wrong with that wish, in my mind, as the selective colleges should not be lowering standards for the sake of diversity. "Harvard [Law School] began admitting black students with test scores far below those of their white classmates....and black enrollment began to rise" (5). That cause and effect seriously concerns me with its lack of acknowledgment of racial discrimination--to discriminate on the basis of race, which is exactly what happened. A graph on p.27--before recentering, but nevertheless interesting: at a combined SAT score (out of 1600) below 1000, about 10% of whites and 20% of blacks gained admission (I am estimating based on a graph, so bear with me). The gap is largest in the "1200-1249 range, [where] the probability of being admitted was 19 percent for white candidates, as compared with 60 percent for black candidates" (26). Finally, at the 1500+ mark--close to perfect scores--about 70% of whites and 100% of blacks gained admission. Even in the '90s, admission at the most selective schools was never guaranteed by "high stats"--except for those few and exceptional black candidates, it seemed. "To sum up, black candidates are consistently admitted at higher rates than legacies, who in turn are admitted at consistently higher rates than non-legacies, but the 'advantage' enjoyed by legacies is concentrated at the upper end of the SAT range" (28-9).

Socioeconomic AA would not "substantially cushion the effect of ending racial preferences" (Thomas Kane, qtd. in 47), because while URMs are disproportionately poor, "they still make up a minority of all college-age Americans with low incomes" (47). B&B also briefly references the prohibitive cost of implementing such a program to the same degree as current racial AA. To which I say: well, yes, and remind me why a poor black person is more deserving of admission than a poor Asian person, other factors held constant? Socioeconomic AA is not meant to substitute for racial AA; it is meant to help those who will always need more help. In capitalist America, there is no doubt whatsoever that the poor student is always disadvantaged over the identical well-to-do student. Even Questbridge, which I wholeheartedly support, helps only the very tippy-top of the poor students (it is more useful in guaranteeing affordability than in affecting admissions, since most Questbridge finalists would have been admitted on stats and extraodinary personal qualities anyway). [/soapbox]

B&B does unequivocally disabuse the notion of academic "mismatch." Average college GPAs may differ by over half a point (72), but black students still go on to do well in life after college (no doubt aided by affirmative action at law/med/grad schools, says my cynical mind). Interestingly, the SAT remains useful in significantly predicting both academic performance in college and postgrad achievements, although the prediction is stronger for whites than for blacks. Graduating from a top college does affect one's postgrad prospects within higher education. James Thomas, former dean of admissions at Yale Law School: "Someone who has played--and succeeded--on a tough field lets us take a little more risk and admit someone who strikes our faculty as having that something that's going to make a difference in the world. Does this mean that we don't take someone from an off-the-beaten-track school? No, but that person has to have every single thing in line--there's no margin for error" (personal correspondence, qtd. in 101). Note: Blacks who are "specially" admitted go on to disproportionately achieve exceptional accomplishments. I have not discussed that data here because it is irrelevant to the basis of my position on affirmative action, although I have read every word of it.

A very good book, highly recommended as long as you aren't afraid of social science stat-talk (and even if you are). Alas, it didn't change my personal opinion. (I'm still waiting for someone to come up with a brilliant argument that will push me across the fence.) The ends never justify the means, and however beneficial AA is/would be, its very existence remains discriminatory and hypocritical to statements of nondiscrimination.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
What Colleges Don't Tell You (and Other Parents Don't Want You to Know): 272 Secrets for Getting Your Kid into the Top Schools
by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross
307 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education

A different perspective from the usual ex-adcom tell-alls. There's some good advice in here about fit and parenting, but also some crazy and borderline-ethical approaches to "packaging." The "272 secrets" format is really gimmicky. Useful advice is buried among the dross, though, if one reads with a strong dash of salt. Best read in conjunction with other books of the genre, especially Hernandez's adcom perspective (which is quite derogatory toward "packaging").
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
How to Read Literature Like a Professor
by Thomas C. Foster
314 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Literary

Light-hearted and interesting. Topic: exactly what the title implies. Not as insightful as I'd hoped--the analysis bounces between obvious and really obscure--but definitely "lively and entertaining." Do the case-study analysis at the end; I didn't due to time constraints, but I wish I had.

