Saturday, June 8, 2013

Summer Learning.

            We have officially entered the “Summer Routine” in our household.  The fact that I am a teacher and have 4 school-aged children, one in each level of the school system, makes our days very interesting.  As I usually do every Summer, I began this one with an ambitious plan, where everyone would be engaged in fun and meaningful ways and motivated to eradicate one or more “negative habits” and successfully “grow” in one or more developmentally appropriate goals. 

            Early on in the implementation of my plan I sensed and detected the usual resistance and realized that I was doing all the work for them; but this time I had a different interpretation of it.  I realized I never involved my children in the plan.  I never asked if they wanted to eradicate a negative habit, or if they wanted to grow in developmentally appropriate ways.  I assumed they would want to grow (by my definition). Consequently, I retraced my steps and asked if they were interested in fulfilling my ambitious plan. 

            The “little league” (3 and 6 years-old) simply didn’t understand what I was trying to propose, and the “big league” (11 and 13) responded with a quick and swift, “No, were not interested.” 
Vaya chasco.

            Luckily, I’m almost done extirpating the family inherited pattern of reactive sadness and anger that I have many times experienced and impulsively explored when my children do not see things the way I do.  Frankly, it has become completely predictable and utterly boring; but most importantly, it does not move us forward into healthier and more fulfilling relationships nor is it really who I consciously want to be.  Eradicating this negative pattern though, cannot be controlled in time and space.  The process, its steps and the results unravel in unpredictable and fascinating ways as I consciously put time and effort in its removal and agree to the messy and experimental nature of my evolution.  Why am I interfering and not letting this process occur with my own children?  Won’t I be perpetuating the reactive anger and sadness-ridden pattern by not letting them be?

            It is then I realize it is my goals I need to focus on, not theirs. OK.  Time to explore plan B.  I quickly find two negative patterns I want to eradicate and one developmentally appropriate goal I wish to fulfill. I am committed to my ambitious plan and have set the developmentally appropriate time I need as TOP PRIORITY, every day- no matter what.  In a matter of minutes I feel a rare exhilaration…no, it isn’t rare, it’s called aliveness, excitement, motivation!

            What a difference it makes in my role as a mentor!  Having partially regained my sense of balance, I am able to observe my children in their daily doings with greater peace and discernment.  I come to understand that after an entire school year of being an individual in a community of age-like learners where they have endured a myriad of challenges and hardships, accepted rewards and failures, learned new behaviors, (both good and bad), accomplished many goals while leaving others behind, inevitably waxing and waning in their independence and individuality, it is now time to re-group with family members and reconfigure relationships, modify behaviors to suit who they’ve been, who they are and who they wish to become without the pressure of “the outside expectation” and “having to perform”.  They must follow their own patterns and figure out whether they are worthy of keeping or not.  I can mentor and advise, but only when invited. I unconsciously attempted to speed up my 11 year-old's process to satisfy my own impatience to which she responded; “I do not need a spiritual guru, I just need you to listen!”  Powerful words, I will now attempt to put in practice.

            This summer has brought me the awareness that I am not in charge of my children’s (or anyone’s for that matter) evolution; I am more likely a part of it.  If I willingly or unwillingly choose to halt my own advancement, I inevitably pause the development of those who are under my care. 
            I caught my “little leaguers” collaborating with each other to achieve their own, spur of the moment,  completely self proclaimed developmentally appropriate milestones.  Their unique way of approaching their goals produced unpredictable developments that brought us closer as a family.  Likewise, the “bigger league” worked through their developmental differences in their own muddled and chaotic way to build a strong partnership with which to successfully combat boredom.  They efficaciously hacked the parental controls on their computers in order to add more time, and hence, win an online virtual fashion show with avatars they designed the clothing for.   It is not my definition of engaged, fun and meaningful, but then again, who asked me?

Yes, the process is imaginative, fanciful, original and extremely amusing.  Why would I ever want to control it?  I wonder how I can tie it in to the more structured school routine?  The formula is to have awareness of one’s goal, put time and effort into it and remain open to the wonders it will bring. 

