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Sunday, November 9, 2008

I can't even begin to describe to you how angry I am right now.
Perhaps using words like...beside myself, boiling, corybantic, crazed, desperate, enraged, fit to be tied, frantic, fuming, hacked, hopping mad, incensed, infuriated, livid, maddened, on the warpath, raging, smoking, steamed, up in arms, vehement...will give you an idea.
Yep. That pretty much covers it.
This afternoon we found the following note from Anya's teacher Mrs. B in Anya's backpack....

Dear 2nd grade parents/guardians,

This week we began a unit on families, which will continue through January. We began reading the book "Love is a Family" by Roma Downey and discussing how families come in all shapes and sizes.
The Family Cultures unit will focus on a variety of families found within our
second grade community.
The goal of the Family Cultures unit is to get students to delve deeply into their own family cultures and family support is essential. This unit will consist of four main projects including a paper Family Culture quilt, birth story, name story and family memory presentation....

For those of you who aren't adoptive parents, and may not have caught what has me so riled up. Let me highlight it for you...

This unit will consist of four main projects including a paper Family Culture quilt, BIRTH STORY, name story and family memory presentation....
They want Anya to share her 'birth story'?
What birth story?!
We don't know her 'birth story'! She doesn't have a 'birth story'!
What do they want us to share?!! That she was left at the hospital...or maybe found at the orphanage gates? What about wrapped up in a curtain and left in a meat market during the middle of winter?
Do they want us to share how she lived in the hospital for the first month of her life or how the birth family let her starve for the first six months of her life until she was a skeleton. Or maybe how she was left to cry herself to sleep in a crib with lead paint to gnaw on!
How are those birth stories?!
None of these tales are specific to Anya, but every last one of them is true for internationally adopted children in general.
Take your pick.
My kids have never been ashamed of their adoption. They think its cool...and up until the last few years thought everyone went to Russia/Ukraine/China to adopt their children. They've never hesitated in telling people where they're from...they are proud of it. But we have always made sure they know the story is their story to share or not to share.
It's THEIR decision.
If we don't do something Anya would be forced to face some things she may or may not be ready to face or share with anyone.
Can you imagine?
And there's more...
If Anya were allowed to continue this assignment (as it is now written) we would be forced to share some information from her background we do not feel she is ready to handle yet. Things we shouldn't HAVE to share with her yet.
And the BEST part of all of this is...
Without consulting anyone, they've dived head-long into this series that could totally shake Anya's world!
And I'm sure Anya isn't the only one.
What about kids in foster care?
What about children who's parent(s) have died?
What about Maddie who is an absolute blank slate?
I just sent the following email to Mrs. B...

'I would like to set up a time to sit down and talk with you about this family culture unit, before the unit begins. Shad and I have some serious concerns about how this unit will affect Anya and what her level of participation should be.'
See? I was calm, cool, collected and civil. I didn't go postal on her.
But I wanted to. While I may be calm, cool, collected and civil on the outside, I am boiling on the inside.
She knows Anya's history. While she doesn't know everything, she certainly knows Anya was adopted from Russia at a young age. And she absolutely knows how weird kids are about anyone who is different. Why didn't she talk to us BEFORE starting this. Why didn't she say something to us just two weeks ago at parent/teacher conference?!
And why, in the 21st century, do we still have to deal with this stuff?
Better yet...why do we wait until Sunday afternoons to open their backpacks?! Now I have to wait until tomorrow afternoon to get this taken care of!
Edited to add: Alright, I was wrong. She doesn't have three heads and is not the devi! incarnate. Mrs. B. just called. Thankfully she was open and receptive to our concerns. She has another internationally adopted child in her classroom and says she feels horrible about not anticipating how this would affect the girls. She is willing to talk with us about changing the assignments (before they're given to the children) as not to single the girls out. Funny thing is, adoption is part of the curriculum for this unit.
So while she isn't entirely horrible - she should have known better. I certainly hope she's learned something through this. I know I have. From now on, I will quiz each teacher at the beginning of the year to see if assignments like this are planned - if so, we'll have a little talk.

17 salty messages:

jessy November 9, 2008 at 6:12 PM  

That is a good idea, about talking with the teachers at the beginning of the year about "family story" projects. I'm tucking that one away in my file.