Also includes a useful list of Christ-figure signifiers, for those of us who didn't grow up in the Western tradition. I will quote a paraphrased version here:

1. crucified, wounds in the hands, feet, side, and head
2. in agony
3. self-sacrificing
4. good with children
5. loaves, fishes, water, wine
6. 33 years old
7. employed as carpenter
8. humble modes of transportation, feet or donkeys preferred
9. walked on water
10. portrayed with arms outstretched
11. spent time alone in wilderness
12. confrontation w/ the devil, possibly tempted
13. last seen in the company of thieves
14. aphorisms/parables
15. buried, but arose on the 3rd day
16. disciples, 12 at first, though not all equally devoted
17. very forgiving
18. redeem an unworthy world
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy
by Nicholas Lemann
406 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/History/College

Well: the first 50 pages are extraordinarily boring, I can say that much. I'm tremendously interested in this particular nonfiction niche, but I am not interested in the life stories of the men who invented and shepherded the SAT into its current form. I'd rather hear about, y'know, the test itself and its societal impact or effects. Perhaps this book does cover such ground, but I've already run away from the first 50 pages of dry-as-California-forests biography.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Questions and Admissions: Reflections on 100,000 Admissions Decisions at Stanford
by Jean H. Fetter
276 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education/College

Fetter was, to my knowledge, one of the first admissions "insiders" to write publicly about college admissions practices that many would have preferred to keep private. Although this book was published in 1995 and competition has increased tenfold since then, it still provides useful insight through an unmatched depth in both analysis and case studies.

For instance, in the 1960s, minority students were judged "outside the competition" along with athletes and faculty children--meeting "basic entrance requirements" but not necessarily "more qualified than all rejected applicants" (93); while increased representation in the applicant pool obviously renders this approach impractical, I wonder to what extent it is still true today (i.e. "special consideration" groups only competing within the group for admission). Fetter once reversed an admissions decision (from denial to acceptance) when it was discovered that the applicant qualified as a faculty dependent; similarly, Stephen Carter was offered law school admission after an initial denial because he "was originally assumed to be white" (103). Daniel Golden's Price of Admission, a much more recent publication, confirms many of these preferences.

Such a comprehensive admissions survey would not be complete without a discussion of affirmative action, and Fetter does so admirably (albeit with some dodging). She cites Ira Glasser's three reasons for AA:
1. legal remedy redressing past/present discrimination
2. temporary compensation of opportunity
3. visible representation of minorities

Of the three justifications for "positive" discrimination, it is worth noting that the Supreme Court has declared #3--the striving for diversity--as the only legal rationale for affirmative action in a college admissions context.

In approx. the 1985-1995 time period, Fetter admits to determining applicant ethnicity from other information (e.g. standardized test records) for special consideration, even if the applicant declined to self-identify on the application: "If a minority student chooses not to self-identify as a member of a minority group to which we give special consideration, should he or she receive that consideration? My opinion is that if we are reasonably sure of the ethnicity, the answer is yes" (103). On pages 106-7, Fetter poses a scenario of 3 unexceptional student hypotheticals from the admissions pool, each middle-class but of three different ethnicities (black, Asian, white). Unfortunately, she never gives a concrete answer as to what decisions she would have made; in subsequent discussion, she does argue that middle-class blacks are still disadvantaged by racism. [Opinionated Note: Asian students are hardly exempt from societal racism, yet because their representation is deemed sufficient, they receive no "special consideration."]

Discussion at length on pages 111-36 using the statement-comment format:

Cut for length )

Fetter's book is 15 years dated, an eternity in college admissions. But for those seeking an in-depth introduction and/or solid grounding in the theory behind college admissions, I highly recommend this.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
320 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Economics

This is the 2nd revised and expanded edition--I found the blog and newspaper clippings interesting but awkwardly disconnected in a way that the original book chapters were not. As it was an assigned text, I had some interesting discussions around Levitt's controversial theories (the abortion-crime correlation was surprisingly cool on the outrage scale). I also appreciated the data on race, regarding both education gaps and "ethnic" baby names. Levitt says that after adjusting for socioeconomic status, the black-white education gap disappears--which would make sense, given the dismal education statistics of low-income African-Americans/Latin@s--but I was intrigued by the fact that the disparity disappeared entirely (at least to statistical insignificance) rather than just decreasing.

Like the subtitle implies and the authors admit outright, this book has no overriding theme. Levitt definitely has a spark of brilliance, though, and his ideas are well worth reading.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Perspectives on American Politics
by William Lasser
402 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction/History/Politics

I found this (text)book randomly on my desk one day, presumably left over from Modern American History. Since politics is more interesting to me than history, I started reading it on a whim. I skimmed through several essays; here I'm going to discuss the three that I found most intriguing.

