Lisa Ling says she struggled in school and worked hard for average grades
Her academic shortcomings helped foster her ambition and strong work ethic
She says parents should allow their kids to find their own pathway to success
The desire to engineer smarter kids is the topic of this week's "This is Life with Lisa Ling"
Meet the progeny of the “genius sperm bank,” and learn about the quest to design and engineer a generation of smart children. Watch “This is Life with Lisa Ling: The Genius Experiment” at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Sunday, October 12.
It’s widely known that Asian cultures put a high level of importance on intelligence. In many Asian families, parents expect their kids to perform well in school and eventually go on to university.
So what happens if you’re a Chinese-American kid who struggles with academics? Well, that was me.
I would hardly say that I performed poorly in school. In fact, my grades were totally average. But I had to really work hard to get those average grades.
I had tremendous difficulty focusing, and I was a terrible test-taker. I remember having to read things over and over in order for them to resonate. During exams, I recall the perennial feeling of going blank because I was filled with so much anxiety.
My saving grace was that I had quite an imagination, and that helped me become a pretty decent writer. Even though I earned a number of writing awards, scoring Cs and occasionally Ds in math and science often made me feel stupid and like a failure.
The worst part about getting poor marks was that my strict father would ground me for a month every time I got a C or below.
So much for being part of America’s “model minority.”
But despite my intense feelings of incompetency as a kid, something funny happened: I became incredibly ambitious.
I was lucky that I found something at a young age about which I became deeply passionate: telling stories. I became a reporter for a news outlet seen in middle schools and high schools when I was 18, a job that sent me around the world many times over and allowed me to get immersed in other cultures.
I would later, as an adult, learn that I had been living with ADD, attention-deficit disorder. It’s never pleasant to learn that one has a learning disability, but the diagnosis certainly came as no surprise, even at 40 years of age.
My mind likes to race; it’s what’s made me who I am. And reporting stories – something I would come to cherish – has allowed me to hyper-focus. I’ve always loved learning, I just realized that I couldn’t do it in a confined and rigid, classroom setting.
These days as parents, we’ve become obsessed with paving our children’s way toward success. We track their every move; we want them to go to the best schools; we enroll them in programs designed to make them play sports, play music, dance, code, learn, develop, better.
But I hope we take the time to allow them to figure out what THEY like, what drives THEM.
This Sunday on “This is Life,” we explore an attempt 30 years ago to improve the intellectual capacity of the human gene pool by a very rich man, Robert Graham, who had become dismayed by the proliferation of people of average intellect. Graham set out to change that by creating a sperm bank that would recruit from some of the smartest men alive.
Over 200 children were born using sperm from Graham’s repository, and on Sunday’s show, we’ll meet a couple of them.
But did it work? Did he create genius kids?
I wonder if I would have been someone Graham would have not wanted to reproduce. Would he believe I was perpetuating mediocrity?
Though I partly attribute my ambition to not having money growing up and getting teased a lot for being Asian, my academic shortcomings certainly propelled me to try and work harder. And I did.
And I don’t blame my dad for grounding me for getting bad grades; he parented the best way he knew how. In fact, in hindsight, I probably needed the discipline.
I just want to try to recognize the things that ignite my own daughter’s passions and not try to force her to excel in things that she just may not be good at.
After all, what’s the point of getting good grades and going to a great school if you’re unhappy with what you do and who you’ve become?