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I’ve frequently said that I came to CAIS for the program, and I’ve stayed because of the community. What makes any community special is the relationships, and strong relationships are, I believe, based on understanding each other’s stories. In that spirit, and on this week’s special occasion, I want to share my own personal story about the lunar new year. In fact, it is a privilege to share it with you, and I’d love you to share your story with me. Here goes….
Just a few days ago, February 9, was the 30-year anniversary of my first move to China. Not long before that, I had quit my job as a public high school history teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had spent the previous summer in China, and when I returned to Wisconsin in the fall, I couldn’t think about anything except for China. I needed to return. So, operating through snail mail, I secured a job teaching English at a second tier engineering university in Shenyang, an industrial city of (at the time) four to five million people and the capital of Liaoning Province in northeast China. I quit my job and off I went. Liaoning was my home for the next two years.
The reason I left on February 9, was that I had received an invitation (again by snail mail) to spend the lunar new year’s eve with the family of a student I had met that previous summer. The lunar new year fell on February 17 that year, so I figured if I left the US on February 9, I’d be over jet lag in time to enjoy new year’s eve on the 16th. Not many foreigners had the opportunity to spend the lunar new year with a Chinese family in China in those days; I was over-the-moon excited. ... » read more
I am an early riser, and, on the morning of September 18, looking from the City toward the East Bay, the spectacular astronomical phenomenon known as the star and crescent* was visible from my dining room window. Tonight if you look at the moon, it will be full. It’s the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, a day which in Chinese communities all over the world, people will celebrate the Mid Autumn Festival (中秋节 zhōng qíu jié). In the west we sometimes call this the Moon Festival.
When I looked at the star and crescent just a little over two weeks ago I thought about my friends and family around the Bay, who were perhaps at that same moment, gazing east and feeling the same sense of awe and excitement as I was. Likewise, tonight people will look at the full moon and think of their loved ones who may be in far away places but can still stare at the same moon. It’s a perfect circle, a symbol of unity and togetherness.
The Mid Autumn Festival is a harvest celebration, like Thanksgiving in North America, Sukkot in Israel, Incwala in Swaziland, Chuseok in Korea, or Tet Trung Thu in Vietnam. So people all over the world take this time of year to express gratitude for their good fortune. For us in San Francisco, we are pretty distant from harvesting crops, but we shouldn’t forget just how much we have to be thankful for.
All over the world, whether harvesting rice or corn or beans, people have felt the need to develop their own rituals for showing gratitude. Likewise, star and crescent or full moon, we all experience a feeling of awe and connection when we look at the moon.... » read more
Today, September 28, 2017, is Confucius’s 2,568th birthday according to tradition. Since Confucius was a teacher, Teachers’ Day is also celebrated on September 28 in Taiwan. Chinese American International School has historically honored the occasion with a message from the head of school to commemorate Confucius’s birthday/Teachers’ Day; this year I do so in a manner inspired by both events. Most of Confucius’s teachings, according to tradition, were oral. They weren’t recorded until well after his death in a thin volume called the Lún yǔ 《论语》, often translated as The Analects of Confucius. Confucius’s teaching style was apparently a little like Q&A. Mostly A, actually; a student would ask him something, and then he’d answer. So, in the spirit of Confucius, and of Q&A, ie, teaching, I have a question, and it is my sincere hope that this question seeds a rich, learning conversation in our community. If this happens, then I will have succeeded at honoring both Confucius on his birthday and teachers on our day. If my question doesn’t lead to any meaningful conversation, well then that will be an interesting data point, too.
Before I pose the question, however, I want to provide a little context. A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a CAIS parent. We were talking about the access and affordability of private school in the Bay Area and the accompanying angst that this parent felt about raising her children in a community where family vacations to Tahoe, Hawaii, and Europe were commonplace. This parent was positively disposed to considering allocating school resources toward achieving greater socioeconomic diversity within our school community. At the same time, she suspected, there were many families in our school community—Chinese families, she said—for whom these considerations were less important than Chinese language and culture, rigorous academics, high test... » read more
Welcome to school year 2017-18. It is a great honor and privilege to serve this community and to endeavor, with a great team of colleagues and on a daily basis, to effect learning that is in some measure life changing. And it is my sincere belief that if we as parents and educators are successful, your children will grow up and make world changing contributions, great or small. Tall order, but not too tall.
