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Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Not-So-Adoption-Friendly School Assignment

Over the past six years, I've often heard adoptive parents complain about school assignments that aren't exactly adoption friendly, but I've rarely seen exactly what the parents viewed. Either they don't think to share the specific language of the assignment, or they feel too steamed to do so, or it occurred so long ago, they can't quite remember the wording.

Thankfully, we navigated "Star of the Week" (both in kindergarten and first grade) with few issues.

The Tongginator's most recent reading assignment, however, proved a tad trickier. You see, her reading group is currently discussing Molly's Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen. It's the story of a young Russian Jewish immigrant girl who experiences harsh teasing from her classmates. The story explores cultural differences and the immigrant experience within the United States. And the Tongginator was asked to interview a relative about her ancestors.

I really wish the Tongginator's teacher had given me a heads up about this before she handed out the assignment. Because it wasn't exactly adoption friendly. But she didn't, so I coped as best I could, on the spur of the moment. In cases such as these, I pretty much ask the Tongginator how she wants to handle it, then go with her flow. My question to her was, "do you want to talk about Daddy's biological family, or Momma's biological family, or do you want to share what we know about your biological family in China?"

At first she told me she wanted to write down information about my genetic family, which is - quite frankly - the least interesting of the three choices, namely because the Tongginator is herself an immigrant and the husband is a direct descendant of Martha Washington. But the Tongginator chose me. Only I don't think she fully understood the implications of that. In fact, her exact response to my very first comment, "some of my ancestors have been in the United States since the 1600s and I am mostly English, German and Cherokee," was met with a furrowed brow and puzzled expression.

"Umm... but I'm Chinese. I'm not English."

I replied that yes, she was Chinese, and did she instead want to share what we know (or can guess) about her biological family? She wholeheartedly agreed and, with a very small bit of coaching, she adapted the assignment to meet her unique life story.

(click on the image to view larger)

(click on the image to view larger)

I felt very proud of the Tongginator for navigating such a tough assignment at the tender age of seven, especially when she crafted her answers to #2 through #4 completely on her own. And I don't care at all that she didn't follow the rules of the assignment exactly. And I suspect her teacher won't care either. At least she'd better not.

Just so you know.

30 comments:

Clare said...

Really impressive that she is so insightful at such a young age. I think it's a fantastic way to honor her roots and nicely adapted for an assignment that could have caused problems... even for non-adopted kids that have only recently immigrated to the US. Ancestors implies that your family came a long time ago....

Liz said...

The teacher better do more than not care that T didn't follow the rules of the assignment - she better learn a lesson about how to do this better in the future!

So impressed with how your girl handled this...

Keating Mom said...

Love how she handled it! Way to go T!

Laurie said...

I think it turned out great! She completed the assignment very well, and I'm sure her teacher will be pleased! I have to give teachers a break, being a former one myself. We do their best to catch things like this, but it's just not always possible to have every child in our minds every time we give an assignment.

Buckeroomama said...

She did wonderfully.

Haha! I had to laugh at "panda eyes." I never really heard this term until I came to Hong Kong (and my family's Chinese)!

Aus said...

Hey TM - really good work here! Actually tho - I don't know if I'm impressed or not....I've noted with our three adopted kids that they just seem 'wise beyond their years' - Marie and I refer to them as 'old souls' sometimes because of how they respond to many different situations.

So - even if I'm not 'impressed' - T certainly rose to the occasion and exceeded my expectations! ;)

And if the teacher has an issue with anything - y'all just let me know and I'll be happy to deal with it! ;)

You guys are cool - no two ways about it - hugs -

aus and co.

Wendy said...

Great job on this. As a teacher, I am very sensitive to the backgrounds and special circumstances of all my students because I have two children of another race. Before that? Eighteen years ago? Would I have handed out the same assignment? Maybe. Those of you bashing the teacher may want to lay off a bit. It's easy for those of us with adopted children or who live in blended or non-traditional families to see how this assignment is a disaster, but the truth is that most people still think traditionally. Hopefully, the Tongginator, with her honesty and intelligence, has opened her teacher's eyes. The best we can do as adoptive parents is gently, lovingly help others find better ways of doing things.

autumnesf said...

Our school system pulled one on us last year...kindergarten. The objective was to show the kids understood a timeline. The assignment was pictures from birth to 5. And the thing was...it wasn't my daughter I was upset about...it was foster kids. HOW FREAKIN INSENSITIVE for kids who have been shoved around from house to house. Is this really where you want that kind of emotion displayed? In a classroom??? So I wrote a very nice letter of protest to the teacher which she passed on to the curriculum people. I pointed out that this could be terribly emotional for those in the foster system and a K classroom is not where they need to process this. And they tried to be a little accommodating by saying you could draw the pictured if you didn't have photos - but I pointed out that only causes questions as to WHY that kid doesn't have photos...which again leads to questions a 5 year old does not need to process at school. I am happy to say that the teacher at least was very concerned when this was pointed out to her and she did her part to get the letter where it needed to be. My daughter had fun with it and used her referral picture instead of a newborn picture.

lmgnyc said...

Very clever. And very confident of her to put herself out there like that.

Jaggerfan1 said...

That is so awesome, to be able to explore other cultures out there. It's always a fascinating topic to explore the roots you came from. Cool!!!

Jaggerfan1 said...

I read your post about race, and the little girl making insults about the unique shape of Asian people's eyes, and I have to say that it's bullcrap that someone would do that. Because I'm in college and it's a very diverse place here, in fact next semester I have a teacher who is Chinese-American and he's totally awesome, I've had him previously for another class and I have to say he's awesome and might I add very good looking. but in high school there were people who joked about racism and discrimination, it's not right. Everyone is the same on the inside, we just come in different packages, and racism is something i do not like. Besides, I may not be Asian, but I do have a VERY strong interest in the culture of China and Japan and hopefully some day hope of traveling there, and it actually surprises alot that I enjoy watching movies and stuff with Asian actors and actresses, like Jet Li, or Chow Yun-fat, or Lucy Liu, or Michelle Yeoh. I openly admit that Asian culture is the most fascinating one I've ever learned about!

