Teaching Our Girls to Dance

1 09 2012
Something else from my old Culture Kitchen blog, original post from March 2006 and some additional comments and updates later, retrieved from the Wayback Machine:

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Talk about the dance of planned parenthood — I’ve known two families through their adoption of baby daughters from China.

Adopted in China, Seeking Identity in America
Most of the children are younger than 10, and an organized subculture has developed around them, complete with play groups, tours of China and online support groups.
Molly and Qiu Meng represent the leading edge of this coming-of-age population, adopted just after the laws changed and long before such placements became popular, even fashionable. . .

The first was an older couple, financially and professionally well-off in their second marriage and wanting to be a family with children. They went through a Catholic adoption process and asked us to write a formal recommendation for their application, assessing the qualities we believed would make them good parents.

Although my family left the immediate neighborhood while the daughter they’d named Amber was still a toddler, we see them out and about, at the grocery store, park or credit union. Today she is a gawky, grinning ‘tween, strikingly similar in age, culture, cadence and affinities — for Harry Potter and chess — to our Florida-born son. The two obvious differences between them, race and sex, seem irrelevant.

The second family was younger, a physician and his philanthropist wife who had four children the usual way but only one a girl, excited about adding another. Baby Lydia soon began dance classes with her doting big sister. It took her a long time to say much, but at six she’s a regular chatterbox.

In both cases, I got to see the whole “planned parenthood” process play out, from the initial exploration of the idea, the decision-making and then preparations for the arduous trip itself — halfway around the globe to a foreign land where the officials literally holding your family’s future in their hands don’t speak your language and are communist to boot (you think our bureaucrats are hard to deal with??) and home again wrung out emotionally and physically, trapped over the ocean on an airplane as brand-new mom to a disrupted infant you didn’t make, don’t know and can’t even nurse to comfort or feed, and then the ever-after of adjustments and growth within family relationships, including all the questions about how much or how little to emphasize the child’s country and culture of origin.

Such planned parents by choice generally impress me with their healthy, open attitudes and beliefs, a wish to balance, embrace, discover, celebrate, blend and include rather than to define, delimit, or (that disingenuous codeword) to “clarify” racial differences and identity.

The busy mom of five determinedly made time late at night to read Mao’s Last Dancer, a culturally shocking and saturated memoir she later loaned to me and shared with other dancer moms, in a sort of cultural ripple effect:

“Chosen on the basis of his physique alone, Li Cunxin was taken from his family and sent to the city for rigorous training. What follows is the story of how a small, terrified, lonely boy became one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world.”

In turn I’ve ripple-recommended the book to planning and thinking parents as a dance metaphor for lessons that have nothing to do with ballet . . .

I noticed that even the names these families chose were blended, able to honor more than one tradition at the same time rather than set them against one another in “forced choice” competition — the first names Amber and Lydia sound solidly American-English, but their middle names are not only Chinese but carefully refer to each girl’s particular regional heritage within that country.

Those are positives that make me feel like dancing.

But I’m also feeling helpless, thinking it’s ironic and especially wrong for tens of thousands of Chinese girls to be displaced by repressive culture and government policies just because they are girls instead of boys, and then after we adopt them as daughters of America and lovingly raise them to be beautiful, brilliant, accomplished young women ready for college admission — they will be systematically disadvantaged all over again in OUR system and culture, just because they are girls instead of boys.

. . . the standards for admission to today’s most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men.

. . .Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.

What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options? And what messages are we sending young women . . .

More culture of dance? — girls as a group are better dancers (students) than boys, like it more, but still must wait to be asked, held back by the less-willling and able boys? How many girls finally become frustrated enough to just dance alone or with each other, forget about waiting for the boys to catch up? Seems to me girls already adept at the dance of cultural change will not wait long and will be right not to, that they’ll tend instead to make over their identity once again and never mind those trying to engineer their differences into some standardized social configuration.

Will our nation’s cultures and creeds, our empowered parents and our world-renowned educational institutions, merely keep up our stylized minuet as we go right on fancying ourselves the belles of the cultural ball, uniquely superior to all those backward places where geography and demographics are destiny?

David Brooks has me believing we just might:

Bush hit all the high notes of the American creed, while not dwelling much on the intricacies and stubbornness of foreign cultures.
. . . many Republicans have lost patience with Bush’s high-minded creedal statements. . . (and) efforts to transform patterns of behavior, and come to believe that we shouldn’t exaggerate how much we can change. . .

