Archive | Education RSS feed for this section

National Education: UK vs USA

18 Sep

Sharon Takao’s recent post on National Education: China vs Japan struck an unexpected chord with me. My thoughts on multi-culturalism and how to balance different national perspectives tend to focus on our life in Asia and the experience of being Westerners immersed, to varying degrees, in Chinese culture and society. But Sharon’s post reminded me of the subtler multi-culturalism within my own family. I am British and my husband Ethan is American and although we share a language and broad cultural background, the phrase “divided by a common language” can sometimes seem uncomfortably accurate.

Sharon’s story reminded me of one day earlier this summer, when I was making dinner and listening to my husband talking to our two sons about family history.  Ethan is a direct descendent of Paul Revere, hero of the American War of Independence, famous for his midnight ride to Lexington and Concord to warn patriots that “the British are coming.” You can probably guess where this is heading. Paul Revere is our son’s 7 times great-grandfather so it’s right that they should know his story and feel proud of his accomplishments. But as I listened to Ethan’s stories about the brave, clever American patriots outsmarting stupid, bullying “lobsterbacks” so they could gain freedom from the injustice of British rule, I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable. I understood that he was telling them simplified stories they could relate to, but I also didn’t want them growing up believing only one side of a complex story.  So I spoke up and pointed out that the country was divided at the time, with many Americans still considering themselves to be British subjects, that many had in fact been born in Britain, and that the story was not a simple one of good guys and bad guys. It was not as if the Americans were fighting for independence from a colonial power who had come in and occupied their country. They themselves had been part of the occupying force who had taken the country from its native inhabitants, then as they settled down decided they no longer wanted to pay taxes to the home country.

Maybe that’s another gross over-simplification, but it comes down to what Sharon pointed out, that each country teaches its own version of history, casting its own actions in the most positive light. And if you are married to someone who grew up with a different version of history than your own, you need to find some accommodation between the two. In fact the American War of Independence does not play a major role in history as taught in British schools. It is one in a series of narratives of countries colonised and lost, of Empire created and dissolved. In seven years of secondary school history courses, the only time I can remember it mentioned is as a contributory factor to the French revolution! By contract, in America it is of course a compulsory part of every child’s education and an important source of beliefs and discourses about what the nation stands for and represents.

The first time the subjectivity of history really came home to me I was already 20 (which means I had lived that long more or less accepting what I had learned in school), when the Battle of Agincourt came up in conversation with a French friend and we realised he had never heard of it. What is taught in British schools as a glorious victory is quietly ignored in France. Fortunately passing centuries take the sting out of defeat and the further away these events are, the more they become of purely academic interest. On the day in question I realised that 200 plus years aren’t quite enough to erase national loyalties within my family. Hearing my concerned tone as I tried to bring another perspective to his history lesson, Ethan did modify his story, somewhat, and acknowledge the uncertainties and divided loyalties of that period of history. We laughed about it later and I said it was a good thing I wasn’t German or Japanese, from a country that America has fought a war with in living memory, or Iraqi for that matter!

Chinese-Japanese marriages must contain similar tensions, not to mention Anglo-French ones, with centuries of conflict to draw on. Sometimes the tensions are greatest closest to home: Anglo-Scottish and Anglo-Irish marriages must have plenty of fodder for diverging perspectives. I would be interested to hear other’s thoughts and experiences on this subject, it may be that I am over-sensitive. Maybe some people are good at rising above their own versions of history, allowing their children to absorb one side of the story only, but I have realised that within my family we need to find room for both sides, or at least the acknowledgement that history is complex and multi-faceted.

About me: originally from the UK, I first came to China as a student in the 1980s and my life has intersected with China one way and another ever since. For the past 8 years I have been based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province China with my American husband and our two sons aged 6 and 11. I work freelance for non-profit organisations and on my own writing, editing and translation projects.

National Education: China vs. Japan

14 Sep

Recently there have been demonstrations, assemblies, and a hunger strike to fight against Moral & National Education (so-called ‘brain-washing education’) which was to be introduced into all primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong within the next 3 years.

