Friday, July 8, 2011

Fatherhood, again

This morning at 7:00 AM Poo gave birth to our baby girl, Tanyapat. Hard to believe that I'm a father again, at my ripe old age. My kids are now 12, 6, and 0 -- evenly spaced apart. "Every six years!" said one friend, but don't expect one in 2017 -- this is the last!

Aaahhhh, the Joys of Parenthood! Fortunately, since I've been through it before, and because I'm a teacher, I know what to expect. There will be several months of pee, poop, gas and drool. Then 3 or 4 years of worrying myself sick as she passes through the various infant illnesses and their associated rashes, fevers, coughs, and pox. Then come the Early School years, where I fret over whether she can learn how to read, write and do sums, or whether she likes to bite her classmates. Then come those marvelous Pre-Teen years where she learns how to ride a bike, and I despair as she barely evades a speeding bus, wanders into grassy fields with cobras and kraits, and plays near ponds and lakes even though she can't swim. Then comes the welcome relief of the wonderful Early Teens, with acne, braces and being ashamed of her parents. Then the Mid-Teens when I have visions of unwanted pregnancies, drugs, and bad-ass boyfriends. Then, if I have survived all that, come the Late Teens, when I lay awake at night, worrying about paying for college as I wait for her to drive home drunk from frat parties, or not.

Still, I wouldn't trade it for all the rice in China!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Affluent Chinese Mothers and Laid-Back Jewish Fathers

I like to read Amy Chua. She is a good writer. In particular, the skillful narration of the murder of her auntie in the Philippines, and the resultant non-investigation, was fascinating. It led to some very interesting research about “market-dominant minorities” where she studied the Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Indians in East Africa, the Lebanese in West Africa, the Jews in Russia, etc. She is an imaginative researcher and writer.

That’s why her recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” disappoints me -- a writer of her intellect should not stoop to this level. Let’s be clear -- Amy Chua is trying to sell her book. And she is using a technique that is too common today -- she is going over the top, making ridiculous, crass and provocative statements that obscure an interesting educational debate. The title is racist. She reinforces a stereotype that is unhelpful. It reeks of elitism. For example, look at the photograph of the author forcing her daughter to practice violin in a posh hotel room. Who can afford to rent a hotel room just for violin practice? She can. And a manifesto against playdates??? That’s just silly.

Ms. Chua lives and works on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Interestingly, the same attributes that she ascribes to Chinese mothers would have been ascribed to Jewish mothers 50 years ago. Presumably, her laid-back Jewish husband is a product of such a mother.

I won’t bother tearing it apart, because others are doing that nicely. David Brooks points out that for a teenage girl, negotiating the social landscape of a sleepover is cognitively more challenging than endless hours of practicing Chopin. Ayelet Waldman defends Western mothers with a sense of humor. Charing Ball quite rightly accuses Ms. Chua of cultural snobbery.

Instead, let’s look at the good points raised by Ms. Chua: 1) Mastering mathematics or music requires practice, practice, practice. 2) The better you get at something like mathematics or music, the more fun it is. 3) Children need loving parents who give them time and attention. 4) The academic success of children requires “putting in the hours” on the part of the parents.

This week we have our second Parent - Teacher - Student Conference Day. One of my best students rushed to sign up. “Your parents are coming AGAIN?" I asked. “I already told them that you are an excellent student, and you’re only getting better,” I said.

“Ha - ha” she laughed. “My parents like to be involved.”

No wonder she is such a good student.

Indeed, recent research from England suggests that the parents’ effort is the MOST important factor in a child’s academic success. This paragraph stunned me:

The researchers found that parents' effort is more important for a child's educational attainment than the school's effort, which in turn is more important than the child's own effort.

In other words: Kids! It’s OK to be lazy as long as your parents and teachers work hard!

If you want to see the interview with Amy Chua where she describes the murder of her Auntie, here it is:

Friday, January 7, 2011

The most "vandalism-prone" articles on Wikipedia are "George W. Bush", "David Cameron", and "homework"! I'd like to vandalize all three!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sport Day

Now I understand the difference between an International School and a Thai School. When 5-year-olds go to Sport Day at an International School, everybody gets a medal. Win or lose, at least you will get a "participation medal." Some teachers might be so unethical as to rig the teams, or to cheat, so that everybody wins something. Not so at a Thai School: if you win, you get a medal -- if you lose, you're a loser.

Jason came back from his first Sport Day recently with no medals. Jason had been assigned to Orange Team. They lost everything. "You lost EVERYTHING??" asked Poo incredulously. Not even one bronze medal (note: there are only four teams!). During the foot race, Jason tripped and fell. His best friend, Dee-dee, won the race and has been teasing Jason mercilessly ever since. That's what I call "a normal childhood."

"It's OK," I told Jason, "you still have tomorrow -- football (soccer)! Football is the most important event!"

The next day I picked up Jason at school. "Did Orange Team win at football?" I asked.

"No," said Jason.

I left it alone. When we got home, Poo asked, "Did Orange Team win?"


"You lost AGAIN??" laughed Poo.

"Mommy, don't laugh!" complained Jason. "We lost 8 - 0."

