Posts tagged learning
Posts tagged learning
It’s been years since I’ve followed the news regularly. I used to listen to NPR all the time, but in 2008 I noticed that they were doing less reporting and more repeating: whatever a candidate said, they repeated. If you’ve seen the parody movie Galaxy Quest then you know Sigourney Weaver’s character whose only job seems to be to repeat to the crew what the computer has already spoken out loud for everyone to hear. She provides no interpretation, analysis or commentary. That’s how I felt about NPR so I stopped listening.
Although I’m tempted to begin listening again given the weight which NPR’s new ethics handbook gives on seeking the truth and serving the listeners, there is another reason I stopped listening, watching and reading the news regularly. I felt that news organizations worked too hard at stirring up emotions and excitement to keep the interest of their audience. I felt that journalism had long ago lost out to entertainment for the publishers and broadcasters and frankly, I found that novelists were better fiction writers and ten times more thought provoking and entertaining than newsrooms, so I got back to reading novels.
I knew that I would never miss out on the news entirely. I’m active enough on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook as well as with neighbors and parents at school that I always hear about the big stories. I can always choose to investigate when I want to, but I don’t need to subject myself to the maelstrom of hysteria that news organizations seem to love creating these days.
It was through a friend’s Facebook post that I learned of Georgetown University Law School student Sandra Fluke’s testimony before congressional Democrats, Rush Limbaugh’s and others’ responses to her testimony, and then, the statement by John DeGioia, the President of Georgetown University, in support of Ms. Fluke, which he published yesterday.
What has struck me the most is the growing concern over the state of civil discourse in this country. In both President DeGioia’s and Ms. Fluke’s responses to the backlash against her, neither of them discussed the content of what she said, but rather they addressed the importance of raising our standards of civil discourse, particularly around divisive issues.
Being a student at a Jesuit institution, Ms. Fluke’s testimony on women’s reproductive health and contraception (transcript here) was particularly critical of Georgetown and other similarly religiously-affiliated institutions. All the same, President DeGioia expressed nothing but praise for Ms. Fluke and contrasted her conduct against that of her detractors:
“[Ms. Fluke] was respectful, sincere, and spoke with conviction. She provided a model of civil discourse. This expression of conscience was in the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people.”
Any law school would have to feel proud graduating a student like that. If I were one of her law professors, I would be as proud as punch to call her my student, and I’m sure that President DeGioia felt similarly.
The president then goes on to make a strong case for civil discourse and its particularly auspicious and crucial role in both the formation and the continuing life of our country, or has he puts it, “the American project.” I read the entire message to my daughters and I highly, highly recommend it to everyone: http://www.georgetown.edu/message-civility-public-discourse.html.
In addition to this particular series of events, I have been thinking a lot more about the birth of the United States of America thanks to S and J studying the founding of the colonies and the American Revolution in school. I’ve begun to really look at the writings of our Founders and to consider the role of ideas and civil discourse in the formation of our nation.
I used to become angry at the meanness and injustice of “shock jocks” like Rush Limbaugh, but today, especially reading President DeGioia’s message, I didn’t feel angry. Today it was as clear as ever to me that entertainers like Rush Limbaugh are making a living off of the “mean is cool” mentality and, their protestations to the contrary, are among the least patriotic members of our society. That’s what inspired me to post the following as my Facebook status today:
“Civil discourse is the only way we can pull this country together and work as a nation. If you’re not for civil discourse, you’re no patriot.”
Two crucial foundations of civil discourse are mutual respect and the understanding of the difference between debate and personal attacks. This is yet another reason why stamping out bullying in schools and teaching children mutual respect are critical for the health of our entire society. There are some lessons from Kindergarten that need to be repeated throughout our educational system and one question in particular should be answered on every report card and employee review regardless of age: “Does he or she play well with others?”
If you don’t understand the place of mutual respect as a bedrock of our society, then I don’t care how high your grades or quarterly sales figures or productivity benchmarks are. If you can’t demonstrate respect for your fellow classmates or workmates or community members, how can you be described as “a contributing member of society?” And if our schools aren’t graduating “contributing members of society,” then what is school education for?
In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote,
“a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.” — from “Common Sense”
I see more and more signs that the citizens of the United States are understanding that it is not right that children should have to learn to “toughen up” in school. Our citizens have begun to understand that bullying and the “mean is cool” mentality in our nation’s schools is taking an unacceptable toll on our country as a whole. I am hopeful that there is also a growing understanding of the importance of civil education in addition to academic education.
