Carabao song

One of my favorite song is by Carabao about the similarity of Thai/Khmer/Laotian/Vietnamese culture.  I love the message of unity.  I believe I have posted this before but I’m going to do it again because I like message.

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Blogactionday: Educating the poor

Many a times I hear people joke, ” I’m so poor I can’t pay attention!”  Today, on this international blogactionday against poverty… that joke, that simple statement has taken a profoundly different meaning. For some kids, that statement is just a joke, but for many kids that is the truth.  Kids living in poverty do have a difficult time paying attention in class.  Statistically, it has been proven that poor kids struggle in school more than the higher income kids who do not have to worry about their basic needs of food and shelter. The socio-economic status of a student is one of the most important factors in student success or failure in the classroom. In a recent article,Class matters- In and out of school: Closing gaps and requires attention to issues of race and poverty, Boyd-Zaharias & Pate-Bain wrote,”Low achievement and dropping out are problems rooted in social and economic inequality- a force more powerful than curricula, teaching practices, standardized tests or other school-related policies”.  What this means is that  in order for students to be successful their basic needs has to be met first.  It is very difficult to engage students in the classroom when they are worried about where they are going to sleep or what they are going to eat once the bell rings. The two meals a day at school is more than some of the kids would get if they were home. In some cases, the school is a sanctuary for kids who are abused, neglected and abandoned by parents who leave them to fend for themselves. Some kids are even forced to fight for their own basic needs when their parents feel that they are old enough to contribute.  Some of these kids end up working under the table to buy food and help pay for bills.

A couple of years ago I had a kid who moved from California to Arizona because he got in trouble with the law there.  He moved in with his dad who was a construction worker. Joe would miss school a lot and at first I would get on him about his absences and preached to him about the importance of education because I didn’t know about his home situation.  He did not tell me why he was frequently absent until a day after his fifteenth birthday.  On his birthday, he didn’t come to school because he was working under the table with his dad to make money.  When he came back I told him to stop ditching school.  I remember him looking at me and said, ” Ms. A yesterday was my birthday… nobody cared, not even my dad, his girlfriend… nobody did anything for me or say anything to me.”  I don’t know who was more shocked, me for discovering the truth or him for letting me know his secret. I couldn’t say anything… my mind went blank.  What do you say to a kid who looks at you in despair, in frustration?  Do your homework? Pay attention?  No, I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t tell Joe to stop missing school. I couldn’t tell him to write his essays.  Instead I told him to take care of himself and if he needed help I was there for him.

As a teacher I see all types of kids come through my classroom and I am not talking about good kids or bad kids; I’m talking about kids from high, middle , and low income. At the school I teach at, over 62% of our students are on free or reduce lunches.  They are identified as the economically disadvantage.  Some of these kids are migrant  where their parents move around the agricultural region because of the field jobs.  Some of these kids come from a single parent home in which the majority of the time the mothers are the head of the household… the father no longer in their lives emotionally or financially.  It is amazing that against all odd many are successful because they believe that education is their way  out.  They are  right.  Education is the key to end poverty… to break the poor  soci-economic cycle.  If these kids want a better life, they have to get their education and fight against cultural norms and break free from the economic barrier they grew up in.  As an educator I think it is vital to remember what Eli Broad says, “Public education is the key civil rights issue of the 21st century. Our nation’s knowledge-based economy demands that we provide young people from all backgrounds and circumstances with the education and skills necessary to become knowledge workers. If we don’t, we run the risk of creating an even larger gap between the middle class and the poor. This gap threatens our democracy, our society and the economic future of America.”

Life is like a rat race!

 

The coming storm
The coming storm

 

Our minds are like waves on the sea, swaying all the time. Concentration helps this swaying mind become still… The state in which my inner mind is not grasping, not excited, not busy, is a state where my mind has settled down completely, in the same way as the water settles down.  The sea of the mind, the deepwater of the mind, when it settles quietly this is concentration—Myongsong Sunim

I read this from the book, Woman on the Buddhist path by Martine Batchelor and it reminded me of the beauty of stillness in the fast pace world we live in. We are constantly on the go, in a rush to get somewhere, do something, be someone that we let life pass us by.  Sometimes I feel like a hamster, frentically running on a wheel that I can’t get off and the harder I try the faster the wheel turns until I am going so rapidly that I am flung into space.  I use this analogy as an example of how out of control our life can be if we let it.  Myongsong is right when she says that are mind is swaying, “moving” all the time like the waves in the sea.  Even when our body is at rest, our mind is still racing, we are still stressing, still thinking of the next big thing… still obsessing over things we can’t control… still refusing to admit that we need to slow down.  Are we missing out on life’s little moments because we are so busy racing around trying to live life too fast?  I think we are.  Sometimes our life becomes so frentic, chaotic, and stressful that when we actually slow down we panic because we feel that we are not being productive.  Then the whole crazy cycle starts again.