Friday, December 31, 2010

Chinese People Really Know How to Eat

Last night I was having dinner in a restaurant, with just my book for company, and a Taiwanese family sat down next to me. Two girls, about 15 and 9, a boy about 12, Mommy in charge, and a chubby, easygoing Dad. Although Mommy was about 40, she was slim and fit, fashionably dressed in designer clothes and accessories, and she had beautiful milk-white skin that matched her blackened teeth. She did all the ordering, even though she was struggling with the English, while her older girl and boy were facebooking, in English, on their phones.

Slowly but surely, the plates of food started coming. After the arrival of the first plate, Mommy pulled the family into a circle, they grasped each other’s hands, closed their eyes, and said a long and serious Christian prayer. Then Daddy jumped into the first plates while the kids were still facebooking. More and more plates kept coming -- curries, stews, soups, varieties of rice, some very Asian meat and kale swimming in gooey sauce on flat noodles, etc. Mommy distributed the food, putting bits and pieces on each kid’s plate. Then one incongruous plate showed up -- a mountain of Nachos, piled high with beef, cheese and sour cream.

“No way,” I thought to myself -- “no way that family can eat all that food!”

At first the boy resisted Mommy’s portions, but eventually, after giving his status update and uploading a photo of the meal, he dug into rice, curries and omelet, and was soon stuffing himself like everybody else.

“Wow!” I thought to myself, “Chinese people really know how to eat!”

But still that mountain of Nachos remained unmolested at the center of the table! Finally, after all other plates were vanquished, the boy started picking at the Nachos. He was after chips with only cheese. Then Mommy started picking away, she was looking for chips that were not soggy -- perhaps that’s how she keeps her figure. Finally, as Mommy was paying the bill with her credit card, chubby Dad picked up a spoon a scooped the remaining half a plate of nachos into the void.

“Wow!” I thought to myself, “Chinese people really know how to eat!”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Happy Students or n00bs?

Yesterday we had a coordinators’ meeting where we discussed the importance of humor and a positive emotional climate in the classroom.

Today in Year 12, we had lots of fun. I started by making them turn off “the oxygen” (i.e. the internet) and we had a discussion about the appropriateness of Year 7s using their phones to watch videos in class. The Y12s were fine with the Y7s watching videos, but when they heard that the Y7s were laughing hysterically and disrupting the other students and the teacher, they objected:

“That’s so n00b!”

“What’s so n00by about using your phones to watch videos?” I asked.

“No,” they responded, “it’s n00by not to control your laughter!”

I gave them an assignment, video-called Mr Barry’s room on Skype, left the room and went down to Mr Barry’s room to watch and listen to the class. Some of them realized I was video-ing them, but a couple of boys didn’t and they started throwing sponge balls across the classroom. Finally, one of the girls said, “you n00bs — don’t you realize he’s recording you?”

This led to all sorts of laughter and tricks. Mr Barry went to my classroom. I justified the exercise by adding, “I am investigating methods of distance learning in case there is a school closure.” By now I was speaking to them remotely through the speakers.

“So,” I added, “how does Immanuel Kant reconcile the apparent contradiction between duty and autonomy?”

Nobody responded.

“Can you hear me?” I asked.

“They can hear you,” said Mr Barry, “but they are not responding because they’re too busy using the Smartboard to draw moustaches on your face!”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Camping Trip in Ratchaburi

Recently we went on a camping trip. Like most Thais, Poo's idea of camping is completely different than mine. I come from the Western United States, and "camping" invokes big mountains, wild rivers, bears, strenuous hikes, and a sense of danger.

The typical Thai "camping" experience is driving your truck to a beautiful spot in a National
Park, pitching your tent next to about 100 other tents, and occupying a sala, or a campfire, for the next 15 hours with dozens of other people. It involves immense quantities of food, ice, stoves, alcohol, portable tables, etc. In other words, it's just an outdoor party. There is always a guitar, often amplified music draining the battery of some unsuspecting truck, and there absolutely must be a huge public toilet provided by the grace of the Royal Park System -- plumbing is the sine qua non of Thai camping.

As we were driving to the National Park, Poo was bubbly, but I was already grumpy. "It will be so much fun!" she said, as she described the profiles of her online camping group, "K. Nid, he's a good singer and he plays the guitar, and . . . "

"ARRGGHH!" I blasted, "I go camping to get AWAY from people, NOT to meet new people!"

We got there and the online camping group had already secured the best spot -- in the sala. It was 11:00 AM but they were already drinking and laughing. I refused to drink, because I wanted to be sober in case I felt the need to drive to the nearest hotel. I had a good book so I perched on a rock near the river to read my book.

By late afternoon, I had surrendered. I was now drinking and I had pitched my tent, but I was still reading my book. When the light faded, though, I had no choice but to join the group. Of course, the men were all drinking and telling stupid jokes while the women were cooking and gossiping. I joined the men and they were happy to have me, because it gave them a new activity -- Tease the Farang! They wanted me to drink whiskey, but I refused, and I drank my own beer at my own pace.

"MICKEY!!" shouted one of them -- "I can tell you're not a W & W guy -- you're a B & B guy!"

"What's that?" I asked.

"You don't like Wine & Women -- you like Books & Beer!"

"That's true," I observed.

On the way home, as I was complaining to Poo, I told her the guys were teasing me mercilessly -- "for example, they said I'm not a W & W guy, I'm a B & B guy!"

"That's true!" said Poo, "Boring & Boring!"