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Faces

28 Jun

My father is from Nigeria.  My mother is a first generation Canadian, caucasian with straight hair and dark eyes.  She blends in a way that people don’t feel the need to ask her where she’s from, or makes them unafraid to ask.  I look like her, in the shape of my jaw, my eyes and my ears.  You have to know the two of us well to see our similarities, which I’m sure is the case for all apparently mono-racial parents of obviously bi-racial kids.  It’s something we get used to and don’t question until we see that hesitance in the eyes of someone who wants to ask but doesn’t want to offend.

I live in Canada, not the United States, but because our media is predominantly American we live with the assumption of an Afro-American or American Black sensibility in the eyes and minds of many who see us.  For the record, I’ve known poverty and I’ve been hungry and I’ve done some things that I was embarrassed about until I came to value those acts for the way they’ve shaped the person I am.  I’ve lived in low income neighbourhoods and spent childhood summers without shoes on my feet and have known too many who were criminals because they had no choice, and some who were criminals because they wanted to be.  There are parallels between American Black and Canadian Black people, perhaps most strongly felt in our shared history.  Many of our ancestors have the Middle Passage in common.  Most of our ancestors knew slavery.

But the majority of Canadians who look Black emigrated to our country in the last two or three generations.  We are the children of skilled practitioners exploring North America after immigration laws relaxed in the 1960s, from the countries of Africa, or the Caribbean, or Central America, travelers riding the post-slavery, pre-equality diasporic wave.  We are refugees filtered through the United Nations.  We are students who chose to study abroad and wound up in The Great White North, and formed ourselves to fit our new cultures.  We are the children, some of us, of those who found the place too cold, too inhospitable, and too different from home, and ultimately returned without us.

I don’t know my father.  We’ve exchanged letters a few times over my three-and-a-half decades.  What I know of Nigeria’s cultures comes from Ben Okri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Chris Cleave.  I know the greed for oil has killed people there, as it does with varying body-counts wherever there is oil and money to be made through its extraction.  I know my father has other wives and other children, and that I have uncles in Europe and cousins in the USA.  I know he was of the Igbo tradition, which means our people were bound, shipped and traded, despite his vehement protestations otherwise.  I know he called Nigeria the most beautiful country in all of Africa and thus the most beautiful nation in the world.  He wrote to me to come to him when I was fifteen.  He had a place for me in a good school in Benin City, he wrote.  He knew a family that would take good care of me when I was ready to marry, he wrote.  He named me “Princess” and sent love to my mother.

I didn’t go.

My children know none of this.  When my daughter was assigned “Kumbayah” by her piano teacher, I side-stepped the teacher’s request that I explain the song’s provenance for her.  At seven years old, my daughter is innocent.  History sloughs around her, but does not touch.  So when she plays “Kumbayah”, it is spritely, happy, almost joyous, her little fingers skipping over the keys, and I love to hear it.  She has just recently realized some people choose not to be married, after months or years, and so their children have two houses and two bedrooms, or one house that is emptier.  She has come to understand that people might have babies before getting married, or might welcome babies from other parents to raise as their own and love with their whole hearts.  She is learning how people are mean to each other, and make bad decisions, and hurt each other deeply on purpose or by accident.  She knows how people, like her, have parents for whom the shape of their eyes or the colour of their skin or the bend of their hair mean nothing compared to the scope of their love.  And that’s enough.  For now.

Last week, at the library, I saw NIGERIA in bold print across a children’s magazine.  Faces, it was called.  I picked it up.  Put it down.  Grabbed it quickly and checked it out with the stacks of picture books and early readers.  I placed it with the other books on the table by the blocks at home, and when my daughter picked it up, I told her, “My father is from Nigeria.  He lives there now.”  And then we learned, together, about the many languages spoken in Nigeria, and the gorgeous red tomatoes in the Lagos market, and the value of elders’ wisdom, and how to make Puff-Puff, which the editors declare a beloved snack.  Later, while she was resting, I learned that I’d chosen a biracial Nigerian vocalist for my wedding song, and that I’d named my children for family and place in the tradition of a people I had never met.  I sat with that magazine and remembered going to the library in Calgary by myself and sitting on the floor in the World History section, and laying eyes on photographs of my father’s nation, of his people, for the first time I can remember.  I felt the ache in my chest as I had when I saw a Benin Bronze in an archaeological text, and how the shape of her head is just like mine.  Just like my son’s.  Just like my father’s.