First, Peter H. Schuck's "Affirmative Action--Don't Mend It or End It--Bend It" presents a sensible and moderate suggestion for reforming affirmative action: ban it in the public sector but allow it in the private sector as long as the preferences are publicized and transparent. His main issue with affirmative action as it stands is also mine--that the principle requires deviating from that of nondiscrimination (defined as not "treating people differently because of their race, ethnicity, or other protected characteristics" (122-3)). Schuck cites Hubert Humphrey, Ted Kennedy, and MLK as civil rights leaders who rejected preferences as the best path to racial equality. There are also some interesting statistics on blacks' social gains, of which I'm not sure how much to believe since it involves complicated economic controlling factors and separating variables; however, his point sounsd true. "My point, emphatically, is not that blacks have achieved social equality--far from it--but that the situation facing them today is altogether different than ti was when affirmative action was adopted" (123). And he goes on to assert that this correlation is not causal.

Former Ivy League presidents William Bowen and Derek Bok conducted a study on admissions outcomes, race, and SAT score (however flawed that measure of merit may be) at highly selective colleges. The conclusion I found most notable: "with a score of 1500 or above, more than a third of whites were rejected while every single black gained admission" (124). The narrowing of the race gap in higher education, moreover, does not prove affirmative action's effectiveness because one can never know what would have happened if the blacks who displaced higher-scoring applicants at elite schools had gone to less prestigious universities; would they have done as well? Affirmative action does not end at the undergraduate level; in law school admissions, a highly numbers-based process, Schuck claims that in the early 1990s "only a few dozen of the 420 blacks admitted to the 18 most selective law schools would have been admitted absent affirmative action" (124). Furthermore, those black students statistically have a lower first-time and overall pass rate for the bar exam than white students. Preferences also overwhelmingly benefit immigrants (of black or Latino descent), the upper middle class, and multiracial students who self-identify as white.

Thus the solution: hold public institutional to the standard of nondiscrimination, while regulating private institutions' use of preferences on conditions of transparency and protected classes (that is, a private policy favoring whites would be illegal because "Caucasian" is not a protected class). Schuck argues that a public law affirming racial preferences is pernicious and societally damaging in a way that voluntary private provisions are not. Affirmative action fails to treat the underlying problem, but that does not mean that it should exist until the root cause is treated; the time for reform is now.

In "Breaking the Two-party Monopoly," Douglas J. Amy details the problems inherent in a dominant two-party political system. Plurality rules often result, even in multi-party systems, in minority parties being underrepresented with regard to seats vs. votes. Amy argues that the solution is proportional representation, "an antitrust law for the party system" (249), which would allow but not require a fair multiparty political framework. He supports this by examining U.S. cities that have adopted PR; for instance, Cincinnati still has essentially two parties but New York City's 1947 council consisted of 12 Democrats, 5 Republicans, 2 Liberals, 2 Communists, and 2 American Laborites. Sounds like an interesting and effective method that would force politicians to actually utilize cross-party coalitions. Amy admits that PR would be unfeasible in presidential elections due to plurality, but this does not necessarily preclude the existence of a multiparty parliamentary legislature.

Finally, Mark C. Miller argues in "Judicial Activism in Canada and the United States" that activist roles are common only to U.S. judges; Canadian judges more often pride themselves on judicial independence and nonpartisanship. I found the piece illuminating as well as illustrative of my shameful depth of knowledge regarding Canadian history or government.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Worlds Apart?: Dualism and Transgression in Contemporary Female Dystopias
by Dunja M. Mohr
312 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction/Literary/SF

Since I selectively read this for a research paper, I can't say I really finished it; and it wouldn't do me much good to finish reading it on my own because I'm not familiar with the works discussed other than Atwood's Handmaid's Tale. Kohr does extensive and interesting close readings of Suzette Hagen Elgin's Native Tongue trilogy, Suzy McKee Charnas's Holdfast tetrology, and of course Atwood's best-known novel. The dualism argument is fascinating but I'm not sure I understand the transgression aspect. In any case, I've added the Native Tongue books to my list because they deal with linguistics!--anyone with more knowledge of the series or Charnas's care to chime in?
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges and Who Gets Left outside the Gates
by Daniel Golden
334 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education/College

Golden is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter, and this is a book destined for the college-admissions canon--its relatively recent publication date, 2006, also helps with dating issues that plague other books in the subgenre. On the other hand, knowing that the information is relatively accurate doesn't exactly induce fluffy cheer and joy. Golden reveals the hard truth about "the price of admission" and supports his assertions with numerous anecdotal reports from admissions offices and other sources; he is clearly credible, but that only depresses the reader more in reading about development, celebrity, legacy, athletic, faculty-brat, and racial preferences. The aforementioned groups are disproportionately white and wealthy, leading Golden to his conclusions regarding privilege and the American aristocracy.

