Latest Head of School Posts
The Lunar New Year is approaching—New Year’s day is Friday, February 12, in fact. At CAIS we welcome the Lunar New Year with our school’s biggest and most festive community celebration: Mass Greeting or tuán baì 团拜. This year’s Mass Greeting will, of course, be virtual.
There are many countries around the world that celebrate the Lunar New Year. One of the unique ways it is celebrated in Chinese culture—and at CAIS—is by associating each year with a symbolic animal. We are coming to the end of the Year of the Rat and welcoming the Year of the Ox. Why is it, in China, that years are symbolized by animals? What is the origin of this tradition? What meanings are associated with the various animals? And will the Year of the Ox be better than the Year of the Rat—please?
There are many different theories about the origin of the twelve symbolic animals that form a repeating twelve year cycle. The twelve animals or shíèr gè shēngxiào 十二个生肖 are so woven into Chinese culture that people take them for granted and don’t really know how this cultural tradition originated. Scholars have postulated theories linking the origin to astronomy, astrology, animal worship, meteorologic cycles, and totemism. A modern ethnologist named Liu Xiaohan has posited that the twelve symbolic animals actually originated in the Yí 彝 culture, an ethnic minority in the mountains of China’s southern and southwestern provinces. The fact is that no one really knows for... » read more
There is a well-known story in China about the famous writer and political activist Lu Xun 鲁迅 (1881-1936). As a young man, Lu Xun studied medicine in Japan during the Russo-Japanese war, and one day his professor, whose lecture had ended early, filled the remaining class time by projecting slides of current events. In one slide, a Chinese man who was suspected of being a spy for the Russians was kneeling with his hands bound behind his back. A Japanese military officer prepared to behead him as a crowd of healthy looking, able bodied Chinese men watched but did nothing. In the preface to his first book of short stories entitled Nahan 《呐喊》 (A Call to Arms) Lu Xun wrote that this incident prompted him to quit medical school and become a writer and activist because, he said, it was more important to tend to the spiritual health of his countrymen than to study medicine. Lu Xun’s point is clear: the Japanese military officer executed this man in public, on Chinese soil, with many onlookers, because he could, and those who looked on silently were complicit. I am certain that all of my colleagues from Mainland China are very familiar with this story; perhaps some of you are as well.
Late last week our nation watched the televised murder of a Black man, George Floyd, by a White police officer. Today, many of our cities are burning. In our country, this incident was not a “one off.” It is the latest in what is a depressingly familiar pattern in our national culture: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown … Emmett Till … . These horrific murders and the now... » read more
We are on the eve of the lunar new year season, the most important holiday of the year in Chinese and many other Asian communities throughout the world. Of course it is also one of the most exciting and cherished times of year at CAIS, and we celebrate it together as an extended community at our annual Mass Greeting or tuánbài 团拜 which will happen this Friday in the school gymnasium. Traditions around the lunar new year vary from region to region and family to family; it’s fun to learn about various traditions observed by our own CAIS families and teachers (if you’re interested, you can learn about my own first lunar new year experience in China here). Regardless of the tradition, all new year celebrations share a universal feeling of hope and optimism. As people look into the new year, they imagine life—for themselves, their families, their communities—being even better than the previous year. A frequently exchanged blessing in China at the new year is “may your child become a dragon” wàng zĭ chéng lóng 望子成龙, which wishes a life of success for your child.
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Dear CAIS Community,
This is my third communication in a series about our new strategic vision. In the first, I discussed the evolution of CAIS’s mission, and in the second I attempted to connect the dots between CAIS core values and some of the wisdom of Confucius. I promised a follow-up on the core values piece, talking about how our school will embed the values into the daily life of the school. Before I do that, though, I’d like to talk about one of our school’s long term (i.e., five-year) goals:
Reimagining Immersion: CAIS students achieve Chinese proficiency levels that enable them to engage with confidence in interesting and meaningful classroom projects and in real-life situations, while simultaneously developing competencies that extend far beyond language learning.