Time is indeed making converts and if a critical mass of these converts is finally able to enact some real change in our public and private education systems at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels, then perhaps our United States of America will truly be able to support its people in the expression of their “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.
I woke up from a dream this morning and grumbled to Charles that I missed having some cake. In my dream, everyone was having some kind of celebratory cake while I was in the basement working. I thought I’d be able to join them soon, but I woke up from the dream before I was able to enjoy any cake. The first thing I thought of when I awoke was to bake a cake to compensate for the one I missed in my dream. But Charles offered me a more useful idea. He said that the Dreammaker was trying to tell me to have more fun and “enjoy the sweet nectar of life” — the symbolic keynote of the hummingbird which Charles and I saw twice this week! He suggested that I relax and read books that would fire up my imagination.
Come to think of it, February was an unexpectedly challenging month. Charles and I didn’t foresee the amount of time, energy and resolve that would be needed to reassess our daughters’ current school environment, and to raise the awareness of the school’s administration and faculty regarding their lack of focus on the students’ social and emotional development. We could have spent less of our life energy by privately deciding not to return to the school next year, and by remaining silent on the issue of the school culture turning negative due to a handful of students who think it is cool to be mean, disrespectful, and cruel. But we chose to speak up.
This issue was too close to the heart of who we are about. Charles and I felt compelled to speak up because what we saw happening at the school through the eyes and ears of our daughters, in addition to what we learned ourselves through conversations and first-hand observations, was not in alignment with our vision of the world we hope to create. We want to be part of a world in which:
Each soul comes to life to explore, experiment, experience and expand for JOY, ABUNDANCE, VITALITY and a SENSE OF COMPLETION beyond accomplishment or success!
Regardless of our decision regarding the next school year, we couldn’t turn our back and walk away knowing what we knew about the direction the school’s culture was going in. We live in ONE world where everyone is connected to one another. To our disappointment, however, Charles and I have learned that this view isn’t broadly shared in the school community. More often than not, we found out that the parents are focused on having their child succeed and exceed in academics, and they are not very interested in building a school community that fosters kindness, compassion, and collaboration.
Notwithstanding my disappointment, I’d like to remain optimistic because the head of school has initiated a campaign to “foster a culture of kindness rooted in empathy, acceptance, and understanding.” Charles and I are delighted to see this development and we are committed to support this new initiative. We would like to see the school succeed in building a culture where the students collectively reject meanness, and embrace kindness as being cool, regardless of whether we return to the school or not next year.
I am grateful for this satisfying outcome. Charles and I truly didn’t expect it when we decided to speak up, especially because we didn’t feel any support from other parents at the school. All the same, I feel drained by the intensity that Charles and I experienced in speaking up passionately, not only on behalf of our daughters, but also for the school community that seems to be too nascent to recognize the power of ONE and many voices within. It was well worth my energy, I know. And it is now time for me to recharge my battery. Time to have fun, appreciate laughter and levity, and clear the space for new, unexpected life currents to flow in.
There’s something in the air.
Yesterday the head of S and J’s school sent an email out to the parents letting them know of two movies which will be shown next week as part of the school’s new initiative: Creating a Culture of Kindness. The girls will be viewing Finding Kind and the boys will be viewing Bullied. Each movie will be followed by a group discussion. Jung and I knew that the viewing of Finding Kind was coming, although we were pleasantly surprised to learn that it was going to be as soon as next week.
The boys movie, Bullied, as well as the Teaching Tolerance website were new to us. I took a few minutes to browse through the site and read a couple of blog posts. I found the story in the post entitled “The Art of Courage” especially compelling. It describes an art teacher helping a student who was being bullied and watching him grow stronger and stronger once he knew that someone (the art teacher) had his back.
One sentence in particular resonated with our experience:
“[The art teacher] noticed some of the other boys were unkind to him: sneers in their expressions, shoves that were a bit too sharp to be friendly, harsh laughter.”
This is the kind of behavior towards herself and others which S has been witnessing from certain classmates for years, but she has repeatedly been told to ignore by her teachers, even as recently as yesterday. Reading the stories on Teaching Tolerance has strengthened my resolve to support S in her effort to shine a light in the darkness and explore those who think it’s cool to be mean in her school.
