Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 People Of The Year: Part 5 - Hillary Clinton

2.  Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton did the impossible.

As one of most qualified Presidential candidate ever, she faced a ridiculous amount of sexual harassment and the most sexist, racist and xenophobic candidate in modern times. She never wavered from holding herself with an exemplary level of poise, professionalism and dignity.

The political story of the year is not how a privileged, unqualified, 'businessman,' fooled Americans into believing his lies. The political story of the year is how a woman, did the impossible, rose higher than any other in American history and inspired millions of Americans to believe once more in hope, optimism and themselves.

Her impact can be seen at Susan B. Anthony’s gravesite the day of the election, covered in “I voted” stickers. You can see her inspiration in the girls dressed up in pantsuits and the millions who continue to struggle with the trauma of her loss.

This was not a normal election and Secretary Clinton was no normal candidate. She challenged us to be the best part of ourselves while her candidate allowed his supporters to be the worst. His words were offensive and disgusting, and his sentiments were reflected on logos printed on shirts that were sold at rallies that are too obscene to restate here. Secretary Clinton displayed a higher level of virtue against a candidate who had none.

I was lukewarm about Secretary Clinton when she first entered the election. The decades of smearing about her character and accomplishments had affected my view of her as a politician. As time passed, the more she spoke and the more I was reminded of what she stood for, fought for and accomplished, I began to feel inspired.

This wasn’t just about the guy that she faced, but it was about who Secretary Clinton was and what she represented. Her story is the continuation of what makes America special. She is part of the counter-balance against those who would limit rights, which is the very thing that pushed our country to became a country with more freedom and liberty for all.

Respectful disagreement with Secretary Clinton’s political viewpoints is fine.  It is however irrefutable her importance to our country and the positive effect she has had country. If you do not, or cannot acknowledge this, I encourage you to examine why. Demonization, hate and sexism towards Secretary Clinton are more an expression of what’s inside of us, than her own actions.

Secretary Clinton, lost the election, but like comparing the battle to the war, this struggle isn’t over. Her most powerful effect on our country, will be seen years from now when women flood capital hill, when the rest of our country embraces a progressive movement and when all of us celebrate diversity over fear and inclusion over division.

This will be Secretary Clinton's legacy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 People Of The Year: Part 4 - Michelle Obama & Asma Khalid

[Click here for part 1, part 2 & part 3]

4.  Michelle Obama

After a long day and night of rehearsal, Leslie still lights up when you talk about playing Aaron Burr. “Lin is asking you to bring your complete and total self to stage—all you joy, all your rage, all your pain, your capacity for fun.” But, he says, is “arguably the best role for a male actor of color in the musical theater canon.”
“Ev-er. You get to show all of your colors. Nobody asks us to do that.”
 - Interview with Leslie Odom, Jr. from Hamilton The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Michelle Obama has broken the rules and surpassed the expectations for people of color, women, and the First Lady of the United States of America. As Leslie Odom, Jr. from Hamilton fame celebrated in the character of Aaron Burr, Michelle Obama has shown all of her colors, with beauty, depth, dignity, and pride.

Mrs. Obama continued the tradition of capturing an feeling of Presidential royalty carrying herself with exemplary hospitality and grace in formal state dinners and other important Presidential events. She was never hesitated to humanize the highest office in with fun, humor, often poking fun at herself. This trip to CVS with Ellen DeGeneres is one example of many of her humility and sense of humor.

In the greatest date movie of the year “Southside With You,” we saw the First Lady’s younger self. In this film, we saw her struggle with her identity and her aspirations. Through the film, we saw her insecurities, and her flaws. Not many people would be willing to let others show the world their origin story.

The most powerful moment of Mrs. Obama’s incredible year, wasn’t just an expression of one part of herself, it was a speech that showed the world the whole spectrum within herself.  It was a speech that brought together her grace, dignity and insecurities. It was courageous, powerful, and humanizing. It was the speech where she spoke out against him.

After that guy's most offensive words were leaked, the reactions from our society were disheartening. While many were outraged, far too many were slow to criticize him and we watched in confusion as people who defended him, revealed their own sexism.

In all of the confusion, one voice rose above them all, Michelle Obama. She transformed a campaign speech in support of Secretary Clinton into a remarkable display of her intelligence, her thoughtfulness and her empathy. This speech in New Hampshire in October was unforgettable.

Mrs. Obama started talking about her pride she had in her colleagues, but as she reflected on her feeling about his words, her voice changed. We could hear in her voice how she was “shaken to the core,” and she uncharacteristically hesitated as she opened up. She fought through her fear, and discomfort and kept it together.

Mrs. Obama’s initial description of sexual harassment on paper is not disturbing, but with the emotion in her words, it was devastating. When she went further to describe the horror of sexual assault, the helplessness of the glass ceiling, the shared pain across generations of women and the dignity robbed of countless woman, it all painfully came to life. The crowd, filled with woman, cheered the First Lady on, for making sense of these feelings, for saying words others were too afraid to speak, and for showing us all a path to a better future.

His apology displayed no reflection, and no understanding of the his true sins. He made no atonement by speaking out against sexual harassment or quelling the constant sexist chants during his rallies or forbidding the selling of sexist merchandise. He proposed no policy changes to help women’s issues and didn’t meet with women’s groups to build bridges. His apology was meaningless.

Michelle Obama ensured that millions will never forget what this guy said. She is right, “the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.” And the measure of a man is how he treats women.  By this measure, that guy fall shockingly short of being considered even a man. “Guy,” or “boy” is a sufficient label for him.

Mrs. Obama, as I write this, I feel myself tearing up. I don’t know how to thank you. I just know that you have made me so proud to be an American and to call you my First Lady. I will never forget your words and I will never forget you. I promise to take your inspiration and pass it on to my students and my son.  Even though I'm not sure how I'm  say goodbye to you as our First Lady, I am comforted knowing that I will not have to say goodbye to you.

[Fist bump]

3. Asma Khalid 

I am blessed to have friends who are Muslim.

I wasn’t looking for Muslim friends and when I met them, I didn’t think about this facet of their identity until they brought it up in passing.  Their identity as Muslims has opened up a beautiful culture and history to me.  Most importantly, their friendship put a face and a connection to an essential part of our society that experienced shameful discrimination and hate in the past year. Many in our country are not blessed to have people who are Muslim in their lives.  So for many, including myself, a Muslim voice came into our lives, over the radio and the internet and brought us knowledge, perspective and hope. That voice was Asma Khalid.

National Public Radio (NPR) has one of the finest political journalism team in America. These professionals are a counter to every single criticism of reporters, the news and the media. They report without bias, their work is well-researched and fact checked, they do deep and meaningful reporting and include a wide variety of perspectives in their work.

The NPR political team, worked tirelessly through the election to present a view of the events that was absent of sensationalism (and yelling). They set a high standard of journalism and one of the important people on their team was Asma Khalid.

Week after week Khalid talked to people all over America.  Whenever attacked with hate or prejudice, she responded with as a reporter with patience, letting these people tell their story. She took words of hate, did not retaliate and embraced her subjects as people.  Khalid did what so few seemed to be able to do during this election: listen to each other with respect and dignity. After the dust settled, she made her most courageously move, presenting this unforgettable story about what it meant to be a Muslim reporting on the campaign trail.

This column and accompanying podcast presented an revealing and powerful reflection on her struggles as a reporter and the beautiful bond between the reporters of NPR.  This story revealed her unbelievable bravery, incredible acceptance of those who would not tolerate her and a exemplary level of journalist integrity, which is nothing short of awe-inspiring. While so many succumbed to their baser emotions and fears, Khalid stood tall and refused to give in.

We are blessed to have great journalist play an essential role in our democracy and it is diverse voices of people like Khalid that bring relevance and strength of journalism in America. We may not all be blessed to have friends who are Muslim, but we are all blessed to have Asma Khalid reporting for all of us.

Monday, December 26, 2016

2016 People Of The Year: Part 3 - Pres. Barack Obama & Lin-Manuel Miranda/Parenthood - Week 184

[Click here for part 1 and part 2]

6. President Barack Obama

“And I say that not just as President but also as a feminist.”

In his last year in office, President Obama continued the work he started almost eight years ago. He worked tireless to ensure more rights to more Americans, spoke as the conscience of our nation, comforted us through unimaginable tragedy and set an example of how to carry ourselves with dignity, respect and empathy.

President Obama received some of his most irrational and unsubstantiated criticism this past year, but he never wavered from demonstrating a level of respect for the rights of those who would disagree with him, even when they failed to express to him, the most basic of courtesies. When a protester interrupted his speech a couple months ago, he refused to let the audience disrespect that person’s voice.

There are those who feel that President Obama’s economic policy has had a negative effect on our country. However there are also many, including leading economic experts that praise the economic growth that President Obama helped foster. This is a highly debated issue and reflects different philosophies and perspectives more than irrefutable facts.

