Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thoughts about Homeschooling and Tiger Mothers

In my last episode of the story of our family, Yuni was in Miami, and I was babysitting, tutoring, and translating while running the household and caring for the kids in our new house in Bellevue.

About a year before we moved out of Seattle, Truth began spontaneously reading the captions under pictures in her coloring books. By the time we were in Bellevue, she could read quite well. Love got quite worried that something was wrong because she could not read like her twin; she began begging me to put her into school.

I started looking into preschool programs near us. I really liked a Montessori school, but it was a Cadillac plan with a Cadillac cost. There was no way we could afford to have one kid in school there, much less three. I checked into the Head’s Up preschools near us, but they were comparatively far away, and I did not want to put the kids into them unless I was forced to. After talking to my friends, I learned that many of them were not satisfied with the public schools near us, even though we were living in one of the best school districts in the country. A number of my Asian friends were spending hours after school giving their kids extra homework so that they would not be behind their cousins in Japan or Malaysia or Taiwan. So those children were going to school from 8:30 to 3; after they came home, their mothers had them do their 30 minutes of American homework, and then they did MORE homework. Some of the mothers got textbooks from their home countries and used them. Others ordered textbooks from a homeschool curriculum company and had their kids do the exercises in them in addition to what they were doing in their American elementary school classes.

One week, when Yuni called, I discussed the matter with him. He was concerned about the fact that the Asian mothers thought American schools were not on a par with the schooling in Asia because part of our master plan was to shuttle back and forth between the US and Asia. We were planning to take the kids back for upper-level elementary school and junior high in Taiwan. If they were behind in subjects like math and history, there was no way they would be able to handle the transition. Yuni told me to keep doing research.

One of the mothers using the homeschool curriculum lent me the product catalog. The content and methods seemed pretty good, and they had books for two and three year olds so that younger siblings could do school, too. But I could not see having my kids do six hours of school and then another three to four hours of extra work on top of their school day. I wanted my kids to have a great education, and I wanted them to be able to keep up with their cousins in Asia, but I also wanted them to have fun.

One of our weekly field trip destinations was the library’s preschool story time. We always checked out piles and piles of books. While the kids were getting their story books, I went to the non-fiction section and got some books on homeschooling. I read lots and lots of them. And the more I read, the more I thought that teaching the kids might really work for us. We could keep them bi-lingual, use a “Cadillac” curriculum package, and my kids would not have to spend nine or ten hours a day on schoolwork when they were just in elementary school. We could also take our vacations when plane fares were cheapest. With five fare-paying passengers to Taiwan, that was a huge consideration.

On the negative side, I would not be able to get a regular job. Yuni would have to support the family almost single-handedly. I would only be able to do my tutoring and translating and maybe a little babysitting. At that point, I didn’t order any text books, but I did get all the information together so Yuni and I could go over everything after he came home from Miami.

Then in the next phone call, Yuni dropped a bombshell… He had sent plane tickets for me and the girls. We would meet him in Miami; one of his customers worked at a rent-a-car company and would get us a great deal on a rental van. We would drive the van up the East Coast to see my brother in Connecticut and visit a number of friends and other relatives along the way. He said that he had made lots of money, and in addition to what he had deposited for me, he had amassed a pile of cash for our vacation. He was also sure there would be plenty left over so that he could start his own business when he got back. He had informed the boss of his old company that he would not be going back to work there. … So I began packing for our trip to the East Coast.

As I was drafting this post, I read Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal about Asian tiger mothers. It reminded me of my Asian friends who kept their kids going for hours and hours a day. I don’t know if my kids would consider me a tiger mother. I certainly had high expectations of them, but I think that the focus of her method is that the mother works through things with her kids until they arrive at the standard she has set for them. I certainly practiced that while my kids were growing up. I did, however, try to give them enough time for free play because all the books I read on cognitive development and learning stages said that preschool and early elementary school children learn through their play. The strength of the Montessori Method is that the children are in a “rich” environment with many attractive, educational toys, and the adults facilitate the learning aspects of their play. The children are also expected to pick up after themselves and handle the responsibilities appropriate for their ages.

I am adding the links to the WSJ article and Chua’s interview with Stephen Colbert. I read on a Chinese news blog that in China her book is being marketed as the work of an overseas Chinese. The Chinese title is something like “Parenting in America.” So the mainland Chinese, at least, are not embracing the idea of the tiger mothers. I can’t really make any more comments, as I have not read Chua’s book, and that won’t happen until summer break.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Conference in Singapore

My professor still hasn't forwarded me the pictures of the sightseeing we did, but she did write a letter to the deans and my department chair giving a report of our trip and thanking them for the funding. She attached a few photos. So today's post consists of excerpts from her letter and her photos. (I really have to get my own camera before I take another trip.)

Dear XXX, XXX, XXX, and XXX:

Amidst all of the enrollment/scheduling madness we’re in, I thought
I’d share some positive news.

I just returned from Singapore and Hong Kong with AAAS M.A. student
Teresa Zimmerman-Liu. It was an extremely stimulating and productive
trip, and we want to express our gratitude to the Dean’s office and
AAAS for the financial support that made our trip possible.

