Monday, May 21, 2018

Parenthood: Week 268 - Ollie's Conclusions About Race

Diana’s extended family on her father’s side is multi-racial. She has cousins who are lack, and this diversity enriches the entire family. We’ve always told Ollie that these cousins who are black are simply his cousins finding no need to explain the subtleties of their familial relationships. More important to us, is that Ollie sees her cousins, her uncles and aunts, and all of these wonderful people simply as family.

So a couple weeks ago, Ollie mentioned, “I noticed something about cousin Marcus and some of his siblings.” I immediately thought that Ollie would tell me how he noticed the fact that they are black. Instead he replied, “All of their names start with the letter ‘m’!” I laughed at myself and confirmed that this was true. Everyone in that immediate family does in fact have names that start with the letter “m.” “Is there anything else you’ve noticed that interesting about some of these cousins?” Ollie looked at me blankly. “Well, they have a different skin color than you,” I prompted.” “I know, they have different skin, but so do you and mommy.”

Some people argue that we shouldn’t talk about race and ethnicity with young children because “they don’t see race.” This is not actually an argument, but rather an expression of ignorance or discomfort about talking about these issues. I’ve heard that kids sees race, and I know for fact from my son Ollie sees race, because from the earliest time he could express it to us, he’s observed that me and Diana have different, hair and skin color (my wife is Caucasian, and I’m Chinese).

We’ve explained to Ollie his ethnic heritage. He has an amazing and wonderful background. He’s a decedent of immigrants on both sides. My parents came from Taiwan in the late 1970s, and Diana’s paternal grandparents emigrated from Wales a generation earlier. We culturally identify as Chinese, which leads to some semantical confusions. We are from Taiwan, but my parents speak Mandarin Chinese. And some interesting conclusions. Last night Ollie concluded that everyone in Seattle, where my mother lives speaks Mandarin, since my parents lives and speak Mandarin themselves. And then he made an interesting logic jump. He’s Chinese, there are black people in his family, therefore maybe black people are Chinese.  Yes, that’s ridiculous, but more than that it’s encouraging and wonderful.

It’s wonderful that my son thinks about his race, is making conclusions (even incorrect ones) and is asking questions about his identity. I’m not sure how to address all of his questions and ideas, but that’s okay. I don’t need to have all of the answers, I think the most important part is that I listen. Part of me wants him to get it right, but there’s time for that. He can’t understand all of the nuances about racial identity, so I can let him have some misconceptions, in the same way I can let his spelling not be perfect, and his handwriting be a little messy right now.

Some of the most important conversations we have with our kids are the messy ones, and we rob our children of important moments when we don’t talk about things because of our own discomfort.

We see race, our children see race. That’s not a bad thing. Not talking about race, making children internalize that there’s something wrong with the way we they see people is not good for our kids. Only by encouraging our children to express what they see as beauty, and learn to frame it as such, will they learn to accept and love others and themselves, in the challenging and important work of racial identity development.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Year 8: Week 26 – 21 Guns

I was on paternity leave when the shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School occurred. I’ll be honest. The gravity of this tragedy didn’t sink in immediately. Like so many people in our country, part of me has become desensitized to these tragedies. Also, as a defense mechanism, I don’t let myself imagine too much. It’s more than I can bear. I’m a teacher, and it’s all too real, and all too easy to picture in my mind’s eye.

It was in that town hall days later when it all hit me. These amazing students said truths adults were too afraid to say, and reminded an entire country that adulthood isn’t defined by how old you are. Part of me wanted to be with my school community, but I knew my students were well looked after, and I had my responsibilities to my own family.

The more I read about this tragedy, it became clear to me how “normal,” tragedies like this were to my students. Also, I saw that the potential I knew in my own students to have an active voice in our democracy was being exercised with incredible power and conviction, that we haven’t seen as a country from the youth, since the era of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. So, I emailed the 8th grade choir teacher, and suggested that we do “21 Guns,” by Green Day as a middle school band and choir piece.

Three years ago, the 8th grade choir had done “21 Guns,” and the 8th grade band performed selections from the album American Idiot. We studied the work of Green Day and how they used their voice to protests the second War in Iraq and give voice to youth culture. Even though “21 Guns,” wasn’t about gun violence, it spoke to critical questions about citizenship. Now more than ever, it felt like the right time to bring back this song for our middle school students to process what was happening in the world.

The students enjoyed working on the song. We didn’t have time to explicate all of the lyrics, but there were some good conversations about some of the themes in the song. As we worked on it, one line held the meaning of the song, the first line of the song: “Do you know what's worth fighting for, when it's not worth dying for?” And before we performed “21 Guns,” I used this line as I did with my students to frame the song for the audience.
Throughout American history, citizens have asked themselves, what is worth fighting for. And some have decided that there were things worth dying for. This includes people who chose to fight in wars for the ideas and values of our country, but it also includes other people. Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court justice who was instrumental in overturning segregation laws and Martin Luther King Jr. knew when they went to areas of the south, they were fighting for what was right, and also that their lives were in very real danger.  The question of what's worth fighting for will follow you your entire life and is central to what it means to be a citizen.  The title of the song "21 Guns," refers to the 21 gun salute, a tribute to fallen troops during military funerals, and the song protests the second war in Iraq, questioning, as we all should, our government.      