There is something about President Obama’s work that is irrefutably powerful, and positive. It’s something that we’ve sensed for a while. It was a feeling we got when the President signed his first bill into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 that prohibited sex-based wage discrimination. This action along with many others gave us hints of something that our President proudly stated last August in a Glamour magazine article; President Barack Obama is a feminist.

President Obama embraced a label that got twisted and distorted into the disgusting term “Femi-Nazi,” and for a generation of men and also some woman, was the last label they would want to embrace. There has a quiet movement of men, who refuse express their own male insecurities by forcing their wives into traditional gender roles, who stop their male friends from making inappropriate jokes about women and fight for the rights of their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and daughters. The Presidents pride in this label, validated all of us, who are horrified at the complacency of so many in the face of sexism, and want to make the world better for the woman in our lives.

President Obama concluded, “That’s what twenty-first-century feminism is about: the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free.” As men by embracing feminism we will be free of our limitations, our own stereotypes.  By serving the women in our lives, we will find meaning. In the face of incredibly discrimination, sexism, objectification, violence, and hatred, women have refused to give up on our country and on men. So in turn we cannot give up on fighting for women and we must take the lead of President Obama, our first feminist President.

5. Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda is not racist.

He has never said anything racist to the press or in public that was racially insensitive or prejudicial, but this doesn’t prove that he’s not racist. Not saying racist things does not mean that you are not racist. The only thing that this proves is that you understands basic social norms and social conventions. Not saying racist things proves that you are not an idiot.

You want to prove that you aren’t racist than do something about racism. Include diverse perspectives and voices that are underrepresented like with Miranda’s musical In The Heights. Place people of color in positions that were previously unimaginable like by casting am African-American as George Washington in Hamilton. Work to authentically represent other cultures like when Miranda collaborated with Opetaia Foa'i, and Mark Mancina to create music for Disney’s latest animated feature, Moana. Make a positive change in the way that people view people of color and how people of color view themselves.  Basically be like Lin-Manuel Miranda and you can prove that you aren't racist.

In 2016, the glory that is Hamilton just kept growing. With the opening of the Chicago production, and the release of the Hamilton Mixtape album, Lin-Manual Miranda’s masterpiece continued to find new audience members. One of the greatest musicals of all time and what some consider one of the greatest pieces of art ever, Hamilton tells the story of one of the most important founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. Musically, it is beautifully crafted with musical motifs intricately woven through out the texture of the score. The music somehow reflects the history of Broadway music, as well as hip-hop culture, weaving these styles together to create a work that is respectful referential with a sound that is uniquely Hamilton.

The story, lyrics and themes in this story resonate with our modern times and is nuanced and humanizing portrayal of the figures from this era, bring us comfort and perspective as we seek to understand what it means to be American.

Then there’s Moana. An animated Disney film with out a princess, or a prince, featuring characters that are all people of color, with songs that Miranda wrote through collaborations with Opetaia Foa'i, and Mark Mancina. The songs are some of the best Disney songs since The Lion King. The music of Moana eclipses Tim Rice’s and Elton John’s efforts to be culturally authentic, by bringing Polynesian music alive with vibrancy and respect.

Because of Miranda’s efforts, my son’s first (and only) image of George Washington is Christopher Jackson.

For him, Alexander Hamilton is Lin-Manuel Miranda and the difference between Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette is how Daveed Diggs styles his hair. Because of Miranda’s efforts Ollie’s current favorite toy is a Maui doll from Moana. He dances around with a character that is a person of color and tries his best to sing along with the Polynesian in the songs from the soundtrack.  And because of Lin- Manuel Miranda, my son’s world is filled with art that shows him the beauty of racial diversity, a wonderful soundscape of musical styles and stories that are empowering and inclusive.

Check out this video. It’s my son, a interracial child, singing along to a half-Puerto Rican rapper/singer from one of the most successful musicals of all time, making a doll dance from a successful Disney film that has no Caucasian characters.

This is remarkable and extraordinary product of the American dream, but for Ollie it’s simply his reality and what he loves.  For my son, this is his normal and for that fact.  Ollie has learned that this is the way that the world should be, and for this I will always be grateful to Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 People Of The Year: Part 2 - Kate McKinnon & Dan Savage

[click here for part 1]

8. Kate McKinnon
If all comedians did was make us laugh, they would have an essential role to play in our society, but they do so much more than that. This year, comics continued the tradition of social commentary that great comics like George Carlin pioneered.

In the same way that Batman brings justice to Gotham City in a way that the police cannot, comedians push past the boundaries of journalism asking essential questions, bringing to light overlooked experiences and issues and entertaining audiences at the same time.

This year Amy Schumer kept at it. Her show, Inside Amy Schumer, continued to bring up issues, some would rather not admit are real and absurdities that are too often overlooked.  Her book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, revealed incredible depth. Schumer went deep into her personal history and spoke candidly about her experiences with abuse, the challenges of being a woman and many other pervasive issues that we far too often ignore.

Then there was Ali Wong, whose Netflix special, Baby Cobra, was um . . . well., check out this clip:


Revelation works as a word to describe this special. Asian-Americans are underrepresented in comedy and we got a lot of stuff that we need to work out by laughing about it. Ali Wong is out there helping us and helping everyone understand a little about what is fantastic, ridiculous and awesome about being Asian.

The comedian that brought me the most laughter this year and got me through some of the most difficult times this year Kate McKinnon.

Every week, when the election seemed more confusing, more absurd and more hopeless, she got out there on Saturday Night Live and as Hillary Clinton, helped us all process what was happening in the country. In addition, she played other characters that reminded us that it was okay to laugh.

The week after the election, she appeared at the start of the show as Secretary Hillary Clinton, and performed the late Leonard Cohen’s masterpiece, “Hallelujah.”

McKinnon sang as Secretary Clinton and for Secretary Clinton. She was able to say thing that Hillary could not. At moments she let the mask down and she was one of us trying to figure out the mixture of emotions we were feeling in the face of a loss that we did not and could not understand. The courage of McKinnon to sing in such an exposed and vulnerable way reflected Secretary Clinton’s bravery and dignity in the face of such unjustified and irrational hatred.

After completing the song, McKinnon stated, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.” Her voice shook slightly as she spoke for herself and for all of us. We didn’t need her in that moment to be stronger for us, we just needed her to let us know that we aren’t alone and there is always hope.

Hope is exactly what McKinnon gave us that evening.  

7. Dan Savage
The world can be difficult to understand. We need people to help us process events and see through our own lack of perspective. One of the most important voices in my life who does this for me is the sex advice columnist, author, and podcast host, Dan Savage.

Every Tuesday morning Savage starts his podcast with a “rant,” as he calls it. During this opening, he addresses a range of topics including current events. Savage is incredibly witty and his rants are humorous, thought-provoking, and deeply insightful. On June 14th, 2006, his opening rant was heartbreaking (Click here).

Savage did what he often did and addressed a current event, but this event was different, he talked about the Orlando massacre at the Pulse nightclub. In this opening, Savage embraced the burden of having to explain to majority, a minority experience.

Many minorities, including myself, find the burden of explaining our lived experiences to people who are not part that minority group exhausting and annoying at times. Why should I have to spend my day explaining to people who are not Asian what it’s like to be Asian? This is not something that we should expect out of minorities of any kind but Savage has leaned into this burden and made it his responsibility. Because of this, thousands of other people who read Savage’s words and hear his voice are more understanding of other people and themselves.

I will not try to paraphrase Savage’s words, but know that while they will make you cry, they paint a story, a history of Gay nightclub culture that has been a beacon of hope for a group of people who faced unimaginable intolerance perpetrated by bigotry and hate. There is one point that I will highlight and is important to remember. In 1969, during the Stonewall riots, the police were fighting against the rights of homosexuals. During the Pulse nightclub shooting, the police were putting their lives on the line, some in the direct line of fire to protect the lives of people who are LGBT and their allies.

Dan Savage talks about sex on his podcast, but more than that, he talks about acceptance, embracing the plurality of human expression and how to love yourself and others. Savage is not always right, but he tries. Savage’s words have saved relationships, gotten people away from abusive partners and spread empathy to his listeners and beyond.

If we all took Savage’s advice, we would be a lot happier, having more sex and most importantly embracing the beautiful plurality of the human experience . . . and we’d also probably be swearing more and smoking more pot.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2016 People Of The Year: Part 1 - Bayley & Sgt. Hawkins

2016 was a horrible year for many different people for many different reasons. We had to say goodbye to some of our most important cultural icons, while this has been difficult it is nowhere near as tragic as the children who are being killed in Aleppo. They are not getting tributes and magazine covers and it just continues. Unfortunately, the suffering of children is not limited to Syria.

There have been personal challenges in my life, though nothing to the degree of a great tragedy. The blessings in my life continue to persevere though sometimes it has been hard to keep them in perspective.