Speaking of which…
Another surprise was when a good friend of mine from my old haunts on the East Coast sent a New York Times editorial my way. In Born to Not Get Bullied, Nicholas Kristof talks about Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation as well as the mounting case for the damage that bullying in our nation’s schools is doing to the education of our youth and therefore the future of our country. The editorial is not long and well worth the read. I highly recommend it: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/01/opinion/kristof-born-to-not-get-bullied.html
As for the foundation, it’s mission reads:
“Led by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, the Born This Way Foundation was founded in 2011 to foster a more accepting society, where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated. The Foundation is dedicated to creating a safe community that helps connect young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a braver, kinder world.
“We believe that everyone has the right to feel safe, to be empowered and to make a difference in the world. Together, we will move towards acceptance, bravery and love.”
One thing which Lady Gaga talked about when unveiling this new foundation is that she wants to make it cool to be kind. This made me realize that one thing which has been happening at S and J’s school, is that there was a growing culture that “it’s cool to be mean.” We’re starting to see signs that this culture is fading among the girls in S and J’s class since the school’s new initiative was introduced a few weeks ago, but we’re not sure about among the boys yet.
One thing is for sure, Lady Gaga may have been an outsider in high school, but she certainly has the star power to be an arbiter of what’s cool now!
So, yes, I feel that there is something in the air these days. Despite what Jung and I were told by some parents, there is a growing movement of people who believe that schools would be stronger and our children better served by learning in a culture of kindness rather than a culture of meanness, and it is up to all of us: parents, teachers, administrators, students and even pop stars, to make it happen.
The reason I care about education is because I’ve experienced what is broken in the workplace and I do not want my children to work and live the same old way. It is high time to examine what is working and what is not working in our current educational system, and do what is necessary to help our children’s generation create a better world. Not necessarily more jobs, more income, and more things to consume, but more joy, more satisfaction, and a more sustainable world where all creatures on earth can thrive with their beauty, diversity, and liberty.
What keeps us from imagining such a world for our children and their children?
How many of us are so happy and satisfied with the way we work and live that we’d like our children to follow in our footsteps?
Do we truly want our children to spend most of their school years under academic pressure, so that they can graduate from a prestigious school with heavy loans, then inevitably tie themselves to mortgages and other loans while working their most of waking hours to make someone else’s dream come true while their childhood dreams wither away in Never-Never Land?
Why don’t we think our children and their children deserve a life that is better than the life we experience today?
What makes us to succumb to “This is the way it is and there is nothing we can do about it” when it involves the future lives of our own flesh and blood?
I am passionate about paving the way for our children. I refuse to settle for the status quo for our children’s generation. I would have lived for nothing if I cannot leave this world a better place for our children and their children’s children.
What is the point of living if I cannot leave a legacy that will help my children to carry a brighter light forward than the one I received at my birth?
What can each of us do that will help educate our children so that they can lead the world as “solutionaries” and create a world that is more joyful, balanced and sustainable when they grow up and enter the workplace?
A friend shared a TEDx video entitled “The World Becomes What You Teach” almost exactly a year ago. I was astonished to hear the humane educator, Zoe Weil, talk about her dreams of the future world that is possible through educating our children to become solutionaries. I recall being so excited to learn that I wasn’t alone in my thinking about education and that an expert educator not only understood my longings clearly, but also “spoke my language” fluently.
The world I’m dreaming about isn’t a “goody-goody world” where everyone gets along and does the right thing to be altruistic, although that wouldn’t be a bad outcome. The world I’m dreaming for our children is based on pragmatic aspirations and practical applications. The world does not stand still, as we all know; it keeps changing. Not only that, its rate of change increases daily. When we went to school, information, data, and knowledge were obtained and distributed at a premium. Lectures, reference texts and the like were expensive and exclusive. We didn’t have Google, Bing, or any of the Internet when we were our children’s age, let alone Wikipedia on a cell phone.
Our children are growing up in a world where knowledge is ubiquitous and cheaply obtained, but the problems and challenges in every area of our lives (e.g., economic, financial, health, legal, political, social, entrepreneurial, leisure, entertainment, etc.) are getting more complex and complicated than ever before.
Isn’t it time that our educational system change from:
As Seth Godin pointed out in his recent post, the map we are currently using will be too antiquated to hand down to our children. It will be outdated by the time our children set sail to navigate their future as adults. Any map that our children use may be more likely a dynamic ever-changing map. If so, wouldn’t it be more helpful and useful to teach our children to use a compass that is well-constructed and calibrated for accuracy and reliability?