Let’s unpack the first part of this goal: proficiency and engagement. Our experience at CAIS has taught us that in order for students to engage in interesting and meaningful work in another language, they must develop requisite levels of proficiency and experience feelings of success. Likewise, in order for them to sustain their motivation and achieve high levels of proficiency, the work they do must be interesting and meaningful to them. Our strategy, then, will be to leverage time, staffing, and impactful pedagogy to achieve greater student engagement and proficiency in Chinese.
How exactly do we leverage time, staffing, and impactful pedagogy? One way is to explore models for increasing the percentage of Chinese in our Pre-K program. We will begin this exploration now; our current thinking is that we would implement a new model in the fall of 2021, two years down the road.
This is an exciting evolution of our program, which has... » read more
Did you know that last Saturday, September 28, was supposedly Confucius’s birthday? (His 2,569th according to conventional wisdom…although admittedly we do not have his long form birth certificate). Confucius was a teacher, and accordingly Teachers Day is celebrated on September 28 in Taiwan. Happily, our hardworking teachers were able to rest on Teachers Day this year (though I imagine many of them spent their weekend preparing lessons and looking at student work). Each year at this time, I try to send something useful to the community about Confucius, as he is such an important figure in Chinese and world culture.
This year the moment is particularly special. Last week I kicked off a series of communications about CAIS’s new strategic vision by talking about our newly evolved mission statement which reflects our community’s aspiration that our children grow up to lead lives of impact. Today I want to use the occasion of Confucius’s birthday to introduce our school’s Core Values.
The connection here between Confucius and CAIS Core Values is not tenuous, but some context is probably useful. Confucius is one of those figures, like Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain or Albert Einstein, to whom pithy quotations are often attributed erroneously. The consequence is a kind of diminished importance—at least in the West—of an understanding of the core philosophy of this historically foundational figure. Add to this the tendency of westerners, especially Americans, to see China’s rapid economic development—manifested in things such as skyscrapers, restaurants, airports, department stores, and Chinese tourists everywhere—as evidence that China has become “Americanized.” For decades, China itself has had a complicated relationship with its own past, reacting to its own history with a combination of pride and suspicion, looking outward for political,... » read more
Dear CAIS Community,
I’d like to talk with you about the CAIS mission, but first…
Many of you may be familiar with the work of the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970). Maslow articulated a theory of human motivation that he captured in his well-known “hierarchy of needs.” According to my understanding of Maslow, human beings are motivated to fulfill certain human needs before they can fulfill other, loftier needs. Our motivation to fill our bellies and stay warm, for instance, needs to be satisfied before we worry about having awesome hair highlights or crisp sound on our wireless headphones. The highest level of needs that I learned about in my freshman psychology class were called “self-actualization needs.” People who are self-actualized achieve the full realization of their individual potential. Self actualization roughly equates with the pieces of the CAIS mission that encourages students to “become your best self” and “create your place in the world.”
In the last few years as CAIS has deliberately shifted to more of a “we” orientation, I have often wondered if there was too much “me” in our mission statement. Why, for instance, does the third phrase in our mission define the relationship between individuals and the world in terms of creating my place in it? What about the responsibility of individuals to the world around them? Maslow had this concern too; something that is less well known about his work is that late in his life, he revised and even criticized his own theory of human motivation and added another level at the top of the hierarchy that he called “transcendence needs.” This is significant because Maslow proposed that the highest level of human motivation is not self actualization but of dedication “to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature,... » read more
On the occasion of her 100th birthday on September 18, acclaimed restaurateur Cecilia Chiang, a long-time supporter and friend of the Chinese American International School (CAIS), kindly requested that well-wishers make gifts to the Cecilia Chiang International Learning Fund in lieu of presents. In the 2017-2018 school year, Ms. Chiang generously shifted her namesake scholarship at CAIS from a merit-based middle school award to a fund that makes the school’s fifth grade exchange trip to Taiwan, seventh grade language study trip to Guilin, and eighth grade service trip to Yunnan accessible to all CAIS students in those grades. Since that time, Mrs. Chiang has rallied over $42,000 in funds to make possible these international experiences, which are a hallmark of the program for students and are emblematic of CAIS’s life changing, world changing education.