I am mostly through the mourning process of the election, but like the loss of a loved one, the dull ache exists. This man has done nothing to bring me hope and comfort and his actions continue to alienate those who did not support him and his own supporters who believed his lies.

There is hope.

We can’t look to that office anymore for that hope, but it’s there. While so much in the past year was dark, there were many examples of people doing what they could in small and big ways to fight the negativity, fight the cynicism and fight the hate. To wrap up the year, I’m going to write about these people.  These are people and their organizations who in different ways made the world a better place. They got me through the tough times this year and I will continue to look to them to bring us the hope we need to get through the hard times on the horizon.  I listed them as a top 10, the ranking isn't all that important, but it makes it more fun.  

10. Bayley 
The happiest moment I had this year experiencing any kind of entertainment was Bayley’s surprise appearance at WWE’s Battleground PPV in July (yup, we’re talking about professional wrestling here).

I was kind of like this:

(I don’t have the clip of her entrance, but her official Raw debut captures the similar feeling)

Let me back up for a second. One of the only facets of my life I have not written about on this blog is my love of professional wrestling.  The main reasons I got hooked back in after not actively watching professional wrestling for the past five years was Bayley. WWE’s has a show called NXT which is kind of like their minor league. For the past couple years there’s been a group of women on this who who have revolutionized the industry.

When I first started watching wrestling in the early 2000s the woman who wrestled were mostly there for eye-candy. Some of them were as skilled wrestlers as the male wrestlers, but most were not. Woman’s matches were the time that you would get up and get a snack.

These women in NXT changes that. They were called the “Four Horsewomen,” a throwback to one of professional wrestling's greatest staples. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Bank and Bayley made NXT a must watch program with specials that rivaled in excitement to WWE’s PPVs. Each one of these women got called up to the main roster except for Bayley.  So when she showed up at Battleground teasing her eventually call-up to main roster. It felt amazing.

Bayley like the other “Horsewomen,” were as good if not better than many of the other male competitors. They broke new ground throughout 2016 and continued to break down stereotypes around woman wrestlers and woman wrestling. While I respect and enjoy watching the other women, there’s something special about Bayley.

Bayley is kind, optimistic and works hard. She doesn’t give up, and she cares about her fans. She redefines what it means to be a woman in the wrestling industry. Bayley’s proved that you can have a sideways ponytail, dress like a 5th grader, enjoy hugging fans and still kick butt.

I was so overwhelmed with happiness when she entered at Battleground because it validated Bayley’s kindness and hard work. It also validated the goodness in all of us, and was a reminder that if you believe there ain’t no stopping us . . .

It's everything that is in this video and so much more.

9. Sgt. Jessica Hawkins
There have always been boogeymen in our society even before America was a country. These are people who threaten our woman and children who therefore must be controlled, converted, prosecuted and discriminated against.

First it was the Native Americans, then African American Men. Other racial minorities got a turn too. Then there were the homosexuals.  Now that reasonable people in our society have established that homosexuality does not equal pedophilia, the worst amongst have moved on and are now discriminating against people who are transgender.

Sgt. Jessica Hawkins is one of those people.

I heard this news story on NPR on the way to school. I was so effected by what I heard, I pulled over and started taking notes on my phone about what I was hearing.

This story includes Sgt. Hawkins struggle to accept her own need to identify as a woman, losing her wife in the process. While she struggled in many aspects of her life, the one place she found support was with her fellow police officers. She faces harassment from people that she meets walking the street as a police officer, but she believes that this has helped her better serve as an officer. Her experiences have given her more empathy and now she heads a LGBT Liaison Unit to address issues in the LGBT community.

Sgt. Hawkins' fellow police officers looked past prejudice and stereotypes and embraced her identity with pride and support. I don’t think they care what bathroom she uses, so why should we?

When the insecure, and the power-hungry bigots go after the boogeymen; they shine a light on them. Brave people like Sgt. Hawkins come out of the shadows and share their stories in response. People protest, the courts rule against discrimination and we grow as a country, more accepting of plurality and more compassionate for those others would have us fear. It’s a painful cycle, but we always come out the other end with more love in our hearts.

If Sgt. Hawkins is brave enough to walk down the street with her long hair in uniform, then the rest of us can find that courage to be proud of the things that we like about ourselves that don’t fit societies’ expectations.

Sometimes the most heroic thing you can do is to be yourself, fully and openly.   Sgt. Hawkins is doing this every day, she has made her struggle mean something and through her courage, she is making the world a better place by being herself

Monday, December 19, 2016

Parenthood: Week 183 - Joining The Toddlers

When Ollie was a baby and I’d carry him into a family gathering, we would be swarmed. Everyone was excited to see him. People would ask to hold him. Others would gather around and try to hold his little hand or just point out the parts of him that they found most adorable.

Almost everyone would try to make him smile by grinning at him and making silly sounds. Even the most serious people would become goofballs attempting to get a reaction out of him. People wanted to just be near him. It felt great to be welcomed so enthusiastically and to be adored by everyone. I believe that all of those smiles and warmth is one reason Ollie is such a happy person.

This is different now that Ollie is a toddler. When we walking into a room full of family, a couple people will come by to say hello to us and say hi to Ollie but we are no longer swarmed. Ollie sometimes reciprocates these greetings but sometimes doesn’t. While people would spend a lot of time trying to get Ollie to smile as a baby, they are less likely to try to make Ollie smile as a toddler.

People no longer come up to him and want to hold him (I know he’s three, but he’s still a fan of being held and cuddle). Many fewer people try to actively interact with him now that he is a toddler.

I make this observation not to be critical of any people or any group of people but rather to point out an interesting phenomenon. People go crazier over babies than toddlers partially because of evolutionary biology and the adaptions we have made to be incredibly cute as babies, the time when we need others the most for our survival.

The other piece is that we don’t always know what to do with toddlers. A baby is pretty easy for a short interaction. You sit-down, support the head and cuddle it and smile at it. That's it. When you got a walking, talking three-year-old, it can seem a little bit more intimidating. It’s not so bad. It’s just different.

Ollie can have a short conversation, he can laugh at jokes, he can play simple games, and will listen to songs and loves to be read to. He can give a lot more back through social interactions than when he was younger. In many ways, it is a much more rewarding social interaction to play with Ollie now as a three-year-old, than when he was a baby.

Next time you see a toddler, talk to them. Play with them. Find a book and try to read to them. Chances are, most people besides their parents will not be actively paying attention, so give them some of your attention and love. Yes, their little brother is a squishy and smells like baby (which is one of the happiest smells in existence), but toddlers randomly make up dances and songs and this is also awesome.

I believe that every person should hold a baby and change a diaper before they become an adult. I also believe that everyone should play a game, sing a song and dance with a toddler before adulthood.

Next time you are at a party, and you see a toddler on their own playing, join in. The games they are playing may not make any sense and you might have no idea what they are saying, but the time will be just as meaningful or more meaningful than any small talk you will have with other adults at the gathering.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Year 7: Week 16 - Concert Talks

Concert Introduction

Good evening.  Thank you for being with us tonight.

A thought: this is the only time that this exact group of people will be in this auditorium together. This collection of people will be never together ever again.

I bring this up because I want us to take a moment to reflect how special it is that we are all here together, in this space for the purpose of bringing beauty into this world through music. The diversity in this room is inspiring and is something we sometimes take for granted. This night is expression of what is unique, beautiful and wonderful about our school.

The performances you see tonight are acts of courage (you think public speaking is scary? try public singing), acts of giving and acts of fellowship. Let’s honor that and make the people in this auditorium the most important thing in our life for the next hour. These things, your phones, let’s not let them get in the way of our experience together, so please silence them and maybe even put them in airplane mode.

I totally get taking a video of your child on stage. Capture the moment and then bring yourself back to all us so that we can make this night special, together.

You may regret being distracted by your phone and missing a once in a lifetime musical moment, but I promise you will not regret being present and supporting our young musicians with your attention, your love and your pride.

End Of Concert Goodbye

My son is three and we’ve had a couple after school events. These are hard to make happen. Picking up my kid, feeding them, getting to back to school later. This is not an easy task. I’ll be honest; my track record for being on time with these events at my son’s school isn’t fantastic.

I say this because I want to acknowledge that you being here, getting your kids here and fed and ready to perform tonight wasn’t easy. I’ve seen many of you do this many times and I’m in awe of you. Thank you for that effort.

I’m thanking you on behalf of your children. They may not thank you for helping get them ready for this concert tonight and being here to support them, but they do appreciate your effort and your presence. While the most important work we do is during our preparation, your attention and positivity as audience members adds layers of meaning to their work and validates our students’ efforts.

Another thing I’ve learned as a parent, the food is as much us, as it is for the kids. Children, let’s not swarm too quickly. Let your parents get in there too and grab some food.

