In Defense of My Education…


A couple months ago, I defended lawyers. To show that I can make myself even more lovable, today I defend my educational background, which I thought spoke for itself.  For this show of narcissism that’s paralleled, y’all can thank my office neighbor, who, upon hearing the details of my academic history,  questioned whether I slipped through the cracks in the hiring process when I was offered a position at my current firm.

So allow me elaborate on my impeccable 19 year academic record.

After I arrived in the United States, I entered Dogwood Elementary School in Oakland, N.J. as a second grader.  I didn’t speak a word of English back then.  Whether I picked up more English over the remaining years in Dogwood made little difference in my academic performance.

After I “graduated” elementary school, I attended Valley Middle School in Oakland, N.J.  Going to school everyday was a blast because I dedicated zero effort to the task.  I was essentially a straight B student because when I got a C in the first quarter of sixth grade in French, I got the scorning of my life.

One time I got straight As due to a snafu of some kind and I was invited to a principal’s pizza luncheon where most of the attendees were those annoyingly consistently hard working students.  This reward for good behavior had no impact on my desire to better myself, likely because, being Japanese and not Italian, I had little interest in the reward.

Valley had this unusual grading system where they graded both academic achievement and academic effort.  The latter was evaluated on a numerical scale, with 1 being the highest.  It says how much I ambled through middle school that I consistently got a 2–teachers essentially telling me I’m doing just enough to not piss off my education-obsessed Asian parents.

I say I was a straight B student, but I never did worse than perfect in math, all (not even mostly) because this country can’t teach math correctly.  My sole goal in middle school was to obtain an A2 in math–to show absolutely no effort but still do well.

I never achieved it.

The invaluable life lesson I took away from getting straight A1s in math despite my mathematical skills that was quite average by global standards was that it really matters not how hard I try so long as I look like I’m doing very well; by doing the latter, people think I’m a very hard worker.

After graduating second in class based on my impressive height, I progressed to Indian Hills High School in Oakland, N.J.  After one quarter, my parents had a vision of my adulthood as a human wasteland and they yanked me out of the public school system and threw me into a local Catholic private school.  Even I concede this made all the difference because suddenly, everyone around me was studying.  In the three years that followed, I really did work hard to study, attend juku and play tennis.  In fact, most of what you call actual knowledge I probably picked up in these years. The valuable life lesson I should have learned during this period was that hard work makes a difference; my grades definitely improved, even adjusted for math inflation, and I was living a very healthy, productive life.

Then I got accepted to Boston College, senioritis hit and life became fun again.

(I digress, but know-it-alls who claim senioritis should be “cured” like those mentioned in this Wikipedia article deserve to be beaten by all the high school bullies I witnessed in high school).

College was awesome.  The great thing about those four years was that I could do everything and nothing, sometimes and always.  I was on campus where I had everything I needed to live on and did everything I needed to do with the people I liked, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  If I wanted to sleep in until dusk, well no worries, there was until dawn to have dinner, hang with friends, do my extracurricular activity and write that paper due first thing in the morning because I can roll out of bed and be in class in five minutes and can take a nap after one hour of class.  No commute, no bills, no responsibilities.  If I couldn’t succeed in this environment, I was destined for a life under the bridge despite my parents’ best efforts.

Fortunately, my up-to-then unusable talents was tailor-made for the College of Arts and Crafts, where the key to success was not so much to know things, but to articulate how you thought about the question and concluded that the question was too complex to answer in a three hour exam.

I also benefitted from learning an important lesson early, that a way to succeed in life was to shriek challenges (like Lt. Colonel Frank Sale says in “Scent of a Woman” (1992), “there are two kinds of people in this world: those who stand up and face the music, and those who run for cover. Cover is better.”).   And in that cause, I avoided foreign languages, natural sciences, art appreciation and externships, any course that may enhance actual knowledge or build practical skills.  I essentially dodged anything that could drag down my GPA in the silly cause of expanding my horizons.

It also didn’t hurt that I could continue to cash in on the fortune of growing up in a country where people think -5 is a correct answer to the question “What is the area of…?”  The unfortunate part is that the gulf between the wise and the dumb in this country is the size of Grand Canyon and by my junior year, I was exposed for the pretender that I was by people who actually had a knack for mathematics rather than a fortuitous upbringing.  And thus I withdrew without hesitation from the first course that challenged my mathematical capabilities.

I tried to ride my collegiate success into law school, but the admissions office read right through my academic record to conclude, rather correctly, that my B.A. degree was quite B.S.  But again I lucked out, for law school, with its “Socratic method,” is actually very much like a liberal arts education, offering no job training but plenty of reward for asking questions with no answers that also make no difference.

It turned out, though, that replicating in law school the tried and true formula for success I picked up in college only worked to a degree.  Criminal law, for example, actually required me to know the law, and hence I got the worst grade since middle school.  I topped this futility in Legal Ethics, which, because I took the course at a Jesuit Boston College Law School, actually required me to have a conscience.

Luckily, there were plenty of courses like History of the Constitution, Education Law and Public Policy, State Constitution and American Legal History to make up for these deficiencies to permit me to get a job with the fine firm of Shearman & Sterling LLP, where the knowledge in American history, Constitution, Education or Government has little practical use.

So I think I have quite a lot to be proud of.  Don’t you?

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