The Gang's Momma! said...

I continue to be impressed with the confidence and security that Little T shows in situations like this. You guys have done such a great job building her up and anchoring her, obviously. I love how you let her take the lead, especially. It's not my first instinct to do so but I'm learning so much from observing your stories...

I am teaching a GREAT class for my Moms' Group, called Raising Great Kids by Cloud and Townsend. I canNOT recommend this resource enough. The video clips area tad cheesy but the book is priceless. I've been at this 16 1/2 years and I'm actually re-learning and re-evaluating so much of what we've done in our home because of it. One of the key lessons is helping our kids navigate the world's reality. Not shielding them forever from the truth of a broken world full of broken people, but instead giving them tools to metabolize the brokenness and cope with it in a healthy way that helps them to grow and learn. This story is such a great example of that process and how uniquely we a-parents have to navigate the world that isn't always so "adoption friendly."

And now I'm curious - will you address the teacher at all? A kind of heads-up of "this is what we learned" and "this is something you might need to consider for future kids?" (Who might not be so secure and capable of taking on something so rife with triggers?) I'm just curious...

Elizabeth @ My Life, Such as it is... said...

great answers. Your daughter handled it beautifully!

We've not had anything like this until recently. Yesterday Charlie brought home a paper person to decorate for Multi-Cultural Day. He doesn't think of himself as Hispanic (domestic adoption) but Irish like Daddy (1st generation). Thankfully his Kindergarten teacher is pretty understanding no matter how it is decorated.

prechrswife said...

Very well-handled. We haven't faced anything like that yet, but I'm sure it is coming. Closest thing was when our oldest's preschool last year was making passports for an "around the world" unit, and her teacher asked for place of birth, and before I could answer, she said, "Do you want me to just put Florida?" Um, no...

Patricia/NYC said...

Bravo, Tongginator!!! Beautifully handled!! And thank you TM, for sharing this experience.

We are lucky in that Kiara goes to a public school here in NYC where MANY children have been adopted from China (hey, our neighborhood founded the FCC! seriously!) and the school is very sensitive to ancestry assignments...at least for now.

Debby said...

Even though the assignments wasn't appropriate, the other children were probably really interested in what your daughter wrote. She did such a good job.
The assignments I never liked were the ones that required a baby picture. I only have one of my son and he was 2 and a half. I always thuought the teacher shoudl have been more sensitive to that.

MotherMotherOcean said...

Wow, she did a really good job on this considering. I agree- did the teacher check out of the "who my students are" conversation early?

Cedar said...

Aaaah! I'm not sure we should adopt. Not sure I know enough to be concerned. T did an excellent job.

We live in a very diverse area with a lot of different family stories, so my son's family tree in Spanish class to learn the Spanish words for relatives in 5th grade is our first assignment like this.

Love her answers and those little piggie toes--so sweet!

kerri said...

Way to go Miss "T", she handled that so beautifully!!!
I cringe at the thought of these assignments, we had 2 (one school, one in Brownies)in the Fall. The teacher gave us heads up, so we could leave it up to "J" how she wanted to approach the assignment, she too handled it so well, I was over the top proud!!

Merrill said...

My daughter just read the same book recently at school and they had a very long, drawn out inquiry project on ancestry. So I've just gone through this whole thing, including a family tree, who was the first one to immigrate, where did they come from, the name of the boat (SERIOUSLY!!!) and port of entry. And to compound it for us, there's only one parent in our family, so she really stood out. She took a similar approach as your T did and wrote about herself. That said, it also stirred up a lot of deep emotions surrounding "Why did she give me away?" "Why can't I still live there?" and the like.

I am also a 2nd grade teacher and I know I am MUCH more sensitive now to projects like this than years ago. And I talked a good bit with my daughter's teacher after the fact. So much of what was in the "passport" just didn't even seem relevant now with all the ways families are made, blended, constantly changing. I know my daughter's teacher didn't mean to stir up the emotions or make this hard, and she did try to modify it some, but assigning research on her country of origin on the night that all the rest of the class was gathering information about the paternal side of the family tree wasn't the best way to do so.

Sorry to ramble! Just connected immediately to your post!

Cavatica said...

Impressive! I hope I can find all of these assignments when BB gets older and starts getting them. I'm going to need advice.

Nancy said...

Good job to both of you! Thanks for blazing the trail ahead of me! Taking copious notes!
Nancy-of the crazy 8

Special K said...

I'm so proud of the T. I'm learning from your example and hers. :)

Briana's Mom said...

Bravo. You both handled the situation perfectly.

Football and Fried Rice said...

Very, very sweet!! Your girl writes better than my 11 year old :)

beyondnormallimits said...

Great job, Tongginator, and well done, TM. This assignment could have caused distress for the young one, but I'm sure how you handled it made a world of difference to her and grew her self-esteem

Patty O. said...

This is fantastic! I'm impressed with both of you. I think my first instinct would have been to take the easy way out and go with my or my husband's family. I think it's great that you didn't do that!

kitchu said...

She is simply an amazing child, TM. i am swelling with pride here, so i can't imagine how you feel.

Sarah said...

Good for her. Following the rules is so overrated.

oneinchofgrace said...

You both handled it it so well. My daughter is in kindergarten and she hasn't had anything like this come up yet. I'm dreading the family tree project though - I know that's bound to come up sometime.