Monday, December 22, 2008

The age of criticism

First, a belated response to some comments.

David, thanks for the warm comments. I hope you are all well, and that we'll be able to see each other soon -- maybe in HK or Shunde? We miss you all. I love seeing the pictures of Susie. No matter where you end up, I think hearing Korean from a young age will help her down the line, even if she doesn't continue with the language. I suspect that part of the reason I've been able to pick up Korean and Chinese relatively quickly is that I was exposed to Cantonese when I was young.

Micah, thanks for your comment! I agree with what you said about memorization. One of the reasons I'm content with Pinghe right now is because they do, through subjects taught in English with American texts, include more creative expression than I was expecting. Aiden's doing a speech to run for mayor of the class today, he made a poster to save the sharks before that, and made a model of ancient Egypt before that... those were the kinds of activitis I did in public school in the U.S., and I think I had a very good education. These projects involve some relatively long-term planning and a variety of forms of expression: verbal, 2-dimensional art, 3-dimensional art. I'm not sure what the U.S. is like these days (and of course the U.S. educational system is very regional); but while I think the U.S. in general is good with creative problem solving and critical thinking there seems to be strong distaste for memorization. And sometimes I think memorization is good. You've got to memorize the times tables. You've got to memorize spelling. And when it comes to learning a language you've got to do some memorization. Even in a speech, you've got to be able to hold the structure in your head and talk around it. So my comment about memorization wasn't to embrace it wholeheartedly, but to recognize (as someone who also has had a distaste for it pedagogically) that a little memorization can be a good thing. But I should have also commented that in his curriculum overall memorization has been accompanied by other more creative and critical techniques.

This is a bit tangential but I really like the writing textbook they are using. I've done a lot of teaching of writing (to graduate students and for younger children) and I was really impressed but the book. But (as I'm finding now) this kind of work (creative writing, projects like those described above) requires a lot of participation from the parents.

Some kids are more self-sufficient (most girls seem to be able to do these things by themselves, if my quick survey of the other moms counts as evidence) but with Aiden I have to spend a lot of time helping him break his projects (and test preparation) into steps, making him work on those things daily, helping him through the process of revision. As any writer knows, most of writing is being able to step back and think through a piece of work in multiple ways, to be able to sense structure and flow, and then to revise. Aiden’s a “let’s finish this quickly and play” kind of kid. Helping him with projects -- helping him tame his ideas and make them presentable and polished -- requires a lot of patience (I’m failing in that area) and attention. Memorization, from the parent’s perspective, is easier. It doesn’t require much thinking on the parent’s part. Maybe my standards are high (I don’t think they are) but this kind of schooling (assuming the projects are done at home -- the kids in American schools have very little homework) requires a lot more of the parent than the other kind does. I’m very glad that I’m not working and can spend this time with him, because he really needs the help. Max is a different animal. He sits next to us at the table and works with a great deal of concentration on his workbooks and drawings. I’m guessing that he’ll be able to do his work more independently. I don’t know how much of that is related to birth-order (he likes to do what his brother does, even if it means sitting at the table and “studying” for several hours every day) and how much is personality. Max has always been more detail-oriented, better with small-motor control, more into drawing. I’m teaching him to read Korean now and he’s catching on surprisingly quickly.

On another tangent, my blog and my other writing has suffered from this lack of time. I’m in school all morning and I have to save energy and patience to help Aiden with his homework all evening. I have a few hours in the afternoon to split between building my social relationships, doing household things, and working on my own long-term writing project. It tires me out.

What I’ve been meaning to write about: the age of criticism

Until a certain age Mommy and Daddy are just Mommy and Daddy, not People -- but the main sources of comfort, security, and knowledge of rules and boundaries. Kids Max’s age can’t think of their parents as people, they just are. But at some point kids start to realize that their parents are not perfect, that they can be criticized like anyone else. And once that criticism starts, it never stops, does it?

Aiden’s reaching the age of criticism. He’s old enough to have accumulated a large set of evidence -- make that grievances -- about the way that we treat him. He’s been around the block and seen the large discrepancies in the way people parent in different families and different places. I have taken care to explain to him (many times, I tend to run at the mouth) why I make certain decisions that are different from his friends’ parents: why he’s not allowed to watch much TV, why I won’t buy him a Nintendo DS, why we have to move, etc. There are unintended side effects to everything. A few weeks ago we met the daughter of a friend and after a few minutes Aiden sidled up to me and whispered, “Mom, that kid is really spoiled.” He then spent the rest of the evening making whispered analysis of all the ways in which the mom encouraged the kid’s spoiled behavior. So he’s able to see the ways in which parenting choices mold the behavior of children, and I think that’s generally a good thing (as long as he keeps it to himself in the name of politeness) but it’s also encouraged him to increasingly turn his critical eye on my parenting choices. Some days I’m feeling a little like a Big Three Executive meeting Congress. But with a little more to show, I hope.

