What Makes A Good Student?

One of my Chinese teachers — the one who sold me my cell phone — said I was a good student.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

She didn’t quite understand the question. “Number 1: You work hard. Number 2: You work hard. Number 3: You work hard,” she said.

She had never heard the joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall (“practice, practice, practice”). The joke is one of those convenient and reassuring lies. The real way to get to Carnegie Hall is 1. Ability to play well (based on practice, no doubt). 2. Charisma. 3. Money. See Judith Kogan’s brilliant Nothing But the Best: The Struggle For Perfection at the Julliard School for more about this. A few years ago I went to the Julliard bookstore and asked them about this book. They hadn’t heard of it!

3 Responses to “What Makes A Good Student?”

  1. Ryan Holiday Says:

    The new Malcolm Gladwell book has a good chapter on this. He traces the western and eastern differences on the issue back to rice paddy vs farming culture. It’s interesting…

  2. 1 Says:

    One PhD student I met at Berkeley said that she visited Tsinghua as well. I asked her how she survived without knowing the language. She said that her Chinese friends would write down things she wanted to say on an index card. Then she would use that index card to help her communicate with others who couldn’t speak English.

    Seth, I think it’s great that someone said you are a good student. I bet you are a great professor, too! When I was trying to learn languages, I would teach myself using books I got from Barnes and Noble, then practice the things I taught myself with other people, including students at Berkeley and my coworkers. It was a great way to learn languages because if I misunderstood something, then others can correct it for me.

    I really like your blog because it is very uplifting and encouraging. Your view of life is very unique!!!!

  3. zzz Says:

    That Chinese often think of diligence more highly than usual accounts for the answer of the teacher, I suppose. Hence, I am never considered a good student in my teachers’ eyes, though my works are not bad.^