Easing our mind, slowing it down to rest, to focus, and to concentrate fully on one thing is a difficult thing to do in a fast moving world.  I am reminded of the pleasure I get and the benefits I reap from slowing down mentally and physically.  My Yoga class reminds me of the power of the stillness of the mind, body and soul.  When I am doing Yoga, I deliberately shut out negative thoughts, worries, and frustrations and tell myself the hour of class is solely for me.  It’s my time to come within myself and to myself without letting anything or anyone intrude on my moment of mental and physical focus and concentration. 

Give yourself at least an hour a day to relax and rejuvenate.  Besides, Yoga, I love looking at the ocean, the sunset, and the horizon. 

 

Sunset in San Diego

 

 

 

 

 

Word Up!

 

For those of you who has ever played scrabble you probably will be able to relate to what I am about to describe. I don’t know about most of you, but when I play scrabble, I am like a little kid.  I get all excited when I shake that bag and slowly reach in to get those all important letter tiles  that will determine whether I am going to shout with glee and scaring my opponents with my maniacal laugh or cry like a banshee. In my case, most of the time I either get mostly consonant and two vowels on my first draw. Once in a blue moon, I would get lucky and have an awesome draw where I am able to use  all the letters on my first turn. Unfortunately, I do not have the acumen to become a world class scrabble player like the one described by Kerry Wood. According to Kerry Wood from the Helium website (2008):

For some time, the highest scoring English Scrabble word was QUARTZY, at 82 points. That record was broken by a player who, after a couple of rounds of discarding unnecessary tiles, managed to play QUIXOTRY, using all seven letters and extending over two triple word squares. (The R was already on the board for him to connect to.) His score, which is the current all-time record for a single play, was 365 points.

 This totally blows me away because the highest points I have ever earned during a single turn is 50 points. After reading about this unknown player, I searched for more information on what it takes to be a top player.  From the Helium website I have concluded that strategy is the key to winning this word battle.  According to Kirsten Remesen from Helium website posting, “Scoring highly in scrabble is less a matter of getting the right letter than a matter of good strategy.”  In other words, knowing where to put your letter (word placement) can make a difference in the amount of points you will earn.

A word game I love to play on line is Literati because it is similar to scrabble.  It’s fun to play against other people from around the world.  The most important thing to remember is be prepared to get your butt kick once in awhile. I have played against awesome players, but there were a couple of time where my opponent was either hook on phonics or so slow that I actually nodded off waiting for them to make a move! I hate playing with people who try so hard to strategize in order to win because they sometimes take too long.

Another online game I love to play is word racer where tiles of letters are exposed and you have to make as many words as you can.  The goal is to beat the other players by making the most words from the given tiles that is on a grid.  The longer the word the more points you will get.  There are four rounds and within each round you have about 30 seconds while the grid is cleared and loaded.  One time during those 30 second interval,I actually got into a fight some racist people who were being rude to the other players by making racial slurs because they had lost. Of course, being the outspoken person I am, I had to tell them to show some respect etc… Besides, I was practicing my verbal skills. The little “argument” actually stimulated my thinking skills because I had to think of polite ways to tell of those racist people.

If you are interested or ever get bored, you can go to yahoo games and play for free.

Image taken from Yahoo Games website of the wordracer.

Judging people by…

Everyday, we come in contact with other people on the street, at the grocery store,  a school or at our jobs.  Some people we interact with everyday and others we will never meet again.  However, brief or long our contact with others, we all do one thing:  judge them! It is an almost unconscious thing we do which can happen in the few seconds we see these people.  With the barest flicker of our eyes we scan our “subjects” and file away  the bits and pieces of information we gather and in that abbreviated amount of time we come up with our conclusion of what we think that person is like.  For some of us, the first thing we notice is the person’s color or race and we mentally make an educated guess as to their ethnicity.  Then there are some of us who notice the shape of the person because they are fat or skinny. Even though we don’t want to admit it we  make snap judgements and correlate the fat person as unhealthy or someone who doesn’t take very good care of themselves. For all we know that person could be a top marathon runner, but our sterotypes of them might have obscure our reasoning. 

Some people will even try to equate the way a person dresses to a particular job such as a man in a suit must be a lawyer or a businessman. Also, some will even go as far as to assume that a person who is immaculately dressed is successful, driven, ambitious and charming. In contrast some of us will assume that a person who dresses poorly must not have a good job, doesn’t care about themselves or have any self-pride.  Once again these are all assumptions we make about others based on our own beliefs or experience. Sometimes our judgments and evaluations are valid.  However, there will be times when our stereotypes and critiques are way off base.  The most important thing is for us to recognize and acknowledge  that, “When you meet a man, you judge him by his clothes; when you leave, you judge him by his heart”(Russian Proverb).

