Friday, October 20, 2017

Year 8: Week 8 – Progress

This week I started teaching my 3rd graders “Simple Gifts.” In order to help them understand the importance of this song in our culture, I show them different performances of this song.

This year I decided to start with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles’ performance:


I introduced the video by telling my kids about how sometimes we enjoy hanging out with people that reflect parts of our identity. Sometimes, it’s nice to hang out with only boys, and I told them that sometimes I like being around only people who are Asian American. I explained to them that this is okay, as long as this isn’t the way that we live our lives all the time, because as much as it is important to be with people who share parts of your identity, we should also value spending time to be with people who are different than us.

I talked about how this choir was made up of people who identify as gay and/or homosexual and that this organization was a way for people in that community to spend time with each other. None of the students changed their expressions at all when I said the words “gay,” or “homosexual.” Theses words didn’t phase them at all. One student raised his hand as asked what I meant by “gay.” Immediately, almost every other student in the class raised their hand to answer this question.

I took a chance and called on people. Every single answer was positive and accepting. Students talked about having two dads or two moms, that people had partners who were sometimes the same gender as them, and that gay people simply loved people as their husbands or wives who were the same gender as them.

“Well, then why aren’t there any women in that choir? Women can be gay, right?”

I explained that he was right and that, there are times that gay people, men and women sing together, but that sometimes gay people like to be in different groups to do activities, and that was okay.

I’ve shown this video every year and this was the most explicit I’ve ever been about talking about sexuality, identity, and the importance and affinity groups to my 3rd graders. It went really well.  Kids took pride in their positive and inclusive language. In years past kids have giggled when discussion this video, and students have never had expressed so openly an understanding of what it meant to be homosexual.

I don’t credit for this sucess. This is society as a whole making progress, parents teaching about diversity, and my school going beyond tolerance to truly celebrated diversity.

A class full of eight year olds talking about sexual orientation, with knowledge, respect, and love, trumps hate.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Monday, October 16, 2017

Parenthood: Week 226 - The Best Thing To Say To Expectant Parents (or at least to me)

As the due date comes closer, people have stopped asking me about whether I’m ready (maybe it’s because they all read my blog post regarding this question). This has been replaced with “are you excited?” This is better on some level, but it brings up the same issue. My feelings about this second child are not singular, and while there is a lot of excitement, there’s also a lot of stress, and anxiety that I don’t want to think about in every day interactions.

Twice this week, in times when I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, two friends told me the same thing, and it made everything feel better. It was one simple phrase: “we’re thinking of you and Diana.” These words were accompanied by a knowing look of sympathy, support, and understanding. Soft eyes, that acknowledge all that we were going through, with a soft smile of optimism and support. These words felt like a hug. Like the embrace of good friend, in those two moments, I felt like I could let go.

There was something liberating about this phrase. In these words, there was no expectation for me to be anything. I didn’t have to worry about saying the socially acceptable thing. I could open up about my feeling in response, or not say anything. It was an invitation that I could accept, or walk away from.

There was something selfless about this phrase. This comment is selfish. It’s not an unloading of a person’s experience with pregnancy (which happens way too often). It’s a person trying to get information to vicariously live through your own experiences. Most of all, it’s not a phrase that asserts support in a way that that is reciprocal. When someone says that they are going to give you stuff for your kids, it’s nice, but then you have to thing about returning stuff, and maybe doing the same when they have a kid. This phrase is essentially a gift, that is given with no desire or expectation for anything at all in return.

There is something powerful about this phrase. When you say that you are thinking about another person, you are saying that you are worrying about them, that you are hoping for them, and that in that you will never be alone, because someone else is thinking of you. The knowledge that someone is thinking about you is comforting. It lets you know that you matter, that you mean something and that you are always with the people who love you.

It’s not easy to know what to say.  So just you care, by letting expected parents know that they are on your mind, and maybe offering to buy them a Strawberry Acai refresher from Starbucks (grande, easy ice).

Friday, October 13, 2017

Year 8: Week 7 - The Bridge

We all live in a state of profound isolation. 
No other human being can ever know what it ’s like to be you on the inside. And no amount of reaching out to others can ever make them feel exactly what you feel.
All media of communication are a by-product of our sad inability to communicate directly mind to mind. Sad, of course, because nearly all problems in human history stem from that inability. 
Each medium (the term comes from the Latin word meaning middle) serves as a bridge between minds.

- Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
Our world is full of different mediums of self-expression, because every medium, including prose, poetry, visual arts, films, science, dance, spoken language, and music all are flawed. None of these mediums of communication completely and perfectly transfers ideas, feelings, and notions. Each one of these mediums are an attempt to address the “inability to communicate directly mind to mind,” the central source, as Scott McCloud writes, of nearly all of our problems.

Hans Christian Anderson wrote, “Where words fails, music speaks.” Because there are things that music can communicate from person to person, that words cannot. However, music is imperfect, and as a medium, it fails as well. Each different way of human expression succeeds where others fail and only by being fluent and literate in the plurality of different mediums can we begin to overcome that inability to communicate mind to mind. It is in this diversity of expression that we find the power make the communities we belong to more just, more equitable, and more inclusive.

At the center of a where music educations should be is the value of citizenship, and the primary tool of citizenship is voice. This isn’t a singular tool that is exercised and expressed through a single medium, like a speech in front of a crowd. At its most effective, and most powerful, voice is encapsulating of all of the mediums of human expression. To rely only on the written word is to struggle against this medium’s imperfections. To embrace the diversity of the different mediums of self-expression is to rise above these imperfections. This makes an individuals’ voice more authentically expressed, and more readily understood.

As important as the ability to authentically express an individual voice, as the prayer of Saint Frances meditates, it just as important “to be understood as to understand.” Only through foundational knowledge in the many facets of human expression can people complete the work of citizenship by pairing the ability to express one’s voice with the skill to understand others in whatever ways they express their thoughts and feelings.

So why am have I started out talking about voice and citizenship? Because this is where I start a as music teacher. Music education in an integral of the human condition. It is interwoven in almost every single culture in human history, and continues be one of the most important and most powerful forms of human expression. Some of the most powerful voices in human history found their voice through music, and some of the most influential members of our American society continue to change the world through music.

Music class  is about more than creating music, it’s about developing music as part of an authentic voice, a means of expression, a way to understand the world, and a way to change the world as a citizen. Music is an essential part of the bridge that connects us together

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

Parenthood: Week 225 – Guns

Ollie doesn’t know what a gun is.

This struck me when we were looking through a Transformers book. In this book, there was a picture of Megatron transforming into a gun, as he originally did in his first incarnations as a toy and on the original cartoon show.

I asked him what he thought it was, and he told me that it look like a water hose, and I left it at that.

There’s a lot that Ollie knows about. He knows most of the words of “Joseph’s Coat,” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, he can name far more dinosaurs than I can, he’s well read (in the world of children’s books), and he has learned a variety of different jumps and landings recently in gymnastics class.

There’s a lot of stuff that Ollie doesn’t know about. There are things like professional sports, which Ollie isn’t exposed to because me and wife aren’t interested in watching sports. Besides education applications on the iPad, Ollie has had little to no exposure to video games, again because that’s not really part of our lives. The television and movies that he watches are designed for his age.

Guns, hunting, firearms are not a part of our families’ culture. My parents never owned any kind of firearm. I played video games where people I controlled shot others, but at some point, it just felt weird, and I lost interest in those games. I’ve only fired a firearm once. It was a low caliber rifle at one of Diana’s uncle’s house. I felt an immediate power, a rush of adrenaline, and a feeling of strength. However something about this didn’t feel right. It was too much power, for too little effort, and there was just too much of a chance, even in that very safe, controlled environment for something to go wrong.

I loved watching action movies as a kid with my dad. As much as I loved the James Bond films, something about the way Jackie Chan disarmed people he fought and chose to fight hand to hand, seemed cooler than just shooting someone. I loved comics growing up and my favorite superhero, Batman, hated guns.

This is my lived experience that I bring with me when I’ve dealt with the issue of guns with my son. At some point, I will need to educate him about guns in American culture and the history of firearms in world history. Even with the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, the moment doesn’t seem right. I’m not ready to talk to him about guns, and he doesn’t need to know about them right now.

