Misunderstood by Tanya Crossman

Back on the blogosphere after a year of grad school, I’m pleased to publish a review of a Misunderstood by Tanya Crossman. The book was recently published by Summertime Publishing and can be purchased on Amazon. I’m pleased to offer my take on the book below:

Despite being a relatively new genre, authors of Third Culture Kid (TCK) literature must meet demanding standards. These authors perform a dual task: first, define a population with whom many readers may be unfamiliar; simultaneously, they draw broad enough boundaries around these definitions so self-identified TCK readers don’t feel boxed in and categorized.

Being a TCK myself, and having read literature that rigidly categorizes and labels TCKs, I approached Tanya Crossman’s Misunderstood with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I was pleased to find that at the end of nearly 400 pages of interwoven vignettes, anecdotes, personal quotes, context information, and definitions, Tanya has presented a balanced perspective of what it means to live as a TCK. Tanya extends past the quantifiable measures of countries lived in and number of moves to the feelings and thoughts a TCK carries with him or her.

A Diverse Sampling

Tanya’s book lends value to TCK literature through its geographic diversity of narratives. Instead of rehashing foundational TCK concepts, Tanya broadens the conversation by including quotes and vignettes from individuals who traditionally fell outside the original definitions of a TCK geographically. In my own experience, much of the TCK discussion has focused on Western-based TCKs in other parts of the world. Tanya expands her pool of narratives to include TCKs who claim passports from China, Cambodia, New Zealand, Australia, and many more. This diversity adds to richness to our understanding of the collective TCK identity.

Pushing the Boundaries

Not only does Tanya broaden the geographic narrative, but she also focuses on new groups of TCKs. These groups may fit better within Ruth van Reken’s recently developed Cross-Cultural Kid (CCK) framework. Regardless of definition, Tanya’s addressing of these groups—such as children of educators or unaffiliated families—accurately parallels the way our understanding must shift along with global trends. This leaves room for change and adapting and allows us to apply old understandings in new ways.

Who’s It For?

At the beginning of her book, Tanya identifies the intended audience as TCKs, families of TCKs, or caregivers of TCKs. I am confident Tanya has included something in her book for everyone, whether or not they identify with one of those categories. Boundaries continue to blur in globalization, and elements of the TCK identity are becoming more and more relevant. Whether you are a TCK or may interact with a TCK in the future, Misunderstood provides an excellent framework to begin understanding.

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Creation Regained

Sometimes I forget why I want to do what I want to do in life. In short, I want to spend my life making education accessible to people globally. Why? Because everyone has a voice, and too often groups of people are marginalized because they don’t have access to education and so are not respected in the world, or because the education system has been created by people who don’t understand them and so doesn’t work out like it’s supposed to.  That’s not right. It’s not right that people don’t have a voice and so their needs are misunderstood or ignored.

I got really good at saying this and therefore knowing that’s what I wanted to do, but I admittedly forgot why I was saying this until this week. And it started in a politics class during my sophomore year of college, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I took the class somewhat unwillingly–politics scared me. I wanted to take sociology to fulfill my human sciences requirement, but the course either filled up, or didn’t work in my schedule, I don’t remember. I ended up in Perspectives on Political Order, and it scared me.

One of the textbooks for that class was Al Wolters’ Creation Regained. It was actually one of the few textbooks I didn’t purchase and just borrowed from a roommate (I wish I’d purchased it). You can read a summary of the book here. In short, the book discusses redemption through Christ not only for us, but also as an act of moving the world into right relationship with God. The world includes things like the physical world, but also social constructs and everything God has created. Wolters asserts that everything created by God was good and has been tainted by sin, and Christ’s redemption was not just for human salvation, but the salvation of the world (Dad, please don’t pick holes in my theology…I know it’s not perfect).

I don’t think I fully grasped the impact of the book until I started teaching in a low-income school district where the effects of racism still ran deep. As I grew frustrated with the fact that the system didn’t work for my students and how I as a teacher would be measured by inappropriate teaching standards, I grew indignant and angry. I wanted to be done.

One evening I was speaking with someone about teaching, and I brought up my faith background, then began to spew out how angry I was about how ridiculous the school system and testing requirements are and how my students were being treated unjustly and as a result it wasn’t fair.

“Lauren, what does your faith say you should do about that?” she asked.

I stopped. “I mean, it says I should do something about it,” I stammered, a little sheepishly. How could I say otherwise, when Christ has called us to bring justice to the world?

Suddenly, Wolters’ book made just a little bit more sense. An unequal education system is one of those things that has been corrupted by sin, and we have a responsibility to transform it in order to provide everyone with the quality of life they deserve as human beings. And I knew I couldn’t just turn my back on it. Having seen the impact that such inequality had on my students just wasn’t right.

That doesn’t mean I know exactly how to change the education system. But I want to learn, and help make it happen.

I’d forgotten this.

This past week I attended a lecture at my alma mater. I was walking back into the building afterward and ran into my professor from my politics course. I wasn’t really expecting him to remember me–I was one in about 30 students from a gen-ed class five years ago. But impressively, he did (kudos to my small Christian liberal arts college faculty!). A day later he’d sent me an article about Wolters’ Creation Regained. As I read through it, I remembered why I do what I do.

You should probably read Creation Regained–you just might find a new meaning for the work that you do.

Maybe the Explorers got Something Right

The good news about my new job is that it provides me with regular and somewhat frequent international travel, which provides fuel for my blog. The bad news is that the weeks surrounding my international travel are usually pretty busy, which means that I don’t actually get to post until about three weeks later (such as this time).

About three weeks ago I returned from Haiti. We were there running teacher training seminars in two separate cities, and were privileged to interact with almost 100 Haitian teachers in each city that we worked in. We drove through gorgeous mountains and had breakfast by the beach overlooking Caribbean water. We also taught outside in some pretty sweltering humidity amid random power outages and braved attack peacocks, so it wasn’t all fun and games.

As a Caucasian who has spent a chunk of time overseas and an educator, one of the things that I’m always thinking about is how I am impacting another culture as an American. This is something that I had to carefully consider before I took a job that would lead me to directly impacting the education system of a third world country. It’s also something that I had to think a lot about when I moved to North Carolina (despite it being in the United States, it was actually a very different culture than what I had lived in previously). You can find an excellent description of why I feel this way here: http://cindywords.com/an-open-letter-to-missionaries/ .

Too often I see people in other countries who uphold Americans because they believe that American way of doing things is the best–because they are white and therefore must be rich and thus must have a quality of life to be coveted. They desire to follow the “American dream” because they believe it leads to material wealth and prosperity. In so doing, many of them leave their own countries and try to conform to an American way of life.

This trip, though, I met Pierre (which isn’t his real name, but since I try to avoid posting real names on my blog, we’ll call him Pierre). Pierre interpreted our training in the second location we visited. We weren’t actually sure if he would come, because no one could get a hold of him before the seminar. But come Thursday morning, there he was, tall, skinny, in a plaid button down shirt ready to go.

As we introduced ourselves to him, he told us a little more about himself–he had interpreted for similar events to ours before, and was also a teacher. He taught history (US and World History) and was currently in university. I’m not really sure how the school system works that a person can be in university and be a teacher at the same time, but there are a lot of things that I don’t really know how they work in Haiti, so I didn’t ask.

During lunch, I snagged Pierre and started asking him questions about teaching, his classroom, and Haiti.

“You know what the real problem that we need to solve in Haiti is?” he began. Inwardly I cringed a little. I feared that he would say that the country needed more American aid coming in, that they needed more money, or more American businesses.

“We need to want something,” he continued. “The Europeans who traveled across the ocean to the New World on their boats, they had a clear objective. They were working toward something. In Haiti, too often we just wait for things to come to us. We don’t work together to get anything.”

I paused. His analysis was never something that I had expected to hear during my trip in Haiti. Moreover, it was one that I had rarely given value to myself. Frequently as a social studies teacher, I had written off the early explorers and pioneers into the United States as narrow-minded and selfish given the way that they blatantly devalued native cultures. I prided myself in getting my students to see these people not through the lens of glorification that they are traditionally taught, but with a critical eye, challenging cultural assumptions about these people.

But as I listened to Pierre, I saw someone whose analysis knew this and considered this, but saw good in them anyway. And in so doing, he took a lesson from it that transcended culture and values. He was not saying that Haiti needed to be like America. Rather, he was saying that he wanted his people to build a country that they could be proud of, and in order to do that, they could look to other parts of history as examples.

Why I Teach: For Bigger Things

When I moved to North Carolina, I thought I was taking my first teaching job.  I’d gone to school for this.  I thought I knew how to write a lesson plan, and usually I knew how to execute it too.

But today made me realize that seeing my life as that–as a teaching job–eliminates the reason I teach.  When I saw my life as that, all of the hassles of teaching blurred my vision: the hours of sleep lost because I get up at 5-something every day; the annoyance of putting my plan into a template that no one really looks at; the paycheck; the times I see kids making unwise choices; the minutes spent in what seem like pointless meetings; the countless tests; and of course, the innumerable reforms and pressures put on teachers by the state.  It’s easy to get bogged down in the glitches of the little things that don’t run well about the education system.

And then days like today show up out of the blue.  From an educational standpoint, it might have been a wasted day.  But in my eyes, it was one of the most valuable days I’ve had in my AP class.  When I walked back into my classroom from the hallway, I was super stoked to find that one of my students had bought breakfast from Bojangles for the class.  We got started on our work for about 20 minutes.  Then suddenly my students were telling me stories.  They weren’t stories about the Mexican War that we were learning about.  They were stories of their lives.

I learned about one of my students who had siblings in jail and a parent who was absent from his/her life, and how the students works about 15 hours a week at a part time job, and had a rough middle school gap and turned it around in high school and is taking AP classes and honors classes, and wants to be a nurse because he/she wants to help people and at the same time speak to groups about how important it is to take life seriously, and about how he/she wants to move to a city for the opportunity, but at the same time wants to see change in the town that our school is in and wouldn’t want to leave.

I learned about my student who wants to be a social worker and so come back to town and help people, how the decisions that other people make around this student can aggravate him/her because the decisions are not the best, and what a heart this student has for helping the kids in the community.

I can’t do justice to the beauty that came through in their honesty and their hope for their community and their families.  But even as I saw the minutes tick by, I didn’t care that we had lost about an hour of “instructional time.”  So what that our lesson plan got moved back to the next day.  I suddenly found myself humbled before these sixteen year olds who had gone through more than I could ever imagine and who wanted so much for their families and towns, but at the same time saw the things preventing that.   That doesn’t keep them from wanting to pursue their dreams.  I was humbled that they told me.  And I was humbled by the fact that in my listening, they knew I cared.  They have more to teach me about life than I could ever teach them.

And when they told those stories, they gave me the chance to step back and look at the bigger picture of my so-called “teaching job.”  And I realized what a privilege it is to be able to see my second block class of students carry on a discussion completely on their own and at the same time include everyone who wants to share.  And how much responsibility I have when I ask to talk to a student after class and he immediately hangs his head because he knows he’s done something that took away from our lesson.  And just how much more powerful it is to watch a kid refocus when you’re able to say “I’m disappointed because I know you can do better,” than have to demand why he wasn’t ready with his homework.

More importantly I realized, it’s not about me.  Even my decisions on a daily basis are not about me.  They’re about my students, and they’re about hopefully working to bring a little piece of God’s redemptive plan of salvation to this Earth.

Tortuous Textbooks

As an education major, I’d often been told that textbooks were frequently erroneous and not to be trusted.  And yet somehow–in middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the United States–teacher still lean on textbooks.  When I was student teaching, I rarely used the textbook, mostly because my cooperating practitioner strongly believed that they were heretical.  Since I was under his tutelage for four months, I slowly began to espouse this theory also, though I wasn’t really sure why.

Then I moved South, and when I rarely used the textbook, the pushback from students was astronomical.  I began to assign textbook reading at home so that students wouldn’t complain so much that they weren’t using the textbook, or so that rumors that I “wasn’t really teaching” didn’t start being spread.

During my second year of teaching, however, I was able to able to magically avoid this discussion merely due to the fact that my school did not have enough textbooks for me to even pass out to my students.  Whenever the inevitable question came up, “Ms. Owen, why aren’t we getting textbooks,” the easy answer became, “We don’t have them.”  Case closed, no debate.  Can’t make something exist out of thin air.

About two months into school I finally received my shipment of AP US History textbooks (while apparently we can’t afford regular course textbooks, we can still afford AP US History textbooks…but not until a fifth of the way through the course).  It wasn’t until I received these textbooks and started reading through that I discovered why textbooks really are absolutely atrocious and are leading to the dying breed of the Social Studies class:

1. They are incredibly biased, but claim to preach truth.  Example below, referring to post-Revolution America

“‘All men are created equal,’ the Declaration of Independence proclaimed, and equality was everywhere the watchword.  Most states reduced (but usually did not eliminate altogether) property-holding requirements for voting.  Ordinary men and women demanded to be addressed a “Mr.” and Mrs.”–titles once reserved for the wealthy and highborn.”  (The American Pageant, David Kennedy and Lizabeth Cohen, 15th ed. Wadsworth Cengage Learning).

The paragraph goes on, but I’ll stop there.  The section goes on to highlight the equality of the new America, and overdramatically emphasize the trials of the new country.  Talk about giving vague evidence and eliminating glaring incongruities to prove a point.

A second example, relating to education reform in the early 1900’s:

“The famed little red schoolhouse–with one room, one stove, one teacher, and often eight grades–became the shrine of American democracy.”

Again, extreme biases that highlight a focus on democracy, when really democracy is about the farthest thing from America at this point.  And when you look at the motivation for tax-funded public education–the wealthy wanting to make sure that, if they did have to share the vote with someone poor of a different social class, these someone’s should be educated enough not to damage the country–it becomes clear that the textbooks is simply hiding the corrupt, arrogant, and selfish grasp that the white upper-class had on society.  Too often, these textbooks are taught as truth and students are not taught to examine the biases of the authors.

2. The second reason that I hate textbooks revolve around how they present history.  Cause and effect identified for students so that all they have to do is memorize.  No actual skills involved besides reading.  I mean, reading is good, but if the only thin you have to do after that reading is memorize it?  I hate to break it to you, but that’s not learning.

——

So no wonder history is a dying science.  There are some teachers out there who are changing it up and teaching differently.  But if the tests that states give to social studies still revolve around regurgitation of already biased facts and cause and effect statements, then that won’t fly, and we’re going to keep producing test-taking children instead of critical thinkers.

School

For most people across North Carolina (or at least my part of North Carolina) today was the first day of school.  There were some minor triumphs of the day–like reading my students’ KWL charts and discovering that they had actually learned things last year and retained them over the summer…or having a student as a question that highlighted bias in the text.

But what struck me from today came not as much from my students as from a colleague.  On the drive home we were discussing the faculty meeting we had just walked out of about forty minutes prior.  Much of the faculty meeting had been spent reviewing the school dress code, going over policies and procedures, and discipline policies.  Parts of the meeting looked a little chaotic as staff tried to voice their opinions, particularly since voicing opinions felt like a new experience.

My colleague admitted that he was cringing during much of it.  “I don’t really care about rules,” he confessed.  “I just want to teach my students what I know they need to know in order to be successful.”

I had to pause.  In the one sense, I agree with where he’s coming from–getting bogged down in the nit-picky of shoelace colors is burdensome and suffocating when you want to focus on preparing an engaging lesson for your students.

But then I think back to my Intro to Ed course.  Granted, it was one of my least favorite courses in my ed major (sorry to my kind-hearted professors), but one thing that my textbook did do well was emphasize the multiple aspects of what a school is.  A school is more than just a place that you go to learn stuff.  It’s where you go to learn social skills and life.  And much of the time, part of that life is following rules.  Not because we need to always follow rules, but because you are part of a community, and being part of a community involved giving up part of yourself and abiding by a covenant.  I think that’s more of the lasting impact of a school than any class content.

Lies My Teacher Told Me

Next year I’m scheduled to teach AP United States history at my high school.  As part of the summer assignment, I’ve requested that my students read the book Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen.  Given that I have never read the book myself, I figured that probably should do that.

I’m only into the first chapter.  The ideas that Loewen puts forward are things that I’ve largely already encountered, though not necessarily in as much detail as he supplies.  For example, I’ve figured that not all US presidents are as peachy as history books make them out to be, though I was unaware of the specific blatant racist tendencies of Woodrow Wilson, which Loewen supplies as an example.

Those specific examples have been interesting to say the least, but I ran across a passage that I found to be particularly interesting.  Loewen had talked about the socialist career of Helen Keller, and then included a passage from one of Keller’s written works:

“I had once believed that we were all masters of our fate–that we could mould our lives into any form we pleased….I had overcome deafness and blindness sufficiently to be happy, and I supposed that anyone could come out victorious if he threw himself valiantly into life’s struggle.  But as I went more and more about the country I learned that I had spoken with assurance on a subject I knew little about.  I forgot that I owed my success partly to the advantages of my birth and environment…Now, however, I learned that the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone.” (reprinted in James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, Touchstone: New York, 2007, p. 27)

This passage had been written in response to Keller’s own experiences followed by a tour of the country where she entered mills, mining communities, and encountered workers on strike.

This passage caught me because of my students.  Most of my students come from situations with so much to overcome–from poverty to family matters to health issues.  And, unlike Keller, they are not part of the social class that can afford them opportunity for success.  Yes, there are chances for them to change the circumstances, but they face a significantly greater number of obstacles than the wealthier counterparts.

If Keller is actually right, then my students don’t realistically have much of a chance.  Granted, Keller lived in a little bit of a different country than the one we live in today, but we still face similar issues in the nation today.  So I hope that Keller is not right.  Because my students deserve more than that and they should have the power to rise.