Are we educating our children to only study and memorize the map that we have today?
Or, are we educating our children to know what the map looks like today, and to teach them how to build, calibrate, and use their own compass to navigate unknown paths, uncharted territories and the yet-to-be created future?
I know which one I will choose for my daughters. And I will do everything I can to enable that choice for them.
How about you?
I’ve developed a theory about my dreams. When the events in a dream are plausible, even if they are unlikely, then I consider the dream to be a “processing dream.” My mind is working through events and thoughts while I sleep and the dream is just me observing the process. I’ve learned not to think too much about these dreams.
On the other hand, when the events are implausible or downright fantastical, then I know that a part of me is trying to communicate something. The messages I receive are rarely direct, but I have learned to respect these dreams and act on them whenever possible.
Last night I had a very implausible dream: I was a student in two schools. One was a natural fit for me, but the other was my daughters’ school. More than that, I was a fellow student in their classroom! Even in the dream being my daughters’ fellow student felt wrong to me, but I accepted it as necessary for some reason.
After a few scenes in the classroom, I had a disturbing conversation in the lunchroom with my daughters’ teacher just before I woke up. As I thought about the conversation and in particular my in-dream responses, I saw a little clearer what has been bothering me about my children’s school.
One reason why we first enrolled S and J at their school years ago was that, while school billed itself as a school for “gifted children,” as Jung wrote before, we thought that the school’s definition of “gifted” was more than just “intelligent.” We had thought that the school was one which honored and cultivated each child’s gift. What we have come to realize, is that the reality is that “gifted” was in fact a code-word for “intelligent,” and not in the sense of Dr. Howard Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences, either. At S and J’s school, “gifted” only means “smart” in the most traditional and limited sense.
This helped me to understand even further why students who excel academically have been ridiculed by some of S and J’s classmates. Those students have been taught that the only “gift” that matters is “being smart.” As I thought about this after waking up this morning, I began to wonder if my own daughters have been getting the same message at school year after year.
This inspired me to have a talk with them. First, I made sure they understood that their mom and I believe that everyone has gifts, and that when we work together to co-create in this world, all gifts are needed. Then I issued two challenges to them for the coming week:
I reminded them of a scene in the movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox where Mr. Fox goes around the room, identifying the natural-born talents of all his friends and then they all go about co-creating a solution to their common predicament by using those talents together. I told S and J that these skills are true leadership skills: being able to identify the gifts of others, and knowing how to co-create.
After telling Jung about the conversation I had with S and J, she picked up the latest issue of Harvard Magazine which had just arrived and completely by accident opened up to the article, “Renewing Civic Education” wherein the authors discuss how higher educational institutions in this country have lost their original mission and then go on to discuss how they think the mission could best be re-engaged.
As Jung read the article out loud to me, I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard this statment:
“Civic education cannot flourish if intellect is privileged over morality and action, as is usual today.”
This was exactly the problem in my dream, and this is exactly what we have observed throughout our daughters’ schooling. Intellect has been routinely privileged over morality and action. To be fair, morality and action do get the occasional nod, but they have not been treated as equals with intellect.
When talking about “gifts,” I told my daughters what I thought their gifts were and that I wanted them to be proud of their gifts but I also told them what leads me to respect a person or not. I told them that it’s not the size of the gift that influences how much I respect someone, it’s what they do with it.
When I was growing up in my small, seaside New England town, there was a man named Johnny. I guarantee that anyone who lived in my town at the same time will remember him. He was a simple man, “of very little brain” as Pooh might say, but he had a smile a mile wide and a twinkle in his eye that was brighter than any lighthouse. I always felt lucky on the days when we crossed paths downtown because of the way he selflessly shared his joy. My heart and my step were always lighter after he smiled at me. It didn’t matter that I knew he shared his joy the same with anyone he met; I still felt like I won the lottery everytime I saw him. Johnny was a man who used his gift to the fullest, and the whole town was better because of him.
What are the gifts of the people around you and what could you co-create together with those gifts? Dream on that, and watch what happens.
