February 8, 2022 | Nancy Van Epps
by Head of School, Abby Hall Choi
The visual and aural bounty of last week’s joyous MSS Lunar New Year parade, or really any of our major celebrations, belie the serious thought and strategy that support them. The integration of the arts and happiness into our curriculum at Mustard Seed is widely acknowledged. Perhaps less well-known is the intentionality and complex purpose that drive our event planning and its role in our curriculum. While children through the years experience this parade as a spontaneous, exciting happening, it is actually one component of a larger program to build capacities for future success as citizens of the world.
Anchored in a six-week social studies exploration of China’s history and culture, are insights into making connections with people who may have different life experiences. Accompanying the study of Mandarin phrases, (Gung Hay Fat Choy!–Wishing you great happiness and prosperity!), song, and dance, are questions about honoring versus appropriating another culture, and about making assumptions about others.
“Mrs. Aiko Mauldin [Grades K-5 Music Educator] broached the topic of honoring another culture beautifully in music, where children are learning a traditional Chinese celebration song. She said that learning about another culture is like receiving a treasure. It is our job to be careful and honorable with what we learn. She also taught them that just because you’ve seen something done once does not mean that you are a master of it. This teaching was in the context of seeing the dancing lions in the San Francisco Lunar New Year Parade . . . She taught that skills take time and work to learn . . .” – Heather Palmer Welesko, Assistant Teacher, Grade Two
Patience and focused effort are a way to demonstrate our high regard for the subject. Aiko suggests that learning music in the proper manner can be a transformative exercise applicable in other areas of life. “The music of other cultures should be treated with respect and care,’” says Aiko. “We show our respect by our good posture and beautiful sound. We cannot be perfect, but we can do our best to be as authentic as possible.”
So often, parental conversations around intergenerational mobility center on money or years of education. Yet, isn’t the cultural competency to excel at an Ivy League school or collaborate at work as an expert among a diverse group of experts an equally important requirement? Certainly ethical and empathetic behavior thrive in an environment that values differences. What if we could give our children a higher cultural awareness than we possess? Thought-leaders define the four C’s of 21st century skills as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. Our supporting work in events like the Lunar New Year parade consciously foster all of these core skills in age-appropriate ways under the lens of cultural awareness.
Our new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) statement takes this commitment to cultural competency a step further:
We believe that disagreement can strengthen and deepen community when we engage with one another in trust and love.
Not only do we pursue empathy and trust at Mustard Seed, our commitment to one another acknowledges and commends our disagreements. They are part of the treasure. Far from presenting a challenging thorn, these viewpoint variances enrich our alignment and allow us to blossom.
An example of this commitment in practice is the group of parents participating in the Restorative Justice Circles with Chair of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging, Tania Oro-Hahn. They collectively decided to postpone their meetings temporarily so that they could assemble a more heterogeneous group. They unanimously believed that they could achieve more with a wider variety of voices.
I’ve stated previously that while we are a community that does not always agree, we do work together well. No where is this cooperative approach more apparent than in our management and unity under the ever-changing challenges of COVID. While we did not always agree at every twist and turn of the pandemic, we were genuinely committed to one another and our community’s safety. That pledge to each other and pride in the school allowed us to conduct classes on campus and adopt additional solutions when many had to resort exclusively to remote learning.
We may not be as culturally aware and tolerant of disagreement as our children will come to be as adults. However, we do recognize the value of heightened cultural competency for their future. We are striving to learn and grow as we go. With Tania’s engagement, along with Thomas Postema Chair for Worship, Jessica Smith, our goal is to be at the forefront of this movement.