A disfrutar del verano.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Shifting our view: Lets Make Quality Affordable Pre-Schools An Option For Children In Poverty

After reading a recent article titled, “High Quality Pre-School Isn’t an Option for Children In Poverty”, I felt my passion and purpose stirred.  Not because of the unjust reality being described, but the verdict-like obsolete statement that quality pre-school isn’t an option for children living in poverty.  While I understand the statement is made to depict a reality, I think we need to shift our view.  It is said that we create and perpetuate what we focus our attention on.  Why not raise awareness of the problem by offering innovative ideas that promote hope and joy, that motivate people to want to make a change?
            I was born and raised in Mexico City, daughter to an American English teacher and a Mexican Sales Representative of a Japanese Air Line based in Mexico City.  I am bilingual and multicultural.  I have experienced a plethora of cultures and idiosyncrasies.  I have lived in three different countries and taught Languages in the entire K-12 spectrum in all three.  I have four children ages three to thirteen who are tricultural and bilingual.  My children and I have experienced a total of fifteen different schools in three different countries, public and private.  I have done so as a student, parent and teacher.  We have shared schooling experiences with close-to the entire spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds in Spain, Mexico and The United States.  Consequently, my global perspective affords me a different analysis, where I am not grounded or attached to any one system of values, culture or socialization process.
            Currently, my children are in the American Public School system in Atlanta, Georgia.  They are in Title I schools with a high population of Hispanic children who, fit the profile so aptly described by this article, if one is not able to detach from a moderately-typical, rational (and thus extremely linear), American, college-educated, point of view and examine things from another angle.
In other words, the word “quality” has a completely different meaning for the “us”, the people analyzing and studying the “poverty culture” than it does for the people living in poverty.  I may be wrong, but when we talk about the children and their families living in poverty, we use the pronoun “they” and generally, speak for them. These families have not outlined in first person what “quality” means for them.   Are we simply looking at the “achievement gap” in terms of…performance on tests, or are we concerned with the well-being and balanced existence of these communities and their definition of a better life? Naturally, we will find that culturally, definitions of success and quality vary.
I am making the assumption that when “quality programs” are mentioned, the comparison of “quality” stems from a Pre-School program targeted for a homogenous group of (primarily white) affluent American children whose reality hardly mirrors that of a low-income or minority child.  Hence, the assumption is flawed to begin with; a replica of a high-quality Pre-School program tailored for the needs of affluent kids should not be the option for minority children in poverty. 
They need schools that offer a pedagogy based on who they are, what they need and who they (and I stress they, the students) WISH TO BECOME, not who WE (the ones who do not live in an impoverished or minority community) think they should be. They need schools that are tailored to their needs that are authentic to their idiosyncrasy, and breathe life and hope into their community. Better put, wildly innovative and experimental models that are not based on results, but on the process unfolding in the present. 
More than economics, it is about a shift in our views.  The Public School System that eventually houses the minority and impoverished communities spends a huge amount of funding attempting to reconcile the “performance gap”, yet the funds are, in my opinion, wasted on acculturation efforts that might not be ill-intended but do not result in remarkable “quality” performance improvement.  More often than not, they produce conflict of interest and identity within the student and their families.
Directing the funds in more “innovative” and effective ways would most likely equalize the performance gap and re-direct American and Mexican-American Culture in new and unprecedented directions. 
A brief examination of Mexican-American history will reveal that a large portion of what is now American territory used to be Mexican territory, and that the means by which it became American territory would not be considered valid in today’s legal frameworks.  More importantly, in many cases, these children’s parents have risked their lives to give their off-spring a better life, and while we may not be able to empathize with their choice of lifestyle (undocumented in many cases), it is they who are building our houses, picking our fruits and vegetables, sewing our clothing, cooking our food in restaurants and keeping our gardens beautiful.  And it is their children, like any other, who deserve the ability to accept and believe in their worthiness.
Thus, not stripping these children of their culture, language and essence is how we make their Pre-School programs quality.  What if we re-direct funding to create Public Pre-Schools (Spain has great models)? What if the Public Pre-School was entirely in Spanish?  What if the parents were an integral part of the curriculum? What if the parents helped construct the school and explained to the children about construction?  What if the parents helped grow the garden vegetables and plants alongside the children?  What if the parents helped cook the food for the kids and taught them about it?  What if the parents taught the children about sewing? What if the context of the program revolved around the rich history and customs that Mexico and the US share? What if some parents learned to read and write alongside their children? Powerful.  What if this bond remianed all throughout their schooling experience?  What if other kids from other cultures benefitted from this humble wisdom to improve the quality of their lives?
Perhaps the children would not feel the anxious need to “fit into” the American stereotypical culture to escape their identity because they perceive themselves as what "we" define as “poverty”.  Instead,  their identity would be adorned with pride and rich with adjectives of value and affirmation, and their future built on the veracity of loving and accepting who they are, and not who they are told they need to be by an illusory definition outside themselves of what "quality" is.  They would begin to create positive models around what their culture values and evolve upward into what they wish to become. Where passion and purpose lie, there are no obstacles.  Let us not forget that quality is a multidimensional experience based entirely on perspective and vantage point.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