Today I received an email from a parent who used to be at S and J’s school, but who took her child out of the school because they were unhappy there. She brought up an aspect of the school environment which Jung and I had not considered, but in retrospect seems so obvious to me that I can’t believe we missed it: academic competitiveness. S and J’s school prides itself on the strength of its academic program. This is part of what prompted Jung and me to fight for a more balanced education, one where the whole person is valued and educated, not just the portion above the neck. What didn’t occur to either of us was that because the students feel pressure to perform at a very high level academically, this fostered an environment of academic competitiveness. As a result, the children couldn’t view each other as friends, but rather many of them have become “frenemies” in the words of the parent whose child left the school.
Even if this pressure to perform is coming solely from the parents, at the end of the day it is up to the school to decide if it wants a cooperative environment where everyone helps each other to perform to the best of their abilities, or a competitive environment where, along with trying to do well, the students try to pull each other down so that they will look better in comparison.
This insight which the former member of our school community offered to me answered a question that has been eating at me for months: why is it, at a school which appears to value academic excellence above all else, the students who do well are ridiculed?
Now I know the answer. The students who denigrate their classmates’ success do so out of fear. Pressured students cannot celebrate the successes of others when it highlights the fact that they did not do as well. Pressured students give each other an elbow in the ribs instead of a pat on the back as pay-back for what is going to happen to them when they go home and their parents demand to know why Suzy or Johnny got an A and they didn’t. Teasing and ridiculing those who do well might make the high performers do a little less well the next time, and that helps the less-well-performing student. If the teasing and ridiculing doesn’t lower the performance of the high performers, then at least the teasing and ridiculing has given the pressured students a little satisfaction to offset the tongue lashing they will receive at home.
Jung and I have always looked at grades like indicator lights on the dashboard. If the grades seem low, then something may be awry and we want to diagnose the problem. If the grades are higher than normal, then something is working really well for that child, and we want to know what it is so we can do more of it! Either way, we see the grades as the result of a whole system: teachers’ subjective evaluation, quality of instruction, school environment, understanding of the material, study habits, organization and parental oversight, as well as children’s ability and interest in the subject matter. The grades are a guide for us, helping us to help our children learn and grow. All in all, we’ve always considered grades to be an imperfect and incomplete guide, so we limit how much weight we give them.
Our attitude about academic competitiveness may be an area where we simply disagree with our school community. When I think of specific classmates of S and J who appear to be under pressure from their parents to “get good grades,” I think the pressure could be hurting those students’ performance more than helping it. Rather than being told to “get good grades,” I’d like to see teachers and parents encourage these students to experiment and discover their own ideal learning style. I’d like it to be impressed on the students that the traditional classroom model suits some better than others regardless of raw academic capability. I’d like to see the students surprised at their own performance when they are taught in a way which is in tune with their own genius.
I am convinced that school environments which are focused on academic competitiveness for individual success will leave our children ill-prepared for our increasingly cooperative and interdependent world. We have an opportunity to modernize our educational system now so that our children will have the skills, practice and mindset they need not only to succeed in the world of the 2020s, but to thrive solving the challenges which will await them.
Look around you and ask yourself, does the world need more lone wolves striving and competing for their own success over that of others, or more skilled co-creators who know how to collaborate to combine everyone’s strengths towards a common goal? We need to start now to teach our children how to become these co-creators for their sake, and for the sake of our species.
As Charles and I have been writing in our recent posts, we have been deliberating on what kind of educational environment we want for our children. We felt a dire need to reassess their current school environment because S and J have had to fend for themselves in recurrent circumstances where they were subject to bullying, mean girl cliques, rude and disrespectful verbal abuse and gossiping.
It is amazing how clearly we can see when we are not asleep! I attribute this clear seeing to our new way of being and living with consciousness and awareness. For years we’ve been receiving unsatisfactory and deficient responses to our feedback to the school around their approach to emotional and social development, but we were not awake to make the connection between what we experienced and what it meant. To a large extent we were living in illusion and denial.
Although we chose this school for S and J because we believed in its approach to providing a nurturing social and emotional environment for “gifted” children, year after year we witnessed how it fell short of delivering its promise. We saw early on that the school’s responses to children with disciplinary issues were puzzling at best. When S asked for her teacher’s help when she was bothered by rambunctious boys at school, starting as early as 1st grade, the teachers told her that she was “too sensitive” and that she ought to “just ignore them.”
Looking back, most of S and J’s classmates who left the school over the years were the “sensitive” (or as I prefer to refer to them, “emotionally intelligent”) children who were S and J’s friends. Their parents were alert enough to see what we didn’t see at the time and pull their children out of the school. Ultimately, Charles and I are accountable for S and J’s education, and I take full responsibility for our parental accountability: Charles and I chose to send S and J to this school year after year, naively believing in the words we heard from the Head of School.