I’d like to begin with where we left off at the conclusion of the 2016-17 school year. In June we unveiled a new school philosophy statement on diversity, equity, and inclusion (shorthand: DEI). The process of composing this statement was time consuming (a year), inclusive (students, parents, board, faculty, staff, and—of course—consultants), and grounded in the CAIS mission. The statement pledges a commitment to learning and teaching, home/school partnership, community diversity, policies and practices, and measuring our progress. Concurrent to articulating our philosophy, in 2016-17 we took concrete steps toward many of our commitments. I urge you to read and re-read our philosophy statement.
Almost immediately the relevance of our DEI philosophy statement became clear. This summer we were all reminded that in our country (and even in our own backyard), there are those who vehemently and violently disagree with the principles the CAIS community has just affirmed. Intolerance, hate, prejudice, and violence are not new. What is new is that our President seems to have chosen this moment in history to step away from the historical role of moral leader. What I heard in the aftermath of the Charlottesville riots were equivocal responses. For me, the President failed to... » read more
Full disclosure: I am a musician (more the garage band variety), and my oldest child is a musician and a graduate of the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Music played a huge part of my education and my life and continues to do so. Any who have visited my office at 150 Oak know that I stream music from the time I arrive at school in the morning until I lock the door and leave in the evening. I have, over the years, run into CAIS community members at music venues around town ranging from small clubs in the Mission to the Nourse and Herbst theaters to the Oracle Arena, Levi’s Stadium and the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival. I simply cannot imagine life without music.
What role do the arts have at a school whose mission challenges kids to embrace Chinese, become their best selves and create their places in the world?
Every culture has its traditional literary canon. In China, there are different permutations of the books constituting the Confucian canon. There are the Four Books (Sì shū 四书):The Confucian Analects (Lun yu 论语), Mencius (Meng zi 孟子), The Great Learning (Da xue 大学) and The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong 中庸). There are the Five Classics (Wu jing 五经): The Classic of Poetry (诗经 Shi jing), The Classic of Historical Documents (书经 Shu jing), The Record of Rites (礼记 Li ji), The Classic of Changes (易经 Yi jing) and The Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋 Chun qiu). Then there are the Nine Classics and Thirteen Classics which include different selections of all of the above plus some others.
Interestingly, there is one Confucian classic that is almost never mentioned, and this is because there is no surviving copy. It’s called the Classic of Music (Yue jing 乐经), and scholars propose that it was lost by the time of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 23 CE), possibly during the famous “burning of the books” during the... » read more
On Friday, January 27, not long after all our kids had been picked up from the Mass Greeting celebration, President Trump signed an executive order that indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days. Since that time protests have broken out at airports around the country, and a legal challenge to parts of the executive order has been sustained. This morning, Sunday, I find myself wondering, “what is our role, as parents and educators, in the face of all this?” I’d like to share some of my thoughts.
Over a year ago, in December of 2015, I read a piece in The Washington Post comparing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to then candidate Donald Trump’s call for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. Is this a valid comparison? In 1882 the United States Congress passed, and the President of the United States signed into law, the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States. Successive federal laws made Chinese immigration to the US increasingly exclusive until its repeal some 61 years later in 1943 when China became an ally to the US in its fight against Japan in WWII. However, Chinese immigrants still faced restrictive quotas for more than two more decades. It was not until 2012 that both houses of the US legislature passed a resolution expressing regret, “for the passage of laws that adversely affected the Chinese in the United States, including the Chinese Exclusion Act.”
Here at ... » read more
We are approaching the biggest holiday of the year in China and in many other parts of Asia—the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, as it is sometimes called. This holiday is steeped in traditions, some hundreds—perhaps thousands—of years old and some more recent. Many Lunar New Year traditions are tied to different geographical and cultural regions. China is massive and has at times throughout history been divided into separate states and kingdoms, with separate governments, separate languages (sometimes called dialects) and wildly different cultures. In fact, to speak of “Chinese culture”, “Chinese food” or “Chinese language” is a massive oversimplification. China has at times in its history been as varied and diverse as Europe, which also was considered to be a single, unified empire at various times.
If you ever have the chance to converse with two or more CAIS parents who immigrated from different regions of China, ask them to say something in their local dialect, or talk about the differences in food or the way they celebrated holidays in their different regions. You’ll be surprised at the diversity of experiences. Aren’t we lucky, as a school, to have all these different traditions represented among our parent and grandparent body? Thank goodness for immigration; it is one of the things that makes our country strong!
