Saturday, April 28, 2012

Brunch with Amy Tan

For some background on this posting, please read my posts titled The Joy Luck Club (my review of the book) and "At Southmoore..." (faculty book study luncheon).

As I logged in to my school e-mail account on Thursday morning I was greeted with a message subject of "SEE ME ASAP".  This message was from Michelle, one of our media center specialists.  Apparently the Moore Public Schools Foundation had sponsored a table for a brunch with Amy Tan and they were providing tickets for some of the teachers at Southmoore who had participated in our faculty book study of Tan's The Joy Luck Club.  My name had been drawn from "the hat" and I immediately said YES.

So, this morning at 10:30 I joined two other Southmoore teachers and one of our students, along with several hundred other guests.  We dined on a lovely brunch of puff pastry, mandarian orange & almond salad, spinach quiche, and fruit in creme along with coffee and white grape juice.

Of course the highlight of the morning was a presentation by best selling author Amy Tan.  Tan spoke about her experiences in writing.  She read for us her very first published piece: a short essay she wrote in 3rd grade for a competition on why the library is important to you--she won 1st prize.  Tan also shared that much of her inspiration for The Joy Luck Club, while still a work of fiction, came from the experiences of her mother's and grandmother's lives.  She read a passage from her memoir, The Opposite of Fate, which displayed an example of her mother's broken English.  This example served to show why Tan has often struggled, especially earlier within her writing, to write with proper grammar in that she heard one thing at school and another at home.  The inspiration for characters in most of her books is routed within some aspect of the life experiences of her family and friends.  Her newest novel to be released soon is also based on a photograph she found of her grandmother in an outfit which appears to be traditional for a courtesan.

It was a both a matter of luck and an experience of joy to be able to attend this brunch today.  Tan is one of the best examples of a writer who seeks to explore and make sense of the experiences of culture within one country through the prism of cultural perspective within another.  I am excited to read more about her life (each guest received a copy of The Opposite of Fate) and her other works.  It is through the literature and perspectives of authors like Amy Tan that most people find the opportunity to roam the roads of lands remote even if their physical journey may never or rarely leave home.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sandra Day O'Connor

This evening I had the privilege of attending a dinner with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (first female on the U.S. Supreme Court who retired in 2006) being the honored guest.  Justice O'Connor, since her retirement in 2006, has become a major advocate for a renewal of civic education and has been a key collaborator on the website which seeks to engage students learning through technology.

Tonight I was the guest of Global Health Inc., one of the sponsors of the of the event.  I am so appreciative to them, and their representative Faith Nix, for this special opportunity.  Also, I want to thank Robert Romines and Terri Robinette from the Moore Public Schools administration team for recommending me for this opportunity.

While not always agreeing with her judicial decisions, Justice O'Connor is one of those American government and history icons who I have looked up to for many years.  To be in the physical living presence of such an icon is a treat in an of itself.  And to have her champion civic education, a cause very near to my heart, made the evening even more special.

The theme of her presentation was that American public education has experienced a significant shift from what she believes was its core mission.  While initially developing within the Puritan societies of colonial Massachusetts, the significant focus of state-funded public education dates to the 1820s.  The core mission of public education, according to Justice O'Connor, was to help a country with a rather diverse population learn to become participatory citizens.  From my own understanding of reforms led by Horace Mann, and eventually John Dewey, combined with the emphasis of the Jacksonian era on the "common man" and the expansion of democracy, Justice O'Connor's claim seems plausible.  She contends that the emphasis of public education shifted away from civic education toward a focus on math and science (many political historians often link this transition to the Soviet launch of Sputnik).  While she is not trying to marginalize the importance of math and science, she does champion the need for an increased presence of civic education with our public schools.

The Teachers for Global Classrooms program which I am in would take this emphasis to an additional step of education being focused on international civic competence: the diverse peoples of Earth must learn about each other and ways to productively interact with each other.

So, with this spirit of helping to renew civic education's place within our schools, I ask that you journey with me as we roam the roads that lead to a better education for all of our matter how remote those roads of reform may seem.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I'm going to Bandung!!!

Today I received notice from the TGC program as to the specific community which I will spend most of my time during my stay in Indonesia.  I will be working with Ms. Betty Rahmawati, a teacher at Krida Nusantara High School in Bandung, Indonesia.  I have already sent and received an e-mail each direction with Betty.  We are beginning the process of getting aquainted and discussing the details of my visit to her school and community.  Joining me in the adventure will be Daniel Jocz, a teacher from Los Angeles, CA.

I do know that my travel by air will take me from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.  Then there will be about 3-4 days spent in Jakarta prior to continuing on to Bandung; I'm assuming this journey will be by land since Jakarta to Bandung is less than 150 km.

So...until more details are provided to me regarding this are a few images to help give a physical sense of space for my destination.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Today: Cultural Experience 2 of 2

Following dinner night with my AP Human Geography class (see previous post), most of those students in attendance then traveled to the Hall of Mirrors inside of Oklahoma City's Civic Center for the Yom HaShoah Commemoration (Holocaust Memorial) event titled "Remembrance: Keep the Flame Burning".  This event was co-presented by the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum.

Dr. Michael Berenbaum was the guest speaker and challenged the audience to allow the memories of a painful past to be used for productive activism so as to make the future better.  His words were also designed to encourage us to be ever mindful of preserving the memories of events through our stewardship of history (oral accounts, written records, video recordings, etc.) especially when the lives of those who physically lived through the event are reaching, en masse, the natural ends of their lives.  Dr. Berenbaum referred to this as the shift "from living memory to historical memory."