We kept investing in that school with not only our money, time and children, but also, our hope, faith, and confidence that the school must know what it was doing and that it would do its job to provide a nurturing environment. We placed our trust in the school rightly or wrongly, and hoped that it would do a better job in the social and emotional development of our children. Frankly, academic excellence was my secondary or even tertiary concern for S and J’s elementary school education.
We saw that beginning in 3rd grade, there were a handful of boys whose behavior was getting worse, but S and J were repeatedly told by their teachers to “just ignore them.” They often felt helpless at school because they were not heard by those who had the authority to bring order to what S and J saw as wrong, unfair, and disrespectful behavior. What they saw was that their teachers would rather ignore it and look the other way.
In 4th grade when J had a bullying incident, we told J’s homeroom teacher that this wasn’t just about J and the boys who bullied her but that bullying needed to be dealt with class-wide so that everyone’s awareness was raised to guard against the poison of bullying. I told him that the same boys were harassing other children and they needed to be disciplined. All the students needed to understand the school policy against bullying, as well as protective and preventive measures they can take, and reporting and redressing processes for victims and bystanders. Above all, I told him that we’d be raising “monsters” if we didn’t teach these smart children how to be kind and compassionate. What kind of leaders of tomorrow would these children be if they advanced intellectually, but remained emotionally and socially stunted and dysfunctional?
As far as I know, the teacher never held an anti-bullying class with J’s grade that year. It was painful for me to realize how much the children who started school with S and J had veered from their Pre-Kindergarten year’s innocence and sweetness. As they have been in the same school with S and J since those tender years, I always felt that they were like my own nephews and nieces. Yet, they have changed so much over the years, and some parents don’t seem to know or see the changes their children are experiencing emotionally and socially in their pre-teen years. More than anything these children need guidance and mentoring from caring, compassionate and thoughtful adults.
This year, with the increased freedom of going from class to class on their own, the bullying, teasing, name calling, and disrespectful and rude behaviors of the instigators spun freely out of control. It appears that the children were not socially or emotional prepared for the freedom granted to them. Very recently, the school has finally recognized that these students need more social and emotional education, and has started to take the issue seriously. We hope they can get the bullying under control.
Ultimately, Charles and I are responsible for S and J’s education. We have asked ourselves: What kind of educational environment will nurture our daughters’ gifts to blossom fully in line with our family values? As if we needed to receive another sign from the Universe on this very question, Charles and I heard the answer loud and clear yet again this morning.
We approached the mother of a boy who used to play with our daughters because we wanted to ask her if she could talk with her son about not joining in with his friends who are bullying S and J. She responded that bullies are everywhere in life and S and J might as well learn to deal with them, and that the problem is S and J are “too sensitive.” She advised Charles and me to help S and J with a strategy to deal with bullies at school.
We realized what a gift of insight we received from her! I stand by my belief that “it takes a village to raise a child.” It takes not only the school, but also the parents to create a nurturing environment for our children to grow up with healthy minds, bodies and souls. The truth is that bullies also suffer in bullying because their souls are locked up tightly and they lose their joy, vitality, and creativity in life. Another truth is that unless the school, students and their parents all work together to co-create and cultivate a school culture that does not allow bullying to spread its poison, dealing with bullying on a case-by-case basis won’t be effective. If the “ring leader” is uprooted, the next in line will step up. Similarly, if all the “emotionally intelligent” (or “sensitive”) students leave the school, there will always be another layer of victims to target. Could this parent really think that this is the best our community can do?
As we look back on our journey with the school, above all we are grateful for how resilient S and J have been for years in this environment that has been sub-optimal for nurturing their gifts. Even with the odds stacked against them, their intuition regarding right and wrong, positive and negative, and helpful and useless, as well as their self-esteem all remain intact. They clearly understand that the bullying is not their fault although they are fatigued (and we are too) from standing up to speak the truth and shine the light in situations where they need to defend themselves or their friends.
Our daughters deserve a community of kindred spirits who recognize their gifts and value them. It is up to Charles and me to find that community for them. And this time we know what to look for.
When Charles and I moved to this area almost eight years ago from Boston where we had spent most of our adult lives, our daughters were pre-school age. Naturally, when we were searching for our new home, we inquired about neighborhoods with strong public elementary schools because our children’s education ranked high on our priority list.
