Monday, January 30, 2017

Parenthood: Week 189 – Dear Ollie, Descendant of Immigrants

Dear Ollie,

You are many things. You are a son, a learner, a musician and a cook. You are a boy, a Midwesterner, an artists and a reader. You are Asian American, you are a grandson, you are a nephew and you are a good friends. There are many different parts of your identity that will evolve as you get older. Some parts of your identity will be more important to you at different times of your life. With everything that is happening in our world, I wanted to talk to you about one of the most important parts of your identity: descendant of immigrants.

America is a nation made up of immigrants. While this is something that most Americans acknowledge, it is not a part of most people’s identity that they have to confront. Your hair, beautiful mixtures of your mother’s hair and mine, your expressive eyes, and the color of your skin, a gentle light brown tone that glows with other shades, are things that represent your heritage. These are parts of you that connect you to your ancestors and millions of people of people in Taiwan, Wales and Poland. In your face there is all of them. There are so few people like you on this world and this makes you special and important.

Unfortunately, what makes you so unique, is also what will mark you to others as an descendant of immigrants and no matter what you do, this label will never leave you. It’s not fair. A person who is an immigrant from Germany for example could have a kid and if they don’t have a German accent, no one would ever ask them where they are from or label them as an “other.” But you, a second-generation descendant of immigrants, will never be allowed to forget the fact that you came from another country.

This isn’t fair and this has frustrated me at many times in my life. However, I’ve grown to embrace this fact, being connected to immigrants, knowing this part of yourself and never letting it go, makes you a better person, a better citizen and a better American.

Your great grandmother, your Nana, and your great grandfather and my parents came to America for a reason. They wanted something better for their lives, a place that would have more opportunity, a place that they could live free, and a place that they could make their own lives. It would have been easier in many ways for them to stay in their country of origin, but they took a chance, leaned into the difficulty and struggled.

You are a result of them overcoming fear, facing adversity with dignity, and never giving up on the dream, the idea that they could make for you a life filled with opportunity and freedom. You should always be proud of this, proud of their work, and proud that you are connected to immigrants.

People who base the choices in their lives on this immigrant pride work to make others have more freedom and more opportunity. Because in never forgetting that we come from immigrants, we embrace the immigrant identity in all of us. This reminds us that we are living the dream of our ancestors and that we have a responsibility to make that dream a reality for others.

I am proud to be an immigrant’s son and it makes me sad that others would hide behind irrational fear to make choices to keep wonderful people from becoming American immigrants. It makes me sad that some Americans value other people’s freedom less so they are willing to restrict their ability to have their family members travel from other countries and share their lives together.

These choices are made because they embrace their sense of Americanism and forget that they come from immigrants. The truth about being American is very different. To be an American is to never forget that you come from immigrants and to be proud of that fact. If you forget the struggle of immigration, in the past and in the present, than you have lost sight of the most important stories in America that bring our country its pride, its meaning and its identity.

The American dream does not live in our country, it’s lives in those who fight and strive to become American immigrants.

Always be proud of being a descendant of immigrants as I am proud of you. There is a lot of confusion and fear right now, and I promise I’ll do everything I can to make it better for you. It’s my identity as an immigrants’ son that brings me inspirations, pride and a reminder of the dream that has become a reality in your smile.


Friday, January 27, 2017

Year 7: Week 20 – Feminism In 5th Grade Music

 “Mr. Tang, I took my sax home and practiced!”

I was pretty surprised when this student came up to me and told me this. He was a good kid, and I was always on his case to practice more, but he never really did. I told him that, I was happy that he had done some work at home and I tried to figure out why he decided to put in more effort.

Then it hit me. We had just started working on “Glory,” from the film Selma. This student was African-American and he was visibly excited about this song. Because he saw himself in the art, got him excited.

It’s always interesting to see what topics draw kids out and get them interested in class. I always have those certain kids who regularly raise their hand and keep discussions going in class, but sometimes, you find certain topics that excite the students who normally don’t jump in.