120,000 people assembled outside government headquarters on 8 Sep against the introduction of Moral and National Education

Fortunately the HK Chief Executive said the government would leave the decision to include the subject, as well as the subject content, to the schools. That has stopped the hunger strike and the week-long assembly outside the government building.

I think that since the handover, HK people should have anticipated a gradual ‘nationalization’ by the Chinese government. Most countries mainly teach their school kids the positive history of their country – be it a victory or a defeat in a war – the home country is mainly right. At least that’s what I thought until I talked about this with my husband.

Me: I just don’t understand why the HK people are so radical. Come on, all countries are doing the same at school.

My husband: No, Japan is not like that.

Me: (suspiciously) Oh really? Did they teach you about the Nanking Massacre in school?

My husband: We are not sure if it really happened. Why would it be in the textbook?

Me: Uhhh…

So there are no exceptions. My husband was brought up in the Japanese education system.  To me, history is history. We always say, “we must learn from history in order not to make the same mistakes”. But if dwelling on history could ruin the current friendship between two countries, I’d rather have everyone forget the past.

If you were me, would you tell your child that his dad’s people were part of a crazy killing machine yet they say they are not sure if the massacre really happened? Or maybe we should let the kids find the truth out by themselves? In this world of propaganda, what is the truth anyway?


Contributing author Sharon Takao is originally from HK. She lives in Tokyo with her Japanese husband and 3 year-old son. She works at a local advertising, event planning company. She enjoys reading, writing, singing, dancing and playing basketball. She is a member of the online writing community Fanstory.com

Benefits of Being Bilingual

8 May

“Language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is the shaper of ideas… We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages.” (Benjamin Whore, 1897-1941)

Back before my daughter was born, which in some ways feels like a different life, I used to teach CEGEP (community college). In one of my courses, we talked briefly about knowledge and how language shapes it.

“How many of you speak at least two languages?” I would ask, as an introduction.

Every hand in the class would go up. Not only do I teach in bilingual Montreal, the school where I work is in a very multicultural neighbourhood where many students are first or second generation immigrants.

“How many of you speak at least three languages?” I would ask. Always quite a few hands would go up, sometimes most.

“How about four? Five?” Usually, at least one or two students in my class spoke five languages.

Then I would ask them, “In what ways does learning a second (or third, or fourth…) language contribute to and expand your knowledge of the world?” We would discuss. We talked about how translation is more complicated than just substituting a word from one language for a word in another. How languages are shaped by culture and context. I gave them some real examples of mis-translations to illustrate the point. For example:

“We take your bags and send them in all directions.” (In a Danish airline ticket office)
“You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.” (In a Japanese hotel)
And my favourite:
“Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time.” (In an Italian laundromat)

Or did you know that Puijilittatuq is Inuktitut for: ‘he does not know which way to turn because of the many seals he has seen come to the ice surface.’? I guess we don’t have a concise expression for that in English because… we probably don’t need to say it very often!

Not only does knowing more than one language help you to function in an increasingly globalized world, it also expands your understanding of culture and language and the way the world works.

I was interested to see that apparently there are  10 Proven Brain Benefits of Being Bilingual. This article brings up some interesting points, some of them surprising (did you know that bilingualism apparently staves off dementia?). This makes sense to me though, because learning a second language doesn’t just mean memorizing more vocabulary; it means expanding your understanding of the world. I guess it makes sense that that makes your brain work harder, keeping it in good shape.

For all of these reasons, I’m happy to be living in a bilingual city and that my little munchkin has been being spoken to in three languages since the day she was born.

Many months ago, I wrote about speaking to someone who had taken a course in bilingualism. She said that it could actually be best for both parents in bilingual homes to speak both languages to their children, rather than taking the traditional approach of having each parent speak one language.

However, I eventually asked for more information about this theory and after reading through a stack of academic articles on bilingualism didn’t see anything direct or convincing about it. So we switched to the traditional approach- I speak English to M, and E speaks French.

We both slip up sometimes- I find it almost impossible to speak English in completely French settings, and E finds the same in English settings. But we do our best.

