Away from home, Asian students slide

Asian-American students’ grades slide in their first year of college — unless they live at home — concludes a study at University of California at Irvine, where Asian-American students outnumber whites. White students’ grades dropped slightly, compared to their 12th-grade GPA, while Asians’ grades fell dramatically in both natural and social sciences, according to University of Denver psychologist Julia Dmitrieva. From Miller McCune:

. . .  when Esther Chang studied 120 white and 395 Asian-American undergraduates at a large public university in California, she found that while the white students’ GPAs averaged 3.21, all the Asian-American groups’ GPAs were significantly lower — 3.04 for East Asian, 2.99 for Southeast Asians and 2.94 for Filipinos.

The Asian-American students studied less, went to the library and to class less than the white students, says Chang. She and Dmitrieva speculate that Asian-American parents’ involvement in their children’s out-of-school activities leaves the kids unprepared to manage their time in college. Dmitrieva’s study supports that hypothesis, since the grades of that Asian-American freshman who still lived at home, or scored well on a test measuring academic perseverance and diligence, didn’t drop any more than those of the white students.

Dorothy Chin, associate research psychologist at UCLA’S Semel Institute, believes further research will show Asian-American students “find a way to self-regulate and bounce back” by senior year. Graduation rates are strong for Asian-American students.

Also on Miller McCune:

What looks like pushy, high-pressure parenting to Westerners is seen as loving by Asian-American children, says Ruth Chao, a University of California, Riverside, psychologist.

Studies have found that parental behavior that feels controlling to North American and German children feels warm and accepting to Japanese and Korean children.

. . . Western cultures value individuality and independence highly, so Western teenagers feel rejected when their parents exert a great deal of control, explains Gisela Tromssdorff of the Technical University in Aachen, Germany. On the other hand, she writes, “Japanese adolescents … feel rejected by their parents when they experience only little control.”

Asian-American children don’t report more stress, anxiety or depression than white children — until they reach college. Asian-American college students have the highest suicide rate of any ethnicity.

I wonder if that’s also true for Asian-American college students who live at home.

‘Tiger’ kids in community college

Chinese “tiger mothers,” who demand excellence from their children, are superior to Western moms, claims Amy Chua, a Yale law professor with two high-performing daughters.  More tiger children end up at community colleges than the Ivy League, writes a Pasadena Community College professor. And these kids are depressed by their failure to meet their parents’ unreasonable expectations. Some are suicidal.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Laid-off workers in Iowa are turning to community colleges for retraining, but wait lists are long for programs in health care, welding and other high-demand fields.

LA teacher’s suicide linked to ratings

The apparent suicide of a Los Angeles teacher may be linked to the Los Angeles Times’ value-added ratings. Rigoberto Ruelas, 39, a fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School,  was rated “less effective than average” with average value-added scores in English and below-average scores in math.

A teacher for 14 years, Ruelas was stressed by work and upset by his scores, relatives told KABC-TV.

New crime: Insulting a minor

In response to the suicide of a 17-year-old girl who’d been taunted on social networking sites, a New York county would make it a crime to repeatedly insult a minor, writes lawblogger Eugene Volokh. Bad idea.

Under Suffolk County Resolution No. 1390–2010, cyber-bullying includes: “taunting; threatening; intimidating; insulting; tormenting; humiliating; disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs, either actual or modified, of a minor; disseminating the private, personal or sexual information, either factual or false, of a minor; or sending hate mail….”

Volokh, a UCLA law professor, comes up with some examples:

1. You post several items on your Web site about how some juvenile criminal is an awful person. You’re guilty of “repeatedly committing acts of abusive behavior” — namely, “insulting” ” — “against a minor” by “posting statements on the internet.”

2. A 17-year-old finds that her 17-year-old boyfriend is cheating on her. She sends him two e-mails calling him a “lying, cheating scum.” She’s guilty of repeatedly “insulting” the other person, and perhaps “sending hate mail.”

3. A 17-year-old e-mails her friend several times about her having had sex with a 17-year-old boy. She is guilty of “disseminating the private … sexual information” (even though “factual”) “of a minor” — the fact that the boy had had sex with her.

The suicide of Alexis Pilkington doesn’t justify “turning a wide range of normal — and, in some instances, constitutionally protected — behavior into a crime,” argues Volokh. The law must be written much more precisely and narrowly.

