Jung-ah Choi, a “college faculty member, teaching and writing about social justice, race, and education,” isn’t involved in her son’s school she writes on Kappan Online. An immigrant from South Korea, she thought she’d forge a partnership with her son’s teacher. Instead, she found teachers uninterested in her culture or parenting style.
At her first parent-teacher conference, the teacher discussed her son’s progress in math and reading, then said he had a hard time following the rule about not touching other kids. Choi felt “disappointed, humiliated, and dumbfounded.”
I expected to have a conversation with the teacher. I expected the teacher to ask questions about Michael’s family life. I expected a true parent-teacher partnership for the benefit of his education. I expected the teacher to take an interest in my approach to raising Michael. But all I heard from his teachers — that year and the next — was information about where he stood on the spectrum from struggling to smart and where he stood on the obedience spectrum (from disruptive to respectful).
The no-touching rule exemplifies “everyday institutional racism,” writes Choi. “In South Korea where I grew up, personal space or privacy wasn’t valued like it is for many Americans.” In her family, there are no clear boundaries between “your space” and “my space.”
As he gets older, Michael will learn code-switching — practicing different behaviors and observing different values in different settings. But for now, he has a hard time following the no-touching policy. Worse, because he brought his home culture to school, he has already been labeled as an unruly kid who struggles to follow the rules. “Mommy,” he told me in kindergarten, “I am in the bad behavior group at school.”
Choi didn’t try to explain Korean culture to the teacher. “How could I carry out a conversation with someone who does not know me and does not try to know me, who offers no analysis and insights but only judgment?”
What do you think? Is Choi asking too much of her son’s teachers?