We’ve been learning about gender inequity issues in the music industry. We studied statistics related to the gender break down of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the iTunes best-selling list and both were far away from representing the 50.8% of our population that are women.

In doing this work and discussing this topic, I noticed certain students who normally didn’t actively engage in class discussions raising their hands a lot when discussing this topic. Most of these students were girls but a couple of these students were boys.

This was a hard topic for 5th graders and I couldn’t give them all of the answers to this complex topic, but they really worked on it and tried hard to think through this issue. I explained that the point of our work on this issue was not to come up with answers but to become more aware of this issue and ask questions.

Part of me expected that they would have more questions, but I think for many of the students many of the statistics were surprising and they were just trying to process the information.

We are a school that talks about school segregation not as history but as a present issue. It’s important that we talk about feminist issues in the same way. When you do these things, and have honest conversations with students, they come to life. When I acknowledge the issue of gender inequity in music, I recognized that there are girls in my classroom and that they have worth and value. This resonated with many girls and some of the boys.  When these students raise their hands, and I call on them, I'm giving them the opportunity to strengthen the muscle of citizenship, which can change the world.

I hope that the students who didn’t immediately show interests in this work will come away with exposure to this topic, which will plant seeds for further exploration in the future.

This is the good work.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Monday, January 23, 2017

Parenthood: Week 188 – Peace at 4 am

Diana and I were had gotten to bed late, and we were really tired, so when Ollie crawled up into bed with us at 4am, neither of us were in the mood to deal with him. In my haze of sleep, I attempted to ignore him and hope he would this once, peacefully sleep with us, but that didn’t happen. Diana got up, and walked him back to his room and I thought that was the end of it.

After a couple minutes Diana came back to bed and soon after, Ollie ran back into our room.  Again, he climbed into bed, and started pushing and kicking me. Not able to ignore him for any longer, I picked him up and carried him to his room.

I put him in his bed and asked him, “Do you want me to sit in the chair or sleep with you?” More often than not, Ollie just wants some company so when he’s trying to go to bed, he’ll want me to sit in the rocking chair next to his bed while he goes to bed. I think sometimes he gets lonely when he tries to fall asleep.

Ollie said, “No, I want you to sleep with me.” Not looking forward to trying to share Ollie’s bed, dreading his kicks and eye pokes (he likes touching my face when we’re in bed together).   I begrudgingly got into bed with Ollie.

Instead of squirming around or trying to push me away, he cuddled up to me and put his head on my chest.

“Do you want to talk?” I asked.
”I had a dream.”
“Was it a nice dream?”
“No, it was a bad dream.”

At that moment, I felt horrible. Ollie had just articulated to me for the firs time that he had a bad dream. My heart sank a little bit.  I felt sad that Ollie had just experienced one more of the difficult parts of growing up and I felt guilty not comforting him more compassionately early.

We talked a little bit more, but Ollie didn’t have anything else he wanted to say about his dream. I told him, “when you have a bad dream, mommy and daddy can kiss your head and make it disappear.” I kissed his head gently and I felt his body relax into mine. I looked and saw his eyes looking at mine and felt his small hand on my chest. I heard his soft breathing and for a moment, it felt like we were the only two people in the world.

At this stage in Ollie’s life, a kiss can make a boo-boo all better, a hug can bring him smiles and a cuddle can make a bad dream disappear. I know that this isn’t going to last forever.  At some point in his life, Ollie will suffer and I will not be there with him.  All I can do is hope that I hugged him up and told him “I love you,” enough times that he feels the warmth of compassion in his own heart and feels strong enough love for himself to persevere.

I got out of bed, kissed him one more time and went back to bed with Diana. In the quiet of the night I felt my wife at my side, heard my puppy breathing, knew my son's was sleeping and there was peace.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Year 7: Week 19 – Inauguration Day

I’m sick with a cold, and so is my son, so we are both home from school. Earlier this fall, I powered through a cold and it developed into a month-long illness, which culminated in getting pneumonia. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m sick and I’m home. As the teaching mantra goes, “you can’t take care of your kids, if you don’t take care of yourself.”