At CAIS, our local tradition for celebrating the Lunar New Year is Mass Greeting or tuánbài 团拜. I lived in China for 15 years and never once heard of anyone celebrating tuánbài. When I first heard about it at CAIS, I... » read more
Today, September 28, is supposedly Confucius’s birthday (his 2,567th, according to historical accounts). September 28 is also celebrated as teachers’ day in Taiwan, the native place of many of our CAIS employees and families. The connection between the two occasions makes sense, as Confucius was first and foremost a teacher. Over the years, I have written a lot about Confucius and Confucianism to the CAIS community (some would say ad nauseum). For those of you who are interested, many of these writings are archived here (you’ll need to scroll through the titles).
This year, in celebration of the birthday of China’s first sage, I want to reflect on a passage from the Analects of Confucius that is among my favorites:
Sān rén xíng bì yŏu wŭ shī yān;
zé qí shàn zhĕ ér cóng zhī;
qí bù shàn zhĕ ér găi zhī.
When walking with others I am bound to learn from them as my teachers;
I will select their good qualities and follow them;
Their bad qualities and correct them in myself.
I like this passage, as it reminds me that whomever I am with, I can always learn something new and valuable from them—just so long as I keep an open mind. This is particularly true (perhaps exclusively true) when I am with others whose points of view are new to me or differ from my own. On the flip side, if I am walking with others whose experiences and thinking are similar to mine, then I probably won’t be pushed to learn much. In other words, I can become cognitively lazy.
I’m guessing Confucius would have... » read more
I would like to begin my almost annual missive about the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhōng qiū jié 中秋节) with a shout out to our beloved, veteran FSA Co-chair Rose Valencia-Tow. Wednesday morning, Rose and I were discussing the FSA sponsored Back to School Potluck/Mid-Autumn Moon Festival extravaganza coming up this Saturday. I was saying to Rose that over the years, I had written just about everything I could think of about the Mid-Autumn Festival, and I was out of ideas. Rose said she thought there was still a desire and need for information about the meaning of the holiday. I thought: Rose is right, I probably shouldn’t assume that simply because I sent an email blast in 2012 talking about the harvest and mooncakes that it had somehow become part of our shared body of knowledge. Duh, Jeff! This is what I sometimes call a BFO—a blinding flash of the obvious. So thanks, Rose, for setting me on the best course. It isn’t the first time and (I hope) it won’t be the last.
Most everyone likes recycling. Reuse is even better. So I am going to indulge my inner lazy person and recycle some of the things I’ve written over the past years that best explains my understanding of the Mid-Autumn Festival. I would also suggest, as I often do, that one of the best and most heartfelt sources of information about this and other cultural traditions is our own community; we have hundreds (literally) of families and staff members at CAIS who have personal memories of celebrating the festival with their families and friends. Consult a local expert! If you are a local expert, then share stories with someone who isn’t, or even with someone who is—everyone’s experience is unique. Our community is an awesome resource.... » read more
Every year, at the end of the first day of school I am asked repeatedly by teachers and parents, “So, did the first day go smoothly?” There are two short answers to this question. The first is, “Smoothly.” I’ll get to the second answer in a minute.
I suspected things would run smoothly Wednesday when I walked to school that morning. There are nine traffic lights between my home and the Oak campus, and I didn’t have to stop and wait at a single light; they were all green. Smooth! I’ve walked this route hundreds of times, and I can’t remember ever hitting nine green lights in a row before. And then this happened: as I walked between our campuses on Oak, Waller, and Turk on Wednesday morning, my luck continued. I swear on a stack of the Analects of Confucius that all the lights were green when I reached them, every last one. I went onto Google Maps and counted the intersections. I crossed 27 intersections with traffic lights, and I did not hit a single red light. Twenty seven! What are the odds? I have told a few people about this, and most of them have remarked, “You should have bought lottery tickets!” Indeed, why didn’t I think of that?
As I shuffled, obstacle-less, between Waller, Oak, and Turk, my experience of ease and convenience was, in fact, pretty much mirrored by everything I encountered on the three campuses; everything was running smoothly, very smoothly in fact. Happy kids. Happy teachers. Happy parents. Middle School Director Joe Williamson said this was his 28th first day of school, and it was the smoothest one yet. This did not really surprised me. Think about it: every family in our community wants... » read more