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Monday, May 14, 2018

Parenthood: Week 267 - Buffy & The Boys

I know that my boys benefit from growing up with a dog, but sometimes I wonder if Buffy’s life has been enriched living our two boys. I don’t remember thinking about how having a dog would affect our kid’s lives when we got Buffy, and I didn’t really consider how Buffy’s life would change when we had kids. Now I can’t imagine a having kids without a dog in the house. While there are moments when I reminisce about the simplicity of Buffy being our only child, I’m happy how our family has grown and I feel that it has been good for Buffy.

Almost every night, Buffy chooses the bed in Ethan’s room to sleep on, instead of the bed in our bedroom. When Ollie plays in the backyard, Buffy will bark at him acting as the “fun police,” making sure that he is doing okay. And of course, Buffy is always around during dinner time to keep watch for any food falling on the ground. Ethan really likes touching Buffy’s fur, and he works hard to reach out to her.  Buffy is very patient with as his arm flails around her head, or tail as he tries to grab a handful of hair.

The first couple months of having two kids in the house, in some ways has been easier on Buffy then the first couple months of Ollie’s life. When Ollie was just about a month old, we moved, which was a challenge for all of us. However, the baby in house did mean that Buffy got less walks, and less attention. This means that at night, she’s more whiny in the evening, and she hasn’t been brushed as regularly, but we are doing the best we can.

Even though Buffy is a herding dog, and has demonstrated herding instincts with sheep, she doesn’t really try to herd the boys. However, there is a sense of pride in her strut when we’re going on a walk. She is attentive to Ollie and the stroller. Buffy makes sure to keep up if Ollie is up ahead on his scooter, or will stop if the stroller is too far behind.

Sometimes Buffy simply looks judgingly up at us when Ethan is crying, and sometimes when Ollie is dancing she finds a quiet corner of the house to find some peace. As much as Buffy seems to enjoy sleeping in Ethan’s room and keeping him company, when he cries at night, she is quick to relocate to cave created by our covers hanging off of the foot of our bed. There are other times at the end of the long day she looks just as tired as me and Diana, relieved that the both of the boys are finally asleep.

I know Buffy has had fewer uninterrupted nap, and fewer our outings are now rarely centered around her. We used to regularly take Buffy to the dog park or the dog beach and we haven’t been since Ollie was born. This makes me sad sometimes, but more, I’m proud that we had so many special adventures with Buffy before the boys came into our lives. While she is no longer the center of our world, I know that she has a good life.

I'm grateful that Buffy has been with us through it all with the boys.  She has stayed up with Diana late at night as she tries to get one of them to sleep, and she has kept me company when Diana is away and I struggle to get the boys fed for dinner.  Her presence is always comforting, and significant.  I know under her watchful eyes the boys feel this as well.

The boys have given Buffy a larger pack, and a feeling of responsibility.  In turn she continues to enrich our lives with every soft sigh, and with every excited peak through the window, watching as I get out of my car walking up to out front door.       

Friday, May 11, 2018

Year 8: Week 35 - How We Come Together

There are many different presentations at my school during assemblies that reflect the diversity and the values of the Parker community. Assemblies that carry tradition like Class Day, that ends the school year, connect students with each other in the moment, and also create a shared experienced and bond with alumni. A student who sings “Simple Gifts” at the Thanksgiving presentation, has an immediate connection with an alumni who sang the same song decades earlier. Even though they are separated by time, the tradition creates a bridge, an expression of a value through an experience that binds them together.

The assemblies that bring in guests, broaden our sense of community and help students understand the different roles that people play in our democracy. These assemblies provide important windows into other people’s experiences, and mirrors so that students see facets of their own identity valued in our community. The subjects of the guests at MX are varied including presentations by members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, as part of the inaugural Visiting Music Scholar program this year, and Representative John Lewis speaking about his experiences in the Civil Rights movement and his continued work.

There is a common thread that ties in our speakers, that is powerful and important. The values of our school, the progressive approach to education and our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion resonates in the guests that come to our school. The deliberate work to bring in those from that share in the mission of our school makes real the meaningful and purposeful the work at this school, and helps our students understand that their values, their goals, and their beliefs do not exist on an island.

Another type of asemblies are when classes share their curricular work or extracurricular activities. These “show and tell” presentations provide looks into what is happening throughout the school. During a JK-5 sharing assemblies, students may present reflections, songs, and journal writing. This work is an important reminder to students where they used to be, where they are, and/or where they are going. A 3rd grader is not going to fully understand the work of a high science students, however, a 3rd grader’s view on the school will be enriched knowing that this subject is being explored and may be inspired by the passion and interests the students’ presenting. Robotics club presents the innovating way that technology, engineering, and teamwork, come together to complete tasks. While these tasks may be as simple as moving a ball, the process to create the robot, presented during the assembly, is complex, and challenging. It is this challenge of the process itself that informs the work that students do throughout the school.

