Everyone is buzzing about ‘back to school’. Supplies. Registration. Schedules. I have a 3rd and 7th grader this fall so school is on my mind too.
A friend of mine was over yesterday to interview Carlos and I for a class she is taking for a college course. The interview was about what it is like for us raising our children within the Madison school system as a multicultural family. There were a lot of questions that poked at the differences of his Mexican culture and my American culture. The differences we had growing up. His family values vs my family values and how that plays out now, as we raise our children together in this community.
I grew up in a middle class, probably upper middle class, white family of four in liberal Madison WI to hippie parents that turned yuppie and then new age. They both have their masters. I had a lot of opportunities. I had a younger sister. I went to the University of MN. They paid for my tuition, I paid for my drinks. Carlos grew up in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in a very large family. There is a total of 11 children in his family; he has 7 sisters and 3 brothers. None of his siblings ever went to college. His parents most certainly didn’t either and I’m not sure how much education they received growing up. When Carlos was 14 yrs old and his Father passed away he was expected to work so he stopped going to school. He didn’t finish his high school degree until the first year after we were married. He is starting college this Fall as a 41 year old (you are amazing Carlos!). Yes there are some differences.
What struck me was how much we have in common. How much we practice paving our own path, creating the experience we want for our kids. For our whole family. Not only do we value education but we value innovation. It is like this magical concept that we get to choose what our life is like and we aren’t bound by the family we were born to or the country that we were raised in. We get to choose how our marriage is and we don’t have to model the same things our parents did in their marriages. Probably one of the most empowering thoughts ever. I choose. We choose. That is freedom.
Over our 13 years of marriage, Carlos and I have both reflected on our past lives growing up and we have discussed at length, over and over again, at different times, what is important to us as it relates to the education our kids receive. I talk about what worked for me growing up, how I remember my parents raising me, what my teachers were like and how my social life effected (very negatively by the way) my academic experience. He talks about his family experience, his mom always being after them to do well in school, what role models were around, what the schools are like and the lack of opportunities for education after high school when he was growing up in Puerto Vallarta Mexico back in the day.
Then we get into heated discussions about what we want for our kids. How disciplined should we be? How much do we let them go and let them fall on their own so they can learn to get up? If Carlos and I are on the same page, whatever page that is, we know our kids will have the base they need. So instead of just assuming that we want the same things for Alex and Leo we know we need to talk about it a lot, compromise as needed, agree and execute. It was so cool listening to Carlos answer Kate’s questions in this interview because we were finishing each others’ sentences, we were quick to reply because we’d had the same discussions already. And we are trying something totally different.
We don’t have it all figured out. There are still a lot of questions about what is the right way and what is the wrong way. Our kids are different too so as we figure out what works for Alex, we quickly realize that might not be what will work for Leo.
This is what we know for sure:
– College isn’t a question of yes or no, it is a question of where.
– You can love learning.
– It is on us, as parents, to advocate for our children and make sure they have the best opportunities out there.
– Team work is important for academic success. We work with the teachers and we expect the teachers to work with us to make sure our kids our excelling to their highest potential in school.
– School is first. Sports are second.
– Family is first (so that makes school second I guess). Traveling to Mexico to visit family is important for our family and as much as we will work around the school schedule, we will not let the school calendar trump our family visits.
– Do your best always. If you do your best, you will succeed. If you know you can still get a good grade by doing the minimum, you lose. We don’t tolerate an attitude that relying on your intelligence gives you an excuse not to do your best. (Thank you Ms. Williams)
We believe we need to help make it happen for our children and that we can’t rely on the schools to give them what they need. I was sent to school. No one had very high expectations for me academically. B’s and C’s were okay. Perhaps it was because I was labeled as ‘pretty but dumb’ except that I’m not dumb and it took me a long time to break out of that label. So I excelled in the social scene. I’m ambitious and if I wasn’t excelling academically then I needed to put my energy somewhere. I didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities that I had and I know there are millions of children in this world that would’ve gobbled them right up.
Carlos learned on the streets. He worked his way up, read a lot and by the age of 24 he owned his own restaurant. He is smart but never had the opportunity to prove himself in class.
We are searching for that right fit for our boys. We want to be strict, have high expectations and help guide them in their academic success. But I don’t want them to hate learning. I don’t want to be so strict that there are fighting matches at home and it sucks the joy out of school and learning. We also want them to learn to succeed in a way that works for them. If we are there helping them with their homework all the time, how will they learn discipline and responsibility? I have met kids with helicopter parents that don’t always turn out to be well rounded, responsible adults. They think Mom and Dad are always there to bail them out.
I fell on my face many times and it was in the process of getting back up that I have learned about my own power, my own abilities. I know I can get through tough times on my own. I know how to ask for help. Because I’ve had to. Carlos didn’t have anyone helping him or paying his rent. We share work ethic. We share ambition. We share critical thinking and inquiry based learning. We share real world practice and a love of learning. We are hungry to learn because we’ve seen how much it has helped us grow and succeed. That’s what we want for our kids. And yet we also wished we would have had that push growing up. I had the opportunities but I didn’t have the high expectations placed on me. I failed geometry my junior year because I didn’t get along with the teacher. I rebelled. I challenged authority in a way that didn’t serve me at all. I left all the answers blank on the final exam on purpose. I didn’t respect the opportunity.
One of the greatest gifts we’ve received is the concept of team work. We have seen how meeting with the teachers, understanding what works and what doesn’t for our children and being open to what we don’t know has given us new insight and is shaping our experience raising our multicultural and brilliant children. Last year, Alex’s 6th grade teacher, Ms. Williams, encouraged us to stop telling Alex how smart he is. She recommended that we stop praising his intelligence and start praising his efforts. If he thinks he is so smart he thinks he doesn’t have to work hard. This was like a light bulb for me. Of course I was a bit obsessed with praising his intelligence, because nobody praised mine. She recommended the book, How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough, and I was mesmerized by what I learned.
Alex and Leo know we care about education, about their education. They hear and see us communicating with their teachers at school, on the phone, via email and with the principals too. They see us at their schools, they know we help and get involved as we are able. I might not be able to help Alex with his math homework (geometry in summer school didn’t sink in much either) but that is okay because Carlos can. And if he can’t, we can make sure he has access to tutors available at the school as needed or insist that he gets extra help from the teacher after school.
I love the teachers that know that they can’t teach their students on their own. They know that children go home to a place that either supports what happens in school or breaks it all down. Those are the teachers that want parents involved and know that is one of the keys (because there isn’t one magic answer) that can help close the achievement gap; community and parent involvement. When we all work together we create this crazy strong foundation for our children and they grow, learn and succeed.
It takes time and effort. It takes an open mind. It takes patience. Of course it does. It should. It is that important.