Nigeria is not my country.  I am Canadian, as are my children.  Multiculturalism is official policy, here, and minority rights are constitutionally entrenched.  It doesn’t mean there is no racism.  There is racism in Canada.  It doesn’t mean there is ethnic, cultural, or gender equality.  We still have a long way to go.  It doesn’t mean we are more culturally aware, or above ethno-cultural derision, or a true mosaic of the world’s diversity.  What it does mean is that a biracial woman born out of the 1970’s wave of West African immigration can walk into a public library and pick up a magazine about a faraway place representing an integral piece of who she has become.

It means that I can sit with my daughter and show her a luminous reflection of who we are, and talk about going to visit, one day.

(This was originally posted at The Valentine 4 blog.)

Historiography

1 Apr

I have a term paper due in 16 days.  As I write this, I am perched on the edge of my creaky steno chair.  A space heater is cooking my feet.  My laptop is situated in the half-square-metre of space available on my desk.  Finn McMissile and Mater are grinning at me from among the broken toys awaiting repair.  There are crumpled tissues of unknown provenance.  And the user’s manual for a George Foreman Grill….

My paper is meant to explore evidence of cosmopolitanism in ancient Rome, and then hopefully draw some parallels between now and then.  Possibly shed some light on the social construct of race, in all its arbitrary and divisive mystery.  And maybe break it down, just a little bit more, in this slow and precarious progress toward an “us” without a “them”.  But I did not expect to be confronted with the vitriol of two hundred years of scholarship.  Of black scholars fighting for voice.  A white scholars fighting for silence.  And the well-meaning of all races writing and rewriting and then vehemently protecting their personal empirical interpretation statement of history.

Emphasis on the ‘story.

I chose this topic because Kwame Anthony Appiah’s explanation of cosmopolitanism makes such perfect sense to me.  We don’t need cultural homogeneity.  We don’t need for all of us to be the same.  We need to accept that we are all different people, with different traditions, and different values.  We need to suspend our judgement unless and until people are getting hurt.  And we are obligated to educate and to become educated.  To say, “Hey, man.  I don’t understand why you’re doing that.  Maybe if you explain it to me, we can work out a better solution.”  This learning before judging, this conversing before condemning – imagine the world we would have if all of us could work that way.

It’s the sort of idealism I teach my children.  And I do that because I believe it to be possible.  I believe that choosing to learn in the face of ignorance, anger, fear, and condemnation is the bravest act that anyone can commit.  Second only to protecting others from harm.

Perched on this chair in this space surrounded by tasks not completed, obligations not fulfilled, projects not initiated; my head is spinning with the implications of these words:

“History is not about fact.  It is about interpretation.” – Maghan Keita

In this space with the detritus of my life stacked all around me, on a continent where fear kills minds and boys with brown skin and women in black robes and thousands of other faces I will never know or see or love….

It is very, very hard to feel brave.

———

I’m a mother, corporate refugee, grad student, quiet activist and child care provider.  I live in Canada and write about grace, joy, hilarity, leg hair, living healthy, and learning with kids over at The Valentine 4: Living Each Day.

Teaching My Son to Write

29 Feb

I’m a graduate student in educational theory (Master of Arts, Integrated Studies, to be precise).  For several weeks, I’ve been immersed in feminist theory, race theory, Marxist theory, the birth of sociology, the jargonistic musings of Judith Butler on the intentionally difficult to comprehend Foucault….  And I have the kind of cold that kept me awake until 4am last night with fever chills and has left me giddy and directionless, today.

