27 abril, 2011

Los niños sí saben lo que quieren (Children do know what they want)

En esta época de “corrección política” en la que cuidamos tanto lo que decimos (más que lo que hacemos), no es de sorprender que el provocador artículo de Amy Chua, Why Chinese mothers are superior, prendiera fuego.
Publicado en enero de este año, el polémico y controversial artículo ha desatado casi 9,000 comentarios y con razón, desde el título, el artículo se ufana de una educación superior, enfrentando la pedagogía oriental con la occidental. El artículo comienza con la siguiente frase: “A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids.”
¿Niños exitosos? Vaya, menudo adjetivo para un niño, es decir, si hay niños “exitosos”, es porque debe haber también niños “no-exitosos” y condenar, desde la infancia, a una persona al “no-éxito” (no quiero decir “fracaso”) me parece criminal.
Pero, ¿qué es, a todo esto, “un niño exitoso”?, ¿el calladito, el aplicado, el estudioso?, ¿y los demás? ¿Qué es éxito?, ¿dinero, fama, reconocimiento? ¿Quién lo marca?, ¿la sociedad de consumo? ¿Cómo se mide?, ¿con qué parámetros? (¿con qué cara?)
Seguimos viendo el éxito como la camisa unitalla que todos debemos (o deberíamos) usar sin tomar en cuenta que (afortunadamente) venimos en muchas y variadas tallas. Los grandes hombres como Jesús, Gandhi y Mandela han sido grandes precisamente porque fueron diferentes, y ninguno de ellos se ajusta a los actuales parámetros de “éxito”. Tristemente, idolatramos a las personas equivocadas, celebramos lo aparente, nos maravillamos ante lo superficial… cuando la grandeza radica en el corazón, en nuestras obras y en el amor que manifestamos a los demás.
Uno de los muchos comentarios que le hacen al artículo de Chua, dice algo así como que es bueno forzar a los pequeños a hacer ciertas cosas porque los niños no saben lo que quieren (¡¿?!). Hacer un juicio de esta categoría equivale a decir que los países en vías de desarrollo necesitan dictadores. Los niños saben lo que quieren, pero (y aquí mucho ojo) lo que quieren puede no ajustarse a lo que sus padres quieren, eso es otra cosa. Yo sigo teniendo los mismos intereses e inclinaciones que tuve en mi infancia; sigo siendo, en esencia, la misma niña que jugaba a ser maestra.
Juzgar a las personas por su tamaño, edad, cultura, posición socio-económica, género, etc. es un error que, como educadores, debemos evitar a toda costa. En una ocasión, una maestra le dijo a mi hijo Jordi (quien es y ha sido particularmente pequeño para su edad) que él no podía opinar en clase porque era “muy chiquito”; cuando fui a recogerlo al colegio, él vino corriendo hacia mí con los ojos cargados de lágrimas y con la voz entrecortada por la impotencia y la frustración me dijo: “¿Sabes, mamá? Yo puedo parecer chiquito por fuera, pero soy grande por dentro”.

26 abril, 2011

Children do know what they want

In these days of “political correctness”, when we certainly watch our mouths (more than our actions), it is no surprise that Amy Chua’s provoking article Why Chinese mothers are superior started a firestorm.
Published in January of this year, the polemic and controversial article has raised nearly 9,000 comments. No wonder. Starting from the title, Chua, a Yale Law Professor, brags about what in the US has been called “the model minority”, contrasting Chinese parenting and Western parenting.
She opens up her paper with this sentence: “A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids.”
Successful kids? Wow, that’s quite an adjective for a kid, isn’t it? I mean, if there are “successful kids”, there have to be “unsuccessful kids” as well, and to condemn, from childhood, any person to “non-success” (I don’t want to say “failure”) seems to me criminal.
And, what is –for heaven’s sake- a “successful kid”? The quiet one, the studious, the A-grade student? And the rest of the kids? What is success anyway? Money, recognition, fame? Who says? The consumer society? How is it measured? With what standards?
We still view success as the one-fits-all shirt that we should all wear, without considering that, fortunately, we all come in different sizes. Great men such as Jesus, Gandhi, and Mandela have been great because they were different, none of them fit into the current “success” parameters.
Sadly, we idolize the wrong people, we celebrate appearance, we are bewildered by superficiality, when greatness lies in the heart, in our works, and in the love we profess to others.
One among the many comments made about Chua’s article caught my attention, namely, the commentator said that it’s a good thing to force the little ones to do certain things because children don’t know what they want (??!!).
Gee, this is like saying that developing countries need dictators. Children do know what they want, but, and this is the tricky part, sometimes what they want is not what their parents want, that’s a whole different thing. I still have the same interests that I had in my childhood, I’m still the same girl who pretended to be a teacher.