As we were new in the area, however, it wasn’t easy to learn about which schools provided nurturing environments for their students. We had some anecdotal data from my colleagues at work, but we had too little information for any consistent patterns to emerge. Additionally, our Internet searches give us mostly quantitative data such as students’ verbal and math scores on standardized tests, but not the qualitative data we needed to assess whether our children’s strengths would be nurtured by the school’s educational environment. We were searching for a balanced approach to children’s intellectual, emotional, and social development, but our searching came up with nothing.
Although we weren’t looking for private schools, when the sellers of the house that we ended up buying mentioned that they were very happy with the school where their sons were attending, Charles and I were intrigued. However, when they mentioned that it was a school for “gifted children,” I immediately scoffed. I said to Charles, “All children are ‘gifted’ in their own, unique way. Besides, if ‘gifted’ means ‘high intelligence quotient,’ why would I want my daughters to be with other smart but emotionally and socially dysfunctional kids? I am surrounded by plenty of adults like that at work, and I don’t want my daughters to grow up to be like them.”
My comment struck a chord with Charles as well. He also dealt with his share of accomplished individuals who were highly intellectual, but severely under-developed in social and emotional intelligence, during his years at Harvard as an undergraduate and graduate student. Furthermore he understood how often I became frustrated at work because of its culture that rewarded anyone for being “smart” without considering their anemic common sense or lack of leadership. Nonetheless, he encouraged me to keep an open mind and to join him in doing our due diligence on this school. He didn’t want us to summarily dismiss the school based on our assumptions and impressions without fact-checking.
He didn’t have to twist my arm because I knew he was right and I was curious to learn more about the school. After all, we wanted to make sure we exercised and fulfilled our parental privilege and duty to find the right school for our daughters’ educational needs. I admit that I was pleasantly surprised when we went to the open house to learn more about the school program and educational philosophy. The head of the school spoke about the school philosophy of “Children First, Gifted Second” and how the school provided an emotionally safe environment for gifted children who often exhibited certain common qualities such as being sensitive, risk-averse, and perfectionists. Her talk was convincing enough to melt my skepticism as I envisioned a nurturing and safe environment for our daughters as they entered their Pre-Kindergarten year at that school.
More than anything, I was sold on her pitch regarding the school’s commitment to creating and providing a socially and emotionally safe environment for young children. College seemed way ahead at the time, and I wasn’t as focused on learning about the school’s academic program because both Charles and I held the view that our daughters would learn how to write and read, as well as add and subtract well enough by the time they went to college. Our primary goal was for S and J to grow up to be socially and emotionally well-adjusted young adults with a healthy respect for themselves and for others by the time they graduated from the school.
In addition, I hoped that the parent community would consist of like-minded folks because I believe “it takes a village to raise a child.” I don’t know if it is an old-fashioned belief, but that was how I was raised in Korea until I came to the U.S. when I was thirteen years old. My friends’ parents cared about me and my growth just as my parents cared about my friends and their conduct because my friends and I were spending most of our waking hours at school away from our families. How we behaved (or not behaved), what we said, did, and heard, and who we were friends (or “enemies”) with, and with whom we had quarrels and fights at school, all affected our community of children, their parents, and teachers.
Parents were interested in knowing other children’s characters (or lack thereof), and teachers were as interested in developing each student’s character as a member of the community and society as they were in teaching book knowledge. Virtues that were praised and cultivated among children included: honesty, kindness, collaboration and cooperation, leadership and good sportsmanship. Each month, a student who was deemed to have shown most of these qualities was acknowledged at school assembly, along with the student who had the highest academic grade. By no means was my elementary school environment perfect. However, I remember belonging to a community in which parents and teachers were working together toward their common vision of raising children to become future leaders no matter where we ended up in our stations in life.
So, when S and J were accepted to attend the school, Charles and I wanted to acquaint ourselves with their classmates as well as their classmates’ parents. The summer before they entered their Pre-Kindergarten year, we invited everyone for a party at our house to meet and get to know one another before the children started school. Many of the parents were like Charles and me, sending their first child to school with mixed emotions fueled by both excitement and trepidation. It feels like just yesterday when the whole class and their famillies gathered in our backyard with food and drink to connect while the 4-year-old “munchkins” were running around in the yard, playing games and having fun in the sun. Now my daughters and some of their school friends have grown to be my height!