Other highlights of the evening included the audience's recitation of the Mourners' Kaddish (see video below), a candle lighting ceremony in which audience members lit candles in honor or in memory of loved ones (many of whom were connected to the Holocaust), and a special closing by Rabbi Abby Jacobson of OKC's Emanuel Synagogue who reminded the audience of the difference between mourning and memory: when we think of a deceased loved one and our first thoughts are about the tragedy of their death we are still in mourning but when our first thoughts about the positive impact of their life on us we have transitioned to memory.

Today: Cultural Experience 1 of 2

This evening some of my AP Human Geography students and I met at a local Vietnamese restaurant for dinner.  Bistro B is owned/operated by the mother of one of my students.  Several times each school year, I try to introduce my students to some of the cultural bases culinary arts within our community.  Previously this year we have eaten at Royal Bavaria (German cuisine), Panang (Thai cuisine), and Bella Vista (Italian cuisine).  I also have an Ethiopian restaurant in my sites for before the school year is over.

Many times educators scoff at the idea of using food as a way to teach culture.  While I can agree that tasting parties at school can sometimes trivialize the complexities of culture, I don't believe that culinary arts should be marginalized when discussing culture.  Food, and our love of food, is a universal human need.  The way that we approach the food we choose to eat, the foods conducive to the environment in which we live, the methodologies we use to prepare our food, etc., etc., etc. so often speaks to the very heart of culture.

By physically going to locally owned restaurants which specialize within culinary arts of a variety of world cultures it allows my students to get a greater sense of the global diversity right within our own backyards.  Additionally, since most of the more authentic restaurants are small business enterprises and thus we are truly helping to support local residents in their economic endeavors.

Images from dinner tonight!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

On a Plane to the Ukraine

The third group of educators in my TGC cohort begin their international travels today. A special blessing for an amazing adventure is expressed for those heading to Ukraine. Their trip will include about 4 days in Kiev, the capital city. Then the group will be divided in to pairs to travel as smaller teams to various communities around Ukraine, being hosted by a local teacher and his/her school. The group will then reconnect in Kiev for another few days together before returning back to the United States.

This pattern of travel will be repeated by the next three international teams, including my team which heads off to Indonesia. Travel dates for all six TGC teams within the 2011-2012 cohort include:

Ghana: March 3 to 18, 2012
Morocco: March 17 to 31, 2012
Ukraine: April 14 to 28, 2012
Brazil: June 9 to 23, 2012
India: June 30 to July 14, 2012
Indonesia: July 17 to 31, 2012
If you are interested in roaming the remote roads, in a virtual sense, along with these educators, I've linked some of their travel blogs here to my blog site. It's exciting to see this whole process unfolding! Blessings to the Ukraine team!!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"At Southmoore..."

Michelle Grogan, media specialist, presents "At Southmoore..." part one

Here are some pictures from the luncheon that was catered as part of our faculty professional development meeting in which we discussed Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club.  As we ate we visited in small groups about our respective experiences, thoughts, and ways to apply what we learned form the reading into our classrooms.  For more information regarding the reading and faculty discussion of the book please visit my blog posting for The Joy Luck Club.

to help guide discussion within your group "take out" a question

center pieces at the tables along with copies of the book;
red/black paper back copies provided by NEA's Big Read grant

lunch provided by Ground Floor Cafe inside OKC's Leadership Square

faculty gathered for discussion within in the media center during lunch;
media center personnel decorated the area with Chinese lanterns

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Joy Luck Club

Under the leadership of our media specialists, Southmoore's faculty recently participated in the Pioneer Library System's 2012 Big Read.  The Big Read was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and featured an emphasis on Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club.  The NEA grant allowed the PLS's new South Oklahoma City Public Library branch to provide a copy of  the JLC to each Southmoore teacher interested in participating in reading the book and discussing it as part of a  multicultural focused professional development session.

The overall story is told using the backdrop of a group of four Chinese-American women who regularly gather to play mahjong.  In part one, Tan relates the experiences of each of these four women while growing up in diverse settings within pre-World War II China.  In part two, she recounts the relationship each of these women has with her own American born daughter as told from that daughter's perspective.  In part three, again from the perspectives of the daughters, Tan relates the experiences each pair has once the daughter has reached adulthood.  Finally in part four, Tan returns to the perspectives of the mothers in which she seeks to reconcile each mother's childhood in China, the daughter's childhood in San Francisco, and the life circumstances which each pair currently finds themselves involved.

Initially I had difficulty "getting into" the JLC.  As I went from part one to part two I had trouble keeping straight which mother-daughter pair's story I was currently reading.  However, once I began skipping chapters so that I could read the entire strand of one mother-daughter relationship and then move on to each of the next three strands I was able to make more sense of what was going on.

The JLC is a wonderful story of parent-child relationships.  But it is much more than this.  The JLC also provides great insight into the cultural experiences of the mothers as they were raised within their homeland.  It presents a cultural quandary for each mother as she seeks to hold on to raising her children as "Chinese" within an environment unlike that in which she was raised.  It presents the lure of "American" values and materialism which the daughters each find to be attractive.

From the perspective of my career, I find the JLC to be a book that every teacher should read.  Most of us, especially those within public schools in a more urban (even suburban) setting, have had students within our classes who have parents born in another country.  There are often language barriers in trying to communicate not only with the students in our care but also with their parents who may have even less of a grasp of English.  The students often find themselves in that cultural paradox of trying to be "American" with out sacrificing the culture of their parents' homeland.  The lessons for a teacher to be found within the JLC are many that should help us be better able to reach out to and make connections with such students and families.  The JLC helps to open our minds into understanding cultural cues with which we are not otherwise familiar.

I would encourage each of you, teacher or not, to read either The Joy Luck Club or some other book that presents a family from a cultural background different from your own.  By roaming such a remote road through the images conveyed through the written word we allow our minds to experience the world from new eyes.