And E’s parents speak Italian to her… except when they forget and slip into English or French. Ok, so none of us are perfect. But we’re trying. And the important thing, I think, is that my little one is hearing two different languages on a daily basis and three on at least a weekly basis. I’m very curious about how this is shaping her perception of the world around her.

Last week I was invited to an event and brought M with me. Most people there were Latin American, and there was more Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese being spoken than French or English. Everyone wanted to see M- she got passed from person to person, and was spoken to in rapid Spanish and Portuguese all evening long. She didn’t seem surprised about it, and reacted to the people talking to her in the same way she reacts to anyone else. It made me wonder: what is going on in her little head? At this age is facial expression and intonation more important than actual words? Are Spanish and Portuguese similar enough to Italian that she actually can understand a little bit? Or is she just so used to hearing different languages that it’s no surprise that a few more might exist, too?

M is 13 months old now, and babbles incessantly, but she doesn’t speak many real words (that we can understand, anyway). I can’t wait until she starts talking, mostly because I’m curious about which language will come out. Will she automatically speak English to me and French to E? Or will she mix everything all up? Remember some words in one language and others in another?

I’m happy that M will know more than one language for the benefits to her brain explained in the article mentioned above (what mother doesn’t want her child to be creative, intelligent and environmentally aware?!). But also I’m happy that she’ll have a window into different cultures, different ways of seeing the world, different ways of structuring information. One of the benefits of ‘multicultural motherhood’ is the ability to give this gift to our children.

Faith, and the Lack Thereof

5 Apr

My husband and I are raising our daughters M and J to be practicing Catholics, but I don’t believe in God. While I see no conflict in those two facts, I know that many people do.

My husband and I agree that Christianity and science need not be at odds. He sees the Bible as an attempt by fallible humans’ to explain and share the plan and actions of an infallible God. Truths are within the pages of Bible, but it is up to the individual to understand what it teaches, sometimes literally, but frequently allegorically. This is a pathetically simplified way to look at it, but he and I simply differ at where we draw the line between the literal and allegory in the Bible. I see the Bible as a historical document that captures an ancient understanding of the world, but also demonstrates the inherent imperfection of translating language, context, and cultural assumptions to a different place and time.

While our differences in theology may not cause conflict, it’s certainly not easy.

A year ago, M, then aged 4, had a bombshell question. “Who took care of the very very very first person on earth when they were a baby?”

This is such a huge question. At the crux is the matter of how humans came to be. It’s one of those topics you do not bring up unless you’re either aching for a fight, or are certain that everyone in the room sees eye to eye on.

There were two answers to the question, I told the girls. It would be hard to understand how they could both be right, but I would try to explain. First I told them about God creating Adam from the earth. I explained that, as far as I understand, God made Adam as a grown-up, and Eve too. They had babies, I told the girls, and they raised them.

“So they got married?” asked J. She was clearly delighted at the prospect of a wedding featuring front and centre in the creation of everything.

I reminded my daughters that there was another story and provided a very simplified explanation of evolution. I pointed out that, while they share basic traits like five fingers per hand, hair colour, and dimples or a lack thereof with me and my husband, M and J aren’t just a mixture of the two of us. They’re not exactly like each other, either, identical twinhood notwithstanding. Offspring, I explained, are always a teeny bit different from their parents. I told the girls that the differences add up over the generations. I used our cat Penelope, tigers, and their shared ancestors as an illustration. I didn’t get into survival of the fittest; I figured that they had plenty to think about as it was. I gave them a second example using a wolves-and-dogs scenario, and then finally got around to primates. It was refreshing to have this discussion without encountering the common misconception that “we used to be monkeys.” As M pointed out, “So Penelope’s great great, lots of greats, grandma was tigers’ great great great grandma.”

It was tempting to stop here, but that would have been chickening out.

I pulled out a children’s Bible, as well as our copy of Evolution Revolution. I read the relevant passages of both books to the girls, and Melody began to get angry. She wanted an answer, and fast.