Much of this week was spent preparing for our Martin Luther King Jr. assembly, which was today. For the assembly all JK-5 students were going to sing “Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” and “We Shall Overcome.”

In the context of everything that was going on leading up to the inauguration, it seemed more necessary than ever to ask challenging questions and have difficult discussions with my students.

I opened my lesson asking students to list all of the Federal Holidays. Then I pointed out of the ten Holidays there are only two that honor individuals: George Washington’s Birthday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We as a country don’t really do that much for Washington’s Birthday but as a county we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with pride.

I posed this question to my students, “Out of the millions of Americans citizens throughout American history we have only two designated days to honor individuals. One is our first president and the other is Martin Luther King Jr. He was not an athlete, a general, a politician, or an artist. That is incredible when you think about it, why is he honored out of the millions with his own holiday?”

I gave students time to raise their hands and they came up slowly. Then I told them to put their hands down. “If you have an answer, that’s great, if you don’t, you need to search for one, you need to open up your eyes and ears and figure out an answer for yourself.”

Later I showed them this amazing performance of “We Shall Overcome,” by The Morehouse College Glee Club.

I gave them a brief history of the college and explained how Martin Luther King Jr. graduated from this school. Almost every class asked about why The Morehouse College Glee Club is all African American men, even now in a time when racial discrimination is gone (For the classes that didn’t bring it up, I just posed the question).

I explained first that racial discrimination in college entry is less of an issue that is has been in the past however, it is still a problem in our society. Then I talked about Moana. I explained how if you have seen Moana and you are sitting at a lunch table with a bunch of other people who have seen it, it feels very different than if you are the only person at the table who has seen that film. I also used the examples of interest in soccer and video games. Then I pivoted into talking about family, and how we feel different when family surrounds us. We talk about different things that we don’t feel comfortable talking about with friends. I continued:
Racial identity is a similar feeling. It’s part of our identity and sometimes we feel like being around family, or other soccer fans, we need to have sometimes we need to be around people who we identify with racially. It’s not about excluding others or making people feel bad. It’s about finding places where we can feel comfortable expressing parts of our identity.
I told them that this was a difficult thing to understand but I encouraged them to ask questions and think about what race means to themselves and the people around them.

This was a challenging lesson for me to teach, and it was hard but it was worth it. Now more than ever we have to do the important work, not of teaching a subject, but teaching what it really means to be American.

We are looking at a secretary education who is the most under-qualified in American history and a president (not going to capitalize that title when referring to that guy, and I refuse to refer to him as a “man."  Man connotes maturity and respect, "guy" is more than sufficient) who thinks American schools are “an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”  If you don't understand what is so wrong about this statement, please ask a teacher and don't be surprised if they think you are being sarcastic.

We can’t save the world by ourselves but by doing the work, we can inspire our students to vote, embrace all facets of their identity and have the empathy and intelligence to make the world a better place. The next President Obama is one of our students and all the citizens who will do the work to bring forward this next great leader fill our classrooms every day.

Let’s get to it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Monday, January 16, 2017

Parenthood: Week 187 – Empathy Machine

Ollie’s diet was great. It was filled with a variety, from different sources. All the important groups were represented and then he got into the frozen section. I mean Frozen and it all got out of wack.

Ollie was into Moana, listening to Hamilton, reading books by a variety of authors, with a nice balance of animals, and people of color as main characters. Even the NPR politics podcast that he often overheard while I drive him around had a nice balance of political viewpoints and perspectives from people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Then Ollie got into Frozen from my niece. And while I was a little annoyed initially because while I think this film is pretty good, I could never get into it, it ended up being fine. He had a new cast of characters, and instead of being obsessed with his Maui doll, he got into this Anna action figure and it only added to the variety of cultural voices that he was experiencing.

We are very concerned with what we feed their children. Many try breast-feeding, and many do formula. This is a difficult choice for some parents. Those who do go with formula have a whole different challenge of trying to figure out which formula brand and type is best for their children.

