Monday, December 12, 2005

Chinese School

At the beginning of this school semester I enrolled Ava in Chinese school. We are fortunate enough in my town to have a school that teaches Mandarin to children and adults on Sunday afternoons. In the past it has been a school taught by the Chinese community for the Chinese community. All of the parents speak either Mandarin, Canton, or other Chinese dialect in the home. Until this semester. Some English speaking (mostly adoptive parents) were invited to participate in a pilot program where in essence we could take "Chinese Light".

What is "Chinese Light?" Well, it is not an immersion program, like the other classes in the school. Our teacher, Ying speakes mostly English while trying to teach 3-6 year olds. It is also "light" because the style of teaching. I have learned recently that traditional Chinese classrooms are shall we say...very traditional. Children as young at 3 are required to sit still in a chair with their hands behind their backs and repeat phrases and look at flash cards with characters and tones. There is no singing or dancing, or play time as we might expect to see in a preschool environment here. The class length is 2 hours.

"Chinese Light" has songs and the kids can move around the room a bit. However, my 3 year old was required to memorize a song in Chinese and perform it alone in front of the class. She is supposed to do homework everyday, we are sort of lax about this. She is expected to write Chinese characters over and over in little grid boxes. She is also asked to read flash cards and know the letters with Mandarin pronounciation. She's three folks, and up until about 4 weeks ago could not read letters in English...never mind pinyin pronounciation.

So, it is all about perception really. Their Chinese Light can at times feel like the Sino Pressure Pit to us. And yet, I am still completely and whole heartedly committed to this Chinese school venture. Why you might ask if it has some "issues"and cultural differences that make us have to stretch a little. Well here is why...

1. Ava loves it. She likes to go and since I don't pressure her to practice she happily skips into class.

2. When the school bell rings and all the little kids come running out of their rooms into the is a sea of silky black heads and asian faces. Yes, she is different from most of the kids at the school because her mom towers over mostly everyone there and has blond highlights but while she is there...she is majority! She is not the different one.

3. She sees a smart, eloquent, and capable mentor in her teacher each week. Ava is respectful of her and thinks that she is brilliant.

4. We are slowly building personal relationships with some of the Chinese families. It is slow, since most of the kids in her class are adopted and we already knew them. But before and after classes she seems to find a few kids to run around with in the hallways who are from the other classes, she is learning their names. Perhaps if we hang around long enough we will feel comfortable enough to penetrate the social bubble, incorporating some of their culture into ours. We are willing to be in this pilot group, breaking down cultural and racial barriers.

This week I had the opportunity to speak with a father of a little boy in the class. He is third generation Japanese who is married to a Taiwanese woman. He grew up here as one of two families of color in the whole public school high school. His wife has been here 15 years but was raised in Singapore after her family escaped Mao and eventually settled in Singapore. They send their children to this school because one, they want the kids learn Mandarin and two, he feels this is a place where they can "fit in". He told me he grew up happy in most ways but hating the Asian part of himself. It was not until college, moving to a huge city that he found his Asian"ness" and was able to feel comfortable with it.

He said he does not want his children to have to wait until college to love their Asian"ness".

Ooh, light bulb moment. This is why I am doubly committed to hanging out at Chinese school on Sunday afternoons.


Stephanie V said...

I'm so glad you wrote this. I've read so many times in so many places that people aren't going to do this - and I soooo think it's important. Bare minimum and I mean bare minimum, it's important to show our children they're not odd or different, to show them there are others out there like them.

Thank you!

Johnny said...

Psst...after I have a meeting with "the committee", I may (that's "may") be able to give you the secret hand signal that will make you cool to the Asian parents.

Hey, reading that. I totally understand what the father was going through.

It ain't easy in a white man's world.

Ed and Lisa said...

Wow! Very cool!!! You are fortunate to live in a community that offers this!