I explained to her that, long long ago, when the Bible was written, its authors did their best to explain God’s actions. Now that we understand that animals evolve over time, we can understand that God made humanity through evolution, and that there was a first man and a first woman, but that their mommies (“and daddies,” J reminded me) were monkeys. Their monkey mommies and daddies raised them, but (and this is where I just had to make it up on the fly) it wasn’t until they were grown up that they realized that they were different from their parents, that they were humans and not monkeys.

J was satisfied with the explanation, but M had a zillion more questions. Unfortunately, it was time for bath. She burst into tears. “I just want the answer!” she sobbed.

I didn’t reach that point of frustration until I was seven, and that’s when I became an atheist. There was no one who could resolve religion and science for me, so I chose science. I didn’t want M to start down that admittedly lonely road at the tender age of four. I just held her, and told her that I understood her desire to understand everything right now, but that we were going to have to take our time, refining our understanding and answering questions over days, and maybe years.

I told her something I only really came to understand in my mid-twenties, mostly thanks to my husband: For many many things, there simply isn’t a single right answer. The understanding of the subjectivity of perspective is a gift, I think, that multicultural families of all stripes, of necessity, share.

Sadia’s parents are nominally Muslim. She is a higher education business analyst, and has spent large chunks of her life in each of the UK, the US, and Bangladesh. She is married to an American soldier of Caucasian and Mexican descent who likes to add “American” as an option to standardized forms requesting self-identification of ethnicity. With their 5-year-old identical twins daughters and all-American foundling of a cat, they live just north of the Mexico-US border in El Paso, Texas. This post is derived from posts previously published on Sadia’ personal blog, Double the Fun.

Mama…Why, When, Who, How?

13 Mar

Ever heard “The Logical Song” by Supertramp? It takes you through an extraordinary journey of questioning the world around us. I thought of this song when my three- and- a- half year old son started bombarding me with questions, some were answerable others needed some serious soul-searching from my end.

Parenting, I tell you, isn’t easy.

I see numerous moms around me who make it look like an effortless fairy tale, but me I am constantly fumbling over issues. When I look back at the time I began this fascinating journey of motherhood, the initial few years now seem like a breeze. As my three-and-a- half year old is growing and becoming inquisitive, my job as his mother is more interesting, but challenging. The journey is hilarious, fascinating and mind-boggling all at the same time. I have to admit there are times when I have to sit back and make a serious analysis of how I need to ensue. Those first years seem like a breeze because my primary role as mother was satisfying my sons physiological needs; lack of sleep and a small level of fatigue were my biggest issues. Today, his questions that are often accompanied by that: Don’t fail me mama, I will find out, look makes it tough.

I was born in a Hindu household in India. Unlike most typical homes where god played a central role that guided the lifestyle of most Indian families, my parents were not big advocates of religion or god. We did not go on annual pilgrimages during our summer breaks, our weekends did not consist of touring nearby temples, and most importantly my parents never really forced the concept of religion or god on us. We celebrated festivals like any other Hindu family, we were told stories about magnificent god kings, but festivals meant new clothes, goodies to eat, and stories with colorful scenarios that would send any child’s imagination soaring.

In retrospect, I don’t think my parents were non-believers, they were busy with their careers, and god did not seem like something that was a significant part of their lifestyle. My husband, however, comes from a family that was different from mine. His summers consisted of touring various temples around south India; he is well-versed in all the mythological characters that exist in Hinduism, in a nutshell religion and god played a big part in his family.

So here we are, as parents with two very separate childhood experiences and different ideologies with regards to god/religion. This difference does not in any form or fashion interfere with our daily routines, but we do have healthy arguments about how things should be done or not done on the matter.

I’ve had interesting dialogues in my head about the why’s and how’s regarding this very confusing chapter on god/religion. As I mentioned earlier, my parents were neither biased in their love for god, nor did they completely shun the concept. But lately in her retired time off, my mother has taken to it very seriously, the consequence being that I was taken on a guilt-trip on how I should begin inculcating a bit of god in my children. This is very confusing to me, I do not necessarily see the point of it and I am not against it either. I am not mostly against it because of that unknown guilt that harbors in me when it comes to the mysterious religion issue.