The introduction of solid foods takes a lot of careful planning and there are a multitude of different philosophies. Toddlerhood is where a lot of people start compromising and let their kids eat too many carbs and not enough vegetables, but the thought of a balanced meal never leaves a parents’ mind. Even my mom, across the country sometimes checks in the make sure that I’m eating right.

It’s important that we think about the books, films, music and television shows that our children consume as well. Think about the authors of the books that you read your children. Are they all men? Think about the characters in these books. Are they mostly white? Mostly male? In the music that your children enjoy, are they of one style of music and again, what perspectives are being represented in the music? As important as it is for children to see themselves in art, they need to see others to help expand their idea of who is included in their tribe.

Just like with foods, we sometimes simply lean into what our kids are into, but we need to educate our kids to take small bites of books and films they don’t initially like, just like a small bite of a new food.

Parents of children of color think about this issue a lot, because if we do not deliberately consider the representation of people of color in the art that our children consume, they will view a world that is mostly Caucasian and does not include them. Woman more often think about this than men because as a minority. There is less portrayal of woman in our culture and less diversity in that limited exposure we have to woman than is idea.

Start with yourself. Examine the authors you read, the artists you listen to and the actors that you watch. Put them in a list. Does this list represent the many layers of diversity that you want your child to embrace and celebrate? If it doesn’t, make some changes. Then do the same thing for your own children.

This isn’t easy to do, but it’ important. You are what you eat and you are the art that your experience. With food we feed the body and sometimes our soul, and with art we feed our minds, our hearts and our soul. Do this work so to your children are healthy and strong, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Neil Gaiman said that “a book is a little empathy machine.” I would add that all art is an empathy machine, which as Gaiman concludes, “It puts you inside somebody else’s head. You see out of the world through somebody else’s eyes. It’s very hard to hate people of a certain kind when you’ve just read a book by one of those people.”

Friday, January 13, 2017

Year 7: Week 18- Hope And Change In 8th Grade Band

We were having fun. The kids sounded good in 8th grade band I think that they knew that they were making progress. I was able to stay complimentary and we were getting some good work done.

It was time for announcements, so I went into explaining their schedule for their upcoming music festival. After I was done talking through the details, one of the students raised his hand and asked, “Are parents going to come?” I explained that they were invited to come to the performance part of the festival.

“SIGH,” he responded.

“What’s the problem?”

“Well, my moms always come and video record me on their phones and it’s really annoying.”

“Well, don’t worry, I’ll make sure that both of your moms can get up this close [waving my hand in front of his face].”

“I just have too many moms. I WANT A DAD!! [laughing].”

Without missing a beat, the entire class let out some relaxed laughter, interpreting his complaint as the sarcastic whining that it was intended to be. Then another student chimed in, “Why don’t you take one of David’s dads, you can do a switch and then you can both have a mom and a dad!” “That’s perfect!” the first student exclaimed. The class laughed some more and we got back to work.

This is part of the world that we are living in: teenagers in a room joking about same-sex parents. The joke had no homophobia and the laughter was not mean, but supportive and joyous. There was no hint of shame when he talked about his moms, and no sense of shock or surprise from the other students.

The idea of same-sex parents isn’t something they need to learn to tolerate or learn to accept. This is just a normal part of their life. For me this was a joyful moment but it was also mind-blowing. I remember all of the homophobic jokes when I was a teenager and its incredible how much has changed. Yes, not every group of teenagers is like this. There are many who still openly make homophobic jokes, teenagers and adults, but we can find the best of us in our teenagers and that gives me hope.

As a school, I believe that we as faculty members can take some credit for creating this feeling of inclusion and acceptance.  However, our work would be for naught without the values our students learn from their families and the tremendous progress our country has made as a whole.

Hope and change persists.

It can get dark out there, but look to our kids, you will find the light.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Monday, January 9, 2017

Parenthood: Week 186 - Parent Volunteer

My mom was always around as a parent volunteer when I was in elementary school. She contributed so much that she was awarded the Golden Acorn volunteer award. On one level, I remember being slightly annoyed that she was around all of the time but more than that I was comforted that she was around and proud of the things that she contributed.

