A B+ is an Asian F

In his commencement speech, Việt Thanh Nguyễn joked, “A B+ is an Asian F.” As a friend and I made some jokes on Facebook about our failing grades according to the Asian standard, a friend of my sister chimed in:

I hope no one will be laughing when your kids bring home an F report card
It not ok to be failing when you know your kids can do better than failing it call a lazy

I could hear the conceited tone in her voice and I thought she had missed the joke. I explained:

In his speech, Viet joked that, “a B+ is like an Asian F.“ I had Bs in my report card and they were considered Fs in Asian standard. That’s the joke. Of course, if our kids gets F, that should be a concern. B+ is not a bad grade.

She replied:

i didn’t even accept the B+ just saying oh well that how my daughter is she where she is now

I followed up:

That’s great that your daughter could live up to your expectations. That is also the point Viet is making in his speech. Asian parents accept nothing less than A’s. A B+ is considered to be a failure. Thanks goodness, my mother didn’t expect me to get all A’s. I was an average Cs student and I turned out OK (I think). If she were to push me to get all A’s, I might have dropped out of school with severe depressions and suicidal thoughts.

She responded:

i have my own standard and when parents should know their children capable of more than what they are currently demonstrating

In retrospect, my grades weren’t so good and my excuses were my limited English knowledge. I did OK in middle school because I studied the tests by memorizing the study guides. In high school, my grades were Bs and Cs. Any classes that required class discussions and presentations, I failed miserably. Again, my excuse was English. I had no idea what the teacher and my classmates were talking about. I also took AP Calculus in my senior year and failed miserably. I ended up hating Calculus. Fortunately, La Salle had already accepted me before my final grades for senior.

Thanks goodness, La Salle didn’t require any math course, but I faced different challenges. La Salle required three or four philosophy courses. Again, I was like a muted student in class. I had no idea what my professors were talking about. I took a philosophy class on religion. We studied the Bible and I got as far as in the beginning God created Adam and Eve. I new nothing else after that. I ended up with a C in that class. In another philosophy class on sex, marriage, and religion, the professor knew my English was not so good. After flunking the first test, I was pulled aside. The professor made a deal with me. Each week, I had to meet him during his office hours to discuss about sex, marriage, and religion in Vietnamese culture. If I could do that, I no longer needed to take his tests or the final exam. I ended up with a B in that class and I thanked him til this day for his accommodation.

I had to withdraw public speaking, history, and biology because I was failing. I had to retake them in the summer at the Harrisburg community college to make up for them. In other general college courses, I didn’t even bother to buy the textbooks because I weren’t going to read them. Textbooks were expensive and I didn’t want to waste my money. I was struggling in all my courses, English in particular, because I didn’t know how to write essays. My English was horrible.

My plan to graduate from La Salle was to have a perfect attendance. I recalled some professor said that if we were to come to class everyday, we could guarantee a C even if we failed our tests. I took that to the heart. I never missed classes. I loved it when my professors took attendance at the beginning of every class.

In my sophomore year, I was heartbroken and miserable. I could have dropped out and focused on web design with the technical skills I had picked up on my own. It would have disappointed my mother; therefore, I stuck to it the whole way through. Even though I didn’t have good grades, I had enough credits to get college degree, which is a piece of paper that I had misplaced somewhere.

After four miserable years of college, I thought to myself I was done with school for good. I hated reading and writing. Then I started this blog and things turned around. I became obsessed with both reading and writing. I used to be terrified when I had to submit my writings to my professors and here I am pouring my heart out for the whole world to read.

After working at George Mason, I decided to take advantage of my tuition benefits. I enrolled into the MA program in graphic design at Mason’s School of Art. I figured even if I scored average, I could just get a master degree. I had nothing to lose. My first class was Advanced Typography. I didn’t know that the professor had a bad reputation. I had to do a tremendous amount of work in his class, but I didn’t learn much about typography. He didn’t care about legibility and readability. All he wanted to see was attention-grabbing display typefaces. I didn’t think it was the right way to teach advanced typography. I ended up with a B+ in his class. I didn’t feel bad about it until I received all A’s, an A+ for my independent study, in which I wrote Professional Web Typography, and another A+ for my final thesis, in which I wrote Vietnamese Typography. It all worked out at the end.

Based on my own experience, I don’t want to set high expectations for my children. I rather have them enjoying school and what they learn than chasing straight A’s. I don’t see the need for taking advanced classes at young age. They will have the opportunity to take them in college. As long as they do not drop out, I am happy with that. A B+ is not an F for me.

As an Asian parent, I wanted my sons to do well in school. If they can get A’s, they should, but it is not the end of the world if they can’t. My oldest son who is now in seventh grade should be able to get all A’s because he has the choice to redo any assignment and retake any test to bring up his grades. There is no reason not to do it unless he chooses not to. Of course, he chose not to and my wife had to constantly reminding him to redo and retake. If I had those choices when I was in seventh grade, I would have had straight A’s on every report card.

I might contradict myself, but own my advice is to do the best I can. I would do anything—retake the tests, redo assignments, take on extra credits—to get better grades. If I can’t A’s because I didn’t do well on my exams, I wouldn’t beat myself up. I would just suck it up and go through the process. At times, I felt like the dumbest student in class, but I didn’t care. My goal was to get that paper any means necessary. I would just keep moving forward and not giving up until I get that paper. A college degree is a college degree. They all the same.

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