On January 8, we presented our co-authored paper, entitled “Making
Sense of China’s State-Society Relations: Protestant House Churches in
the Reform Era,” at a conference on “Christianity in Contemporary
China: Socio-Cultural Perspectives,” sponsored by Nanyang
Technological University in Singapore. It was an exclusive conference,
with about 20 participants in attendance, and roughly 20 invited
members in the audience. Participants included scholars from across
the globe, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, China, Taiwan,
England, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and the United
States. The keynote speakers were accomplished senior scholars
Richard Madsen (Chair and Distinguished Professor of Sociology at
UCSD) and Peter Tze Ming Ng (Director of the Centre for the Study of
Religion and Chinese Society at the Chinese University of Hong Kong).
The conference organizer, Francis Khek Gee Lim, plans to compile a
subset of the presented papers in an edited volume that he hopes will
be published within the next eighteen months or so. We are quite
hopeful that our paper will be included in the volume.

Following the conference, we traveled to Hong Kong, where we conducted
interviews that will further our research. Perhaps our most well-known
interview subject was Han Dongfang. Mr. Han was the most prominent
worker activist to assume a leadership role during the 1989 “Tiananmen
Square Movement.” After surviving prison following the June 4, 1989
massacre, Mr. Han returned to Hong Kong to continue his activism to
promote labor rights in China. Through his Hong Kong-based
organization, the China Labour Bulletin, Mr. Han hosts a weekly
call-in radio show that is broadcast into mainland China via Radio
Free Asia. He is known world-wide as China’s most influential labor
activist. Along with our interviews, while in Hong Kong we discussed
our current and future research with faculty at the Divinity School of
Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

In case you’re interested, a few pictures are attached. They are: (1)
us with conference organizer Francis Khek Gee Lim (Associate
Professor, Department of Sociology, Nanyang Technological University);
(2) us with the other conference participants; (3) us with Han
Dongfang; (4) us with Lung-kwon Lo (Director) and Tobias Brandner
(Assistant Professor), Divinity School of Chung Chi College, Chinese
University of Hong Kong.

We deeply appreciate the support of the Dean’s Office and AAAS in this
endeavor. It was an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience.

Our next stop is the Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian
Studies in early April, where we will be presenting a revised version
of our paper.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hong Kong Holiday--2011

I am back from my trip. It was fantastic. I spent a number of relaxing days in Hong Kong before and after my time at the academic conference in Singapore. Here are some of the pictures.

This is the Chi Lien Nunnery in Kowloon.
The wooden buildings are built in the style of the Tang Dynasty.

There is a tea house in the South Lotus Gardens across the street from the nunnery.
The tea is delicious. The tea house is also built in the style of the Tang Dynasty. It overlooks a koi pond; unfortunately, it was raining so hard the day I was there that I didn't spend time looking at fish.

The Star Ferry is still running between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The skyline on Hong Kong island is much changed. The ferries are the same. They may be discontinued next year in the name of progress.
There is a pagoda like those in the imperial palace in the South Lotus gardens. There is also an exhibit of the different ways Chinese builders join timbers without nails.

No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a pilgrimage to see Pommes the Wonder Cat from the e-cuneiform blog. Here he is on his throne surveying the minions of his realm. He wanted me to post this picture for Miss Kitty. You will notice that he has lost much weight. He has been pining away for Miss Kitty and his other adoring fans while the scribe has been absent from the blogosphere.

I went with the scribe of e-cuneiform to the Hakka village of Tsuen Wan. The scribe was going to a Chinese doctor and requested my translation services. The doctor was quite competent. Her first response to his ailments was to warm his kidneys and the other parts of his anatomy connected to the kidneys in Chinese medicine (quite different from Western medicine). The scribe was so happy with all the warming that he took me out for dim sum.

Since the dim sum shop was in the Hakka village of Tsuen Wan out in the New Territories, there was sui banne, a delicious dish that my children used to eat regularly when they were toothless babies in Taiwan. It was presented more elegantly in the restaurant than it was on the cart from the peddler who sold it in Chungli, Taiwan, but the flavor was the same. I had ordered something from the menu that I did not recognize. Imagine my surprise at getting an old favorite!

If you plan to visit Chris, Regina, and Pommes in Hong Kong, you had better go prepared. Pommes is a true tyrant when it comes to exacting tribute from visiting artists. Since I do not paint or cook, and my viola was in the US, Pommes had the scribe shove a square of sticky, wet clay in front of me. A stylus was thrust into my hand, and I had to write a poem or two in payment for the privilege of petting his inky blackness. Fortunately for me, there are Chinese calligraphy forms that were used when characters were carved into bamboo or metal; I could use one of them to write somewhat legibly with stylus in clay.

Chinese Seal Script

The poem I wrote follows in modern Chinese, as my computer does not have a seal script font.

(With apologies to 孟浩然)


Of course, I am no good at writing my own Chinese poetry, but in best Chinese fashion, I took part of a famous Tang Dynasty poem and adapted it to my purposes. When Pommes noted that I had cited the poet whose work I had adapted, he insisted that I copy out the original for his edification and enjoyment. He truly is a demanding cat...

by 孟浩然


I tried to do an original piece called "Doggerel to Scare the Cat," but English letters just do not work when writing in clay. The poem was smudged and blurred and illegible. It's probably just as well; Pommes has a reputation as a ferocious hunter. I wouldn't have wanted him to have scratched my eyes out for impertinence. 

I am waiting for my professor to e-mail me the pictures that she took of our adventures in Singapore. When I get them, I will post about my first professional academic conference. The entire trip was totally awesome, and meeting Chris, Regina, and the formidable Pommes was one of its highlights.