Yiyi, Mother of 2, CA
Yiyi is always up for perplexity and curiosity, aspired to the higher power of intellect. She was raised by a parent who does not speak a single word of English but dreamed a bigger future for her kids. Yiyi is a RE-ENVISIONED Catalyst and was interviewed by her mentor catalyst, Erin.
Take a moment and think about a child you care about. When you’re ready, tell me about that child.
My daughter – she’s 6 years old – she has totally different temperament from me – and her way of looking at the world is through numbers and patterns. She’s mellow, but determined in a quiet, non-forceful way. She’s very empathetic to all living creatures.
What is her name?
Her name is Urania.
When you think about what you want for her now – what makes a good childhood? What do you want for her for her childhood?
For her to have a good childhood, I would hope the school she attends would nurture her tenacity and focus, as well as help her to learn to experiment in a broader way with a variety of experiences.
Outside of school I believe parents and siblings’ accompany together with an environment to encourage learning are important for her.
Now, imagine she is grown up - in their 30s or 40s – out of school and starting into adult life. What do you hope for her for her life? What would make it a ‘good’ or ‘successful’ life?
Interesting, last night my husband asked me this question! Her life is out of my imagination, but there are basic things I definitely want for her then. I want her to be able to do things - to be equipped with knowledge and passion and to devote that to whatever cause she cares about most.
Is there anything you worry about getting in the way of her achieving that? Anything that keeps you up at night?
Many things make me worry. First of all is about education. We came to live in the US as immigrants is because we want to give a better future for our kids. Although China has opulent opportunities for our generation to create fortune, it’s definitely not a place to raise future generations. Now we’re living in a blessed area with top schools in the nations, but I still see a lot of things that aren’t set up for creating a future world citizen. The curricula such as civil participation, technology, engineering, science, aren’t presented properly in her daily life in our elementary school.
Other than that, I worry the disconnection she has with the real world – we’re in the best part of the earth and it’s a blessing and a curse. She can get very disconnected with other parts of the world. We went back to China every year to visit cities as well as the village schools in the rural areas where kids there do not see their parents year round and have very few learning opportunities. I still remember when kids there were asked what they’d like to do most, their answers were cooking, washing or feeding livestocks. They weren’t given books to read or being read to. When my daughter grows up and if she have opportunities to become policymakers, I worry that it might be difficult for her to relate to people that are different than her if she lacks understanding of them. .
I also worry about the mentality of racing to nowhere here. In this environment, everyone is very competitive on reaching goals. Well, I don’t want her to conform to this competitive culture without knowing what she should be running for.
Ideally, what role do you think schooling should play in achieving that ideal good life?
That’s a wonderful question! I think a liberal education is beneficial for her. The approach of learning that empowers individual and prepares her to deal with complexity, diversity and change. It provides her with broad knowledge of the wider world, such as science, culture and society, as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. An education that opens up her mind to be interested – be curious, like I said, about the world and many aspects of where we are heading to.
Do you think schools will play that role for her?
I think the school she goes to does relatively well on many aspects of that role. I don’t have a lot of samples to draw the comparison, so I consider the education I had growing up, and kids in my community in other school districts. I see our district, the school, and the classroom teachers try very hard to provide that kind of liberal education.
The school my daughter goes to is a progressive public school. It’s philosophy is to promote socio-emotional learning which stems from the Stanford Bing Nursery philosophy. Some parents established the school many years ago because they believe in the whole child development model that can facilitate children’s well round growth. The school focuses on social-emotional learning and building an inclusive culture - a school for everyone. We have children with special learning needs, children from underserved areas such as East Palo Alto, children whose English is not their first language and specialized teachers to facilitate them. The school attracts many “powerful” parents in the area - the parents who choose this public school because they value the school’s philosophy of building an well rounded, inclusive learning environment. However, that may not the “common sense” choice in this most influential area of the nation.
Why do you say that in this area?
We live in a very competitive area – the parents know that what it takes to get into a competitive school - perfect AP scores and early specialization matter greatly. That mentality could jeopardize parents’ choices to a well-rounded school environment not promoting any early specialization.
Will schools play the role you think it should for all children? If not, why not?
Yes, I do think so. My daughter is blessed the opportunity to go to her school. Not long ago I watched a documentary called “Bully”. It was not with a light heart I saw the parents whose children were bullied at schools didn’t even have the language to describe the issues. They most of the time got brushed off by the principals when they brought up the problems. It’s all so wrong! And it takes people’s lives to bring this issue to public attention. At the end the movie and the screening event both cried out that the school should provide a safe and nurturing environment for all children to learn.
Also the academic part – a lot of learning happens at home – we as parents are not home teachers but we attend to whatever questions my daughter brings up all the time. We nurture her curiosity by taking her to places like museums and natures. But that may not be the experience for every child and that worries me. Yesterday I replied an email to the director of Maths Circle at Stanford because he offered my daughter a spot at the weekly creative elementary math class. I expressed in the email that we were very glad to have the wonderful opportunity and I wish there were more programs like this in our area and in the nations. I worry the inequality starts early - like a Harvard professor said “everybody is equal but some are equal than others.”
I think it’s a matter of resources. We have good education because our property tax is so high – and the property tax is so high because there are people with high paying jobs. If education has to tap into the economic resources then it will never be fair to everyone. There are countries that implement same school standards to teach the same curriculum to every child disregard to her/his economic background. I want that to happen in the US.
I think there’s another part to the problem – the teacher quality – I don’t think we have enough good teachers and our system is not the best system for promoting good teachers.
We don’t have – the teacher is not… in China the teacher is a very prestigious career and here the parents don’t really think teachers as very high, or respect them. I was so shocked that teachers here can teach without even having a bachelor’s or master’s degree. I am totally confused – they’re teaching our children! Dare I say they’re not qualified?! I also don’t see a lot of professional development opportunities for teachers and admin staffs alike to improve and advance. My experience is that the good school depends on a strong PTA and district school board – but you have to be well educated in order to achieve that. What if a school’s PTA doesn’t have the knowledge to make changes to bad school system?
What have been some of your most empowering educational experiences? This doesn’t have to be in school – it could be outside of school or after you finished.
I’m not a traditional student – I get very bored at school most of the time. I learned to be self-taught. Reading is really empowering my learning. I discover something I’m interested in – a problem – because being outside of the school system allowed me to follow my own curiosity and study whatever interested me. Now whenever I got new questions, many Amazon boxes filled with books got delivered at my front door. ☺ First, I always try to figure out the problem, then I read books about it and find expert to talk to. Also continuing education here provided fantastic learning resources – high quality teaching - aka good teachers are indispensable to crack difficult subjects. I want the learner to have control over what they want to learn and who they want to learn from and have resources that enable their choices.
Tell me about your favorite teacher when you were in school. Why were they your favorite?
My favorite teacher was a teacher in my 5th grade. She built connection with us – it never was like any teacher we had before. She came in and showed her vulnerable side, which we had never seen something like that. We jumped up and down and got excited and she never said shut up. There are 60 kids in a classroom in China. The principal saw us jumping and gave us a red ticket and she cried and said “I really wish you would be quiet and learn what you need to learn.” And that really shocked us and then we wanted to be quiet so we could learn from her – she opened us up by showing us her authentic self. She gave us the choice – we could jump up and down but we wouldn’t learn anything and it would get her in trouble. I think by the end of that year I think everyone was genuinely interested in what she taught. She took us to her home and cooked for us and was willing to let us stop by and say hello. That was the only teacher my whole life like that and that was just one year.