Forgive me if this post is somewhat less than concise.

Kwame Anthony Appiah has written and spoken often about his reasoned disavowal of race.  He doesn’t believe there are any races, and deconstructs both the original concept – as defined in North America with the African slave trade – and the current relevance of this sort of cultural leftover in his Tanner Lecture on Human Values (1994), among other papers, interviews and speeches.  I mean, we’ve established that people of all ethnicities are equally capable, moral, feeling, loving, hurting people….  Right?

So, why do we need to talk about it anymore?

Well, because race is socially determined.  Our culture tells us what race we are, establishing visible majorities and visible minorities and an increasingly difficult-to-determine mix of bi-racial, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, mixed-race, erm… people.  Black and white, gorgeous and beige, my kids fall into that last category.  And while I’m hoping hard that the strident voice of bell hooks and the educated bluesman musings of Cornel West remain sources of profound pride for American black people; here in Canada – in multicultural Canada – I’d like to see my kids’ generation drop their divisions, deny racial solidarity, and embrace something more like Appiah’s cosmopolitanism.  There is something so calmly appropriate about a theory of philosophy that refuses race, encourages knowledge of other cultures, and denies cultural relativism.  You don’t have to be just like me to be my brother.  I will love you, just the same.  And through my love I’m committed to learning more about you.  But I will NOT stand by and let you hurt people.  We have a human responsibility to protect each other from harm, even if it’s you – my brother – who is doing the harming.

To me, that sounds just about perfect.  Multiculturalism without assimilation.  Globally situated learning and citizenship.  And the outright refusal to allow nations to commit crimes against humanity just because their culture or their religion says that they can.  Does it GET better?

And so it was from this warm, fuzzy, I’d-Like-To-Teach-The-World-to-Sing perspective that I sat down with my kids and a bowl of popcorn to watch Discovery Atlas’s China Revealed.

Now, this film was done in 2006.  China was going crazy with preparation for the 2008 Olympics, and aside from a few ethnic Chinese family members, extra kids, students and friends, I really don’t know very much about Chinese culture.  I am NOT an educated observer, here – let me make that very clear.  But it was hard not to stare at the sheer focus demanded of children, in that film.  It was hard not to cover my mouth when a father spoke of beating his young daughter because she didn’t want to return to gymnastics boarding school, in that film.  It was hard not to just stare in fascination at Wushu city, and at thousands of workers performing calisthenics together to ensure an injury-free day at the factory; at adult children with the same single-minded focus to please their parents, to serve their parents, as appears on the faces of elementary school kids.  At the drive.  At the SOLIDARITY – in that film.  (I’m repeating this phrase because I do know that one film cannot adequately capture the depth and nuance of any culture.  There is so much more I need to learn!)

But, HOW can one deny the existence of race in the face of that?  Even while considering the vast differences of language and tradition within China’s borders.  Do we relabel it “culture”, and continue to reach out, hold hands and sing Kumbaya?  My kids will be competing with children from families with similar cultural influences for scholarships, jobs and promotions.  My kids, who have been raised without corporal punishment, who have been encouraged to cooperate before competing, who walked early, talked early, and were reading by age three….  They can’t do simple multiplication, like some of their first generation Chinese Canadian friends can.  My kids have always been given the option to work on reading, work on writing, work on language study, science or do anything else we come up with together in our afterschooling home.  (It really is up to them.)  And they have always been rewarded for their efforts in these areas.  Not punished for their shortcomings.

I’m a little worried that they won’t be prepared for their global reality, fifteen years from now.

Anyway, this post was about teaching my son to write.  I’d decided to post about that before diving into race theory and watching that documentary, and now our little writing exercises read with a decidedly different flavour.  I do apologize.