Have a great night. Take care.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Monday, December 12, 2016

Parenthood: Week 182 - 3 1/2 Year-Old Milestones

The milestones in toddlerhood aren’t as noticeable as learning how to walk, but they are important and worthy of mention. So here are a couple we’ve noticed lately as our son is now three and a half.

For a while now, Ollie has been able to learn songs that are sung to him like the “ABC” song or songs that he learned in his music class. Other more complicated songs or songs he simply heard recordings of, he could recognize but he wouldn’t pick up. This has started to change. Just from listening to “You’re Welcome” from the Disney film, Moana, Ollie can sing probably 60% of the lyrics. It’s really adorable when the song gets to the rap and Ollie just mumbles his way through it.

Ollie’s favorite song from Hamilton is “Aaron Burr, Sir” and he does a pretty good job picking out louder parts of the rap. When it transitions to “My Shot,” Ollie nails the words “My Shot,” really well and the chanting towards the end of the song.

And the dancing that accompanies his singing, well, let’s just say that he’s working his way up to be a triple threat.

To The Moon
Two nights ago, I was getting Ollie dressed into his pajamas and he pointed to his height chart. On the chart it reads “I love you to the moon and back.” He pointed to “the” and said “the.” I pointed to “to” and he read that as well. Without much help he got “back.” “Moon” took a little bit more work, but before we knew it, he read the entire sentence. I almost cried in joy.

Reading is one of the most important things that Ollie learns how to do. This skill will open up the world to him, help him open up himself to others and nurture his emotional growth and empathy. We read to him all of the time. Lately, he’s been crawling all over me wanting to check out whatever I’m reading. There are times when he asks to read the same book for the third time and I feel tired, but I push through because whenever I get going, I never regret spending that time and effort to share a book with him.

Beyond Twenty
When Ollie asks for things, sometimes I ask him how many he wants. For a while there the highest number he knew was twenty. Our school drop-off ritual ends with him getting twenty hugs. Now he knows thirty and forty (though he hasn’t asked for that many hugs). While it takes him a while to count that high, he’s starting to understand that the world through numbers is larger, more complex and more beautiful in it’s multiplicity.

Here’s the thing. Diana and I don’t drill him on his letters and his numbers. We surround him with toys that let him play with concepts related to counting and reading.  His sense of wonder and inquiry has really blossomed.

Ollie, as you show us what’s inside of you, we feel as Alexander Hamilton sings: “Pride is not the word I’m looking for, there is so much more inside me now.”

Friday, December 9, 2016

Year 7: Week 15 – The Past Month And The How We Find Hope

“I don’t pretend to know the challenges we are facing.”

The past month has been challenging. I got a massive head cold the weekend before (11/5) our 5th grade outdoor education trip and went on the trip anyways even though I wasn’t better. That cold stuck around, got slightly better but a cough remained and I found out two days ago that this cough became pneumonia, and now I’m home taking a sick day.

Things with my students haven’t been bad; there have been no major issues. Lots of little ones but that’s the nature of my job.  None of this is new for me. It’s my seventh year at this school, but my illness combined with this other piece, the results of the election, have added another layer of struggle to my job as a teacher.

We found out the news when we were on the camping trip the morning of Wednesday 11/9. Many of the adults on the trip stayed up after the kids went to sleep and sat is disbelief like most Americans at how the night turned out against our expectations.

The next morning we collected the kids and they all had a sense that we would tell them the results of the election. As one of the teachers started talking about the election, I stood and noticed two girls sitting next to each other. They were holding hands and their hands moved up and down, like they were skipping. When the teacher told them that he had one, their hands tightened around each other and dropped to the ground. The smiles melted from their faces. One girl put her head on the other one’s shoulder. The other girl patted her head gently as she started crying. At that point I had to look away as I felt tears coming to my eyes.

Somehow I kept it together for the rest of the trip, but when I was driving home from the trip, I felt myself falling apart. I wanted to see Ollie but I also dreaded looking in his face and knowing how much we had all let him down. When I entered the house and hugged Diana and Ollie. I completely lost it. I tried to apologize to Ollie through sobs, but I could barely talk. Diana see how distraught I was, wisely took Ollie away to give me some space.

I calmed down a little bit and walked into the kitchen where my mom was, and when I saw her, I lost it all over again. She almost seemed panicked to see me this upset and she asked over and over what was wrong and as I managed to get the words out, “the election,” she pulled me close and I cried, and cried, trembling in my mother’s arms.

I’ve never cried like this before. I’ve never fallen apart over politics or for anything else in my life except for the loss of a loved one.

That moment and the feeling of pain and loss is still with me. I feel my mom’s arms around me, the wetness of the tears, and the strong, powerful look in my mom’s eyes when she told me after I calmed down a little, “I don’t know how to explain this to you, but I can tell you that you are not alone.”

I walk down the hallways of my school and I see my kids and their parents and when I least expect it, I’m back at that moment. I try my best to make the emotions from that moment motivated me to be more kind to my students, to take more time to listen to what they have to say and make a stronger effort to make my school and in turn the world a more accepting, respectful and inclusive world. But it’s hard.

It hasn’t gotten better. Every day the news gets worse. As a teacher it demoralizing that the next secretary of education in charge of our public school system has no experience in the public schools as a student, parent, teacher or administrator.

There are some of you who know exactly how I feel and there are those who probably think I’m just need to get over this and stop whining.  If you are in the latter, please have a conversation who is someone is in mourning this election and do more listening than talking. If you just want to ride us all off as whiners, then you are taking the lead from him and creating a less tolerant and harmonious society.

I don’t know what’s up ahead and how all of this will impact my teaching. I know it strengthened my belief that my primary goal a teacher is not musical but rather to help my students embrace diversity and actively work to ensure the rights of all people.

Yes, journalists are an essential part of our democracy, but so are teachers. It is up to us to educate our student to be positive citizens that make our country a better place. It’s a role that is difficult to learn, and it’s not a role that’s easy to play. However, it’s our blessing and our burden.  Teachers now have to help our children understand this critical part of their lives.

Teaching is harder than ever in America, and as we create citizens, we are also creating hope.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Parenthood: Week 181 - Gilmore Girl & Tea Time

Gilmore Girl

She just kept whining.

Diana took Buffy out for a good walk, we fed her dinner and still, she whined. Maybe it was the falling snow we wondered, but we knew it was something else: Ollie was over at grandma’s house.

Buffy is comfortable being alone in the house or with the whole family. However sometimes when unexpected combinations of people are in the house, she doesn’t always know what to do. This is especially true when Ollie is gone but Diana and me are home. I think she worries that if we are here, than who is with Ollie?

We tried giving her treats, snuggling with her and we even ended up giving her some table scraps, which we rarely do (though Ollie pretty regularly shares his dinner with her, which has required that everything Ollie is fed is safe for dogs). She got an extra walk and was let out in the back but nothing seemed to settle her down.

I had a crazy idea. The previous night we had been watching Gilmore Girls: A Year In the Life mini-series and Buffy had relaxed on the couch next to us and became a throw-blanket of puppy relaxation. So I put Buffy on the couch, played the episode we had watched last night and within two minutes Buffy was splayed out on the couch, struggling to keep her eyes open.

Thank you Lorelei and your wanderlust (Buffy relaxed in the part when Lorelei tries to “Wild.”)

Tea Time

Ollie has always enjoyed teatime. He has two tea sets and even though we haven’t had a tea party lately, there was a solid month when his tea sets were his favorite toy. Beyond that time he would periodically pull out his tea set and carefully pour water into his cups and serve little plastic cakes.

Diana and I drink tea daily, so it’s not a surprise that he wants to emulate us. One of Ollie’s common requests is to drink “daddy tea,” and since I exclusively drink herbal, non-caffeinated teas, it’s not a big deal for me to share.

We were having a lazy weekend morning. Ollie got up and I made him breakfast and let Diana sleep in. After Ollie finished his French toast, he asked for some Ollie tea. I poured him some of my tea and put a little cold water in it to cool it down. Ollie climbed up into one of the dining room table chairs and proceeded to talk to me about what was on his mind.

I love talking to Ollie, but he’s not always interested in having a conversation when I am, which is okay, he’s still learning about how to talk to people. Something about the tea and the French toast in his tummy put Ollie in a conversational mood and he opened up to me about school, his friends he liked to play with and his world.

Teas is an important part of my culture.  Maybe there's something in his DNA from his ancestors that connects conversation with the act of drinking tea.  All I know for sure is that I'm always happy to share my tea with my boy.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Year 7: Week 14 – The Best Of 8th Grade

“Mr. Tang, I missed you.”

My 8th grade class meets on Mondays and Fridays. Because of various reasons, including me being away on the 5th grade trip, being sick, in-service days and the World Series (we cancelled school the Friday after they won), I haven’t seen my 8th graders in almost a month.

