COVID19 — Skip the workbooks, teaching and learning

Ramadan Mubarak to many of our relations. Ramadan started the evening of 23 April and last for 30 days.

Artwork by Stat Phillips, from Amplifer Global Open Call for images promoting wellbeing and social change

Schools across the country, maybe world, have shut down in-person classroom instruction. Youngsters in preschool all the way up to graduate students in doctorate programs have shifted to “distant learning.” The shift to distant or online learning has been clumsy and uneven for many. Some children are getting a lot of online instruction while others are navigating this crisis with little to no support. I don’t say anything of this as a judgment on educators or parents/caregivers at all, we’re all trying to manage the sudden change. Props to everyone for making it another day.

A colleague and friend Regina and I talked last week, and she reframed education in this moment for me. She said “Sister, don’t worry. Your kids and mine will be ok. Just think about how lucky our kids are to have time to have cultural learning.” Regina is so right.

Cultural Learning, we all have a culture

With the extended school closures and stay at home orders, we have a rare opportunity to spend conspicuous amounts of time without the usual distractions of school, errands, gym classes, parties, outside meetings, etc. This doesn’t mean we aren’t sad or grieving about losing our usual habits. I talked to a colleague who said he misses his weekly ping pong game, another said they miss even the thought planning a trip since we really don’t know when traveling will be safe, my kid said she misses her comic club.

Today one of my kids had a hard day. She didn’t want to do traditional math worksheets. We hit a stalemate. It was ugly, there were feelings – big feelings by both of us. When we both calmed down I remembered what Regina told me, why not use this time to impart and honor cultural learning. She reminded me doing three pages of math worksheets isn’t going to get them ahead in life. The messages many of us POCs are often given and sometimes pass along is we need to work harder, be smarter, do more to stay competitive and to stay in the game – “you have to be twice as good, work twice as hard, be smarter,” to achieve what others naturally get. What price are we giving for this message? In my case, the price was a meltdown and stress. Part of the other message I want my kid to learn is how to persevere and sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do because it is life, but maybe a math workbook isn’t the way to teach that lesson.

Regina’s wise point is we use this time to build connections and to teach the things they won’t get elsewhere. We were friendly joking there are going to be a lot of kids who are picking up their home languages really well right now – language immersion at its best. Regina told me how one of the elders in her Somali community said this is the most time she’s been able to spend with her grandchildren. The time together has allowed the grandma to share stories about growing up in Somalia and the beauty of the farm and countryside.

Culture everywhere

I know at least one of you are saying “But I don’t have a culture, I’m white…” or maybe you don’t realize what your cultural background is. You do have a culture and this is a great time to be more mindful of it. My household identifies as mainly Asian, and is infused with a lot of characteristics and traits of Asian-ness, it isn’t just Asian culture we perpetuate. Part of our current home cultural learning and exploration is hearty doses of Star Trek reruns. We’ve been watching Star Trek together on Netflix, something we haven’t always made the time to do. We’ve also explored other things like LEGOs, pop Asian lit and art, and how to make the best of situations.

One of the most important lessons I hope my children learn right now, is the cultural teaching of group over self. I grew up in Hawaii, with a very Asian influence. Many Asian and Pacific Islander cultures value acting in the interest of the group, over self. (Other racial and ethnic backgrounds value this too, I’m writing about it from the Asian perspective since this is what I know.) While hanging out we’ve had conversations with or around the kids about how right now we can’t do certain things like go on road trips or why we cross the street when we see people because it is important to think of keeping us all safe. We conversely talk about how it is selfish for people to continue to do things like fly to Hawaii or visit other vacation spots, or join in protest rallies challenging the stay at home orders – and yes, race and exploring privilege does factor into the conversation.

Ideas for your home culture exploration

I totally understand if you feel overwhelmed and don’t want to explore anything new right now. I was joking with a friend that I haven’t done anything like what others are doing on social media during their quarantine – the stack of books I picked up from the library sit unread, the cookies I baked were bad (very bad), and I haven’t done Zoom yoga yet. Yet, if you have energy and want to explore your culture or think about how to be a supportive ally, here is the 2020 Fakequity Pledge. Many of these ideas are adaptable to the current COVID19 stay at home orders.

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