Republican sentiment seems to be shifting away from the idea that the United States is a universal nation, where immigrants come from across the world to work, rise and join in the pursuit of happiness. Now Republican rhetoric emphasizes how alien immigrant culture is . . .how much disorder and strain their presence creates. . . from believing that culture is nothing, to believing that culture is everything — from idealism to fatalism in the blink of an eye.

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More reason not be dancing in the streets about our cultural superiority in “From classroom to tar pits?” by Marion Brady:

James McGregor, an American businessman who has lived in China for 15 years, says Chinese leaders monitor the United States. It has led them, he says, to “admire, fear and pity” us, the “pity” coming from their belief that America is a country in decline. . .

Why, they wonder, when we’re digging ever deeper the hole they think we’re in, are we so caught up in what they see as trivia — arguing about where to hang the Ten Commandments, preoccupied by homosexuality, fixating on news about murdered or missing pretty white females, legislating steroid use in sports, punishing flag burners — getting all emotional about issues they see as only marginally or not at all related to what they believe is America’s long-term well-being and continued power?

We may not agree with the Chinese leaders, or may think they should be putting their own house in order rather than inspecting ours, but they raise some important questions for Americans in general and educators in particular.

I doubt we’ll meet those challenges. However, if there’s hope, it probably lies with the kids. . .

And more with how they think than how they test.

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Then in June 2009 I followed up on Snook with:  Teaching Our Girls (Boys Too) to Dance With Democracy





Coffee Pots, Cameras and Other Words That Start With “C” Like Capital and Capitol

10 01 2012

Washing up the coffee pot this morning, I mused about a good friend complimenting a couple of pots we shared over the holidays.

She returned to a grueling work schedule last week as most folks no doubt did, and had stopped in at a Starbucks for fortification during the latest cold snap. Expecting a little bit of holiday magic I suppose, she ordered up the same brand I’d served her — Cafe Verona. It disappointed her.

She later called to complain it had “tasted like ass!”

Why?

Same beans, same label, bigger and better equipment although I do have a built-in grinder that sounds like a jet engine revving for takeoff, plus Starbucks bean baristas are pros unlike moi, with training at making coffee that I’ve never sought or even thought about trying to match. I don’t take any particular pride of identity in my coffee — to me it’s a caffeine delivery medium, period. I take it hot and black and serve it that way too, unless lobbied by a special guest for special frills.

Aha! It hit me as I carefully washed out not just the pot but all the coffeemaker’s disassembled parts . . .

Could it be a question of “clean optics?”

Like camera lenses! Scrupulously clean optics are the secret to photography, or so I was taught by several fine photographers who tried to help me get the most from some fancy lenses I enthusiastically swapped out on my Nikkormat back in the 70s.

Good light and a good eye count, too. But even the best of both can’t compensate for the lack of squeaky-clean optics so that good light can pour through pure and true, where a good eye can make the most of it.

Coffeemaker cleaning is the same deal, I’ve learned (the hard way.) When oils from the coffee beans smear across even a little part of the mechanism and carry over into future production, the end product may indeed taste like ass.

Oh, it’s all very well to tout the beans and the roasting, the cost and the care with which the mechanism was created and is manipulated in the creative process. But clean optics are the key even though no one can see the difference. You can taste it.

I finished washing the pot and all the little parts, probably with even more care than usual.

Then I sat down with the last cup of coffee I’d saved from the pot before washing up, to watch the oiliest and most rancid governor in my personal half-century of Florida experience, giving his “state of the state” address to the oiliest and most rancid Legislative congregation of rich and selfish Capitol Capitalists assembled in my painfully experienced memory.

This is a fine state with good light and good mechanisms full of hardworking, vigorous and creative people.

That tastes more and more like ass.





Who Are Doctors Who? Not That Kind of Doctor

15 11 2011

Learning is fun, not work. Schooling is work, not education. . . I believe school screws up such lessons as these, and all the hapless [not-very-doctor-like] folks who receive them.

So as I showed you right here at Snook, Young Son became the Doctor Who sort of doctor this year for Halloween:

Then this morning as I opened up and aired out my own mental Tardis with some sunshine, caffeine and my cable company’s connection to the cosmos — you’d know if you knew who doctors like us play in real life, that a Tardis is unbelievably larger on the inside — a jolt of recognition hit me:

All while I was sitting here
in my favorite Tardis-sized t-shirt: Read the rest of this entry »





Happy Halloween to Favorite Daughter and Young Son. . .

31 10 2011

. . .our poet and librarian who’s BEEN to Edinburgh! 🙂

Who left a tree, then a coffin, in the library?
It began with a “poetree” — an ornately-crafted paper sculpture left in the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh.