I started class earlier this week, asking them to raise their hand if I haven’t taught in them in the past month, and after some reflection, all of them of did. One of my trumpet players raised her hand and after I called on her, she said, “Mr. Tang, I missed you.” Thinking that she was being sarcastic, I replied jokingly, “Oh yeah, it’s you. Yeah, I um . . . thought about you.” Then I saw a look of disappointment on her face and realized that she wasn’t joking.

I felt horrible. I apologized to her immediately afterwards and again after class. I completely misread the intent of her comment. Way to go Tang.

Something really special happened in that moment. This student had shed all of her armor and genuinely expressed a feeling that displayed sensitivity and vulnerability. This is something that is difficult for 8th graders, but isn’t impossible.

I like to think that it has something to do with the atmosphere I have set up in my own classroom but I think it has more to do with how my school approaches middle school students.

It takes a lot of deliberate and proactive work to create a middle school space that makes students feel safe enough to be themselves. There is a lot of relationship building that happens inside and outside the classroom and consistently expresses to the students that we believe in them.

Middle school students don’t get a lot of props from our culture and the challenges of being a middle school student have colored most people’s memories of this time in their lives as being mostly negative. Kids sense this, so please be conscientious about how you talk about your own experiences at their age.

They frustrate me and push me but they have the potential to be wonderfully perceptive, empathetic and kind. I believe that the vast majority of middle school students who misbehave aren’t bad, they just don’t have adults around them who believe in their incredible potential for goodness and work to show them the way to make their own lives and the world a better place.

We’ve got an uphill battle. When a person gets an important job and isn't held accountable for his hateful, ignorant, sexist and racist words, the expectations we tell our students can seem unreasonable and silly. However if they know that we care and we model a better way, which engenders a genuine sense of community and kindness, we can be a more powerful force than the worst among us.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

Parenthood: Week 180 – Wash my hands?!?

"Wash my hands?  What's that? You've NEVER asked me do this before in my entire life!" 
- The look Ollie gives me most of the time when he comes home and I ask to wash his hands.
It’s amazing how fast and efficient Ollie is at getting his shoes and jacket on . . . when he feels motivated to do so. One of the challenging things about toddlers is that the combination of their larger size and their stronger will means that everyday processes like taking off shoes and washing hands when you come back home from an outing can become a monumental task.

On one hand I want Ollie to be an independent and thoughtful person who doesn’t just comply to requests without thinking. I like that Ollie challenges me to explain the reasons why we ask him to do things. I want him to do this and work to understand the world around him, even when it’s beyond his capacity to understand. I didn’t choose to be parent so that I could have someone to order around.

At the same time, it can get exhausting to have to deal with his protest to take off his coat and jackets and wash his hands almost every single time we come home. We’ve been doing this routine almost his entire life and most of the time he refuses to do it as he did today and just simply flopped on the ground. Other times when I've told him he could have some crackers when we got home after he took off his shoes and washed his hands, he immediately did all of these things by himself.

It’s not a big shock that Ollie is has some need-based motivational patterns. Most kids do, but most also learn to comply for the sake of being “good” at a certain point. I clearly remember a moment when I was four or five when I decided to just do things that my mom asked without protesting and then my life got a ton easier.

Part of this has to do with our parenting style. We aren’t that hard on Ollie and we do feel that it’s important that he has the freedom to be himself and explore who he wants to be. More important than his ability to follow directions is the nurturing of his spirit. No, we don’t let Ollie go crazy and get away with treating us and others disrespectfully but at the same time we don’t have a lot of issues with letting him dance around and sing a made-up song that delays bath-time, if he’s really into it.

We have a lot to learn from kids, even 3-year-olds. It’s important that we don’t let our frustration with our little ones blind us from what is really special about this age. Yes, he should take off his shoes when he comes home, but it’s also wonderful to see him run in and hug Diana immediately even if it means that he tracks mud into our house. Every time, he doesn’t comply with a request, I realized that maybe I need to ask him to do something in a different way. If you ask someone to do something four times and they don’t do it, there’s a good chance the problem is the way that you are asking the question.

Oh, toddlerhood.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Year 7: Week 13 – A New Kind Of Sharing Night

Every year the week after we get back from our 5th grade Lorado Taft trip, we put on a sharing presentation for the parents and the families. Students in the past wrote out a short reflection, read this out loud in front of the audience and the students perform a couple songs.

We encourage our students to try new things and to challenge traditions. In this same spirit we decided to re-conceptualize this sharing presentation. The Monday after we got back from the trip (we came back on a Friday), we gave the students a choice on how they wanted to follow-up on the trip. The idea was that students could revisit an activity they did on the trip and have time to develop it with more depth. The students could decide between art, writing, making a model of the shelter they built and doing some music work.

In music class a couple weeks before the trip, we began working on contrafacta. This is the process of creating new lyrics for an existing song (e.g. the new lyrics Bernie Taupin wrote for “Candle In the Wind” to honor Princess Diana). I made it clear that we were not writing parodies and that their new lyrics should express similar emotions to the original song.

The students got to choose between three different songs that we had been working on. I encouraged students to choose a song that they felt like they knew well or had an emotional context that they could relate to. Students did really well with this project. I had to put in some structures like the fact that it had to be non-fiction and it didn’t have to have a rhyme scheme which for most students helped them be productive.

During the trip, we gave the students time to revisit this contrafactum project. They were asked this time to use this project to reflect on their experience on the trip. Students could write lyrics about anything from the trip, including the bus ride, eating lunch, and going on hikes.

The extension piece for the presentation gave students time to finish the lyrics, make an edited final draft and record themselves or someone else singing their lyrics with me accompanying them on guitar. We did these recordings on Garage Band, exported them, uploaded them on to Google Drive and shared them with the students.

The night of the sharing each student stood behind tables arranged on our auditorium stage. Among the art work, the writing and the models, the music students had an iPad set-up with two pairs of headphones hooked up through a splitter to the iPad. Then people walked around, and picked up the headphones and listened to the students simply playing them through Google Drive, while looking through drafts of their lyrics.

This was a really great way to give students the time and the freedom to reflect on the trip in a way that was meaningful to them. The technology use for the music students was great and another really special dimension to the whole experience. We did start and end this convention style sharing with the whole class singing songs together.

It’s a wonderful thing when students have the space to follow their own passions and their own interest. It was a tough thing to do organizationally, but it was well worth it. The students work made this feel less like a sharing and more like a celebration.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Monday, November 21, 2016

Parenthood: Week 179 - Raising a Good Guy

An’ you be a good guy, Jesse. You gotta be like John Wayne: You don’t take no shit off fools, an’ you judge a person by what’s in ‘em, not how they look. An’ you do the right thing. You gotta be one of the good guys, son: ‘cause there’s way too many of the bad. 
Preacher #9 - Garth Ennis

I believe that all people are inherently good. There are many people, too many, whose insecurities, fears and darker emotions lead them to do and say mean, prejudicial and horrible things. These are people who are sad, and lonely and unfortunately hurt others in a vain attempt to get that universal meaning that only comes from learning to love others and to be loved.

I look at my son, and I know he’s a good guy. He’s a wonderful guy. There are frustrations when he refuses to do things like take off his shoes or wash his hands, but these aren’t signs that he’s bad. It’s just him learning to work through processes and not fully understanding the “why” behind our requests.

We work hard to make sure that he is surrounded by models of people who are good. There will be times when I will have to introduce him to the horrors of humanity. Ollie will know about the genocide in Cambodia, he will know about the Holocaust, he will know about the Trail of Tears and he will know about the atrocities in the Congo in the late 1800s. That’s for later. Right now, Ollie needs to be exposed to people who are loving and kind and a world that includes the different facets of his identity.

Ollie regularly watches Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and Tumbleleaf. We’ve worked hard to make sure that the books that are in our house show Ollie a spectrum of diversity, racially and in other ways. Musically, Ollie’s favorite singer is Elton John, and he deliberately has been exposed to a variety of artists including Brandi Carlile, The Supremes, and The Beatles.

Ollie has heard speeches by Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama. One of the most important books in his collection is Of Thee I Sing, A Letter to My Daughters. This is President Obama’s beautiful children book that expresses the history of our great nation through important historical figures including Jane Adams, Cesar Chavez and Abraham Lincoln. Ollie has also watched videos of Secretary Clinton speak and we have talked to him about her work.

None of these people are perfect human beings, and we shouldn’t look to role models for perfection. We should look to them for traits that they demonstrate and admire them for those traits. As these traits come together, they help us understand what is good and right in the world. It provides a compass, a path to go on, and a way to see the good from the bad.