To judge people by their size, age, culture, social economic status, gender, etc. is a mistake that we as educators can’t afford to make. Once, a teacher told my son Jordi, who is and has been particularly small for his age, that he had no say in class because he was “too small”; when I went to his school to pick him up, he came running to me with teary eyes and a choked voice due to frustration and feeling powerless. He told me: “You know, Mom, I may look small on the outside, but I’m big on the inside.”

07 abril, 2011

The Privilege of Connectivism

I have a confession to make. It’s kind of embarrassing, so, let me breath in and breath out. Here it comes: I don´t have a mobile or, as we say in America, a cell phone.

Till now, I see no benefit in a cell phone. To me, its (annoying) ringtone or vibration gets in the middle of everything, bursting in, and the worst of all, making me reachable, traceable, and available 24/7. The funny thing is that I just signed up for the MobiMOOC. Yes, mobi as in mobile. So, I guess I’m going to need one. But, I still don’t know. Not having a cell phone is such a great thing. Do I really need one? What do you think? I mean, is technology mandatory in order to be connected?

Not long ago, I saw on TV the story of a family so into technology that they barely talked to each other. The eldest son texted hundreds of messages every day, but he couldn’t say “good morning” to his parents; the daughter was addicted to social networks; the little boy couldn’t stop playing video games; the mom, a non-stop cell phone talker, and the dad, a workaholic with a gusto for every sport broadcast to certain on TV. A psychologist came up with a radical solution to help out this needy family: he took away all their electronic devices for a week. The first three days, they suffered big time, yeah, total drama. But, by the fourth day, they started to connect to each other, and by the end of the week they were engaged, I mean, connected.

So, back to my question: Is technology mandatory in order to be connected?

Thomas Baker asked himself a similar question on his blog: Does connectivism require a computer, an internet connection, or, in my case, a cell phone? The answer is “no”. We don’t need technology to be connected. Technology makes it easier most of the time, faster no doubt. But, the truth is that it doesn’t guarantee a connection, because it takes more than just technology or a device to be connected.

To my understanding, connectivism is about reaching out and letting others come in. It’s about sharing what we know and who we are. Connectivism is, in my opinion, a state of mind, a way of life, the way to be.

So, you want to connect? Good for you, that’s great! Start by looking around you, take the closest person to you, now smile, make eye contact, start a conversation. You don´t need any device to do that.

But if you are lucky enough to have been blessed with technology access, congratulations, that’s even better, you have the amazing opportunity to connect with anyone around the world who has, of course, been blessed with technology too, since less than 30% of the world’s population have Internet access. So, technology, Internet, devices… oh, we are privileged, my friend, so let’s do something great and worthy with it and not waste it.

04 abril, 2011

A Small World

In 2002, I was the Spanish teacher to the CEO of a transnational pharmaceutical company in Mexico City. At that time, one of my friends lost her job, and since my “student” was looking for an assistant, I asked him if he could consider my friend for the position. He, in a gesture that I appreciated, interviewed her that same afternoon. The next morning, I asked him what his impression was. “Hmm”, he answered tightening his lips as he shook his head in disapproval, “She lives in a small world”. For years those words have been hammering in my head. Something was off, something didn’t make sense. I mean, isn´t the world the exact same size for everyone? What makes us live in a big or a small world? And, why is living in a small world such a bad thing? Isn´t there a song, how does it go, oh yeah: “It’s a small world after all, it’s a small, small world…” So, what’s wrong with “living in a small world”?

Well, I think it’s a matter of perception. The world is, certainly, not the same size for everyone. We give the world a certain size to fit in our minds. We adjust its size according to our perception, interests, and ideas. Therefore, if we don’t have a purpose in life, if we find it boring or lame, if we can’t find excitement in what we do, if we shut ourselves down to new ideas and to new people, if we narrow our criteria, if we close our eyes, if we tighten our hearts, our world will be not only small, but so puny and tiny as almost impossible to live in. However, if we have big ideas, a meaningful purpose in life, a reason to live at our fullest, an open mind and heart, a wide criteria, a diversity of interests, and the audacity, enthusiasm, and passion to take action, our world, or our perception of the world, will be huge, open, and wide. A world of possibilities.

But, also, I think the size of the world depends on connections. Along with our perceptions, connections open spaces, shorten distances, reveal opportunities, making us feel linked, bringing us together, as if we were, indeed, living in a small world of many possibilities.

Dedicated to my sweet, loving, and marvelous mom on her birthday. Happy birthday, Zentellita! ¡Feliz cumpleaños, mami!