Pathways To Learning... Since 2005 Hong Kong Registered School 566985 & 600733

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Thomas Richards
Dr. Thomas Richards
Ph.D. Stanford
ex-Harvard Professor of English
ex-Harvard Admissions Committee member
Weekly I-hour online meetings with Dr. Thomas Richards
Michael Li
Mr. Michael Li (B.A.)
IB Examiner (Math)
ITS Director of US Admissions
Head of US Test Prep Development
Bi-monthly I-hour meetings with Mr. Michael Li


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An Interview with Dr. Richard

How do you work with someone over time?

I first teach my students how to write with care and craft. Only through their writing can students move toward thinking their own thoughts, becoming, intellectually, as deeply themselves as they can.

Why writing?

Academic culture is a culture of words. Americans often have a great casualness about language, a sloppiness of expression. The great universities and colleges do not. The degree of precision, accuracy, and elegance commensurate with these schools is rarely broached at high school.

Do your students use models for their essays?

Only in the most general sense. They may read Elizabeth Bishop’s essays, or Guy Davenport’s, or Richard Rodriguez’s. Virginia Woolf’s Diary or John Cheever’s Journals. But what they take away is their own. Reading these writers goes toward developing a trust ofwhat is going on in your own mind, and building a confidence that you can represent it in your own way.

Why this emphasis on the essay? Don’t grades and scores matter?

High grades and scores certainly are one indicator of intelligence. But even more, they are an indicator ofthe willingness ofa student to please teachers. The great universities see themselves as places for disturbing the universe. They are looking for people whose locus of evaluation exists primarily within themselves, people who not not necessarily lookto others for approval or disapproval. A good application should give you a feeling of looking in on a very interesting life, a self-chosen life undertaken for its own sake.

How long does it take?

It varies. Some students I start working with in the tenth or eleventh grade. The emphasis there is in finding an academic direction and beginning to follow it. I also work with twelfth-graders who are well along in this process but still need to find the right degree ofemphasis in presenting themselves.

What about the usual range of high school activities?

The answer is in the word "usual."The usual activities are dependent rather than independent undertakings. Gradually, of course, one can begin to distinguish oneselfwithin them, but as such they often offer little discretion for students to find their own way outside of preconceived channels and categories.

Students today are so overworked. Doesn’t this increase their Ioad?

Anyone with good powers of concentration knows that those powers, though extensive, are limited. Nobody can stay at full focus all the time. I encourage my students to work effectively, which includes knowing when they work best, just how much they can take on, and when to stop working. I think it’sjust fine for students to work harder for some courses than for others. A perfect record is in some ways a red flag to admissions committees, a sign that a student is so focused on pleasing adults that he or she lacks a sense of inner direction. Who among us can really be good at everything?

Aren’t you asking rather too much of 17- or 18-year olds?

The schools themselves are looking for an incipient intellectual maturity, an open awareness of ideas and their shaping power. They are also looking for students whose beliefs are not rigid, who have a high tolerance for ambiguity. And they are seeking students who have an openness to specifically intellectual experience. In this sense simply telling your own story in an application essay is not enough.There has to be an intellectual tilt to what you are saying about yourself, and that is where I come in. It takes a lot of work-a lot of reading and a lot ofwriting-to know what you are thinking about things, to see where your thoughts come from, and to experience your own thoughts as uniquely yours. Part of Harvard’s success resides in the personal emphasis of its tutorial system in teaching students how to think and write. I try to bring this to every student I work with.

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