I’ve seen kids younger than Ollie running around playground, making gun shape hand signs and shooting at each other. Thankfully whenever Ollie encounters this, he just doesn’t get it and doesn’t care to play that game.  A couple months ago, I saw kid who must have been younger than Ollie looking over his mother’s shoulder as she was paying a parking meter. As I walked by, he pointed the gun gesture he made with his hand and play shot at me with sound effects, and the mom did nothing. I see older kids running around with Nerf guns, shooting at each other, and I get it as someone who had Nerf guns as a kid (who turned out just fine), and I feel sad.

Ollie’s been really into bad guys and good guy as he processes the concept of good and bad. All he gets is that bad guys aren’t very nice and aren’t good at sharing. Yes, he has Transformers, but I’ve only let him delve into the Rescue Bot toys and cartoon, which has no bad guys, no guns, and is all about teamwork and community building.

With the coming of our second child and Ollie asks about reproduction, I tell him the right anatomical terms. He’s knows the word "vagina," "penis," and other terms.  However when we listen to Hamilton and he hears a gunshot and he thinks it’s a firework, I don’t correct him. I just don’t need him to know about guns right now. Kid’s should not have any illusions about the human body, but about guns, I'm okay with that.

I don’t talk to Ollie about guns because the history and issue surrounding guns are complicated and too difficult for his mind to understand right now. It’s the same reason Ollie has no idea who the 45th President is (though, he is well aware of Pres. Obama).  If I were to tell Ollie anything about guns now, it would be to simply say that they are dangerous, only policemen should have them, and to never touch one. 

Am I sheltering Ollie? Yes. That’s okay. It’s our job as parents to unveil the world to our children, carefully, and deliberately. In this work, we have to keep things away from them. And yes, at a certain point, you can’t keep certain things away from your children.  But I’m not there yet with my son.

While my intellect is looking forward to the challenge of explaining the complexity of guns in our society to my son, my heart is sad thinking about the horrors that I will knowingly have to expose to my son in this conversation.

Maybe when my son is of age to have these conversations about guns, there will be a happy ending. The tragedies will be a thing of the past. More than ever, I hope for this to be true. There’s precious little that I enjoy in my life, that I consider as being fundamentally American, that I would not sacrifice for a happy ending to our never-ending national story about gun violence. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Year 8: Week 6 - A Different Kind Of Year

I’ve known that this school year was going to be different for a while now.

Every year has its unique factors, and when I think about the last eight years I’ve been at this school, there’s never been a school year where there hasn’t been something that happened in my life personally or something about the school year (e.g. new principal) that has made the school year unique.

My life outside of school can’t really be separated from my work in school in many ways. Yes, in some ways, I compartmentalize, but when life events come up, you need to deal with them and they affect the school year.

I have up ahead of me my paternity leave. This means that I will be away from my students for a period of time. It means the limited time that I have with them during school year will be even shorter. The experiences that frame our work between us will be fewer and in some ways, I may not feel as connected to my students this year as I have in years past.

I know this to be true because this happened the year I took my leave when my first son Ollie was born.

My kids were fine that year. I had a great long-term sub and my students had great performances and advanced their musical skills in meaningful ways. However, that year felt different. I don’t know if my kids felt it, but I did. I felt connected to them, but not fully and because I was only on the journey of the school year with them for part of the year, we didn’t bond like I did with other classes. We made progress and grew to know each other, but we didn’t quite make it to that place where I usually get at the end of the school year.

I wasn’t 100% there with, and for my kids that year.

This is okay. It’s not something to be ashamed of, or to mourn. It’s just the reality of the situation. This isn’t an easy thing to accept, and I didn’t quite expect it with my first leave but now I’m coming to accept this with my upcoming leave. I’m not looking forward to this feeling of being disconnected with the students, but I know it’s okay. I also know that I will be a better teacher in the long run, if I take the time to care for my family, and in turn care for myself.

My kids at home are more important than my “kids” at school. That’s the way it should be. However, sometimes this prioritization doesn’t feel great.

It’s going to be a unique year. It always is and my kids at school will be fine without me. I’ll miss that time I’m not with them, and be grateful, as I always am, for the time I do have them.