Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lessons Learned

Remember the "Chinese eyes" incident from earlier this school year? I'd told Zoe we'd talk about whether we wanted to say something to her teacher, and needed to decide before parent-teacher conference (which was last Friday).

After our first conversation, I talked to the parents of two other Asian adoptees who are also in 3d grade at Zoe's school. Turns out both girls had also been teased with "Chinese eyes." When the mom asked one girl how it made her feel to be teased that way, she said, "Ashamed." Doesn't that just break your heart?

So we three moms emailed amongst ourselves to come up with a strategy, and we decided that each of us would talk to our own child's teacher at parent-teacher conference (interestingly enough, there are three 3d grade classes and each class had one of our girls). Zoe was consulted, and agreed whole-heartedly with the suggestion. Each mom went in with the same message, that we didn't want any particular child to be reprimanded about this (in fact, we each declined to give the names of the teasers when asked), that we didn't want our girls to be singled out in any kind of group reprimand. We wanted to get together with all the 3d grade teachers and maybe the school counselor to talk about some ways to turn it into a "teachable moment" for the 3d grade. We each expressed concern that our kids knew that bullying was bad, but didn't know what bullying was, and suggested that this lesson might be a way to expand on the bullying curriculum.

Good news! Each of the third grade teachers was very receptive to this approach!

Bad news! Somehow, unbeknownst to ANY of us parents, the approach changed.

Yesterday in the midst of our Maya-birthday-celebration, Zoe told me that she and the other two girls were pulled out of recess by the counselor. Zoe said she was scared because she thought she was in trouble (I'm sure all the other students watching this thought she was in trouble, too). The counselor asked them about the "Chinese eyes" teasing, and asked for the names of the teasers. Being good girls who obey adults, they told the counselor.

Could it get any worse? How about the teasers were then pulled out of class and sent to the principal's office?! EXACTLY what we said we didn't want to have happen HAPPENED.

AND, the only reason I know about this is because Zoe told me. No one from the school has contacted me to talk about it. No one warned me ahead of time. No one asked for permission to interrogate Zoe about it. I would have at least liked to be told about it after the fact so I could the teasers' parents that that's NOT the way I operate. If I had a problem with their child's behavior, I would talk to them directly! I saw this as a systemic issue requiring a systemic response, not about any individual bad actors.

And I think the school figures they've "solved" the problem. No systemic issue, no need to address it further. We punished the wrong-doers, case closed.

My first instinct is to go talk to the principal about all of this, to express my dissatisfaction with how the school handled it (won't that be a surprise to them! It isn't usually the so-called "victim's" parent who complains about the transgressors being punished!). I still want to press of a systemic approach that integrates racial teasing in the bullying curriculum.

But maybe I should drop it. Maybe the lesson I should take from this is that if I tell the school about a problem, the way they handle it is completely out of my control. It is possible that they COULD make this all worse -- though for the life of me I can't quite see how it could be any worse.

And the lesson Zoe has learned from this? I better not tell my mom about racial teasing, because once she tells the teacher I get hauled before the counselor, my friends get in trouble, and maybe they won't be my friend anymore and maybe the teasing will get worse?

I sure hope not. But I really feel I've breached a trust with Zoe, and will have to work hard to earn it back. And I really feel the school has breached a trust with me.

14 comments:

Wendy said...

Oh god Malinda. I don't get it! As informed parent you went in and gave them a heads up, it seems they don't see it as bullying in a larger sense or think that it applies beyond these three girls and the child(ren) who did the teasing. I don't think the school learned a thing!
You may want to recommend some literature to them in general on racial teasing and also let them know it is a larger issue than these girls. So sad.

osolomama said...

Um, that's why I never say anything. To anyone. Because it always backfires. Even when it gets bad, which it does not (here, with multicultural issues as you've described). But it can get bad with boy, girl, fat, thin, stupid, smart issues. I just button my lips and leave it to the kids to work out. It would take a great deal for me to open my mouth. Not that I haven't gone for weeks where I haven't said to myself everyday, "Today is the day I march into the principal's office and hold the whole school hostage." But the kids really don't want you to do that. If you can let them solve the problems themselves so much the better. Simone is not a "clobberer" like I am. I have given her full permission to act nasty to anyone who teases her but she doesn't have that gene. In the long run, she will find her way.

M3 said...

Oh Malinda, this would make me so sad and angry! Ugh. What is wrong with those administrators? This is exactly the situation where I am at a complete loss. I don't what the right thing to do was/is. Please share your further thoughts/actions on this...

Yoli said...

I would speak to the principal Malinda. Ignoring the whole situation and letting the kids work it out could turn into bullying. The harm has already been done but there might be a way to address it so as to stop future flare ups. We just had a student in one of our high schools stab another to death. They were obviously working it out themselves. I don't think they have that capacity without some parental guidance.