My Bug asked to learn how to write his name, so I told him I would help him.  I wrote out his name for him to copy, and that was difficult for him.  Frustrating.  I wrote out a letter for him to copy.  Still frustrating.  I printed out a preschoolers’ letter-tracing page from some website we found together.  Didn’t like it.  The dots were overwhelming and made no sense to him.  So, I wrote a letter, just one, with a highlighter and asked him to keep his pencil on the green line.  He took the pencil with some hesitation.  Standard pencils are small and awkward for his three-year-old hand; fat round or triangular pencils are too big and clumsy.  (He’s always preferred paintbrushes.)  But then?  He did it!  HE DID IT!  And asked for a page more.  And then I gave him the parts of the other letters in his name, not all together, just a page of lines, a page of curves, a page of initial connections, all written with electric green highlighter….

And I watched him light up with the joy of his own success.

I don’t know if my kids will be able to compete at the global level.  In many ways, I hope they won’t have to.  But, mostly?  I hope this light, this spark they have – that we can keep it going for as long as possible.  I’m hoping hard for forever 🙂

———

I’m a mother, corporate refugee, grad student, quiet activist and child care provider.  I live in Canada and write about grace, joy, hilarity, leg hair, living healthy, and learning with kids over at The Valentine 4: Living Each Day.

My Daughter’s Faces

29 Jan

Ethnicity is a nebulous topic, for me.  I grew up black in a very white community.  My mother is second generation Canadian caucasian (half German; plus a bit of Irish, a bit of Scottish, and some other pieces of the great UK).  My father was a Nigerian here on a student permit when they met, loved, and made me.  Looking through the photos, I can see that there were black people in my life, as an infant.  But my father must’ve taken them with him when he left during my toddlerhood, as I don’t remember them.

I do remember being different.

I remember being the only person of colour in my family, in my neighbourhood, and one of only a handful of people with brown skin in all of my years of grade school.  But I don’t remember being particularly upset by it.  I mean, we were poor, for sure, and recognizing that was hurtful for me.  The long list of things I couldn’t have loomed large in my life.  The way that people looked at us when I wasn’t clean, or when I didn’t have my lunch, or when our always aging always rusting always breaking car broke down again….  I learned all the ways those events impacted the community’s perception of my family, of our single-parent household, and I got better at hiding them.  And from them.  But racial discrimination?  That wasn’t a part of my life, as far as I could see.  Holding the torturous position of “Smart Kid” in a tiny rural school?  THAT was a part of my life.

So, I was sort of blind, at the time, to the racism my mother saw.  But looking back, I remember her rage very clearly.  When we left parties abruptly, because someone had made a n*gger joke and Mum’s face glowed a furious blazing fuschia while that room full of acquaintances laughed and laughed.  Or when strangers told me how cute I was, and then asked my Mum how long she had been looking after me.  At that time, for me, these things were sort of inconsequential, you know?  At the time, she kept these bits of darkness carefully and intentionally away from the light of her life.

I am so grateful.

Danica, my baby girl, was born into an established suburban community.  We have fences and mature trees and neighbours who look after their yards.  Everyone we know has a newish and well-maintained car.  Or two.  When she wants something, she asks for it, and the “can’t” is only limited to how many things I think she should have.  Not how many things I can’t afford to give her.  My kids have no relationship to the cracked asphalt and gravelly pavers of the Low Rentals.  They’ve never had to move away because of bad luck and worse money.  They’ve never been hungry.  They have a pack of friends whose parents watch them carefully, and they don’t know what it’s like to be out of eyesight with the neighbourhood kids until way past bedtime on a summer night.  They were born into a different lifestyle and a different time.

I’m not entirely sure that’s good for them.

My skin is coffee brown, the amount of cream added strongly dependent on the season and time spent playing outside.  My husband, the son of a light-skinned Jamaican and a caucasian Canadian, could pass as white.  And so my children’s complexions are much lighter than mine.  They have medium-beige skin, chocolate brown eyes, and reddish-brown nappy hair.  My daughter can pass.  My son looks enough like me that people wonder, but don’t ask – and perhaps that is one of the blessings we bought with this comfortable home and this comfortable life.