The other day he was being extra fidgety with his Chinese tutor (who has learned that days when Aiden doesn’t have gym class are days in which he cannot sit still) and she jokingly said, “If you don’t listen to me maybe I should start hitting you.” He said, very seriously, “You can’t do that!” She said, “Your mom doesn’t hit you?” He said, “No, of course not! If she did I could leave and go to another family.”

Where did he get that idea? But this idea seems to have taken over his thinking. I guess I have, in retrospect, presented parenting, living, behavior, etc. as a series of choices, emphasizing the ways in which we can pick and choose how we want to be, and it makes sense I suppose to extend that to family. The other day he was complaining that an old reward system that had existed in Korea was no longer (I had taken advantage of the move and let it expire). I explained that since he was older he no longer needed to be rewarded for that particular behavior; he was mad and said, “I don’t want to be a part of the family anymore. I want to go to a different family!” I laughed at him. Not a nice laugh, I was pissed. “You want to leave your family over a piece of CANDY???” Because I forget that although he can be supremely rational about some things, he’s just an 8-year old, unable to look past the blow of a loss of a piece of candy and remember all the ways in which his family is really good.

In other kid news...
Both kids are speaking so well it is a little scary. Aiden now has character dictation once a week and they’ve progressed to some tough characters. His stroke order is more correct than mine, and he can now understand grammatical patterns without ever learning them as such. (It’s so different with the adult learner. Though I do remember finding myself using grammatical patterns I never learned in Korean; one day they just started emerging from my mouth. Surprised me as much as anybody else.) Max can now have short conversations in Chinese, and he speaks whole sentences easily.

I’m so jealous.

Aiden came home one day to tell me a story about an incident in gym class that included the following: “...and he hit me with the 쇠 hula hoop and then the 후반장 said, “下课了?“ And the teacher said, “没有。” It made me laugh. We tend to mix a lot of Korean and English at home, but that was the first time he threw some Chinese into the mix. It used to be Korean with a little English, then it was something like, “Mommy will you 고쳐this 장난감for me? 빨리!" (Max) And now it’s more like, “Mommy can we have some 계란for dinner?” Just a word here and there. Though they still tend to talk to each other in Korean. We’ll go back to Korea for a few weeks in January and I think their Korean ratio will rise at that time. I’m just playing with percentages now.


I’m not sure how long I can keep the Santa Claus charade up. I took them to see Santa at a fair at Concordia school last month and Aiden said with suspicion, “Is this the real Santa?” One of the volunteers said, “Is there any other kind?” Then just before we sat on Santa’s lap he asked me, “Can I speak to Santa in Korean?” I was mentally kicking myself for having told him last year that Santa can speak all languages in the world. The circumstances necessitating that declaration are fuzzy but I think it was probably because he wrote his letter in English and Korean last year. This year it was all in English. Anyway, I told him something lame like, “This is an English-speaking fair and for the sake of politeness maybe you should stick to English.” And then a week or so later we went to see the lighting ceremony at the Hongqiao Marriot where there was another Santa. Aiden said, “Mommy, this is a different Santa!” I think the jig is almost up.

From last year, here’s my post on “Lies I tell my kids.” It still makes me laugh.


David Harris said...

Cathi and I had a discussion-almost-turned-argument - as is the case about many things involving Susie that we agree upon 99% but still manage to (nearly) get into a fight over the 1% difference - about Santa Claus.

Basically, we're not doing Santa.

Or Barney.

Christie D. said...

Re: kids critical of parents,
For some reason we taught our sons (ages 9 and 13) the word "hypocrite" a few months ago, and they have taken to it like a fish to water... it seems to be one of the most useful words we have ever taught them. Now a couple of times a week we get:

Mommy or Daddy: "Jiji could you please stop ---ing and ----." [fill in the blanks with whatever request, instructions or critism we have]

Jiji: "Hypocrite."

It always makes me laugh... :)