So during my recent visit to India I decided to teach my son some Hindu prayers – just to placate my mother. My son repeated and learned them quickly. He got exposed to a lot more of it as our stay in India progressed, till one day he stood up straight and asked me, “Mama what is god?”

Whoa! This completely confounded me. I’m not ready for the question myself leave alone explaining it to a three-and-a-half year old. I managed to burble something on the lines of god loving everyone and all the good things that are associated with the concept of god that he would understand at his age. I was angry and disappointed with myself for doing so; I always prided myself on being a mother who was honest with my feelings and beliefs, particularly when it came to my children.

This was a deal breaking moment for me. It was time to catch the bull by its horns. As an adult I have had several moments where my personal version of god/religion has come to my refuge, but I have never labeled myself as religious or not. Yes, it was a convenient option for me, but children don’t need convenience, they need permanence. Until this point, it has been a very personal choice, but it seems like I cannot continue on this way.

As a parent, I have to take a stand on every issue; it is the only route to take. Children need direction and consistency; in my son’s mind he needed a reason for being asked to say the prayers everyday.

As a parent, I either had to continue with this practice when we returned home to Chengdu, or give it up completely – till he is old enough to make up his own mind about whether or not to embrace god/religion. I’ve chosen to let my son be the judge of how he wants to approach the issue when he is older and hopefully wiser.

But in the meantime I have begun to re-evaluate myself as a mother. I have begun to consciously take a stand on most issues in my life, at least the ones that I plan to expose my children to. I want to be ready when my son poses the next big question.

I am getting there slowly, but surely.

——————————————————-

Renuka Venkataraman is a contributing author at Multicultural Mothering.

“I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I lived in Dallas, Texas for almost 15 years and worked as teacher for special needs kids for 10 of those years. I moved to Chengdu in September 2011 with my husband, two kids and our miniature dachshund Zen. I’m looking at motherhood under a very different light here in Chengdu. It has brought a sense of positivity and purpose to my life in many ways I can’t wait to experience and share with all you other Multicultural Moms.”

 

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.

Run…I am Talking About Education

22 Feb

It is personal, very personal, not only because I am an insider in the game but because my kids will soon be venturing into the world of formal education. I am not qualified to comment on its steady state of decline in most countries of the world but I can most certainly express my individual viewpoint of how I am utterly disappointed from the little of it I have seen.

My memories of my school days are very pleasant. I have no qualms or complaints about it; but then again nothing about it stands out as exceptional. The reason I am tracing back to my roots is because things have not changed much. I have had the opportunity to work with children in whom I have seen great degrees of diversity. It made me a strong believer in the uniqueness that exists in every child. This puts parents and educators in a significant position to tap this uniqueness. But who has the time for potential? Education today is all about teaching to the test. The year begins with grand new curriculums, new technology on how to teach it; teaching methods to bring out the best in every child to ensure that every child who walks through those school doors walks out feeling successful at the end of the day. Then how come everyone feels so unmotivated and stressed out about school as the year slowly trickles by?

Kids today are taught like lambs, the idea of standing out in a crowd is not necessarily considered a positive. I shudder to think of how this would affect my kids when they make their way into this system. As parents we marvel and cherish every act that our children do, and every word they say everyday and hope that their teacher might notice at least a percentage of their uniqueness. I know this might sound like a mind-boggling task for the educator but logistically speaking it isn’t. A typical classroom consists of 20-25 students, if a teacher were to spend 2 minutes with every child that adds up to 50 minutes of her precious day. Trust me those 2 measly minutes will be cherished by that child everyday.

In my experience I have seen that children thrive when you set high expectations for them. Children want to impress their teacher, get noticed and closely tied to this is the need to succeed. Teaching to the test kills this to a large extent. Teachers today do not have the time to know their students individually, because they walk into their classroom with an agenda to finish what they need they to cover for that day.

A true story I read many years back in a newspaper often comes to mind when I think of children and schools. A teacher once gave her class a theme to draw a picture of their pet for art class. Most of the children drew pictures of dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and other common household pets. One little girl drew a dinosaur as her pet and when the teacher laid her eyes on her drawing she mocked and ridiculed the little girl in front of the entire classroom for her unrealistic picture. Imagine the plight of the little girl and more importantly imagine how it would have trampled her sense of creativity.

