Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"I'd Rather Be a Wolf Than a Tiger" Follow-Up

The fall-out from Amy Chua's book is a bit over-the-top. There's a combination of genius (perhaps on Chua's agent's part?) and insanity (public reaction?) threaded through this whole conversation. I admit I've been pulled in, but more as an educator than a mother. And today I read a column in the New York Times by David Brooks that made me smile. The title, Amy Chua is a Wimp, certainly caught my attention, but it wasn't the only thing that made me chuckle. In fact it was the intriguing twist he took in comparison to the other, more angry reviews. Here are my favorite quotes from the article. Remember that Brooks is making these statements to a Yale professor and "Chinese mother."

1. "I believe she’s coddling her children." (Whoa! Bet she's never heard that before!)
2. "I just wish [Chua] wasn’t so soft and indulgent." (Or this!)
3. "[Chua] doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t." (Not what a Yale professor usually hears, I'll bet.)
4. "[Practicing music for four hours] nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with fourteen-year-old girls." (Oh, don't I know it! No truer words have ever been spoken.)
5. "Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale." (I've never been to Yale, but I do know that these scenarios were far more challenging than the science courses I took at U of I!)
6. "Chua would do better to see the classroom as a cognitive break from the truly arduous tests of childhood." Wow! It would be important for educators to notice this, too.
7. "I wish [Chua] recognized that in some important ways the school cafeteria is more intellectually demanding than the library." (I remember this challenge very clearly. NOT fun!)

On a more serious note, it is these types of statements—along with others from his article—that support the notion that educators should be focused on the whole child. Our curriculum can help with these social challenges, as well as become a bit more relevant to the type of collaborative, connected, process-oriented lives our children lead.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I'd Rather Be a Wolf Than A Tiger

I am the LAST person you should ask about parenting. For confirmation on that, just ask my girls. It is, without a doubt, the most taxing and simultaneously rewarding role there is. As a team, my husband and I have done the best we can with what we have and what we know for past 18-plus years. And wow! In my humble, unbiased opinion, we have the most amazing girls around. ;) Perhaps a bit because of us and perhaps a bit in spite of us.

Today, I was drawn to an NPR article summarizing the humorous and controversial book by Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. (See also author interview.) I haven't read the book, but think I might put it on my Kindle "To Read" list; the book is apparently causing quite a stir! Cultural stereotypes are rampant. Professor Chua shares her experiences being raised by and deciding to be a "Chinese" mother. In short, "Chinese" mothers are incredibly strict, focusing on producing highly accomplished kids, especially academically. Having fun and being happy are not part of the equation. "Western" mothers, on the other hand, are much less strict and "worry" about their kids' happiness, sometimes to a detrimental point.

Professor Chua makes it clear that this is a memoir, not a "how-to" book. She is candid and human in the interview. She makes fun of herself and reflects fondly on both her time as a child and as a parent. She emphasizes that this is not intended to compare the "Chinese Mother" to the "Western Mother," neither being superior. She creatively and honestly shares her journey with us—faults, achievements, pleasures, disappointments, etc.

I found the article and interview intriguing. And as both a parent and an educator, I learned a great deal from just the tidbits of information that NPR shared.
1. Parenting is complex. There's simply no other word for it. We build memories that could easily be the basis for a sitcom, drama, tragedy, action/adventure and psychological thriller all wrapped into one, every single day! But I'm really working on having the sitcom override all the others. Laughing with my children is the highlight of my day!
2. Cultural differences are deep. Even those messy, perhaps politically incorrect stereotypes should be investigated. These differences influence how our students navigate our educational system, and how our children respond to their environment. As educators, we need to know and understand these differences in order to reach every child.
3. Focus on the most important lesson, and the rest will follow. No disrespect intended, but personally, I would rather be a wolf than a tiger, both as an educator and a parent. I have never been a fan of false encouragement or beating-around-the-bush, just like Professor Chua. In fact, my husband and I have tried to be very aboveboard with our girls over the years. But I do not agree with the philosophy of being a "Tiger," pushing my children or my students to exhaustion to be superior to those around them. I would rather be a "Wolf" with a pack mentality. We are social creatures and we should help one another. We're not in competition with one another; rather, we're all in it together. Use your passion and your talent to make the world a better place than you found it.
4. Love is the common denominator.  Always has been. Always will be. All of us want what we believe is best for our kids. Because we love them!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I've Become A Reader!

I've always wanted to describe myself as an avid reader. When I observe others looking intently at the pages of a book, I see how they are pulled into another world, their "face changing with every line [they] read," experiencing a feeling of wonder, creativity, excitement, drama, etc. And I am instantly envious. I have kept myself busy reading online writings—blogs, journals, news articles—and I have learned a great deal. But it's not the same thing.

I find it incredibly enjoyable getting involved in a good book, but it takes so much effort for me to get started. Maybe it stems from the fact that I am a slow reader, and the appearance of a "thick" book is overwhelming. Or maybe it is the result of being surrounded by family and close friends who are voracious readers. I'm intimidated by how quickly they flip through pages. So over the years, it became easy to choose other recreational activities, activities that are more pleasurable and relaxing to me, over reading books—spending time with family and friends, going to the gym, relaxing in front of the television, etc.

But something happened to me recently. My husband surprised me with a Kindle! And I absolutely love it!* I can't quite put my finger on it, but a switch has been flipped and I have been reading nonstop. A book a week since Thanksgiving! I find myself anxiously awaiting the moment where I can squeeze in some quality KT (Kindle Time). And I've read FOUR books in FOUR weeks! [As an aside, the four books I chose to read were all non-fiction, since I am drawn to that.  Inspirational (Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand), Motivational (Seasbiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand), Affirming (Drive, by Daniel Pink), and Introspectional (The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz). I highly recommend them!]

At the present rate, the 57 books sitting on the shelf above my teacher desk—books that have been sitting there for 15+ years, books I have always wanted to read—could be read in a bit over a year! How exciting! There's something about the Kindle that really hooks me into reading. It's obvious this new format works for me. And I'm wondering how many others are out there who would benefit from this shift. Definitely worth investigating.

The big question now is, what should I read next?

 *At first glance, this may appear to be an endorsement for a particular product. But it's NOT! Yes, my husband surprised me with a Kindle for Christmas. And I LOVE it! But I have not done an in depth study comparing the Kindle to the Nook to the Sony Reader, etc. Nor do I care to. I trust my husband's expertise that he got me the tool that best serves my needs. And so far so good!