Passing Ships


A student asked me for advice since she was torn about what to do after going abroad to study.  Her parents told her not to worry about them.  If she decides to work and stay abroad, they will be happy with whatever she chooses.  The student was torn because she wants to take care of her parents when they’re old.

I told her first of all, how lucky she was to have parents who support and respect her decision.  I told her not all parents are like that especially in Asia where a number of parents expect their children to follow what the elders want even with regards to their career and marriage.

I told the student however, not to limit her choices to staying abroad or going back to China.  There are more than two possibilities and options.  She could study and work abroad for a while and after she has gained enough experience, she can come back to China, give back to her country while caring for her parents.  She could also invite her parents to stay with her abroad to experience a different kind of life.  She can think of other ways to combine her dreams into one.

It is always touching how grown up children want to take care of their parents to express their love and gratitude and like that student, I too wish to pursue my own path and take care of my parents when the time comes.

On another extreme, there are parents who refuse to let their children decide for themselves even if the children have already passed the age of twenty, thirty or even forty.  I told the student that once my children reach the age of maturity, I would be more than happy to let them lead the lives they want.  I would not require anything of them except that they live their lives the best way they see fit for themselves.

Kahlil Gibran said it best:

Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Each parent and child is both a bow and arrow sometime in their lives.  My parents are over sixty and seventy while my children are just four and seven years old.  I’m still an arrow hurtling into space, finding my mark, but at the same time, I am a bow for my children who will be launched someday to become total masters of their own lives, captains of their own ships.

I pray for grace that should that time come, I will take a backseat in their lives while I continue to steer my own humble little boat.  I will be grateful for moments when we pass each other in the sea and I witness how well they command their own vessel.  At that point, I will probably cry tears of happiness.

The Question of Play


My sister-in-law thinks my sons are getting way too much playtime and not enough study time.  She’s afraid that they won’t develop the discipline necessary to stay put in one place, listen in class, do homework and successfully take exams.  She proposed that she can take care of Joshua who’s turning seven in three months while my husband and I travel with Jimmy, our four year old.  My sister-in-law fears that after one year of unstructured, non-academic, extended vacation-mode living, Joshua won’t be able to enter any school and thrive.  She thinks homeschooling is not a good option and tried to bargain caring for Joshua for six months or even three months if one year is too long for me.

My husband and I are firmly decided on the four of us sticking it out together in this crazy road trip dream.  All the books I’m reading, scientific research-based or narrative-based, they all support the idea that what we are about to embark would benefit our children greatly.  Most people, however, would be doubtful even if all the data, proof and evidence were presented before them.

If naysayers and discouragers are to be believed then what we shall be undertaking will surely end in failure and waste our children’s capabilities.  If the authors of the books on alternative education, roadschooling and unschooling are to be believed, then there wouldn’t be anything to worry about.  In studies on homeschooling, the children who didn’t do well are those whose parents did not engage their children and who did not exert effort to open up and widen their world.  My husband and I have our children’s education as our primary concern, only our concept is off-tangent and contrary to other people’s ideas.

I wish I had all the power I can assure my worried family members that my husband and I want the best for our children and our path just happens to be different from what many people believe is the normal, sane, safe and obligatory way.  I do not have that power to give guarantees because there are never such guarantees in life.  There is only faith.

Following are books I wish had Chinese translations which my sister-in-law can read:

  1. In Defense of Childhood: Protecting Kids’ Inner Wildness by Chris Mercogliano
  2. Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children by Angela J. Hanscom
  3. Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown
  4. Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray
  5. The Outdoor Life of Children by Charlotte Mason

If she read those, would it make her worry less?  I think not.  Maybe she’ll counter by giving me copies of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom and other books that emphasize the importance of disciplining children, books on how to raise top academic achievers and why we should start early building a strong foundation for children’s school life.

Finland’s education system has been getting a lot of accolades sending a strong message around the world that it’s okay to give children more free time for play, start late with formal school, eliminate homework and minimize giving tests.  Their students outperform others in the world and many are surprised by their unusual methods far from mainstream practices.  The Chinese educational system has received its share of criticisms but its staunch supporters stand behind its effectiveness in producing disciplined students who perform well in exams.

Wherever you fall within the parenting spectrum, there’s a system of education that fits your belief.  You would be comfortable sending your child to a particular school but not another.   The bottom line stands: children are primarily the responsibility of their parents, not grandparents, aunts and uncles unless the parents themselves relinquish their duty.  We can keep arguing apples and oranges and never find common ground except we want the best for the children.  We just have differences of opinions on how this so-called “best” is achieved.

