This is my thirty-eighth year in the United States. By design or by default I am sort of an American. My wife and I have two healthy Yankee boys. For good or for bad they are in college: a senior and a sophomore.
They both had to take a public exam called the SAT before they went to college. (The acronym “SAT” stands for the science-fictional name of “Scholastic Aptitude Test.”) They both took a fairly casual attitude toward that test but somehow they did fine by the standard of their equally laissez-faire parents, the results of which availed them to go to some decent schools.
With the budget crunch on all levels of the American government, and subsequently the downward squeeze of federal funding on public and private colleges, getting in a good school have become a lot more competitive in America since my children’s days.
Last week I took my old Volkswagen to the garage for a new manifold and I asked my mechanic George how his daughter Celina was doing. Celina is a sophomore at a prestigious high school called Lowell High in San Francisco, California. Celina and her parents are looking into after-school programs that tutor kids on the SAT. One such outfit, which I shall call the Hartford Square Institute, offers a program that lasts for two years. Basically you go there two or three times a week in your sophomore and junior years. They cover all the major subjects on the SAT: English, Math, Physics, Spanish, you name it. The object of course is that you are drilled so well in the material that you will score close to the max in the test. Your ranking will be so high that Harvard and Stanford would give you early admission — even if you stand five feet two and don’t play basketball.
All this sounds good for the parents who have high academic aspirations for their child. The child herself may or may not care as much, I suspect. The only catch is: it costs US$21,000. And it doesn’t come with an Ivy League guarantee.
Four decades ago I had to take the Hong Kong Certificate Exam at the end of my junior year. My parents worried about how I was going to perform in that test. They admonished me to finish homework every night so that I wouldn’t fall behind. They cooked me pork brains to eat so I would be smart. I did miserably in that test. That gruesome experience was cruel and unusual punishment for the crime of late puberty. The only consolation was that my distraught parents didn’t have to forfeit a full year of lobster dinners on some remedial classes.
Now do you know why my 1999 Folks Wagon costs as much to repair as a 1929 Model A?
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