Parent volunteering is an essential part of American public schools. Teachers rely on parent volunteers to chaperone field trips, grade papers, teach math groups, supervise recess and lunch, run art projects, set-up classrooms, and many more things. The vast majority of teachers are overworked, do not have enough prep time and are underpaid.  Without these volunteers, basic things that we expect out of an education, like field trips to museums simply would not happen.

Beyond the need for help, parental involvement helps create school community. When a school opens up its doors to parent, it creates trust and when parents come into schools it expresses a value in the teachers work.

My mom didn't work full-time so she had the ability to come in an volunteer. Unfortunately, since I'm a full time teachers, my ability to be a parent volunteer is much more limited. This makes me sad. I want to be around for  Ollie and watch him grow, and there is a lot of time when we are apart.  I'm comforted knowing he's having awesome experiences at school and of course I'd rather have Ollie have these experiences without me than not at all.

So I was really excited when the fact that Ollie and I had different winter breaks this year (which was unusual and not ideal) meant that I could come in as a parent volunteer.  I have come into Ollie's class to do some music activities, but this was different. I wasn't a special guest leading a unique activity; I was plugging into an existing art project and helping the class.

The project was gingerbread houses. So along with a group of parents, I created graham cracker gingerbread houses built around little cereal boxes. We used frosting as glue and then the kids would get to decorate them.

As we were working some students were coming in and out of the classroom for various reasons. When they saw what we were doing, they immediately got excited. One of these kids was Ollie. His face lit up and he ran towards me with incredible excitement. I’m not sure how much of that was for me and how much of his joy was for the candy.

We spent about an hour making the houses, and then we went in the room and helped the kids decorate the houses. Afterwards, we helped clean up and said our goodbyes to our kids.  The work wasn't hard but I saw how the extra people was essential in making this project happen.

It was a wonderful experience. I loved talking to other parents, being a cog in a wheel of the project and assisting the classroom. It fascinating to watch the other kids work in the classroom and it was really special to see Ollie in the middle of the day.

My mom's volunteering benefited me and my school in so many different ways.  Now I see that one of the results of her work is inspiring me to do the same for my boy.  No, I can't be at Ollie's school as much as my mom, but I can share in the joy she felt giving to my school in the moments when I'm volunteering at Ollie's school.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Year 7: Week 17 - My Shot

How do we make decisions? What guides us? There are times when we need to think about what’s best for the most amount of students and other times we need to make other students adjust for the needs of a couple. We have a school philosophy that defines the values of an institution and every single choice is made based on these values. Every day there are hundreds, thousands of decisions that teachers have to make. Over time our batting average gets better, but mistakes never stop, there are just fewer of them. It’s not so bad because over time we get better at apologizing.

I’ve had to make a lot of decisions in the past week as department chair. Some small ones without a large ripples and others that have larger consequences. I try my best to be decisive, because I know that this is important in establishing a direction for my department. And as Hamilton raps, "I would rather be divisive than indecisive" but this it takes a toll. It doesn’t feel good making decisions that you know some people won’t like. While it’s difficult when people come to you disagreeing with your choices, it’s even harder knowing that some people disagree with you and are talking about your decisions behind your back.

I like to think of myself as a hesitant leader, shoved into a position, but the reality is that leadership is something I have sought out throughout my life. I would always run for student council representative in elementary school, but I never got those kinds of positions as I wasn’t ever in the popular crowd. I got some level of leadership through musical achievement in high school and then in college I figured out a way to be “in the room where it happened,” as the music director of my fraternity which gave me a seat on our executive board.

Along with the stress of being on the board, there was power. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy that power. However more than once, I used that to make decisions, that didn’t pan out how the way I planned and I was the one who had to deal with the consequences.

For the first four years of my teaching career, I wasn’t in that room, and I didn’t want to be. I was okay being on the sideline and not being involved in the politics and the ins and outs. Something changed when I came to this school.

