Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Chinese”

A Nondescript Hero – Roger Ingalls

A few days ago I was thinking about teachers that influenced me in my younger years. There was Mrs. Bailey who introduced me and the rest of the second grade class to the Little House Series books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It turned a shy kid into a pseudo celebrity for a week or two and, as it turns out, I am actually related to the author. Then there was Ms. Lee from San Francisco; exotically pretty to a sixth grader. She opened my eyes to the goodness of ethnic diversity. I can still count in Cantonese…”yat, yee, sam, say, mm, lok, chat, baht, gow, sap, yatyat, yatyee and so on”.

The teacher that influenced me the most was Mr. X. Yes, that’s right, I can’t remember his name. It was the mid-seventies and the formalities of public schools were melting away. Most teachers tossed the traditional gender dress and became hip and cool. But not Mr. X, he wore black slacks, white shirt buttoned to the top and a dark unmarked tie. We thought he was a nerd and uncool, even the other teachers acted like he was a misfit. It was a time when educators were embracing friend-relations with students but not Mr. X. He kept a strict line between himself and us students. He was a teacher not a friend and we did what he told us to do; it was simple and straight forward.

math

Mr. X was a junior high school math teacher and I now believe a damn good one. When I moved onto high school, I was considered an advanced math student without ever trying to become one. I may not recall his name but I do remember that he focused us on one goal for that semester. We had to take the four numbers in our junior high graduating year (without rearranging their order) and make them equal 0, 1, 3, 4 and so on, all the way to 100. He would teach us different mathematical theories and then break us up into small groups and turn us loose on our one goal.

To get an idea of how we were to achieve our goal, here are some examples for the year 2013: 0=2+0+1-3, 1=|((2+0)x1))-3|, 2=2+(0x1x3) and so on up to 100.

Looking back on this some 30-something years later, it was brilliant. He made the class seem like a breeze because we only had to achieve one thing. The defined goal was made important to us because it was centered around the numbers used in the year we were graduating from junior high; it was personal, important and we owned it. Mr. X broke the class of thirty into five groups of six. The smaller groups made students more open to participation and simplified the teacher’s job because he could focus on five entities instead of 30 individuals. We achieved by working together; rehashing the theory which effectively created repetition in learning…we taught each other. Mr. X disguised his theory lessons by calling them hints for achieving the goal. He’d give us the theory and then we’d group up and apply what we learned to the goal and this deeply ingrained the lessons. It also groomed us for higher levels of schooling where lab work follows theoretical teaching. Without realizing it, we were taught some pretty complex math along with important workforce skills such as teamwork and cooperating to achieve goals.

Mr. X was not focused on or concerned about being cool, hip or friendly; he was focused on teaching. His methods were deceptively brilliant. He’s a nondescript hero and perhaps that was by design too.

Amy Chua – A Lesson in…

So it is well known that if you want to sell a book, get attention for a blog or an article, then you do or say something controversial. Some do this intentionally, others by mistake (we often call the latter – politicians). Hey, I even blogged about one yesterday.

Now Amy Chua is a Yale law professor, having studied at an impressive number of other Ivy League schools. We can assume she is smart. She is also from the Bay Area, so there is no problem with her credibility.

We can also assume that when she published her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” which essentially states that Chinese mothers are better than American mothers, then she knew that she just might strike a cord with a large and rather proud section of the population. In case you think I jest, read this – the title is “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Need I say more?

Now given that 70% of those who buy books are women and many of those possibly mothers, you can’t help but be impressed that her book sits atop most bestselling lists.

I haven’t read the book, but I hope it is as entertaining as the arguments and accusations that are flying around the Internet and even in those more serious newspapers.

I suspect there is a lot more behind how and why Chinese mothers (and fathers) bring up their children that is a reflection of their society. A friend of mine is US born and married to a Chinese woman. They have raised a daughter who, from what he tells me, is an example of achievement and excellence. You can read his responses at his blog: I Look China.

Without making any claim to having knowledge on the subject, I suspect we are a product of our society and our religion. My parents molded me with a hybrid of English/Jewish. I therefore eat chips – that’s freedom fries here -with a fork and am losing a battle to get my boys not to use their fingers. However, since I was also raised by Jewish parents, at least I still have the guilt up my sleeve.

Actually, I believe Amy Chua is married to a Jewish man, so her kids have challenges of their own. Two parents who are Ivy League professors and lawyers to boot, one Jewish, the other Chinese American – well I ain’t rooting for the Chinese or American moms.

I’m rooting for the kids. ——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Week of Freedom – Liu Xiabo

Liu Xiabo has been a leader for Chinese democracy since at least the 1989 demonstrations in Tienanmen Square. He has advocated and stressed using only non-violent protests. Liu Xiabo’s desire for freedom of thought and expression has landed him in prison for 11 years.

Amnesty International took on Xiabo’s case and received a major boost when Xiabo received the Nobel Prize for peace.


China is riding a double track. The government under Deng Xiaoping has implemented an effective easing of economic freedom and this is leading to unparalleled economic growth. Thomas Friedman, who has convinced many that the world is flat has this New York Times op-ed.

I love so much about China. I have studied Tai Chi and Traditional Chinese Medicine. I avidly read Chinese literature. But I wonder what the long-term vision is among Chinese strategists. Do you really think you can offer one type of freedom and deny another? I have news for you, Chinese Communist Party: freedom is addictive, and it ain’t that bad.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

 

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