I’m saddened that there are no traits about the president elect, that he has demonstrated that will help Ollie understand what it means to be good. Titles aren’t always given to the best of us and sometimes the most positive leaders have no titles. When Ollie needs to understand what it means to be sad, lonely and insecure, we’ll have the president-elect, but for the rest of the time when Ollie needs to know what it means to be good, I’ll make sure to continue to surround him with shining light from the best of humanity.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Year 7: Week 12 - The Work Ahead

Usually every year this post is about my trip to Lorado Taft with my 5th graders. This trip wasn’t insignificant this year. This was the year that I went to the trip after four days of being sick with a cold, rallied and made it through the week. Lot of cold medicine, thankfully great weather and other supportive teachers helped get me through the week. However I don’t really feel like embellishing on the tribulations of being sick on a trip and honestly, the trip hasn’t really been on my mind.

It’s been a week and half since the election. The results felt devastating for my family and me.  I’ve looked for affirmations that the Republican leadership doesn’t accept or subscribe to the sexist, and racist things that the president-elect said during the campaign, and those reassurances are few. In their place are atrocious, offensive and um-American ideas like discussing the Japanese internment camps of WWII as a precedent for Muslim registration. You may say that this doesn’t represent the view of the president elect or the Republican party. If that’s true than why does this ignorant and racist person get to speak on television and why isn't the Republican leadership calling this out for as being ridiculous and chastising the individual who made this assertion?

As a teacher, this election has realigned my focus. There’s been a gradual shift from focusing on music education as my primary focus as teacher to primarily focusing on social justice and educating about democracy. When I first started teaching ten years ago, I didn’t think about how the songs that I taught affected the way students saw themselves, each other and society. I didn’t think about how I was educating my students to be citizens. Over the years, I shifted towards thinking about music as a way to teach about student identity, social issues and their place in an inclusive and diverse American society.

Between moments of great grief, frustration and fear, I got to planning. I don’t care who says it, a man on the street, a student or the president. Language that is not inclusive and respectful of the great plurality that is the American experience is not going to be welcome or tolerated in my classroom. I will continue to teach about social issues.

I’m not talking about politics. My students should not have to wonder who will take care of them if one of their parents dies because they have two dads. My students should not have to wonder whether their grandparents can visit from out of the country to come watch them in a concert because they are Muslim. My students should not have friends and family who have been unjustly shot by police because they are black. And my girls should not be made to feel inferior, objectified and limited in their opportunities.

These are issues that have been politicized, but at their core they are civil rights issues. I will continue to teach about these rights and someone thinking that this places me in one side of the political spectrum isn’t going to stop me, because my students and my son being valued and accepted as an American goes way beyond politics.

Time to get to work. I’m putting together a woman in music unit for my 5th graders to discuss the underrepresentation of woman in the music industry. I’m organizing a president’s day assembly focusing on America as a diverse and inclusive country and I got Civil Rights music coming up in the Spring with my 8th graders.

It’s go time. The time is now. The work is hard, the conversations will be challenging, but it’s the job. More than ever I’m proud to be a teacher and hopeful that out of all of this, I can make the world a better place one students at a time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Parenthood: Week 178 Part 2 - Dream Deferred (The Post If She Won)

I wrote this post on Tuesday 11/8/2016, anticipating Secretary Clinton winning the Presidential Election. 

"This may not have been such a good idea."

I sat there in my driveway, with the chills, sweating and trembling, while the pain in my head throbbed and my throat felt tight. I had been sick for four days with a painful head cold. It felt like a hangover every morning and evening without the inconvenience of drinking. I decided after taking a sick day and a long weekend that I would head to school and go on the four day/three night fifth grade outdoor education trip.

I hesitated before turning the key in the ignition, and then I said to myself, "If Hillary had the strength to make it through this election and hold her head high while being the most sexually harassed woman in America, then I can rally and make this trip happen."

As I drove to school, I thought about my mom's struggles immigrating to America, facing racism and sexism and never letting these encounters effect her belief in herself and her dignity. I thought about the struggles of my wife trying to balance out expectations of parenthood and career that people often judge her about and rarely consider with me because I’m a man.

Then I thought about my son.

Before getting into my car, I walked into Ollie's room to say goodbye. I watched him sleep peacefully. Then I whispered to him, "Daddy is going to go now, he needs to say bye. You are my special little guy, I am very proud of you and I love you very much. You exist because you live in a country that values you, that loves that your mom and dad came from different places and through love brought you into this world. There are people around though who don't value who we are and tonight people are gong to vote and show us that those people are wrong. You are loved and important to our country and I'm never going to let anyone make you feel differently."

As the morning sun began to rise, I felt myself becoming overwhelmed by emotion when I remembered my mom’s words from the previous night. I asked my mom about the election and how she voted. She told me how excited she was to see that a woman of her generation could do something that she couldn't. She saw Hillary struggle and fight and deal with the worst society could throw at her and made it through.

I told my mom how excited I was that I was going tell Ollie that there was going to be a grandmother in the White House. I started feeling tears of joy as I explained how incredible it was that Ollie was born with a mixed-race American as President and will come to know a grandmother as President. Ollie will know that there is a little boy and girl, whose visit to Grandma's house will be a trip to the White House.

I walked into my school, with my wife, my mom and my son with me, determined to be strong. Feeling in my heart that they were with me and that we were stronger together.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Parenthood: Week 178 - Dear Ollie, 2016 Election

Dear Ollie,

I am so sorry. We failed you. We let you down. We tried to push back against the forces of fear and hatred and this time the darkness won.

I'm scared, your friends are scared and many other people all around the world are scared. Fear is a hard emotion, but we can't let it paralyze us. We have to be strong. We have to be brave.

There are people who didn't see the meanness and the hate as disqualifying. They didn't see that these horrible words were about your mother, you and me.

One of the greatest characters in literature is a Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. He is one of my inspirations for being a dad.  One of his most famous quotes is, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."  It's hard to do this work, but we have to try.  Sometimes people don't make any effort to do this, so you've got to make the extra effort.  It's exhausting, it's a burden, but you have to try.

Ollie, it's not enough to be kind, we must helps others be kinds. It's not enough to be respectful to woman; we have to insist that others are good to woman. And it's not enough that you embrace the wonderful facets of humanity including diversity in race, religion, sexuality and gender, we need to make sure all people do this. This is what it means to be a good person. This is what it takes to make the world a better place.

Your life, the wonderful experiences and joy that fill your day, exist because others before you fought for the rights of others. The way we show gratitude to those people is by continuing their work. We bring meaning to our lives when we work for others as others have worked for us.  With this work, you can change the world.  I know this to be true, because you have changed my world.

Because you are not Caucasian, you will not see yourself in leadership and authority figures, so you will use your imagination to remind yourself that these roles are open to you.  Because you are a man, you will enjoy privileges that woman do not, so you will spend your life making sure that you use these advantages to bring sucess to women.  Because you are a person of color, people will look at you as an "other," and question your place in America, so you will be strong, go high and never forget that those who would make you feel as an "other" are the least American of all of us.

When I'm at work with my students, I promise that I will spend every moment helping them develop the tools that will allow them to create a world where you are valued. I do this work for you. I will never give up on making this world for you as I will never give up on you.

I promise you that I will give you a President that deserves to serve you.  Maybe not today, but someday.  And I promise to spend the rest of my life working to make a world that honors you as my mom and I love you.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Year 7: Week 11 – Teach Like A Man

I remember the first teacher I had in school that was a man. He was our PE teacher. Mr. Gowan. He wore a tight t-shirt tucked into 1990’s style warm-up pants. He was bald, wore glasses and whenever I picture him in my mind’s eye, he has a whistle in his mouth. He spoke in short sentences, wore glasses and always carried a clipboard.  Mr. Gowan always spoke authoritatively which seemed at odds with the fact that he was a short man. Basically, if you were to make a cartoon character of a PE teacher, it would probably look like him.

The next male teacher I had was a music teacher in second grade (oddly, he also was my drivers ed teacher years later). He was one of those music teachers who would have rather been playing music professionally. It wasn’t 5th grade that I had another teacher who was a man. In my kindergarten-5th grade school, with three classes per grade there were only three male teachers. All the administration were woman and the only other adult man in the school was the janitor who I remembered because he shared the same name as the football player Joe Kelly.

In middle school, I don’t think changed. I had maybe one male teacher a year. It was still mostly woman teachers. It wasn’t until high school that male teachers started making an impression on me.

I’m really happy about the the fact that my school has teachers who are men, not only in our high school grades but all way down to our kindergarten level. Most of the homeroom teachers from grades 1-5 are woman, but many of assistants and many of the department teachers including myself are men. I would say that almost every student, almost every day interacts with teachers of both genders at my school.

What makes me really proud about the male teachers at my school is that they aren’t all the same kind of “male.” There’s the 5th grade teacher who has Boston sport paraphilia plastered on his walls and the 6th grade teacher who has 1960s music posters all over his front wall. Our 8th grade English teacher loves college football but also loves poetry. Then there’s the middle school choir teacher who plays Pokemon Go, has immaculate handwriting, enjoys watching professional basketball but also geeks out about great choral music.