Bullies charged after classmate's suicide

Nine Massachusetts teenagers face charges for bullying a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide. Two boys are accused of  statutory rape; a group of Mean Girls are charged with  stalking, criminal harassment and violating the victim’s civil rights.

Insults and threats followed 15-year-old Phoebe Prince almost from her first day at South Hadley High School, targeting the Irish immigrant in the halls, library and in vicious cell phone text messages.

Phoebe, ostracized for having a brief relationship with a popular boy, reached her breaking point and hanged herself after one particularly hellish day in January — a day that, according to officials, included being hounded with slurs and pelted with a beverage container as she walked home from school.

Phoebe’s mother had complained to school officials about the bullying to no avail.

In Massachusetts, public anger was turning from the Mean Girls  — so mean they left vicious comments on Phoebe’s Facebook memorial page — to the teachers who repeatedly failed to protect Phoebe, but were not charged criminally.

District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said Phoebe’s persecution was “common knowledge” at the school, and even witnessed by teachers, who said nothing.

South Hadley parents have formed an anti-bullying group. Massachusetts is considering an anti-bullying law.

It was a dark and stormy life

Young-adult fiction is taking “a dark turn,” writes Katie Roiphe in the Wall Street Journal. But tales of suicide, car wrecks, anorexia and kids fighting to the death for survival aren’t depressing, compared to teens’ other reading choices.

Given the grim story lines, not to mention absence of designer shoes and haircuts that readers of lighter young adult titles are accustomed to, it’s easy to assume that this new batch of young-adult books peddles despair. In fact, the genre is more uplifting than the fizzy escapism that long dominated the young adult marketplace. Today’s bestselling authors are careful to infuse the final scenes of these bleak explorations with an element of hope: The heroine wins the hunger games and does not die, Lia is headed toward recovery at the end of “Wintergirls,” Mia decides to live at the end of “If I Stay,” and Clay reaches out to another desperately unhappy girl in “Thirteen Reasons Why,” in the hope of saving her from Hannah’s fate.

. . . As alarming as these books are, there is in all of this bleakness a wholesome and old-fashioned redemption that involves principles like triumph over adversity and affirmations of integrity. In the end, these investigations of personal disaster are much less depressing than the “Gossip Girl” knockoffs which initially seem frolicky and fun but are actually creepy and morally bereft and leave you feeling utterly hopeless.

I’ve never read any of these books. Are they any good? In my day we had to make do with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Suicide copycats

Two suicides by train in May and June at Palo Alto’s Gunn High had parents and students freaked out.  A suicide prevention forum was held. That night, a third Gunn student walked to the railroad tracks, but his mother grabbed him, a motorist stopped to help and the boy was saved.

At about 7:45 p.m. on Thursday — at the same time members of the Palo Alto community were meeting at a teen suicide forum — the 17-year-old boy left his house upset and distraught. Worried about her son’s mental state, his mother followed him, and found him at the tracks on East Meadow Drive — the same area where Gunn High School student Sonya Raymakers, 17, stepped in front of a train Tuesday night and died.

The boy’s mother began arguing with him and a motorist saw her struggling with her son and stopped to help. At the mother’s request, the motorist called 911 and officers arrived as the boy was walking to the tracks. Dispatchers, meanwhile, notified Caltrain who stopped the train and the boy was restrained and taken to a hospital for psychiatric observation.

Comments on the San Jose Mercury News story blame schools for cutting the arts and athletics to focus on teaching reading and math basics. Others blame Gunn High’s academic stress: Getting into a top college is a priority for many students and their parents.

But Gunn High has a full slate of arts and sports programs.  The second suicide victim, Raymakers, had no need to be stressed. She was weeks away from graduation and headed to New York University to study design. Palo Alto Weekly reports:

Raymakers was heavily involved in theater, working in costume-design, and for years had been involved in creative writing. She won first place in the Palo Alto Weekly’s annual short-story contest for her tale “Nighthawk” when she was in the sixth grade at JLS Middle School.

The Oracle, Gunn’s student newspaper, featured her in an article published March 16 about how she designed her own clothes and jewelry.

Her Facebook page lists nearly 370 friends.

Less has been reported about Jean-Paul Blanchard, a 16-year-old junior who stepped in front of a train in May.  But his friends didn’t think he was depressed.

I live not far from Gunn. My daughter was graduated from Palo Alto High, the rival school in the district.  My congregation’s building is going to be the site of Sonya’s memorial service.

Why do adolescents with minor problems — or no problems at all, as far as others can see — choose to end their lives? I don’t understand.