Tina in CT November 9, 2008 at 6:50 PM  

You were totally correct in the way you felt. The teacher was very insensitive.

I tried to email you to the email set up on your blog but it did not go through. I don't want to post my personal email so please email my daughter (Tamara - Moscowmom) and ask her to forward your email to me. I'll then email you.

I don't want to post my comment on your open blog.

Diana November 9, 2008 at 7:37 PM  

I got an ancestor assignment the other day for my daughter. For her, this is no big deal. But I looked at the questions on it and thought "How in the world would I ever answer these for my sons?"

Hmmm...I think my son's birth story might read something like this: My life began in June, 2007 when I met my parents for the first time. I was already 7 years old and living in a Ukrainian boarding school. My baby pictures don't look like most kids because in mine, I'm signing a document stating that I would like to be adopted and move to America. That was my birth into my family who loves me. Beyond that - mom would be more than happy to fill in the blanks on the worksheets with "This question is not appropriate for my child."

Aside from all the adoption issues, what really boils my blood about these assignments is that a family is defined as "a group of people who live together and love each other." There is no distinction between legal marriage, domestic partnering, divorce, concubines, mistresses, or even same sex couples who are raising children. We might actually offend someone if we state it any other way, you know. Well, guess what?? You did offend someone with your definition!! In fact, you offended a lot of poepole. You offended anyone who values the traditional family and believes that the marriage vows are sacred and lifelong.

Good luck with the assignment!

Tami November 9, 2008 at 7:40 PM  

Yep. We didn't even go too in depth on that issue. I figure I'm going to have to fight one battle at a time. THIS is when I really wish I could homeschool my kids!

Rachael November 9, 2008 at 7:46 PM  

Hopefully you can find some way for Anya to feel included in this project: she has a unique and special story of how her family came to be. She should tell some of that (however much she's comfortable with) instead of a "birth" story. Sounds like the teacher is going to be flexible with her, so thank goodness for that. (I'd have been boiling to just pull that out of a backpack with no forewarning or discussion too!)

We haven't had to deal with this yet with Katya, but it makes me sad that the earliest picture I have of her is age 5. She'll never have baby pictures like all (most of) the other kids. :( But, her class is doing a unit on different cultures this month and Katya is excited to be able to tell some things about Russian culture.

Anonymous,  November 9, 2008 at 8:12 PM  

While it surprises me that they would ask for a birth story (is nothing sacred?), I think that my natural reaction would just be to write the adoption story. Of course, I would want to make sure that they weren't going to be required to share it with the whole class if they didn't want to, though. It's a sensitive topic but I feel like we have a lot of control over just how sensitive of a topic it becomes for our kids, you know?

I'm glad that you got to talk to the teacher and she is receptive to working out something that you can feel comfortable with.

Oh, and I love the picture.

MamaPoRuski November 9, 2008 at 11:34 PM  

I have covered this with each teacher in the "Getting to know you" assignments each child has to complete and turn in the first week of school. Each teacher asks us to list our goals and any specific things we feel they need to know about our kids...perhaps you could suggest this for your school to start implementing too!

Suzanne November 9, 2008 at 11:48 PM  

Well if it any comfort, I am growling alongside you over here.

John & Lucia November 10, 2008 at 10:04 AM  

Tami, Rymma and Julia are working on a similar assignment. At first I was taken back. However, we have great open communication with each of their teachers. At the very beginning of the assignment I wrote the LA teacher. Here is a portion of it:

We are looking forward to having great discussions with Rymma and Julia as they do this assignment. :o) Not knowing what direction you are taking the students in completing this assignment, please be aware that this may be a very difficult for Rymma and Julia and there may come a point when the girls may be very reluctant to share parts of their life given their circumstances and experiences - they are very protective of their past and may possibly withdraw when having class discussion. John and I ask that their writing be kept confidential and not shared with the rest of the class to protect the girls' privacy before joining our family - unless, of course, they offer to share on their own accord.

Please know that we will do our best to help them complete it and to help them see that it can be a positive experience for them.