I have been listening to Sir Ken Robinson on TED. He talks very passionately about how education kills creativity. He explains how we are taught to be almost robotic, like workers and not encouraged to think out of the box. He says, “Creativity should be given as much importance as literacy.” I agree with him completely, we are so determined as parents and teachers to follow the rulebook on everything we do for our children.

There are nights I spend in bed thinking about why I need a book to tell me how to feed my kids, how to educate them, how to control every possible action that comes from them and redirect it to follow the rule book. Why are my motherly instincts not enough?

I am now making a conscious effort to let them breathe, be themselves. I might be dreaming the impossible because I know they have to ultimately be mainstreamed and follow rules that their formal educational system might demand of them; but for now I plan to celebrate their uniqueness.

We as parents have a huge responsibility towards our children. Brain development in human beings happens most rapidly during early childhood. Children are like little sponges, they soak up everything you offer them. It takes a lot of conscious efforts from our side to let their uniqueness grow. I think this quote from Sir Ken Robinson sums it all up for me,

“What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now, that we use this gift wisely and that we avert some of the scenarios that we’ve talked about. And the only ways we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. By the way—we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.”

Reference: Schools Kill Creativity: TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

————————————————–

Renuka Venkataraman is a contributing author at Multicultural Mothering.

“I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I lived in Dallas, Texas for almost 15 years and worked as teacher for special needs kids for 10 of those years. I moved to Chengdu in September 2011 with my husband, two kids and our miniature dachshund Zen. I’m looking at motherhood under a very different light here in Chengdu. It has brought a sense of positivity and purpose to my life in many ways I can’t wait to experience and share with all you other Multicultural Moms.”

Two Articles on Bilingualism

12 Jan

We flew from Beirut to Abu Dhabi (“adi badi” as Rahul calls it) on Etihad Airways, the United Arab Emirates carrier, a couple of days ago. It was the first of 3 flights that would take us back to Chengdu.
A pretty, blond flight attendant with bright red lipstick guided Leila up a step and onto the plane. “Oh, they are so small,” she said, to no one in particular.

“They’re two,” I responded, not entirely sure what she based her judgment on.

A few minutes later, she walked by, offering us newspapers. For the first time since I’ve flown on a plane with my children, I bothered (dared) to take one. 4 out of 6 newspapers were in Arabic. I randomly picked The National, an English language UAE paper.

Well into the flight, Rahul fell asleep in Maher’s arms. Leila and I were hanging out. She was flipping through one of her books, so I pulled out the newspaper. The title action photo shot of a leopard pulling off a man’s scalp in Assam, India, was bewildering. The caption mentioned that they caught the leopard.

Overleaf was a picture of a baby, and an article about bilingual brain development. In the UAE people speak both Arabic and English, some also speak Hindi and Tegalog among other languages, because of the Indian, Filipino, and many other communities living and working in the UAE.

Universal translators, by Manal Ismail talks about the possible effects of bilingualism on babies brains. It discusses how cognitive performance in children up to five years old might be less developed in a bilingual child than in a monolingual one; but that by age five there would be a likely catching-up and overtaking phase. The article ends with the hypothesis that exposure to a second language “early enough” (that could range from up to 12 years old to up to 16 years old depending on the research) stimulates the right brain; the side that governs creativity. So the research is on by a professor at the American University of Sharjah to see if indeed bilingual children can be more creative than monolingual ones.

It took me all three hours of the flight to get through this, and the follow-up article about how that professor plans to implement a bilingual policy at a school in Berlin, and then try the same at a school either in Dubai or in Abu Dhabi.

My first interjection came from Ivana, the talkative Romanian flight attendant with bright red lipstick. She delivered us a tray of food, and attracted by baby on my newspaper, she peeked in. She asked what the article was about, and we plunged into a fifteen minute conversation about parenting. She is studying bilingualism and other topics in Child Psychology and Development at a University in South Africa, by correspondence, and claimed that babies can easily manage 5 languages. She lives in Abu Dhabi with her South African husband, for his work.