The crazy ideas I came up with didn’t seem so crazy to other people. It was a more a question of should than could and with one of our school’s saying “everything to help and nothing to hinder,” leadership became something could happen once again.

The stakes were higher, the responsibility was more than I had ever taken on before, but something gave me the belief that I could do this. I had a way to make decisions I had never relied on before: the council and support of wonderful people who believed in me as much as the believed in our school.

This week has been crazy, overwhelming and stressful, but I kind of like it that way.  This is my shot to make a difference in this school and my students' lives and I'm not going to throw it away.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Monday, January 2, 2017

Parenthood: Week 185 & 2016 People Of The Year: Part 6 - Black Lives Matter: Natalie Braye, Sophia Byrd, Eva Lewis, and Maxine Wint

Dear Ollie.

You have come to understand that there are things that you cannot do until you are older. Yes, when you are older, you can drive, you will be able to use the stove and you can get a tattoo like Maui (we might have to see about that last one). However, there are things that you don't have to wait until adulthood to do. You don't have to wait to have a possible impact on the lives of people around you, you don't have to wait to fight for the rights of others and you don't have to wait to change the world.

I've been reflecting on people in the past year who have inspired me to be a better person and a better dad to you. There's Bayley who proved that being kind and working hard bring success and joy to others. Sgt. Hawkins reminded me that it takes bravery to be oneself. Kate McKinnon helped me laugh but also cry while Dan Savage taught me how to work through tragedy and show me a way forward through understanding and embracing differences.

President Obama proved that real men fight for the rights of woman and are feminists.  Lin-Manuel Miranda continued to create amazing art that helped me understanding that the values of anti-racism, diversity and inclusion must be at the heart of all that we do in order for our lives to be meaningful, beautiful and inspiring. Michelle Obama revealed all of who she was, reminding me of the power of words to both humiliate and inspire. Asma Khalid brought understanding and thoughtfulness into a political world that showed far too much hate and intolerance. And Secretary Hillary Clinton inspired millions to fight and continue to work for a vision of America where we all celebrate all of the facets of your identity.

More than all of these amazing people, there is a group of four whose actions touched me more deeply, brought me more pride, and inspired me with more hope than any other people or group of people this year: Natalie Braye, Sophia Byrd, Eva Lewis, and Maxine Wint, members of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Photo: Colin Boyle, Chicago Magazine
These four African-American teenagers organized peaceful protests in Chicago last summer to bring attention to the continued injustice against members of the African-American community. In response to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, which is sadly only part of a pattern of injustice in our country, these four women decided to do something. By focusing more on community than division, peace than violence and hope over hate, they worked with police, community members and the press to create a peaceful rallies. Their will, clarity message and hard work resulted in an event that had no arrests, and brought together over 1,000 people for the cause of justice for all.

The founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi are to be admired for their contributions and continued work. It is their commitment to social justice that reminded our entire country of the tradition of protests and activism that is central to the success of our democracy.  There are those who react to this movement negatively, and it is important to remember that these reactions are only a reflection of people’s insecurities, guilt and irrational fears. For it is in the Black Live Matter movement that we find our conscience.

It is in these four woman that we see the future. So many dismiss young people as being apathetic, selfish and shallow, but they are no more so than adults. These four women, like many of the young people I have worked with throughout my life, prove these assumptions wrong. Like these women, you have the potential to see things adults refuse to acknowledge, and say things adults don’t want, but need to hear. These woman and you are important and we need your strength to improve our society.

If these four black women, with the limitations of their age, lack of white privilege, and society’s lack of positive expectations, can put together these amazing protests, what excuse do the rest of us have?

We as adults have no excuse and if we do not take action against injustice this year, we are letting you down. 2016 was a difficult year but the work of Braye, Byrd, Lewis, and Wint, showed us that we can do better.  And we will do better, I promise.



Check out these articles for more information on these protests:

How Four Teenage GirlsOrganized This Week’sHuge Silent Protest by Bettina Chang from Chicago Magazine

Teen Activists Shut Down Chicago Streets With Peaceful Black Lives Matter Protest by Eval Lewis from Teen Vogue