Still, Golden appears to reluctantly support affirmative action because it remains "necessary"; he devotes an entire chapter to Asian discrimination, for which he blames every admissions preference except AA. I'm skeptical about why affirmative action gets to be special like that in avoiding criticism. The final chapter, "Suggestions for Reform," was disappointing--Golden's idealistic suggestions would work, if they were ever implemented--but he proposes few incentives for colleges to change the system. Sure, colleges could work harder like Caltech to fund-raise without legacy preference; but why would any college bother with the difficult transition, when they're getting along just fine by trading admissions slots for large donations?

This is a must-read if you want to understand the college admissions process. I'd rank it up there with Jacques Steinberger's The Gatekeepers and Avery et al's Early Admissions Game.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Fat Envelope Frenzy: One Year, Five Promising Students, and the Pursuit of the Ivy League Prize
by Joie Jager-Hyman
231 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education/College

Quick read, falls into the "case studies" subgenre of college admissions books. It's interesting to observe from a distance just how "random" (subjective and fortuitous) elite admissions is nowadays. The five students profiled are truly exceptional, "hooked" (underrepresented minority), or both. Their stories are depressing, too; but fascinating nevertheless. Recommended if you like this sort of thing, per usual.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality
by André Comte-Sponville
212 pages
Genre: Nonfiction/Philosophy/Religion

This book has changed my life.

Really. I was mellowing out on my own, I think, but Comte-Sponville's approach to atheism is inspiring and reassuring--it has inspired me to follow his example of kindness, and reassured me that atheist spirituality is indeed possible and worthwhile. For as he says, "Atheists have as much spirit as everyone else; why would they be less interested in spiritual life?" (xi) And since I find myself utterly incapable of summarizing this book, I will proceed to quote liberally the various highlighted and bookdarted parts. I marked it up permanently, folks. It takes a lot for me to willingly desecrate a book like that. And this is not a real review; it's probably the closest I've ever come to preaching, in fact.

Cut for length and those who don't care )

And that's all I have to say--not very much, given the alarming ratio of interjection to quotation. Oh, except this: go read the actual book, because it is incredible.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools You Should Know about Even If You're Not a Straight-A Student
by Loren Pope
304 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education/College

My second read of this seminal college admissions text. I'm still annoyed by the uniformly positive reviews, but don't let that be a significant detractor. Pope is also a strident advocate for liberal arts colleges (LACs), perhaps the equivalent of Richard Dawkins in the (non-)religious world.

Since I've already talked about my thoughts, this time I'll written up a short description of all 40 schools covered and included information gleaned from my own research.

Cut for length )
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls
288 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir

I have unusual issues with the book. I did not sympathize with Jeannette--in fact, my sympathy steadily decreased as the story progressed--due to, I believe, certain personal circumstances and beliefs that are very much not mainstream. My reaction is atypical and despite it, I would recommend this book to most people.

Jeannette Walls, one of four children of Rex and Rose Mary Walls, grew up in a household rich in love and neglect, poor in finances and responsibility. If that description sounds contradictory, it is; yet it is also an accurate description of Jeannette's unusual childhood. I could go on about this heart-warming, inspirational tale of horrific poverty and incredible courage--but while I can see how those accolades could be true, they were emphatically false for this reader.

Walls did offer me a new perspective into poverty, specifically homelessness and parental neglect. I've experienced poverty but with hard-working parents who always managed to provide; in that respect, Walls educated me and I'm glad for that education. However. Oh, the however. As most people know by now, I am atheist--openly and outspokenly atheist. This colors my reading of one scene in particular, on pages 256-7, when Jeannette is confronted by a favorite Barnard professor. Jeannette offers a controversial reasoning for homelessness, one justified by her own experience; yet when Professor Fuches demands, "What do you know about the lives of the underprivileged? What do you know about the hardships and obstacles that the underclass faces?", Jeannette falls back and simply replies, "You have a point." She has a point, but she doesn't have the guts to argue it. She is afraid of the social stigma of her impoverished background and homeless parents. Certainly I acknowledge this stigma, but I also condemn her for selfishness and cowardice. I feel very strongly that if you support a cause--as Jeannette demonstrated by going halfway and saying, "Sometimes, I think, it's neither"--then you should advocate it when given the opportunity. If someone makes a racist remark, I believe it is almost a moral obligation for you to speak out if you consider yourself anti-racist. I would apply this philosophy to all areas of life, with the common-sense exception for emotionally traumatizing experiences. And although I can't directly empathize with Jeannette's hardships, I can empathize with the social stigma that she faces. As a female Asian atheist--or even as an ally to those three causes--I have encountered similar situations and I have acted differently. Yes, it's immensely difficult to speak up against cultural assumptions, norms, and expectations. But Jeannette never acknowledges that she has work to do in that respect, that it is weak to give in the way she does. Walls overcomes her fear by writing this memoir, of course, but I do not critique Walls--I critique Jeannette, the character that Walls presents. If I as a high school student can endure equal or greater social stigma (and if you don't think being an outspoken atheist carries a stigma, go read the part of this article that discusses Presidential polling), then it's not unreasonable to expect college-junior Jeannette to do the same, and to judge her when she fails.