I look at my male students flailing, trying to figure out what it means to be a man. I have boys who graders wearing sport jerseys, Star Wars t-shirts, capes (on regular school days), and ties. No we aren’t helping them find an answer by presenting them with a plurality of models in masculinity, but we are helping in their journey to creating and develop an authentic masculine identity, based not on insecurities but rather on pride.

Also, it is a important reminder to our boys, that teachers of all subjects, can indeed be men.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

Parenthood: Week 177 – Hope In The Park

It was the late afternoon and the unusually warm fall weather made me feel both refreshed from the wind and warmed by the rays of the setting sun.

Ollie jumped out of the stroller and ran towards the slides. He knows this park well.  The play area has different playground equipment for different ages and it’s suited for little ones who can barely walk, all the way up to teenagers.

I looked around the park and saw a woman in a hijab with her husband chasing around their school-aged kids. A group of older boys wearing Yakamas on their heads with Tzitzit coming down from their shirts chased each other nearby while their parents sat on a bench and enjoying the sounds of each other’s laughter. A blonde girl, dressed in a flower-printed summer dress twirled around, watcher her skirt extend up giggling as she became dizzy and fell over.

The other parents traded pleasantries as Ollie and I walked by and there was a calm feeling of peace in that park as we shared the space and the time together.

When you become a parent, you start to view the world differently. Certain things, like going out to bars, don’t hold as much meaning while other things like the cuteness of baby socks make you sentimental. You become less tolerant of people being unjust when you see the potential for this harm on your own child. However, you also start seeing and experiencing special things that we share as human beings.

It’s in the common experiences of childbirth and parenthoods, but it’s also in the places that our children take us. In libraries, parks and zoos, there is rarely strife. Instead what you see in these places, are people, all kinds of people sharing time with each other, co-existing, and agreeing to respect this space and time.

We talk about division and polarization in our country. We see footage of people screaming at political rallies and we’ve suffered at a country listening to a political candidate tap into people’s deepest fears and prejudice.s  One of the reasons that hasn’t gotten to me is that I don’t see any of this when we take Ollie places. I don’t see this at museums, I don’t see this at Ollie’s school and I don’t see it at the grocery store.

How we view our government is a reflection of how we view ourselves. If our insecurities lie in our bonuses that only serve to heighten a level of privilege, than we see the worst in our politicians as we are not ready to see this dark part of ourselves. However, if we choose to see the world through the experiences, hopes and feelings of our children, we will see hope in politicians and our government. This isn’t blind ignorance. This is a choice to believe in our politicians as we believe in ourselves and our children.

Parenthood is all about hope and optimism. If you don’t believe that your child’s fever will break or that your baby tomorrow night will actually sleep and not keep you up all night, you’re not going to make it as a parent. Luckily, there are moments like the park yesterday when I see Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream alive and well. It is these moments that fill us with hope.

Look at the world. If you want to find pessimism and selfishness, well, you’ll find it, but if you want something to believe in, look at our children.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Year 7: Week 10 - Halloween & The Cubs


Halloween was on Monday. It’s kind of cute, but it’s also very difficult to handle as a teacher. Many schools do parade and then a party in the afternoon leading into dismissal. My school does the parade in the morning, followed by a short party and then back to work. My son’s school simply avoids Halloween all together and let’s the parent organization put together a Halloween party after school.

I’m a fan of what my son’s school does. It doesn’t disrupt the day very much and avoids awkwardness that often comes up with costumes and Halloween. Some kids wear store bought costumes, others have parents who help them make interesting and creative costumes, some students don’t have the financial means to buy a costume and other simply don’t celebrate Halloween. There are social problems when groups of students coordinate costumes, and most schools render some costumes pointless by not allowing masks or weapons as part of the costume.

There are a lot of issues going on here with Halloween and school.  It’s important that we really think about what it means to bring Halloween into the school day. Even if the vast majority of the families and students are good with spending a lot of time in the school day celebrating Halloween, that doesn’t mean that it’s right.


In addition the Halloween this week, teachers in the Chicagoland area had to deal with the World Series. Students came in Thursday morning exhausted from staying up to watch the final game of the series and our school, since it was near the parade route, cancelled classes today.

Thursday was awkward because I tried to teach, but many students were really out of it, having only slept a couple hours the night before. Many kids were really excited and bouncing off the walls, and when they asked me about watching the game and my own excitement, I felt it was important that I was honest. I didn’t watch the game, and I don’t care at all about major league baseball, the Cubs, or the World Series. I love how happy my friends are and my students are about this win, and this joy is really great to witness. However, I made the choice that I was not going to pretend to care more than I do, because that would be disingenuous.

Last week during a transition in one of my 3rd grade music classes, one of my students asked a question about the Cubs and clearly had no idea about the playoffs or the series. A group of boys started making fun of him for not knowing what was going on, and laughing in disbelief about his ignorance, meanly questioning, “How do you not know about the World Series?” I interrupted the boys and said, “I don’t know what’s going on either, I don’t watch baseball.” One boy in a Cubs hat looked up to me in disbelief asking, “You’re joking, EVERYONE watches the Cubs.”

I replied, “No, you are wrong. Not everyone is into baseball. It’s great that you enjoy watching sports. But I don’t and that’s okay. There are many things that I’m into that you aren’t but I don’t get to make fun of you about that fact. You don’t get to make people feel bad for not being into what you enjoy.  The best fans, don't make others feel bad for not being fans but rather try to include non-fans by being kind and explaining things.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Parenthood: Week 176 – Thank You Mr. Kirk

One of the reasons that racism is annoying is because it reminds people of their own race. You might think, “well, if you have pride in your own racial identity, why would that be a bad thing?” Let me explain. Being reminded of good and bad things related to parts of your identity that you cannot control choose feels awkward at best and offensive at its worst. “Doesn’t that woman’s accomplishments make you feel proud to be woman?” These comments don’t usually have their desired effects and the reality is that the vast majority of the time that people make comments that remind you of you gender, sexual orientation, and race, is that it’s not in a positive context.

So when Mark Kirk made this dig, “I forgot that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington,” at Tammy Duckworth during an Illinois Senate Debate, he offended me deeply, not because he reminded me of something about myself, but something about my son Ollie.

Tammy Duckworth is mixed race like my son. She is half-Thai and half-Caucasian. My son is half-Taiwanese and half-Caucasian. I don’t think about this fact very often, and lately, I’ve been avoiding thinking about this part of his identity.

I’m not ashamed of the fact that Ollie is mixed-race, I’ve just been worried lately. There are many experiences that I will be able to help him with because I’ve been through them too, like learning how to play piano, and going away to college. But I’ll never know what it’s means to be mixed race. It worries me, that my son will have struggles that I cannot completely understand related to his racial identity.

What Mark Kirk said, is exactly what I fear my son will have to deal with: people who will “round” Ollie's racial identity to being Taiwanese. When Kirk made that statement, he was saying, that it didn’t matter that Duckworth’s father was Caucasian. He saw her as a minority. Kirk made false assumptions related to her race and used these assumptions to make an insult based on his ignorance.

When you “round” a person to the minority that you see, that you assume takes over their racial identity, you are telling that person that part of their parentage is not significant, not relevant and simply does not exist. When someone "rounds" my son to Asian, they are be expressing to my son that my wife, his mother is not part of Ollie’s identity. Calling Ollie Asian is telling him that the part of him that comes from his great-grandfather who fought in WWII, who’s family died in Auschwitz aren’t there in his eyes and in his soul.

Kirk apologized with this tweet: "Sincere apologies to an American hero, Tammy Duckworth, and gratitude for her family's service." This apology is devoid of any meaningful acknowledgment of the hurt and offense that his words caused. Kirk’s words echoed the disgusting and shameful “one-drop rule” in American history (e.g. the Floridian act in 1865 that stated "every person who shall have one-eighth or more of negro blood shall be deemed and held to be a person of color.”) Kirk’s words were one more verse in the “you are not American, because you do not look white, and it doesn’t matter how much of your ancestry is white, because you look different.” Kirk’s words reek of not only of racism, eugenics and white privilege. His tweeted apology only confirmed his ignorance, stupidity, insensitivity and lack of understanding of the over 9 million mixed race Americans.

Don’t make assumptions about peoples' race. If you’re not sure, it's best not to ask until you become friends with them. If you have to know for some odd and crazy reason (I can’t think of one instance where this knowledge is essential) ask them, “how do you racially identify?” And then take their word for it and move on. You do not deserve to know this knowledge and if you are bothered because your brain feels better putting people in racial boxes, than deal with it. Be uncomfortable not knowing.  This is only a small taste of the discomfort, we feel every day when people make insensitive racial assumptions to our face.

I am proud of Ollie’s heritage. He has ancestors from Taiwan, Poland and many other countries. People in his family have fought for freedom across the world from each other in WWII. However, I’m still working through this “mixed-race” label. It doesn’t seem accurate. All it does is say that he is a combination of two different categories on a form. It doesn’t capture any of depth of his racial identity.

