Latest Head of School Posts

September 28, 2018

Honoring Teachers Day with a Look at the Role of Virtue

Today, tradition has it, is Confucius’s birthday—his 2,568th. It is also Teachers Day in Taiwan. This is because Confucius was, after all, a teacher. He devoted his life to roaming about teaching anyone who would follow him. 

Every year on September 28, in honor of teachers, I write something about Confucius. Often I write about the timelessness and relevance of his ideas to us ordinary, contemporary folks trying to make our way earnestly and virtuously in the world. I think about this a lot, particularly these days. So today, with your indulgence, on Teachers Day, I want to adopt the position of the teacher and share some of my recent thoughts about Confucius. Full disclosure: this piece is not about the Chinese American International School, it’s about Chinese and American culture.  

First, a little background on Confucius in particular and Chinese philosophy in general.  Classical Chinese philosophy—Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism—developed in violent and chaotic times over two millennia ago. At that time, what we now know as China was a collection of independent kingdoms that were constantly at war with one another, the strong swallowing the weak. Rulers worried about how to govern their populations and keep their kingdoms strong in order to avoid being swallowed by aggressive neighboring kingdoms. Not surprisingly, Chinese philosophy from this time reads like political science. Confucius roamed the kingdoms with his disciples in tow, trying to gain the ear of a ruler who would employ his ideas of good governance. In his day their were many such wandering philosophers, the so-called “hundred schools of thought” or zhū zǐ baǐ jiā 诸子百家.... » read more

September 12, 2018

A Broader Sense of "We" - Strategic Vision Planning Part 2 of 3

About this time two years ago, a task force of 21 dedicated CAIS teachers, administrators, parents and trustees came together at our 888 Campus on a Saturday morning. The purpose of this gathering was to begin work on creating a philosophy statement that would guide our school’s work on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The group met monthly for a year, reporting out periodically to the community as well as inviting input and feedback on our work. A decision the task force made early in the process was that in order for the work of DEI to be meaningful and relevant, it had to be rooted in the school’s mission. As former lower school assistant director Anna Donnelly put it quite eloquently, “in order for our mission to be true, our DEI statement has to be true.” So we braided together our mission—Embrace Chinese, become your best self, create your place in the world 心怀中华,精益求精,立足世界—and our DEI philosophy, which was completed and introduced to the CAIS community in June of 2017.

There is a paragraph in the DEI philosophy statement that draws out the explicit connection between immersion and diversity, equity, and inclusion:

Immersion in a new language and culture requires humility, curiosity, empathy, connection, and a true appreciation of difference…. The attitudes and aptitudes that are cultivated through Chinese immersion extend far beyond language and prepare students to engage respectfully with a diverse world.

I have a solid faith in the power of language and cultural immersion to cultivate deeply rooted attitudes and behaviors about how to be in the world (and not just in San Francisco or the US), viewing and treating others as us. Sometimes I... » read more

September 07, 2018

Welcoming Back with a Look Back - Strategic Vision Part 1 of 3

Dear CAIS Community,

The new Oak Playground is a great mirror for the start of school swirlMany thanks for a successful start to the 2018-19 school year at CAIS! In these exciting early days, the focus necessarily skews toward the nuts and bolts of transitioning back into school. Your kids need to become comfortable with the swirl of teachers, classmates, and routines. You need to navigate drop off and pick up in Hayes Valley traffic (perhaps adding a second campus to your daily mix), determine how to best communicate with your children’s teachers, and master the new morning and evening moods and routines at home. I am confident that before long you will feel the new year’s logistics are old hat. If something remains confusing, though, please always feel free to ask the faculty and staff.

Of course school is not all nuts and bolts. There are the hopes and dreams we all have for our children’s education. Each time they cross the thresholds into the Waller, Oak, or 888 campuses, we envision the communities of which they are a part; the things they will know, understand, and be able to do; the attitudes they are developing; and the people they will become. The daily details are all in service of those greater aspirations that we envision for our kids and, in turn, for the world that they will inhabit and one day shape. 

Back in January of 2014, CAIS unveiled a strategic vision that focused on our aspirations for our children. The culmination of an inclusive, months-long process, the strategic vision has guided decision making for close to five years. In 2014, as with now, we... » read more

February 14, 2018

Chinese New Year Memories: Here’s Mine, Please Share Yours

Mass Greeting Lion DanceI’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

October 04, 2017

Happy Mid Autumn Festival

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

September 28, 2017

Inviting Conversation as We Honor Confucius and Teachers

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

September 01, 2017

Becoming Our Best Selves

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

June 02, 2017

P(arts) of the Mission

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

January 30, 2017

Education and Politics: Citizenship, Not Partisanship

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

January 26, 2017

Bringing Us All Together

Mass Greeting knits together the CAIS CommunityWe 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

More recent posts

Start of School 2019-2020 August 29, 2019

Welcome to School Year 2019-2020

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... » read more
May 02, 2019

Strategic Vision Update Part 5

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... » read more
February 01, 2019

新春愉快 Happy New Year!

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... » read more
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