When Danica was not quite two, she and I would bus home from work and daycare, together.  Buses in Edmonton, Alberta, are usually multi-ethnic, even while many communities here are not.  Black people, white people, Asian people, Indian people, Russian people, Fijian people, Aboriginal people, Filipino people, and more, all sitting shoulder to shoulder with their iPods or novels or newspapers or raucous conversations in a musical cacophony of language….  It was not an intentional thing, at the time, to take my daughter on the bus with me.  It was not a careful or self-conscious decision, to expose my almost-white child to the texture of the world.

One afternoon, a black woman hefted her daughter, about the same age, onto the bus beside us, labouriously planted her stroller brakes, and arranged her mess of bags.  We were waiting at the Jasper Place terminal in a very multi-ethnic neighbourhood.  And, yes, incomes are low there, as too often is the case.  Her daughter’s stroller cost maybe thirty bucks and looked very well used, possibly second or third hand.  Mine cost over a hundred.

Both were equally well-smeared with fruit-snack bits and teething-biscuit paste.

She looked at me, at my daughter, then smiled that angry smile.  She said to her baby, slowly and carefully:  “Look, honey.  A yellow baby!”  That woman – who might have called me “sister” in another context, in another place – she called my daughter high yellow and then grinned at me to make sure I understood.

I would like to think I’m above that kind of bullshit, but I’m not.  I’d like to think that I’m educated enough, experienced enough, well-read enough, to view racists as the hurting, ignorant, broken human beings that I know them to be.  And, if anyone had asked me before that moment what I would have done if someone called my baby girl yellow – with that look, with that voice – I probably would have replied with something compassionate and healing.  A teaching moment, if you will.

Right.

But what I did?  What I did was glare at that woman with her flat, angry, eyes.  And then I smiled at her daughter who was just as beautiful as my own.  Heartbreaking and happy in layers of pink and dirty ribbons.  I said, “Yes, honey, she does have a yellow hat on, today.  And just look at your pretty dress!  You’re like a little flower there, sweet girl.”

I didn’t say it to educate.  I didn’t say it to make it better.  I said it to make that tired, angry, struggling black mother feel like total shit.  I said it to protect my daughter.

Danica is almost six, now.  She has dayhome friends who are Ukrainian, Irish, Italian, Portuguese, and Chinese.  All of them Canadian.  She has cousins who are every different colour of brown, every variation of beige, and who celebrate traditions from Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Jamaica, Fiji, India and China.  She speaks English, is learning French, and has been begging to learn Cantonese.  She has no concept of race.  She has no understanding of ethnic features, beyond the way that her Jamaican grandfather has blue eyes, her dad has hazel eyes, her brother’s eyes are nearly black, and so are her beige grandmother’s and brown mum’s.  There is no geographic attachment to facial features, for her.

I celebrate that.

My daughter loves to draw.  LOVES it.  She has been drawing and writing since she was two, and has sketchbooks and notebooks and bits of paper, and vats of markers and crayons and pencils, all around her all the time.  She loves to draw.

Here is one of her first family portraits:

And here are the two of us, together.  I’m wearing a black shirt and jeans, and she’s wearing a yellow hat (her description) and some optimistically dangly “pierced-ear earings”.  I guess a girl can dream, if she wants to 🙂

“Danica, what’s this picture about?”

She looked at me drily (though, to her credit, she did not say ‘Duh‘).  “We’re celebrating.  See?  There’s CAKE!”

“Why, though?  What do we have to celebrate?”

World-weary sigh.  “Well, everything, Mum.  We have SO MUCH to celebrate.”

Oh, honey.  Yes.  We really, really do.

———

I’m a corporate refugee, grad student, quiet activist and child care provider.  I live in Canada and write about grace, joy, hilarity, leg hair, and life looking after other people’s kids, over at The Valentine 4: Living Each Day.

Turning In: Musings on The Poverty Mentality and Early Education

4 Jan

Sitting with the kids in the car outside Tim Horton’s yesterday, listening to The Adventures of The Little Mermaid book-on-CD for the bazillionth time, my mind began to wander.  We were tired.  We’d been skating out at the Victoria Park Oval.  We’d gotten up early to prepare for the work-week resuming and were filled with the excitement/dread of getting back to reality the following day.