Following are quotes from the books listed above.  Note that this may be one side of the story.  Could I play my own devil’s advocate and research studies that run opposite to the ideas these books promote for the sake of turning tables round and round, playing a game of where it stops nobody knows?  I’d get dizzy and paralyzed so let’s just agree to disagree.


(Marian) Diamond’s experiments are merely among the most well-established research findings showing that play is crucial to healthy brain development.  What is the link between neural growth and play? . . . . The truth is that play seems to be one of the most advanced methods nature has invented to allows a complex brain to create itself.  Stuart Brown, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul

They must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this – that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space, wherein to wonder-and grow.  Charlotte Mason, The Outdoor Life of Children

More and more teachers and parents everywhere are reporting that children are . . . . becoming more aggressive and easily frustrated, are having trouble paying attention, are showing more anxiety and are spending less time in imaginary play than ever before.  These symptoms are due in part to underdeveloped motor and sensory skills, which leave children underprepared for academics and overwhelmed by daily life and social situations. . . .  Scientific and anecdotal research suggests that most of these behaviors are the result of not spending enough time in active free play outdoors.  You can solve – and prevent – some of these problems by letting your child play freely and independently in nature.  Angela J. Hanscom, Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children

In free play, children learn to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, create and abide by rules, and get along with others as equals rather than as obedient or rebellious subordinates. . . .   Free play is also nature’s means of helping children discover what they love.  In their play children try out many activities and discover where their talents and predilections lie. . . . . In school, in contrast, children cannot make their own decisions; their job is to do as they are told.  In school, children learn that what matters are test scores.  Even outside of school, children spend increasing amounts of their time in setting where they are directed, protected, catered to, ranked, judged, criticized, praised and rewarded by adults.  Peter Gray, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instincts to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant and Better Students for Life

We say that a child who is constantly on the move is highly active, which is a descriptive term, not hyperactive, which is a prescriptive one.  Since the school (Albany Free School) is always buzzing with noise and activity, highly active kids don’t really stand out and are not considered to have or to be a problem.  Moreover, we’ve noticed that when highly active children can run, jump, climb, yell, dance, dig holes in the sandbox, and hammer ten-penny nails into two-by-fours in the wood shop to their hearts’ content, they gradually settle down and develop the ability to modulate their energy level. The trouble begins when you suppress their need to move and do . . . . .As the CEO of MTV put it when asked how he regarded the huge influence his television empire has on children: “We don’t just influence them – we own them.”  Suddenly it occurred to me that we are witnessing not only the taming of Mark Twain’s wild boys but the systematic domestication of childhood itself.  Chris Mercogliano, In Defense of Childhood: Protecting Kids’ Inner Wildness



Hulihutu is a Chinese word that sounds very much like its definition.   It means and sounds confused. Once again in overthinking matters about my PhD, DIY PhD, book, journal article, I’ve ended up in a tizzy.  So with my cousin’s words in my head – reverse engineering, I set off to begin with the end in mind and work backwards.

Two main goals motivate and inspire me to undertake this huge project, the largest one in my life thus far.  The first aim is personal – to expose myself and my family to alternatives in education that will inform and enlighten us in the education of our own children.  The second objective goes beyond the personal to encompass a community, society and hopefully, the world.  The ultimate dream is to set up my own non-traditional school.  If that’s too much of an implausible idea, working for an alternative school or for an organization that facilitates change in existing education systems, would be welcome options.  The practices I will have seen live and in action, I hope would find actual application.  They should not stay in the realm of theory or wishful thinking.

My research proposal concludes with this paragraph:

In the future, I also hope that I can establish an alternative school in China and in the Philippines that embodies the lessons that I learned from this research endeavor.  This particular dream scares me.  I’ve thought about it and imagined it in my head but the reality of it seems remote and farfetched.  It’s hard for me to believe.  Perhaps in undertaking this journey, it will not seem too impossible. 

In my head, I’ve pictured how it could happen in China and in my own country.  A multitude of doors must open themselves or be pried open and a confluence of sorts must transpire before a project like this could materialize.  Regardless of the unseen and unknowable future, the two goals nevertheless influence the current path of investigation and study.  Whether the end product is a book, article or thesis, it doesn’t matter as much as keeping those two goals in focus and in balance vis a vis each other.  The personal must naturally take precedence especially now that my children are young but as they become older and more independent, I imagine the social aspect would slowly encroach on the personal, time and energy-wise.