Wendy said...

This is not the same as other teasing, racial teasing of any kind regarding any group must be confronted. It has been far too long of parents just letting it slide.
It is due to white priveledge that many whites do not teach their children about racism--why is there a choice, there shouldn't be. Racism will only end when whites end it, minorities can fight for their rights, fight against injustice, etc and yes, they will make strides, but it is we who must work to end such ugly hatred. If it takes one class at a time, one parent at a time, one school at a time so be it.
This is one area where we cannot afford to just let it go, we owe it to our kids, but we also owe it to our society.

Lisa said...

Allow me to chime in as one of the parents that was involved in these conversations.

After I discussed with my daughter, Sydney, concerning Chinese Eyes Teasing, she informed me it had been going on for TWO YEARS! I was shocked, but maintained my composure because I didn't want to add to the injury that already occurred. Sydney told me that she wanted me to talk to the teacher and make sure the Chinese Eyes Teasing did not happen anymore. SHE WAS VERY CLEAR!

So, what to do but stand up for her? And hope that she doesn't get wounded more after you do.

At the conference, I told my daughter's teacher "at least half a dozen times" (this quote is from my spouse) that I DIDN'T think the children were being deliberately mean and I strongly felt these kids needed to be educated. Not punished. OK, I get that if they continue the teasing despite the education then a visit to the principal's office is appropriate. But these kids were sent to the principal without any prior warnings and asked to write notes of apology. Now you think our girls were embarrassed before? It's hard to decipher how they feel now.

Having said that, guess what Sydney said about the boys?
"They got what they deserved." My usually-compassionate-always-trying-to-fix-everything girl. This one sentence told me how strongly embarrassed she felt about the Chinese Eyes Teasing.

Joanne said...

I am just shocked at how the school handled this! It seems like the bullying didn't end with the "incident", the poor girls were bullyed (sp?) again by being pulled out & questioned! So sorry...

travelmom and more said...

My guess is that the school has a "bullying policy" that they were implimenting. I work in a school a few miles from Columbine High School and every school in my area has a bullying policy that is about punnishment more than prevention, which seems to be a systemic problem that reaches beyond schools. My guess is the teachers wanted to approach this based on your suggestions but spoke to the administration who took it out of the teacher's hands. I would go to the principal and talk about your anger about the way this was dealt with and ask to go forward with your original plan. The children who were punnished did not learn a lesson about how thier actions hurt your girls nor did any other children learn from this which is too bad.

Diane said...

Very sad. I have been in very similar shoes with an eerily similar outcome. First difference, I found out from another mom- not my child. As painful as it was, I am relieved that Zoe told you herself. The other difference being that Zoe has two other children who experienced the same racist remarks and the same mishandling by the school. I would indeed let the principal know that your trust was breached. If possible, I would set up a meeting and include the other moms. Your collective voice might pack a more powerful punch. And, from this point forward, I know you will do your best to empower Zoe. Maybe invite the other moms/daughters to your home and let the kids process this awful experience together,brainstorm and listen to the kids thoughts on how they would like you/their parents to handle these type of situations in the future.

Mom2Isabel said...

As an educator, I am apalled at the way the administration handled this. I agree that you SHOULD meet with the principal as a group and explain what your initial plan was. I would then ask WHY it was handled so differently.

Anonymous said...

I agree using instances like this as a "teachable moment" will establish the school's tolerance level for teachers, students, etc. and is necessary.

But, I've also seen first hand kids and adults who still "don't get it" even after multiple teachable moments. Sometimes calling a specific person out on their specific behaviour is required with real consequences for their actions.

I definatley think an approach from both angles is warrented.

Lisa said...

Waiting for today's meeting f/u - I keep checking your site compulsively...

Anonymous said...

Very unfortunate. I'm sorry your girls are going through this and hope that it gets resolved satisfactorily. I also wonder whether later in the year you might talk to the administration about putting all three girls in the same class in the future. Not because it would solve the teasing thing, but just so that they wouldn't each be the only Chinese kids in the class. We also have 3 Chinese adoptees in my younger daughter's grade, two are together now and I think it would be helpful for all three to be together in the future.
Sue (aka anonymous)

Ann BF said...

Have kind of a different take here. I think parents should take a strong stand against racial teasing and encourage kids to report it, with parent support if necessary. And I think that teachers and administrators should not "tiptoe" around how wrong it is by merely doing a general "education" approach. Zero tolerance is the only way to go. this kind of teasing is often about power. These are the same kids, I have no doubt, who are also teasing other kids, and waho may go one to more serious buyllying as they get older unless they learn young that it is just not worth the trouble because THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES. Bravo to the school for taking a strong stand and not being afraid to ruffle a few feathers to do it. when the kids are middle schoolers you will be glad. I;m with Lisa's daughter, "they got what they deserved"