Can We Bottle A Cindy Yoo?

February 11, 1994

Following an editorial we ran last month about the racial breakdowns of college-placement test scores in Howard, one Columbia reader responded with a suggestion: Since Asian-Americans routinely score highest, figure out what it is they do so well and have everybody else do the same.

Were it only that easy. The myriad factors that make one ethnic or racial group -- as a whole -- adept at understanding mathematics and another at running 100 meters is a) extremely complex, b) not easily transferable and c) so sensitive a subject it probably can't be dissected for long before bogging down into a quagmire of insensitivity.

Certainly, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, whose Sixth District includes part of Howard County, tripped over this issue last year when he wondered aloud why students with "normal names" don't win more scholastic awards. While his comment was offensive, his point wasn't far off from our letter writer's; that is, how to apply the general success of Asian-American students to all school children.

To be sure, one had to be moved by a recent story in The Sun for Howard County about a county student named Seung Shin Yoo. Miss Yoo, who goes by the name Cindy, moved to the United States with her parents and two younger sisters about a year ago. She studies Latin, chemistry and calculus at Atholton High, gets "A-plus" grades -- and speaks little English. That a student can excel while having to adjust to a new culture, much less to the vagaries of adolescence, is a towering example for all.

Unfortunately, you can't bottle a Cindy Yoo and sprinkle it on the rest of us. The Howard school system is to be commended for trying to target help for various groups on the Scholastic Assessment Tests, but education truly is not a group function. A desire to excel must flower within the individual -- an instinct often fostered by one's family, but not always.

There is one lesson we can transfer from Cindy Yoo's inspiring tale, though. The girl is also reportedly an extraordinary pianist, despite the fact that when she was younger an instructor in her native South Korea discouraged her musical ambitions, saying her hands were too small.

The worst sin that anyone working with youngsters can commit is to prejudge their limitations. And that truth is indeed transferable to all people.

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