Looking back, Charles and I had no inkling that at our daughters’ school, we would come to understand all too well what Oogway said in Kung Fu Panda:
“One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.”
(To be continued…)
I was a sensitive child. I still remember a recurrent comment in my school report card that said: “Jung is very sensitive.” Even as a child, I sensed the negative undertone in this comment: it implied that being sensitive was somehow an undesirable quality — in the same category as being “moody, emotional, thin-skinned.” I also recall being teased by my boy cousins (all three of them) who are from 3 days to 3 years older than I. When I brought my grievance to their mother (who was my mother’s older sister), she blamed me for being sensitive. Adding insult to injury, she also chided me for being easily bothered by her sons’ rambunctious words. Instead of telling her sons to leave me alone, she admonished me to toughen up.
It is no wonder to me that both my daughters are “labeled” as sensitive by their classmates and teachers at school, and that they are more often “blamed” than they are “praised” for being sensitive. The common allegation is that they are too sensitive and that they over-react to teasing, gossiping and bullying. Their school experiences have shown them that being sensitive is a handicap because they are seen as weak — an easy target for fly-by verbal pot-shots. I understand the danger in believing the illusion that sensitive means weak because my life experience has taught me otherwise.
I tell my daughters that being sensitive is neither good nor bad in and of itself. As with many other qualities in life, it is what we do with our sensitivity that matters in the end. Are we channeling our sensitivity in useful and constructive ways to shine our lights in the world?
By virtue of being sensitive, we may feel more frequently and deeply: both negative emotions such as pain, disappointment and sorrow, and positive emotions such as joy, pleasure, and hope. Moreover, our sensitivity is essential to strengthen and fine-tune our intuition so that we can access our internal wisdom as we navigate the various terrains in our lives. Finally, our sensitivity has the power to channel our emotional energy toward creative expression.
As few months ago (in early November 2011), when S was being teased by some boys in her class, Charles and I advised her to channel her frustration and pain toward defending and reclaiming her honor by using her verbal ninja creativity. She demonstrated beautifully how her sensitivity could shape-shift into her sword to reach the outcome that she desired:
“A transformed S who brought her passion, her mad verbal ninja skills and yes, her giant heart to block, parry, and return fire against all the taunts [the boys] tried.” And they were outmatched by S.
I do not want to see my daughters toughen up and give their power away. Their sensitivity is a priceless gift that they ought to cherish, protect and fine-tune as a powerful instrument in their life-skills treasure chest. As with any instrument, they need to practice, practice, practice, to master the skills necessary to use their instrument with grace, pose, and ease. I know It will serve them well.
“Fighter” by S
What would you do
If your daughter,
Who cries during movies and laughs out loud reading books,
Who begins and ends every day with a hug,
Who loves to dance, draw, write, sing, dance, play and read,
Who will tell stories unending to anyone she meets,
Regardless of age or station,
Who, in the time it takes to walk up a flight of stairs,
Can turn a stranger into a friend,
Who has a heart of pure gold,
Painted the picture above
After coming home from school,
Without being asked,
To tell the story of her day;
To tell the world how she felt inside,
To say, “Please help me. I don’t know what else to do.”
What would you do?
As for me, I cried.
I cried when I saw what had been done
To my precious, precious daughter S,
With her heart of pure gold.
I cried when I thought of
All that joy,
All that love,
That giant-sized heart,
Covered in blood and scars;
Taking up arms just to stay alive.
Then I got angry and I took up arms.
My voice became my axe.
I demanded justice for S and for J,
And for myself and for Jung,
And for all of the bullied,
And for the bullies,
And for the bystanders.
Because this hurts everyone.
I cried, “Enough!”
We’ve waited enough;
We’ve endured enough;
We’ve forgiven enough.
Enough words and enough plans.
My fist hit the table as I told the story of my S,
Who does her work and gets all As from her teachers,
Who advocates for herself and for others,
Standing up to bullies;
Reporting what she sees.
She has done everything the school has asked;
Everything you could ask of a young girl.
But she’s told she’s overreacting.
She’s told to solve the bullying herself.
Today my fist hit the table and our voice,
The voice of our family,
And of all the bullied,
And of the bullies,
And of the bystanders,
Was finally heard.
We were finally heard,
My axe would not fail.
Will anything change? Absolutely it will.
Either the bullying will be removed,
Or we will remove our children from the bullying.
We are not powerless
To protect our children.
What would you do?