To do or to be...Is there a choice?

I have always been an optimist.  Choosing to view things from a “higher perspective” gives me comfort; for me, it’s simply a matter of well-being. 
Although lately, I’ve succumbed to the lower view of things, that place where you give your power away to external sources and allow it to define who you are, where the pessimist resides.  Where fear is rationalized and made “true”, in favor of an examination of what the cause of pain and numbness might be.
Currently, there is an over-abundance of activity in my environment that is not allowing me to stop and restore. Western lifestyle is so intent on “doing”.  Somehow, if you are not “undertaking something” you are misjudged in not very pleasant ways. 
Schooling is tremendously wrought with the idea of “doing”.  Somehow, somewhere, along the line, it was made a requirement that if you were not outwardly or visibly doing something you were not “learning”, there was no productivity. 
Nevertheless, always doing something does not promote choice.  Never stopping disables you from choosing the next step, or choosing to radically shift your view and innovate. 
Never stopping makes learning a have to, not a want to.  There is an intricate, delicate yet powerful connection between success and doing the things you feel the want to do.  There is renewable and sustainable energy available in that direction to fuel your desire and capacity, while doing something you cannot find a need, desire or want for, results in an overexertion and depletion of already limited resources.  There rarely is inner joy and well-being when we force ourselves to do something we are not “feeling”.
Being is an essential component of creativity.  In many non-western cultures it is said, “God speaks to us in the gaps between our thoughts”.  Well, if you don’t train your rational brain to stop, it will never cease the (annoying) chatter of how many things we need to do before we can stop.  Inspiration, the muse, God, or whatever relationship you consider with the divine will never develop, leaving you no choice, but to be a pessimist.
Helen Keller visited me when I finally stopped to restore.  I remembered her precious thoughts: “No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed to an uncharted land”.  Dream, wonder, imagine.
Simply being, without doing allows us to reconnect with the beauty, power, strength and unlimited source of love that lies at the core of our being.  Isn’t that the true reason we are alive, to learn to love ourselves, and others better? How might we weave that into our daily schooling routines?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Universal Fleetingness: Living the Moment.

I offered this speech, as the homily, at a Middle School Chapel at Holy Innocents' Episcopal School for the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month in 2008.  I dressed up  as "La Malinche" an important and essential, yet highly controversial woman of the pivotal moment in Mexican history when the Spaniards invaded and subsequently destroyed the Pre-Columbine cultures in Mexico City.
Ever since I was a child, she has fascinated me.  I somehow knew the national anger and hatred towards her could not be entirely justified. I wrote my interpretation of her life and actions based on what I know rationally and intuitively about her for this speech.
I used incense (an important indigenous ritual) when I walked in and while I was speaking. It was a beautifully powerful moment, I could sense my ancestors watch over me.  When I was finished, a multitude of girls came to me and asked me with intense interest, what it felt like to be a slave and if I still was one!!!  I almost considered taking acting up as a career...  I guess, they also missed the part where I said I was born in 1502.  Needless to say, they were very disappointed I was not the real "Malinche".