The traditions, the guests, the curricular, and extra-curricular sharings that are featured in assemblies enriches our community, and are powerful experiences in different ways. As our school continues to reflect the needs of the students in our modern society, assemblies have evolved to reflect the immediate need to address present day issues. And like the innovation within the classroom experience, new assemblies have brought people together from across our community to create moments that redefine our understanding of what it means to learn together.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Parenthood: Week 266 - Two At The Same Time

Ethan’s thumb slowly slipped out of this mouth, and the muscles of his body completely relaxed. He was finally ready to be transferred to the crib from my lap. I knew I could have moved him earlier, but I figured that since was a weekend morning, so why not indulge myself in some weekend cuddles. Then I heard Ollie yelling, “daddy?!? DADDY!!!!”

I had set up my four-year-old, Ollie in front of the television Sunday morning, so that time I could put my six-month-old, Ethan down for a nap. I told Ollie what I was doing, and I figured it would sink in that he shouldn’t yell while Ethan went down for a nap.

I mistimed it and Ollie’s episode of Transformers: Rescue Bots finished, right as Ethan fell asleep in my arms. When he’s done with a show, sometimes Ollie keeps quiet, knowing that the next episode may autoplay, which is the worst feature ever for parents trying to limit binge watching for children. Most of the time, he lets me know, and I’ll turn off the television, (even though he knows how to do this himself).

As Ollie continued to scream. I started to get out the rocking chair, as fast a possible and as gently as possible trying to get Ethan settled in his crib, before Ethan was startled awake by Ollie’s yelling. I started telling myself, “sure a faster transfer of a baby to a crib, is actually more effective.”

As I slowly closed Ethan’s door after putting Ethan down, I saw Ollie standing there. He looked up at me and whispered, “daddy…” I picked him up and reminded him that he need to be quiet when i was trying to help Ethan take a nap. “But my show was done,” he replied. I simply gave him a hug as I tried not to understand the logic of a four-year-old.

Taking care of two kids in general is harder than taking care of just one. There are times when they cooperate to help each other out. For example, sometimes Ollie is into some independent play while Ethan needs attention, and other times Ethan quietly watches Ollie and I play, and lets us have some time and space. Yesterday, Ollie had no problem playing by himself while I gave Ethan a bath, and Ethan napped well enough that I had a good chunk of time to devote just to Ollie.

Then there are the rare moments when it really is easier to have two kids at the same time. After Ollie was done with breakfast, he got a book out. He wanted to show me something in the book, while I was finishing my breakfast. Ethan was on the floor looking up at me. Then Ollie started showing his book to Ethan. He explained what was going on in the book. Ethan stopped trying to get my attention, and looked up at Ollie in awe.

I got a solid ten minutes out of this interaction, so I could finish my breakfast in peace.  It was wonderful.  Oh yeah, and Ollie sharing his love of reading with Ethan was also a nice bonus too. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Year 8: Week 34 – The Moment When It All Come Together

It takes a lot of faith during the first couple classes when you are teaching a group of students a song, to believe that it will in fact be ready by the time the performance comes. Even when it’s a song that I’ve taught half a dozen times and had students successfully perform, there is still doubt. You have to push through that doubt and not project that on to your students, because they need the time and space to work through the process on their own terms. Also, I have found that in my community, placing a lot of stress on students is not always conducive to them being more productive.

I carefully plan out the classes leading up to the performance, try to hit the right points in the process with time to spare. But it’s tricky. If you move the students too fast, then they might peak before the performance. While this isn’t as much of an issue with advanced high school students with 5th graders, having the students be performance ready too early is not the best situation. When this happens, it’s difficult to keep momentum and excitement going.

There’s a magical moment in every performance preparation process when I hear a group of students run through a song, and I relax knowing that it’s going to work. No longer am I running on faith. Instead, I have concrete, audible evidence, that we are going to be ok. The kids can start and stop together, they know their parts, and there is a spark of the meaning that is shining through. This spark needs to be nurtured, and uncovered, but when it’s there, and that moment come with a huge feeling of relief, and excitement.

This moment happened twice this week. On Monday with my 5th graders and today with my 8th graders. No, I don’t tell my students, “before this moment, I wasn’t sure that we would be ready for our performance.” I try to show my enthusiasm and talk about how we just experienced a special moment, which we will never happen every again.

I told my 5th graders, it’s like reading a book for the first time. You can read a book over and over again, and if it’s the right book, each time you read it the experience is fulfilling. However, it’s never the same as the first time. You can recapture, a lot of that wonder, but you can’t get all of it. Learning a song is the same thing. You can always revisit a song and play it and enjoy it, but there’s nothing like that moment when it comes together for the first time. For my 5th graders it was singing a song successfully as a round for the first time, and for my 8th graders, it playing in sync together and feeling the complete arc of a song.

Sometimes, I remember that moment when it comes together and I see where are going to be with a song more than the performance itself. It’s interesting how some students feel it along with me, and other’s don’t. One of my goals is to help students share in the wonder of this moment, and see how what they just did is special, and important. There is pride that comes in the way we work, and joy in important parts of the process.  The satisfaction that comes from working through the process carefully holds meaning, and unlike the fleeting moment of a performance, can last a lifetime.