Tuesday, October 16, 2007
"I went to a Chinese restaurant...."
That harmless phrase was the beginning of one of those common school-yard clapping songs-the 21st century version of "Miss Mary Mack"-that my Asian-born daughter came home singing the other day. I didn't think too much about it until I realized that the song came complete with gestures-one of which involved pulling the sides of the eyes into a long slit (aka Chinese eyes).
I hemmed and hawed about what to do. I felt that this gesture was disrespectful and could lead to other stereotyping and teasing, but since I sometimes go off half-baked I decided to cool my jets for a bit.
The results of yesterday's poll swayed me. All of the voters indicated that they would take some action-evenly split between intervening immediately if their child was bullied or helping the child deal with the situation and then intervening if the child needed further assistance.
I opted for contacting the school and the teacher. Thankfully, their take on the incident was similar to mine-not appropriate, disrespectful and must end-and the teacher took immediate action in the classroom and the school principal readily acknowledged that the problem was not likely isolated to the third-grade and they would be taking action school-wide.
Later in the day, I got an email from the teacher. She had spoken to some of the kids involved-none of them had really listened to the words or understood the implications of the gestures. Her comment-when do we learn what the words mean?
The answer, I think, is "when we teach them what it means". My daughter was furious that I went to her teacher-she said she wasn't upset by the song or the gesture. I had to explain to her that both were disrespectful and inappropriate and that I was standing up for what I felt was right-and the school was supportive.
My daughter learned two valuable lessons-1) The importance of standing up for what you believe-even if it doesn't effect you directly and 2)why that particular song and gesture were inappropriate. With luck she will begin to evaluate other things with a more critical eye-asking herself and her peers to be more considerate of others and figuring out that is never ok to make fun of the way anyone looks-ever.
These are lessons that need to be taught. They don't happen automatically. So, if you are parenting on autopilot-as we all do-take a minute and listen to what your kids are singing, what they are saying to their friends and others-and make sure that you like what you hear-or do something about it.