The poem at the beginning is in Nahuatl, the Aztecs' original language before being forced to learn Spanish.  There are still a few indigenous tribes that only speak Nahuátl in Mexico.

An nochipa tlalticpac

¿Cuix oc nelli nemohua in tlalticpac Yhui ohuaye?
An nochipa tlalticpac: zan achica ye nican
Tel ca chalchihuitl no xamani
no teocuitlatl in tlapani
no quetzalli poztequi
An nochipa tlalticpac: zan achica ye nican

            This poem was always recited by my grandmother; especially when times were rough.   It is called Universal Fleetingness, fleetingness being a short, quick moment.  The poem asks the question if we really live on this earth?  Then answers: Not forever on the earth, just a little here.  It exemplifies that jade cracks, gold breaks and quetzal feathers tear.  I never understood the meaning of this poem as a child.  I saw myself surrounded by wealth in the form of jade, gold and quetzal feathers (none of them in any bad shape) and saw my own life barely beginning and felt immortal. The voice in the poem saying that We only lived a”Little bit” here really went against the reality I was experiencing.
          My Aztec name is Malinelli.  My Christian name is Doña Marina.  I am mostly known today as “Malinche”.  I was born in Coatzacoalcos in 1502.  Can anyone tell me what Coatzacoalcos is called today in your world?  It is called Mexico.  “Mesheeco” in nahuatl.

       I was born in a family of nobles.  When I was four, my father died.  My mother remarried and had another child:  a boy.  She decided she wanted him to be the ruler and gave me to some passing traders and then proclaimed my death. 

       It would be a lie to say that I didn’t feel despair, anger, sadness, humiliation, fear, anxiety and any other dark emotion you can think of, but this heartbreak did not last long.  I was taught to heal what I could feel, so I allowed myself to feel the vastness and intensity of my feelings free of judgment.  Allowing feelings to run their course makes it a lot easier for them to leave the body.

         The Aztec culture was profoundly magical and spiritual and we were taught to see the divine in every corner of our existence. I vividly remember choosing to stop my panicky thoughts and drop into the intelligence within me thinking that nothing is ever lost in Divine Mind.  I let go of the idea of being a powerless victim and reminded myself of who I really was- a Divine, magnificent, expression of life, created by a loving and infinite intelligence.
Not having any resentment made it easy for me to live completely in the present. Every night, the same star would accompany me; wherever I was, whoever my master, and would assure me everything was going to be fine.  This message came as a warm, protective light in my heart.  Raise your hand if you have ever felt Amor Incondicional, Unconditional Love?

With this knowing, it was easy for me to be fully present in my daily activities.  I lived every second of my life with complete present awareness.  The divine made me aware that the past was over and could not be changed.  The future was only in my imagination, while the present was where everything was created.  I quickly learned the languages, customs and traditions of the tribes I passed through.  At that time, Mexico had three primary groups of inhabitants:  The Aztecs, the Mayans and a smaller scattered group of tribes. This activity gave me great joy and allowed me to receive the respect and recognition of all of my Masters.  I viewed the work I did as a service to humanity.  I was used to interpret and translate between the various tribes, and this was a highly important job.

     When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico I was given as a slave to Cortés.  When I saw this man arrive before me with such light on his face, cloth all around his legs and torso, and hair on his face I was mesmerized.  I knew this man would play an important role in my life. I began to understand the poem my grandmother recited.  I felt I had known this man in another life.

    We needed each other.  I was the interpreter and he was my freedom.  We fell in love.  It was a complicated relationship, not many people understood it.    

    It is written in history that the conquest of Mexico could not have been possible had it not been for me, and that is true.

    It is also said I was a traitor to the Aztecs.   Yet, we only exist here a little, and the time I spent on the earth I cultivated my faith in the divine, respect for myself and others, love of learning and my service to humanity.  And that is what made me feel alive and happy, not what others said or thought of me.

Que Dios os Bendiga.