The teacher's response was very positive. :o)

I then sat down with the girls and explained the assignment. I told them what I told the teacher and they were ok with it. The first part was completing a birth announcement with historical events. We did ours in the form of a newspaper page. They didn't know their birth time, weight or length so we used Derek's for Julia and Tim's for Rymma. We did list Ukraine as where they were born. When listing their parents, they both listed John and myself. :o)

The teacher liked the idea of the newspaper page so much that she used theirs as examples for the rest of her classes! :o) The cool part is that the girls let her show other students!


Drew, Michelle, Luke and Tetyana November 10, 2008 at 10:34 AM  

I feel your anger and get where you are coming from. T had an assignment around Halloween and she was supposed to answer the following question "The scariest thing that every happened to me was....". I happened to be in the classroom when the teacher was asking the kids and I ran what I knew about T's life through my mind and sat on pins waiting for her to answer.

In the teachers defense, she was not being malicious. She is ignorant to the subject. There was a much more appropriate way for the kids to learn about families. She could have even used the opportunity to ask you if you would like to come in and speak to the class. Every kid has a unique and special story.

This could also open a whole can of worms about sex education that
2nd graders are not ready for!

The assignment should have been approached in a much different way and I am glad you are in the teacher and school lives to educate them! That is part of your purpose in life....what you are here to do.

CasseroleX November 10, 2008 at 11:03 AM  

I am still amazed at how teachers fall back on these sorts of assignments. So many kids come from such a diverse family life that stuff like this can be traumatic.

I remember a similar assignment in high school - we had to ask our parents about what lineage we come from (Engish, German, Irish, etc.) - being adopted, I hated the assigment and felt akward asking my parents what their backgrounds were. My daughter had an even worse assignment... a grade school teacher at the end of the school year had them write a letter in advance of Father's Day, thanking their fathers for all they do for them. Since my daughter has NO father in her life (certainly not HER fault!), the teacher told her to just write a note to the janitor for all he does for the school!!! Seriously, I couldn't believe that... at the very least, she could have told her to write a note to me to thank me for taking on the role of both parents lol. Some teachers just don't think, unfortunately. - Carole

Elaine November 10, 2008 at 1:08 PM  

Okay, aside from the very valid issues/concerns you have raised, my question is this: What in the heck are they doing having a "family culture" unit in school? Huh? What about math, language arts, history, science, art . . . you know, the things they are supposed to be teaching? To me, this falls solidly into the realm of things we as parents should be teaching at home? This is part of why I home school. I truly find this kind of curriculum to be a waste of school time. See? I wouldn't be able to be nice to that teacher on MANY levels.

Christine November 10, 2008 at 2:46 PM  

Love your new blog look!

We have encountered this but I have quickly learned that it does nothing to get so angry... but as I can see you already cooled off. I'm sure you will get through this and Anya will too!

SG November 10, 2008 at 11:27 PM  

That is way too much for 2nd graders to go into. My 5th grader has never had to deal with family units like that1 I'd be boiling into the principals office.

Becca,  November 11, 2008 at 10:46 PM  

I am amazed at the irrational train of thought the post and the subsequent comments contained. Of course, some topics are more sensitive for some children than others, but to immediately fly off the handle is not helping anything. Part of being different is learning how to cope with that difference. Becca

Tina in CT November 12, 2008 at 1:11 PM  

Sorry Beca but I share the opinion that Tami and others do on this topic and have deep reasons for it that I don't want to get into on this blog. Yes, we all can have different opinions but it is Tami's blog. My political views and other views are sometimes different than some of the blogs I read but I respect the writer's blog and don't comment. I love reading the blogs. Hope you don't take this the wrong way as I don't mean it to come across harshly.

Anonymous,  November 13, 2008 at 9:37 AM  

this is your blog and if venting helps then i say vent. i do think that you did overreact alittle bit but again it is your blog and that is just my opinion. on the subject of home schooling, and i'm sorry if this offends anyone, but i'm completely against it. i have been around plenty of homeschooled children and everyone of them seems to be lacking in social skills and it's not just me as an adult that notices it i have teenagers of my own who have noticed it as well and have commented to me on it.kids need to be in a social learning setting besides church and sunday school. i think it helps to prepare them for the real world,because lets face it,as much as we want to protect our kids from it they eventually have to meet it and i would rather my kids be ready for it than to get blindsided by it. so in closing maybe this assignment is just a little way of letting anya get ready for the blitz that will eventually come,called the real world,just a thought.

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