I consider myself a good judge of character and sometimes I base my interactions with people based on the vibe I pick up from them. I usually know when people want to talk or want to be left alone.  I consider myself a people person meaning I love being around others.  I am quite gregarious, but I have not always been as extroverted when I was in middle school.  In fact, some of my class mates thought I was too shy and serious because I didn’t like to talk in class.  Of course, my friends and family knew better because I would talk their ears off when I got the chance!

Stereotyping and judging people occurs daily for all of us. In fact, some of you probably made some snap judgements about me based on the way I look, do my hair, dress or even smile. As a teenager I had many of my class mates stereotype me based on my race.  As a student, I was considered smart because I was Asian. Many of my classmates loved to  sit next to me, by me or behind me  so they could cheat off of me on the test. Some were subtle like Sammy in my Geography  class who would slightly stretch his head to the side in a veiled attempt to see the answers. Then there are people like my friend Jackie who did not try to hide her intention and would straight out ask me for the answers. 

I could go on and on about Asian stereotypes, but most of you probably know it already.It is only natural that we judge people because as humans we are curious creatures. Just remember don’t forget the old adage; ” Do not judge a book by its cover!”

No college Plan, No Diploma!

Recently, I read an interesting article about a new and innovative effort by a high school to raise the percentage of college students. The school is locate in Boston.  The main focus of the school is to offer a rigorous curriculum for the students so they can be prepared for college.  In order to receive their diploma, the students had to be accepted to a college first.  For many students as well as parents this might seem drastic or disagreeable.  However, I really like this idea and yes coming from a teacher it makes sense. I personally love the concept because I think we need to put more pressure on students to go to college and further their education.  It is alarming to me to see so many young, bright students do nothing post high school.  Such a waste of talent and intellect should not be encouraged or accepted.  Yes, many young people will argue that this is America and they have a right to do whatever they want and that includes making their own decisions in regards to their future.  I on the one hand concede to this argument, but on the other hand I feel that we need to stop babying these young people by giving them so much freedom and choice.  Needless to say I love the idea of no high school diploma unless they are accepted to college. 

If a Lao community has a strong leader would that make a difference?

In a Laotian community, a group of elders always lead the way when it comes to proper etiquette, behavior, social norms and expectations.  Sometimes the group of leaders are formally chosen in community meetings and discussion. However, in the smaller Lao community, it is commonly agreed upon that whoever is the eldest should be the figurehead or adviser to the people.  This is the case in the Lao community I grew up in. The eldest became the prevailing voice in disputes, disagreement or discussion concerning topics ranging from social, political, and economic.  These group of elders are usually at community functions, celebrations, and ceremonies.  They are revered and respected for their wisdom and advice.  They in a sense keep the Lao community in line as well as encourage everybody to be upstanding citizens in the community.  Having a group of elders who are beyond reproach in behavior and decorum provided a strong foundation for the Lao community.  The younger Laotians strived to model their own behaviors after the elders.  Of course, not all were successful, but at least they tried.  When they would fall off the wagon, they knew that they would have to face the criticism or admonishment from the elders  and the thought that they would disappoint was punishment enough. At least my generation, still had respect for our elders to always be aware of our behavior at all times. We held them in high regards because they themselves did the same thing! Unfortunately, some elders are behaving like they are teenagers themselves by getting into public fights and displaying unacceptable behaviors. Without a strong foundation in our community, our efforts of making a difference in the lives of our young people will dissipate.

From 1979 up to 1996, Clovis, New Mexico had a thriving Lao community.  There were at least 100 families in Clovis.  Every weekend there was always something going on at somebody’s house.  We always had some kind of celebration or events such as birthday parties, weddings, graduations, or engagements.  It was not a perfect community, but the elders kept a semblance of order. We respected them and listened to them because they practice what they preach.  The adults in our lives set good examples for us to live by.  I know that in many Lao communities the elders have forgotten their responsibilities to the next generation. 

The role or dynamic of the elders might not have changed for some community, but the new group of elders in some community have become more laxed in their values, expectations, behaviors or social  expectations.  Some elders themselves have deviated from the Laotian way of doing things.  It is disappointing to see some of them acting socially and morally irresponsible by having extramarital affairs, dressing like they are in their teens, gossiping, instigating fights and forgetting that they are a role model for the younger generations.  If the elders in our communities do not uphold a high standard of behavior then can we blame the younger generations for acting up or doing whatever they desire without caring about Lao traditions?