Thanks Mark Kirk for the reminding about the racism and ignorance that my son will face. I hate that people like you not only make these disgusting comments but also don’t have the character and wherewithal to make things right after saying something so stupid. Don’t worry though, I’ll be around to help my son understand what these comments mean and how they are expressions of fear and racism that cannot touch the pride that I will help my son build within his heart.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Year 7: Week 10 – Hoedown

I spent a good chunk of my 3rd grade classes this week, galloping around the stage pretending to chase cows.

Welcome to music education.

My school periodically has sharing assemblies. These are opportunities for people to share with the school what they are learning about in class. The nice thing about these presentations is that they do not need to be big polished productions. Previous sharing assemblies have featured 1st graders demonstrating how they practice their handwriting. This is a good opportunity for sharing musical things that don’t fit into our regularly scheduled performance.

This year, I’m really committed to doing more movement in my music classes. Movement activities and dancing is one of the most important ways for students to understand musical concepts and interact with music. Most of all, learning about music through movement is a lot of fun. The more I teach, the more I realize that problems that I hear in songs can be best addressed through movement activities. For example, my 5th graders are learning a song in ¾. They aren’t feeling the beat and they song keeps slowing down whenever they sing it. Simply having them clap a three-beat pattern while they sing has given the song a sense of pulse and immediately fixed the problem of the piece slowing down.

While I'm doing all of these movement activities and I keep thinking back to this dance that I learned six years ago during a music education workshop. One of the teachers was really into movement activities and folk dances. She taught us a dance that went along with “Hoedown” from the Copland ballet Rodeo (most people know it as the Beef commercial song). I could only piece together parts of this dance so I went through my old class notes, found her email and asked her for some help. She responded within a day and sent me the choreography she had created.

The majority of the music education community is like this. They help when they can without asking for monetary compensation. It’s been six years since I work with this teacher and I had not kept in touch, but she was more than happy to help me out. I try to do the same for others as I freely share ideas and arrangements that I create with other teachers.

I made some changes to the choreography and we got to learn the dance to this song. Yes, 3rd grade is kind of borderline for galloping around the stage and pretending to lasso and chase cattle. However since my kids had gotten so into doing movement activities earlier in the year and got to know how fun it could be, the vast majority of the kids went for it. It helped that without any shame or hesitation, I did the steps along with them.

This week we did it on stage with each class separately and next week I get to practice it with the whole grade followed by a performance the next day. Yes, sixty 3rd graders galloping around a stage. I never thought I would be doing something like this as a music educator, but I’m making it happen. Even if the performance doesn't happen, I’d still feel satisfied with the work we done and the fun we had in the process.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Parenthood: Week 175 – Do you love me when I’m mad?

Ollie didn’t run up to me.

Usually when I look into his classroom during pick-up, and make eye contact with him, he gives me a big smile and runs over to me, sometimes forgetting to carry his lunch box in his excitement. As soon as he gets out of the classroom door, he gives me a hug, sheds his backpack and lunch box, expecting me to carry them for me. Then he grabs my pointer finger, holds it in this hand and leads me out of the school.

Today was different. Ollie saw me in the doorway, and he smiled but that look receded quickly as he walked over to me. He didn’t take off his backpack or drop his lunch box. He only grabbed my finger when I offered it.

I asked Ollie how his day was and he didn’t respond. This isn’t unusual for Ollie. He’s never been one to recollect his day to me, but this silence felt different. As we walked through the playground, Ollie asked me a question.

“Daddy, do you love me when I’m mad?”
“Yes, I love you when you are mad.”
“Do you love me when I’m sick?”
“Yes, I love you when you are sick.”
“Do you love me when I’m sad.”
“Yes, of course, I love you when you are sad.”

I stopped walking and knelt down in front of Ollie. “Ollie, I love you when you are mad, when you are sick, when you are sad and when you are happy. I love you when you yell at me. I love you when you are sleeping and when you are being silly. There’s nothing you can do that will every change that” I reassured him.

I picked Ollie up and gave him a hug and I felt his small fingers reach around the back of my neck and his head relax into the nape of my neck. “I love you daddy,” Ollie whispered in my ear. “So, you want some bread? I got some pretzel bread from the grocery store,” I asked. Ollie enthusiastically answered, “Yes!” He jumped out of my arms and gave me a huge smile that was so big that it made his nose wrinkle.

I tell Ollie that I love him and that I’m proud of him multiple times a day. Part of me is a little sad that Ollie questioned my love, however a bigger part of me is proud that he was thinking about what love meant and felt comfortable expressing his thoughts and concerns.

The most important thing we learn how to do in this world is to be loved and to love others. In order to do this we must first learn to love ourselves. This self-love comes from every hug and “I love you,” we hear from our parents.

So go give your kid a hug and and say "I love you."  You may regret not saying these words enough, but you will never regret saying these words too much.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Year 7: Week 9 - Let’s Here It For The Admin!

It was five minutes before the concert started and I noticed that there were a bunch of empty violin cases in the corner of the stage. It wasn’t a big deal, but when parents are taking pictures of their kids on stage, it’s nice for the stage to be neat.

As I started moving cases, I heard my principal ask me, “Can I give you a hand?” Before I could respond, he had an armful of cases and was carrying them backstage.


Every morning, no matter what the temperature, she was outside welcoming students and parents to the school. With a handshake and a smile, she looked people in their eyes, and greeted people by name. She explained to the faculty that this is what we do in our school. We demonstrate love and respect by showing that we know the people in our school and that they are always worth our time.


No, we didn’t need doughnuts that morning and frankly, I wasn’t in the mood for carbs covered in sugar, but it was more about the gesture. The whole music department had been working for months on this festival and it was finally here. Seeing the box of doughnuts with that supportive note put a smile on my face, which got me ready for the insanity of the day.


At first I thought it was strange how often the administrators thanked the faculty. We got a big thank you at the opening year. Almost every time the faculty collected, even in smaller groups, the different members of the admin team expressed gratitude for our work.

Why do I need to be thanked for doing work that I’m being paid to do?

Then I had one of those days. The last thing I wanted to do was go to a meeting after school. I found a seat in the back of the auditorium, frustrated and tired from the day. As I slumped down in the seat, the principal started thanking us for our work. In that moment, I sat up and let the words effect me. He wasn’t thanking me for himself; he was expressing the thanks and the gratitude from our students’ families.

Yes, teachers do get paid, but the extra time we give and the effort we put into our jobs cannot be monetized. It is this dedication that needs to be recognized, it needs to be nurtured. Administrators most important job is to do this, to make sure that the extra hours are noticed and that the teachers’ are supported.  Great administrators get their hands dirty, say yes more than no and never forget to say thank you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Monday, October 17, 2016

Parenthood: Week 174 - What does Buffy say?

This week Ollie became aware that we speak for Buffy. Many dog owners speak for their dogs, giving them opinions and voice. We started doing this as a cute playful thing when Buffy was a puppy. While at first it was silly, now we do it as a way to empathize with Buffy and consider her thoughts and feelings.

Ollie started to ask us what Buffy is saying as he became aware that we sometimes speak for her. He knows that Buffy doesn’t talk besides her whines and her barks and simply accepts that we interpret her thoughts for her.

Walking around the living room this morning, he asked me every couple minutes what Buffy was saying. First I explained that she said, “I’m hungry, where’s my breakfast?” and later “I don’t want to play, I’m eating.” Ollie wants to be able to understand and communicate better with Buffy and he uses us as translators in an effort to make a deeper connection to Buffy.

A couple nights ago, Ollie asked for Buffy to come into his bed for the first time. It was story time and Ollie asked me what kind of books Buffy liked to read. Answering for Buffy I replied, “I like books with doggies in them.” Ollie then jumped out of bed and came back a couple with “Dragons Loves Tacos,” Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri and “Doggies” by Sandra Boynton.

Ollie usually is a pretty, “start from the beginning of the book,” kind of reader, but this time  he flipped through the pages of “Dragon Loves Tacos,” and each time he found a page with the dog in it, he pushed the book over to Buffy, “here’s the doggy!” “Doggies” is a counting book with different dogs and a variety of barks and growls. Ollie took turns counting and making the doggy sounds, and he made sure to point out to Buffy the one dog that looked like her in the book.

Buffy jumped off the bed as Ollie got under his covers and he protested that he wanted Buffy to stay. I explained that she wanted to go on the floor and we needed to give her space. He eventually calmed down after I brought Buffy back up to the bed so he could give her a hug and kiss goodnight.

Buffy and Ollie's relationship continues to evolve and it's wonderful to see them interact and spend time with each other.  Buffy is not the type of dog who jumps up and licks Ollie every time he comes home.  However when Ollie is with grandma and we’re home with Buffy, she is often unsettled and whines worried about Ollie.  This is a reminder that as much as Buffy is Ollie's puppy, Ollie is Buffy's special little guy.