Mike was buying coffee for me and hot chocolate for the kids.  The car was warm.  The narrator’s voice vaguely British and soothing….

I’d chatted with someone the afternoon previous about a woman we both loved and respected.  How she had survived so much and remained indefatigably positive.  Optimistic.  The physical embodiment of grace.  And how, now, when faced with her own mother’s death, she had That Voice.  That kicked-in-the-gut Voice that quietly tells all who will listen that things are so very bad, so achingly bad.  And that they won’t get better for a long time.

Someone I love very much knows that Voice too intimately.  Most of her life it could be heard beneath her laughter, above her tears.  I’ve heard that voice from adult ESL students, from colleagues, and even from children who have passed through my life.  It hurts, That Voice.  And I’ve struggled with turning away or providing comfort, with abdicating responsiblity or risking offense.  With taking their pain for my own so we both can bear it.  Except we know that doesn’t work, right?  Spreading the pain around doesn’t make it thinner, lighter, more forgiving.  It’s just more pain to bear.

I applied to grad school without any expectation of being accepted.  I wrote an intellectual biography and entrance essay that broadly addressed the goals of becoming a better care provider, parent and tutor via greater understanding of the socio-political basis of our education policies, theories and outcomes.  Broadly because I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.  I had no idea what I wanted.  I mean, four years of business school taught me well how poorly designed I am for business.  I was, um, optimistic that grad school wouldn’t have the same result.

In the warm car with tired legs and drifting kids and Ursula the Sea Witch plotting her revenge….  I thought about how That Voice is most often heard from those who know hunger with painful intimacy.  And how endemic the poverty mentality has always been in our low income communities, both naturalized and immigrant.  And how we teach it to our kids, That Voice, and systemically limit their options in order to protect them from a world that has hurt us so badly.

What if we could make it better?

Are our early learning programs effective that way?  Are we helping our three and four year olds build trust relationships?  Are we protecting them from suspicion and fear?  What about grade school?  Are we connecting with these kids?  Are we fostering optimism via mentorship opportunities and helping them find ways to be successful?  Is it even our place to do that, as educators and volunteers?  What are the ethics, here?

And in the community, how are we reaching out to new immigrants?  How are we breaking this cycle?  Historically, new unskilled residents disappear into micro-countries of people from back home.  And while I know, as a black woman in a predominantly white community, what a comfort it can be to look up and see people who look like me, I remember the heckling one of my ESL students took from her own family some years ago:

“You think you’re better than us?  You need to read and write like a white person?”

You think you’re better than us?

I don’t have enough information.  Last night, I lay awake for hours.  Brain spinning.  An email from one of my dayhome parents gave me much to think about in terms of parenting strategies and behaviour management.  Leaving me to wonder again about how negative attitudes can be mediated in care environments, and how integral is that child-careprovider connection.  And how sometimes it is nearly impossible to maintain.

I don’t have enough information.

On my pillow, I thought about swim strokes and body position in the water.  I thought about watching my Bug and my Princess slip around on their skates and their giddy, grinning joy.  Their concept of “can’t” is severely limited, right now, and I am so grateful.  They understand “not yet” and “when I’m older”.  But not “can’t”.  Not, yet.  I thought about That Voice, that kick-in-the-gut we carry with us everywhere when we’re poor.  That “Can’t”.

How can we make it go away?

I need more information.

Belle wrote not long ago about that creative spark, and how we find it.  When I read her post, I didn’t know how to respond.  I mean, doesn’t it just come?

No.

I think, for me, the spark evades until I’m turning in so that the distractions of getting through the day, of walking through this life, can just glide past me.  I need to turn in, to get out of my own way.

Grad school starts in six days.

—–

I’m a corporate refugee, grad student, quiet activist and child care provider.  I write about grace, joy, hilarity, leg hair, and life looking after other people’s kids, over at The Valentine 4: Living Each Day.