Furthermore, in an irrational gut reaction, I felt that Jeannette was, well, spineless. Extraordinarily resilent, but never resistant. For the same reason that most people will connect with Walls' story, I experienced a complete disconnect. I honestly cannot understand why Jeannette never lost faith in her father until the very end. My own faith would have been long since shattered. Hell, even with a loving and relatively normal childhood, I don't have that kind of faith in my parents. I don't think I will ever, nor that I should have that kind of faith in anyone but myself. Perhaps that's an atheistic viewpoint, now that I consider it. I believe that faith must be earned, and if the trust of faith is broken, then you should stop having faith.

And now that I've finished tearing apart Wall's memoir--which is a well-written, poignant tale of "unconditional love" in a seriously messed-up family--I would still recommend it to anyone (i.e. almost everyone) who disagrees with my opinion as stated above. If you understand such unconditional faith, if you aren't absurdly passionate about advocacy, then you won't have my issues with the tale and you'll probably love it.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America
by Jonathan Kozol
404 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education

Wow, was this a depressing book. I had originally planned to read Savage Inequalities first/as well, but Shame of the Nation is more recent and covers the same topic. Kozol spends a good few hundred pages lamenting the de facto resegregation of American schools; however, he proposes few realistic solutions. I don't believe that busing is the answer because it is unfair to those parents who sacrificed for a good neighborhood with strong nearby schools in a good school district, not to mention un-cost-effective administratively. True school choice is a partial solution, but priority should be given to students in the feeder zone, and if those students fill up the school to full capacity, that's only fair. I sympathize with both sides--my heart is slowly shredded for those poor inner-city kids, but I simultaneously understand why middle-class parents will not send their children to a high-minority school. In such schools, academic achievement is low, partially because segregation leads to lower achievement; so the school is unable to attract needed students to create diversity, and its reputation for low achievement is perpetuated. Racism is, of course, another inevitable factor, but not the only one. I still believe that socioeconomic affirmative action should replace racial AA. Yes, the majority of poor people are African-American or Latin@; and what about the poor Asian immigrants who get screwed over in college admissions, or the poor whites who receive little to no help because they were born into the majority race? Until the U.S. embraces socialism, I have empathy but little sympathy for poor (and often minority) students living in poor neighborhoods, wanting to attend well-funded schools that they haven't paid property taxes for or are entitled to attend based on proximity/school district. That's terrible and unfair, but that's also life in a capitalist society. Money rules. I personally think the American system of education needs to take a good, hard look at Canada for clues.

Recommended if you're not already in a downward spiral mood-wise, as Kozol's lack of feasible solutions makes this book informative but unrelenting in despair.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
by Marjane Satrapi
153 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Graphic Novel/Memoir

My dear friend Alicia, whose LJ username I can't remember, shoved this book at me one day and told me to read it. A quick read, she assured me, easy to skim like manga. Being a veritable expert at skimming manga, I agreed to give it a try. Persepolis, a memoir in comics of a young Satrapi living in revolutionary Iran, does indeed read very fast. The style is emphatically not manga/anime, but I'd argue that's a good thing; Satrapi illustrates more than her life in starkly delinated black-and-white. It's a good book, not the best, but very good. I'll read the sequel if I get a chance.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Admissions Confidential: An Insider's Account of the Elite College Selection Process
by Rachel Toor
256 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education/College

At this point, I find the narrative nonfiction college guides much, much more interesting than the comprehensive guidebook types. Admissions Confidential is a strong work of narrative nonfiction, although it was unnecessary to begin every single chapter with a personal non-college-related anecdote. I, unlike Toor, am not a runner, will never be a runner, and do not comprehend the runner mindset.

Being relatively well-read and knowledgeable in the book's particular topic, I didn't actually learn substantial information from this; but what I did find new, though outdated, was valuable. However, I prefer Steinberg's writing style in The Gatekeepers--Toor's writing is weirdly stilted at times.


keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)

January 2011



RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios