A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, December 31, 2012

What is family?

Just before winter break, I did something highly predictable, according Made To Stick: I heaped generosity on a single flesh and blood child, rather than donating to some charitable abstraction. As Chris's impending move to Guatemala over the Christmas Holidays approached, as a challenge to a 3rd grader who hates to write, who avoids writing by wandering the room and generating little disturbances, I offered to give Chris a camera if he promised to send pictures and become M-19's pen pal, if he promised to share his story of meeting his grandparents in Guatemala for the first time, if he promised to send lots of pictures. I originally intended to give him an old digital camera, which I never use, but as the day of transition approached, I had forgotten that I had left my old camera hanging on the work station divider I use to hide my desk in my basement. Having made a promise to a 3rd grader on the cusp of a major life change, I did the only thing I could: I wrapped my newer digital camera and told him to not tell anybody about our secret, and had him promise not to open his present until he got home and his mother was present.

When I teach "the writing cycle," my primary goal is to teach young writers, "you are the author." To those who are able to understand, I tell them, "if you aren't the author of your own life, someone else will write your story for you, and you might not like the ending." For me, teaching writing is all about empowerment. Even if putting words on paper are difficult for Chris, at least he has the option of taking photographs. I wanted to challenge Chris to figure out how to download the pictures, how to find our school, and how to contact M-19, because I believed if he had a strong enough reason to write, and that's what he wanted to do, he would find a way. We will see.

Teachers often require students to write about subjects for which they have zero background knowledge or interest. For students with executive function challenges, the lack of interest or background knowledge discourages engagement in a task that requires high levels of focus. Is it any wonder why so many students with Learning Disabilities despise writing? One symptom of avoidance I often notice is a focus on surface level characteristics such as spelling or handwriting, to the exclusion of a focus on more important things such as ideas and feelings.

My first writing lesson was how to generate an interests list. The following day, I asked students to use their interests list to pick a single topic, and then hung up large Post-It chart paper around the room so that students could collaborate in generating ABC lists, to help students develop a list of subtopics for a few popular topics. There was a buzz as students collaborated, helping each other out in fleshing out ABC subtopics.

Food and family were not the most popular topics, but as a master writer, my intent was to guide students to stick to things they care about and know about intimately, so one day I asked students to write about a family tradition. One 6th grade boy described with great pride how he was finally allowed in the kitchen to help prepare chicken for the Thanksgiving feast. As he was planning, I asked him to draw a birds-eye map of his kitchen, had him picture who was there and what each person was doing and saying. As the break approached, I challenged students to pay close attention to family traditions surrounding the holidays. To prepare a model, hoping to find creative ways to engage students in the writing process, I made it a point to pay close attention to family over the holidays.

Tonight, Joe, Mabel, Karen, and I went to an annual New Year's Day Eve feast at my parent's home in Arlington. With my new toy, a Samsung Galaxy Rush, I began photographing the food preparations, for their cultural significance.

In Japanese culture, visual presentation of food is critical. My mom never serves a feast on paper plates or uses plastic utensils. Typically, I gorge myself on appetizers, but tonight I used my new Perfect Portions scale and was entering calories on my food log, which slowed me down, and forced me to be mindful of what I was eating. Joe was persuaded to taste the brie on a cracker with fig relish!

Mom broiled the lambchops to marinaded crispness, leaving the insides moist, meaty, and red. Even Joe ate one! Joe polished off much of the asparagus. Afterwards, Joe kept asking for slices of lemons and limes, so we had him cut up his own. He needed to be shown how, but he was receptive.

I fed Mabel wild rice and lamb scraps under the table.

Mom has always used food to attract and hold family together. Karen and I have been going to Arlington every New Year's Eve since even before we were married over 17 years ago. Seeking cultural artifacts, and armed with my new toy, looking for a story to tell, I focused on some of the artifacts.

The dollhead survived the Internment Camps, including Tanforan Race Tracks, Topaz, and Tule Lake. Somehow, my grandmother preserved it through postwar Japan, and the move back to the United States. The photo was from Tule Lake, after my grandfather was reunited with his family.

Mom showed Joe the Fortune magazine that I found one day in somebody's trash as a wandering teen. After Joe looked at the Fortune magazine, Dawn's husband Rowland was reading it intently, eyebrows raised, marveling about how incredibly preserved it was.

Later, dad shared old photos. That's him, 3rd from the right, back when he was in Officer's training. Last year at this time, he had recently been given a year to live, but thanks to my mom's intimate knowledge of the medical field, thanks to some great detective work by his medical team, and a highly skilled surgeon, today dad is cancer free, still fighting the good fight for Social and Economic Justice.As we were preparing to leave, dad pulled out his ancient 1950's movie projector, and was pulling out movies had taken at Nakashima. The smell of burnt dust from the projector was overwhelming, my lungs were burning, plus Karen, Joe, and Mabel were ready to go.

On New Year's Day, we will be at my brother's house, as we always have done. There will be over 40 people there. My uncle Isamu's family will be there, along with 3 generations, and my newly married youngest cousin Scott. I have Thank You Notes and some Christmas Cards that I never sent out to send, plus I have lesson plans to write, and a job interview for which I need to prepare, but family comes first.

Tonight, I decided to follow Dr. V.F. Ramachandran, the noted neurosurgeon, on Twitter. I know it was Dr. Ramachandran because of the location, La Jolla. He recently discovered Twitter and was trying "to figure it out." One of his Tweets mentioned that the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs hit Bombay. As my first ever Tweet, I Tweeted him a question, why the curiosity about the extinction of dinosaurs?