Competitive Advantage by Desi Valentine

19 Nov

Desi: I’m a corporate refugee, quiet activist and child care provider. I write about grace, joy, hilarity, leg hair, and life looking after other people’s kids, over at The Valentine 4: Living Each Day http://thevalentine4.com/
————————————-

I’ve written about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, before. http://thevalentine4.com/2011/08/21/on-tigers-and-happiness/

I found the book fascinating, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was Chau’s first chapter assertion that her parenting methods were “Chinese” by title, and “immigrant” by definition. I don’t get that. I mean, I am a (sort of) first generation Canadian. My mum was born here, but my father is from Nigeria. On some archetypal level, I think I might understand the immigrant drive for their children to achieve.

Maybe. I’m not clear on how that drive is significantly different from every parent’s desire for their kids to succeed.

I did do very well in school. And I also have an intimate understanding of what it was to be a visible minority in a predominantly white community. People look at you. People pay attention to what you are doing. They talk about it. And, though I took my share of racist insults, the vast majority of my classmates and administrators were by no means cruel. Just sort of separate. In the friends but not best friends, seeing each other but not dating, helpful but not involved, sort of way.

Or maybe it was just me.

Chau’s kids were academic achievers. Homework always completed, they did the bonus questions for extra marks, and studied hard all the rest of the time. And that’s my point, I guess. She approached parenting with the expectation that her children would do well. She put them through more grueling hours of practice and revision than I would. She committed more means and time to finding good private tutors than I would. She punished them more severely for low effort than I would. But our expectations of our children’s successes are not dissimilar. Like basketball players in the inner cities, like hockey players in rural towns, they practiced a lot as an extension of community. And excelled.

My kids will do well in school. I believe that firmly. I expect that of them. We are an afterschooling home with learning resources everywhere, and education in all its forms are integral enough to be family values, around here. I have no beef with rote learning, standardized testing, or memorization. I think we need to know the information in order to interpret it, and while these methods do not give us “knowledge”, they do imbed the data from which meaningful interpretations can be made. I think that kids’ work should be graded, that poor effort should be investigated and remedied, and that competition is only harmful when tied to self-worth.

I am aware that these are not necessarily popular views. If the backlash on Chau’s book is any indicator, these are very unpopular views.

But then I think of articles I’ve read about adults in their twenties and thirties who don’t know how to be happy, and all of the books and films devoted to defining and improving “happiness”. I think of parents calling into universities to argue on behalf of their adult children, data on the dangers of “over-praising”, reports about the growth of experiential learning, pioneering research into inquiry based learning, the Waldorf and Montessori approaches to teaching young children…. And a woman overheard on a call-in radio show who believes very firmly that all children in elementary school should be protected from standardized testing, grading, competitive sports, and measurable academic achievement. I think about the free-range kids movement, and the exponential growth of Kumon and Sylvan learning centres. About a dear friend’s conclusion that “the smart kids will do well in any school”. I think about the open concept approach of our most recent “student-led teacher conference”, and the parents who had no choice but to hear how my daughter is thriving in school. (Seriously. How is that helpful to anyone?)

On some level, it feels like we’re rushing madly off in all directions. And for some of us, that means bringing at least part of our children’s formal education back home.

One final admission: My family is using Rosetta Stone to study French, while our daughter attends a French Immersion school. She loves going through the program on my computer, and is always thoroughly annoyed with me when I tell her she has to stop. We’re doing this, in large part, because we like to learn new things together. But the other part? The minor part? The less socially acceptable, teensy bit embarrassing part?

We’re doing this because there are francophone children in her classroom, and I expect her to keep up with them.

I’m skeptical that this has anything to do with my ethnic background or “immigrant status”. I haven’t yet met a parent, regardless of parenting style or doctrine, who did not want more for their children than they themselves have. Though the individual definition of “more” does vary.

What do you think? This post is scattered like my thoughts are, I know. How would you piece it all together?

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