Next was a paper dragon.

Who was leaving these cryptic messages around town?

Indeed, FavD might have been to some of these surprise-sculpture-favored places?

Went to the Scotland Writers’ Museum today! Mostly consists of Burns, Stevenson, and Scott, which is as it should be.
Scotland writers museum in Lady Stair's house
We also wandered around ’sploring, and the long and short of it is: everything in Edinburgh is really cool.

UPDATE from Halloween Night:
Young Son as the Eleventh Doctor Who





Maybe If We Had Known That We Didn’t Know. . .

28 10 2011

This is headlined as “The Boomer Parent’s Lament”:

“Maybe if I knew that our children would be coming of age in an economy that would crush even the best and brightest among them, I would have cared a little less about their score on an advanced placement history test, and a little more about helping them find happiness in moments at the margin.”

UNSCHOOLING boomer parents though, knew this all along and we aren’t lamenting any such thing. Finding happiness in the moment and the margin AND smack-dab in the middle of the morning too, while everyone else was sweating yet another test — that was the whole program, the whole point, the whole power of our story.

Didn’t JJ just finish saying something like that? 😉

There was a book excerpt in the NYT Sunday magazine so stunning that I ordered the book online. I was waiting to read it before blogging anything about it but it’s been on my mind in every current conversation, now including this one. The book is “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and its professor author Daniel Kahneman was a 2002 Nobel laureate in economics.

The big point is that we humans tend to hold fast to (often false) confidence that we’re doing the right thing and that we can “know” what that is, even when we’re smart enough to SEE that we aren’t, and don’t, and can’t.

The Hazards of Confidence:

We rarely experienced doubt or conflicting impressions. . . [but] as it turned out, despite our certainty about the potential of individual candidates, our forecasts were largely useless.

The evidence was overwhelming. . . our ability to predict performance at the school was negligible. Our forecasts were better than blind guesses, but not by much.

What do you think about the right way to school kids and prepare them for quantifiable success? How confident are you that you’re right about that? 😉





“I Live in the Future” Where Video Gameplay Is Real-Life Learning

24 10 2011

Excerpted from “I Live in the Future and Here’s How it Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain are Being Creatively Disrupted”:

These residents and practicing surgeons simply played 3 or more hours of action video games a week. Some of the more advanced video game-playing students managed to make 47% fewer errors than others and were able to work as much as 39% faster. . .

For example, these studies consistently show that playing video games improves hand-eye coordination and increases one’s capacity for visual attention and spatial distribution, among other skills. These increased brain functions are tied not only to game play but to several other real- world scenarios, including surgery.

You may feel like your brain cannot cope with so much information or jump seamlessly from one medium to another, just as you may have felt in high school that you couldn’t learn a foreign language or conquer higher math.

But as the brain faces new language (or acronyms and abbreviations), new visual and auditory stimulation, or new and different ways of processing information, it can change and grow in the most remarkable fashion. In fact, it may well be a natural part of human behavior to seek out and develop unnatural new experiences and technologies and then incorporate them into our daily lives and storytelling.

High-tech gameplay as well as entertainment through the television screen have been part of our happy unschooling from the start, just like libraries and bookloving (ALL the books, not One Book to Rule Them All.) We snook about it often and you can easily search with the little box on the right-hand menu, but here are a few apt posts and conversations for example:

So Young and So Gadgeted, What’s the Right Approach?”

Video Games Bonanza Site — Save This Link!:

Is PBS a credible enough source for whoever in your child’s life clucks disapprovingly at screen time? Click here now — don’t wait, your child’s education and entire future could be at stake! 🙂

My favorite moment in the article is when the author is showing his seven-year-old nephew the SimCity neighborhood that he built. When the author notes that he’s having problem getting a certain area with factories to come back to life, the boy turns to him and says, “I think you need to lower your industrial tax rates.”

Video Games: New Ways of Being in the World

More Kid Stuff or Video Gaming for Real?:

[So] Blake seems happy with his home school arrangement, as you would expect from a teenager who is allowed to stay up into the wee hours to play video games. Sometimes, when Mike heads to the gym before 5 a.m., his son is still playing video games.

. . .when Blake’s older brother wanted Read the rest of this entry »





Some “Very Good Advice” About Parenting Advice

24 10 2011

The Guilted Age:
Making Your Own Rules

This week’s guest post is from the fabulous JJ Ross, who has worn many hats including academic, secular humanist, and unschooler. She shares her thoughts about parenting beyond the advice of others.

This is the first in the series “Good Advice / Bad Advice,” with a new post every week from now until the end of November. –LN