Monday, May 07, 2007

Chinese School One More Year

This weekend Ava completed one more year of Chinese School. In addition to her regular three morning a week preschool we have her enrolled at the local Chinese Community Center's Chinese language school. The class she attends is Chinese as a Second Language. (Their term, not mine.)

She goes Sunday afternoons from 1-3pm and sits in a high school classroom chair with her big girl backpack complete with Hello Kitty notebook and printed Powerpoint lessons. Her teacher sends the lessons via the internet each week and we print them off acting like we practice the 20 minutes per day that is strongly suggested. In actuality we practice Mandarin phrases and songs on the weekends right before she enters the class. There were a few five year olds in the class this year but mostly there were 6-8 year olds who are reading. The five year olds were at a bit of a disadvantage with the lessons since most of the 6-8 year olds cheat when Lao Tse asks them questions in Mandarin and look off their Powerpoint printed lessons to read the answers. The five year olds must try to memorize all the words and phrases since they don't exactly read English pinyin yet. So, overall I've been fairly impressed with her ability to hold her own.

I've remained pretty relaxed this year about pushing her to practice. I operate in whatever mode due to the fact that I just want her to go without kicking and screaming and expecting bribes of ice cream for attendance and good behavior. She has readily complied in untypical Ava fashion and pretty much goes without too much fuss each week. She reaps the rewards of knowing something interesting and unexpected at her regular preschool telling everyone who will listen that apples are ping guo and laughing while goading the boys with Ni jiao shen ma ming zhe? Wo jiao Ava Jing.

At the end of the semester I was asked to attend a planning meeting for next year. Some of the school's board is interested in what the Chinese as Second language (CSL) parents think and want to be accomodating. (For the record most not all but most of the CSL families are indeed adoptive families.) What has happened is that the CSL class has for all intents and purposes turned into an adopted kids class. Not much integration happening. (Honestly, I have been highly motivated to keep going in hopes of integrating more with the Chinese families. But it is a slow process, that I am not making any faster by bringing my knitting and comfortably sitting with the other adoptive families while Ava is in class.)

Some parents want some history and culture in addition to language instruction in the CSL classes. The board members running the school are completely baffled by this this request. They are very hesitant to take away any time for strict language instruction. They feel the children are hardly being exposed enough with 2 hours a week and any true level of competency can hardly be reached with the way things are, never mind adding culture only curriculum. I see their point, they are offering Mandarin lessons, not This Is The Cultural Revolution 101 lessons. At this meeting there was a divide among proverbial nations. Around that table the American parents wanted fun but educational learning opportunities so it will be easy for us to convince our kids this is the best thing since sliced bread and the Chinese parents who simply roll their eyes at our obtuse parenting styles. To them it is easy, study hard do whatever you need to do to achieve greatness. Period, end of story, no whining, stop sniveling.

So then, where are we? Some parents actually believe their child can achieve Mandarin fluency in 2 hours of instruction a week without serious reinforcement at home. In my opinion this is sort of a joke. Probably isn't going to happen. I speak from experience here and it takes a heck of a lot more than 2 hours a week and minimal practice at home to truly learn a language where no one has proficiency in the household.

What is the consensus motivation for us American white folks sending our Chinese born kids to the classes in the first place? I think that is a question that the Chinese Community Center has been asking us for a while. My observation is that there is no true unified consensus. Each family has their own slightly different motivation for spending the better part of Sunday afternoons at the school.

1. Language instruction
2. Cultural subjection for the children (or perceived cultural exposure)
3. Place for children to be in racial majority
4. Ease of guilt after children were pulled from native culture (this may be controversial but I'm calling them as I see them)
5. supplemental avenue for academic achievement

This list encompasses a fairly wide range, thus making it hard for all of the people to be happy all of the time with one or two language class options.

Where does this leave us for next year? I wrote the check and signed Ava up again. I loved her teacher this year. She did a phenomenal job balancing her bosses requests for traditional Chinese language rote instruction and the American families request for Western teaching style. I'm banking on her staying another year.

Because integration with Chinese families and children are important to me I've decided to ask Ava if she wants to take the after school dancing class in addition to the language class. The dancing classes are heavily populated with Chinese children and very few adoptive children have signed up so far. This means another hour at the high school.

This whole thing is sort of life in a test why not try it? I'm often asked by other parents why we go to Chinese school and how long do we think we will stay and continue to take classes. A few years ago I was naive and stated it was so important to us and we are in it for the long haul. Now, it is day by day semester by semester. I have no idea what the future will hold. I have no idea how to balance her American upbringing with her Chinese heritage. Sometimes Chinese school and what it represents serves to confuse me and make me doubt my parenting choices. (I'm sure this would be reassuring to Ava if she were old enough to read this or begin to comprehend.) Perhaps her autobiography will be one day titled "One Chinese American Life: My Life As A Lab Rat"

Only time will tell....I'll be sure to report back in 20 years. Maybe I'll know more then.


J said...

Honest thoughts. I like your description of the Chinese parents vs the White(y) parents viewing things differently.

AmericanFamily said...

This is really interesting. We have a very similar dynamic happening at our Chinese school. Does your CSL class have a curriculum they use? We don't have many CSL classes and the regular curriculum is very heavy on writing in Chinese (not so useful for kids who don't speak yet.) M is in the regular pre-k class, but my husband and FIL attend with her to help her understand what is going on. That won't fly when she gets to the older classes.

We also have M in dance class. Our is about 1/2 adoptees, 1/2 not. There is very little mixing between the two groups.

Anonymous said...

There is Chinese school usually populated by ABC in bigger cities, my older sibs remember it fondly (good snacks)I never went because we moved to a rural area. There is a great story about Chinese school in the children's book Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look.
Take care, Lin