As a luminary in the world of cuisine and the Chinese American community, Cecilia Chiang’s life story embodies the CAIS mission to embrace Chinese (she raised the profile of northern Chinese cooking in the US), become your best self (she broke down gender and ethnic barriers as an entrepreneur), and contribute to a better world (her world famous restaurant cultivated a heightened appreciation for Chinese cuisine and culture in the US). In establishing her fund’s new purpose, Ms. Chiang shared her excitement and pride that more CAIS students are participating in international trips... » read more
Dear fellow community members,
On behalf of our talented and dedicated faculty, I want to welcome you to CAIS’s 39th school year! I have had the chance to catch up with families during these opening days, and reconnecting with so many of you and your kids about summer adventures and excitement for the year ahead has been an exhilarating reminder of why I love this community. We are really lucky here at CAIS to be able to spend our days with such friendly and polite kids and to partner with their enthusiastic and engaged families.
I am so glad that your family is here at CAIS; I believe you have all made a great choice for your kids. As many of you know, I raised my two children in Taiwan and China and am passionate about the transformative power of Chinese immersion. The benefits of cultural and linguistic immersion for my own kids have gone far beyond language fluency; their experience gave them grit and made them more resilient people. They have also developed cognitive skills—problem solving, meaning making—that would not be as sharp had they been raised in a monolingual environment. Perhaps most important to me as a parent are their abiding attitudes of curiosity, empathy, connection, humility, and a true appreciation of difference. I see these qualities in our kids at CAIS. By choosing CAIS and immersion, you are giving your children the gift of helping them to engage respectfully with a diverse world. This is the CAIS immersion bonus.
As we begin the 2019-20 school year, I am excited about our work on the new CAIS strategic... » read more
Since the strategic visioning process was launched earlier this school year, I have heard from an inclusive sample of stakeholders including students, faculty and staff, parents, trustees, and alumni about their experiences at CAIS and their aspirations for the future of our school and our children. I have also talked with area high school deans about how CAIS alumni do in their next chapters. There have been one-on-one conversations, meetings, roundtable discussions, surveys, and days-long offsites. As hoped, through this process rough consensus has emerged around a few compelling ideas. It has become clear to me that there is a desire and a need to reimagine CAIS’s most foundational commitments: (1) a strong Chinese immersion program, (2) a strong culture of learning, and (3) a strong emphasis on character and community.
The image this brings to my mind is the ancient bronze dǐng (see below for more details) or tripod—a symbol of strength and unity supported by three sturdy legs. CAIS stakeholders have been contributing to the creation of a strategic vision for our school’s future revolving around three foundational commitments (strong as the supporting legs of the Chinese dǐng):
When you look at it, this is really just basic blocking and tackling (did I just really just flip from... » read more
In mainland China, where I lived from 1999 to 2010, school children enjoy a month long lunar New Year holiday. Because I worked in a school during those years, I always traveled during that time. I lived in Beijing, which was home to millions of rural migrant laborers, and each year when the New Year rolled around, the migrants headed out of town—they were going home to spend the holidays with their families in small villages all over the country. I usually headed to either Yunnan or Guizhou, both mountainous provinces in the southwest, where I too would spend time in villages that bustled with the excitement of sons and daughters returned home for the holidays. In the villages, envious residents listened to the urban tales of their returned neighbors who had left their homes to work on construction sites, in restaurants, and in factories in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Dongguan, earning the equivalent of $100, $150, even $200 a month—an unimaginable amount for farmers in the mountainous villages of southwest China.
I knew that in the big cities of China these migrant laborers were members of an underclass, looked down upon by their urban countrymen who drove Toyotas, Volkswagens, or even Audis and lived in three bedroom, heated apartments. It is estimated that some 150 million rural Chinese have left their villages and moved to cities in search of work—the biggest mass movement of human beings in history. These people have fueled China’s double digit economic growth rates for the last 30-plus years. And every year, as the lunar New Year approaches, millions and millions of them cram into trains and buses, leave their city jobs behind and journey back home—the only chance they will have all year long to see their family members and friends. I imagine that these days the now digitally savvy rural transplants buy their bus and rail tickets via WeChat or Catriona apps on their smart phones. Every year the villages have more TVs, more... » read more