The power of music

December 29, 2009

I spent this Christmas in the frosty winter wonderland of Minnesota. I was reminded why it is an abstract concept to teach California kids about a song like “White Christmas”, while I made snow angels, built snow forts and snowmen, went skiing and ice skating, and wore snow pants, all without leaving the neighborhood where my brother lives.

I was also reminded of the unique power of music to bring people together. In terms of demographics, there is seemingly little in common between my family – a nuclear unit of four created by my Taiwanese immigrant parents, plus a scattered array of my aunts, uncles, and cousins in similar nuclear units throughout the Midwest and East Coast – and the multi-generational Minnesota-native family of my brother’s wife. Read the rest of this entry »


Watch this video NOW with your children

May 28, 2009

Michelle Obama’s speech at a London girls’ school on her recent visit in April 2009.

She talks about her working-class upbringing, and how her father “never complained about his struggles…he just got up a little earlier, and worked a little harder.”

Telling them that neither of her parents attended university, but rather provided herself and her older brother “all a kid really needs – love, strong values, and a belief that with a good education and a whole lot of hard work, there is nothing we could not do.”  She says to the assembled crowd, “The reason I’m standing here today is because of education.”

She recalls her first date with Barack Obama, where he invited her to attend a community meeting he had organized in Chicago. He reminded the group attending that night that “sometimes we settle for the world as it is, even when it doesn’t reflect our values and aspirations.”

She reminds the girls in that school, “You will write the story not only for yourselves, but for your generation, and for generations to come…Use your talents to create the world as it should be. We need strong, smart, confident, young women to take the reins. We know you can do it.”

Wow. We need more women like Michelle Obama speaking to young girls and parents in this world.

Why “education reform” won’t work

April 30, 2009

We need to forget what we think we are in order to become who we really are. – Paulo Coelho

It seems that the topic of “education reform” has been mentioned more frequently in the first 100 days of the Obama presidency than I have heard in the last several years. The dialog has not made headlines in the way that swine flu, the collapse of Wall Street, or even Dancing with the Stars has. But the fact that we have heard a speech outlining long-term education reform strategies, and several New York Times columnists chiming in on this topic says to me that a little red light has gone on.

I see it in my own experience. I come from an immigrant family that valued education over almost everything else, the only exception being protection of good health. Call it the old-school values that focused mostly on the basics beyond survival, since luxuries were few for my parents’ generation. And not just my parents. In President Obama’s memoir, he tells the story of his mother waking him up every morning to tutor him in English, so that he would have access to the American education system one day. When the young Obama complained, she replied, “This is no picnic for me either, Buster!”

I would argue that the very values that made America what it is today, and what we value most about living here, are also the reasons why full-scale “education reform”, if pursued only from a government policy perspective, won’t work. Individual freedom of expression, the freedom to live by any values you choose, without government intervention or limitation, are to be celebrated. They are the foundation of this country’s greatness and sustainability.

But a real education “system” requires agreement by a society – or at least a community – on the values that surround education. I live in the Bay Area, specifically the Peninsula south of San Francisco, which is characterized by the pluralism of choices in education that reflect the beauty of American individualism. Read the rest of this entry »