Rahul was asleep and Leila was still entertaining herself. Ivana and I went back and forth. That I was able to have such a conversation astonished me, and made me realise how things are evolving for us.

Ivana wants to have children. She can’t fly if she’s pregnant, so she’ll quit her job soon. The main reason to leave her work though are the long haul flights – 14, 16 hours to Sydney, Toronto, Chicago; they’re too tiring. She sometimes stays up 24, even 48 hours.

“I think I’ll be able to handle the nights as a new mum, after my job here.”

She inquired about IVF, and then went on to share parenting tips from her studies, observations, and from her magazine purchases in the UK! They were mainly along the lines of allowing children to be who they are; embracing their personalities and understanding that not everything our children do is reflects our parenting. I confirmed. My 2 same age children react to situations differently, even though I do almost the same things with them. They eat, sleep, fly, talk, play, and think differently.

She’s been watching the children on her flights for the last 2 years. Some sleep all the way, some are hyper-active, others read or watch movies, some eat, others don’t…

She said the Australian, British, and US kids often aren’t potty-trained until two, even three, whereas where she comes from, children are put on the pot from 6 months on.

I was amazed by all the “research” she’s doing. I didn’t know a thing about babies before I had my own.

It was obvious that Ivana really wants to be a mum, and I bet she’ll be a good one. She’s confident, excited about it, and full of energy. Already a solid start. Her main point, which I agree with fully, is to do it your own way; to take the tips, and then to adapt them to your own personality.

I was happy for the pleasant conversation, and momentary bonding.

When another, slightly irritated flight attendant called Ivana away, I returned to my food.

I changed Leila’s diaper. She fell asleep.

Rahul woke up.

Ivana had a short conversation with Maher and Rahul in French about their meal, and then an upbeat one about fashionable purses and shoes with 3 sisters in black outfits and hijabs (head coverings worn by some muslim women) across the aisle from us.

In the mean time I managed to read my articles.

The professor plans to have classes in both English and Arabic. So if they teach math in Arabic one day, the next day it will be English. Did you go to a bilingual school, or do your children go to one? Is this how it works at other bilingual schools?

Related article- Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language

Related site- http://www.multilingualliving.com/

——————
Natasha lives in Chengdu, China with her husband and twin toddlers. They just returned after spending 3 weeks in Lebanon for Christmas and New Year with the children’s great-grandfather, grandparents, and uncles from their Lebanese side. They spent their time in a 200 year-old stone house, playing with dogs and eating way too much delicious food. Catch more of Natasha’s stories at Our Little Yogis, http://natashadevalia.com

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.

Canadian by Bea of The Little Grovers

28 Nov

Bea: Lives in Canada with her husband T and their twin toddler boys. Catch up with them at http://www.littlegrovers.blogspot.com.

——————–

When I discussed the subject of raising children in a multicultural family with my husband, we came to the same conclusion. Though my heritage is Italian-Irish, and T.’s is Korean we both feel Canadian. My parents immigrated to Canada when they were children and I was raised, for better or worse, in a single language speaking home.

My husband came to Canada as a small child with his grandparents and speaks Korean with his family. Because he has no formal education in Korean, and I’ve been told he speaks like an old country woman due to his dialect, he is not that comfortable conversing in his native language.

This is all a long winded way of saying that we only speak English with our kids at home. There will be the obligatory French language classes in school, but we have no plans to teach our kids Korean or Italian outside of a few phrases.

Both of T.’s grandparents have passed away, and he has a few aunts and uncles here in Canada. I’m sure they would love it if our boys learned Korean, but we do not see them often enough for them to have much influence over the boys language development. And three out of four adult relatives do not speak English though they have lived in English speaking Canada for decades so I do not have a well developed relationship with them.

I took some Italian language classes as a child, and again as an adult but I never really put it into practice and would be incapable of holding a conversation now.

Am I doing a disservice to my children by not teaching them more than one language in these early toddler years? If we as parents are not able to speak more than one language with our kids, should we invest in language classes for our kids?