In the long list of 20 to 30 schools and centers to visit and many organizations to network with, I’d have to conduct a lot of interviews with people including founders, leaders, teachers, students and parents.  The choice of the end product (book, article, thesis) would dictate the thread of questioning.  If it’s a scientific research paper, there would be more things to consider and prepare such as methodology, random sampling and reviewing related studies.

If it’s an academic research – there’s a theory that needs to be proven and justified by the sample obtained.  If it’s a book, it could combine investigative journalism and straightforward narrative, documenting everything from the author’s view and the encounters and talks with others.

It seems the best way to go about this project unencumbered and with less baggage would be to regard the initial trip around the world as a preliminary research that could eventually lead to other possibilities in the future such as journal articles and a PhD dissertation.

First and foremost, I’d like to develop a deeper understanding of alternative education from experiential views, from firsthand accounts rather than books and journals which tickle the interest but don’t satisfy the curiosity to know more.  It’s an opportunity to get an insider’s view of the pleasant and not so pleasant, the successes and challenges, the noteworthy and the plain.  This trip can then be released from the burden of having an overly ambitious schedule because it’s only an initial data gathering phase that could lead to more in-depth studies in the future.  I could chill, relax and enjoy the journey more with my husband and children.

This takes me back full circle to what my friend, Daniel said about letting the whole process write itself and letting go of the manic chandelier swinging between official and DIY PhD, between thesis and journal article, between book and whatever.   There’s a writer, a blog and a dream.  Let’s take it from there.  Wherever it takes us, it would be a fun ride anyway.  Hulihutu be gone.

663 for Daniel


From day one of this drive around the world project, Daniel’s been a prime supporter, pusher, promoter, encourager and additional hair-brained idea generator.  But now he’s saying my blog entries are too long and what I need more is a microblog that will gain followers that can lead to a future lucrative book deal.

He says nobody is following the blog because the entries are too long but microblogging is simply not my thing.  Having Facebook (my repository of found articles), WeChat (my repository of photos) and a blog (my repository of writing) is quite enough.  I’d rather work on a journal article and learn how to conduct more substantial interviews in the process of doing qualitative research from a mentor.  Yup, it’s boring, sleepy and academic but it runs counter to the typical dissertation.  It gets to the heart of a thesis into the results while cutting out the pages of academic navel gazing of literature review.

Writing something for the purpose of gaining followers does not sit well with me.  I don’t want to be in competition with Justin Bieber or keeping up with the Kardashians.  I don’t want to be part of a popularity contest.  I don’t want to be part of unnecessary noise if I can’t produce sound worth echoing.

Before this present blog, I had a blogspot (which is blocked in China thus the switch to WordPress) with a total 13 followers acquired within the span of two years.  I call my friend Barbs, “my audience of one.”  I don’t care if only one person reads my blog.  I don’t want to write pithy 150 character lines to attract and multiply following.  If I end up with a book after four or five years of this road trip adventure, I could self-publish.  I don’t have to cut a deal with a publisher holding millions of followers as bait.  Self-publication is a viable path in this age of the internet.

I worked for a politician for three years and that makes me even more certain of my stand.  I loved the real service and program delivery part of the job but I hated the politicking and gaining of votes at questionable costs.  Fame would be a welcome by-product any day but as an aim, it doesn’t inspire my soul.

What does it mean to follow somebody anyway? A person can follow as many people and organizations as one pleases but at the end of the day, what does following get you?  If it’s a catalyst for positive change, then good but if it’s indistinguishable from a button click, then it’s meaningless.  Maybe I belong to another generation in this regard.  However, I do respect and admire how people maximized the potential of social media by toppling corrupt regimes.

I don’t want to sound condescending towards microbloggers since there are amazing and excellent microbloggers out there – journalists, authors, artists, leaders, movers and shakers.  Twitter and instagram accounts are used for much more than the promotion of products, fashion and irritatingly infinite selfies.  At this point of my life, it’s merely a case of different strokes for different folks.

A part of society’s direction also worries me.  The next generations suffer from ever shortening attention spans.  They can only know great books through summaries, philosophies through memes, classic movies through reboots and news through sound bites that sometimes deliberately mislead to get readership.  So I want no part of that trend.

Maybe someday, I will be convinced to open a twitter, instagram or weibo account and eat my words.  And I’ve been known to eat my words but I better have a compelling reason.  It has to serve something more than self-marketing.  Maybe at that juncture, I could be fighting for a more fully formed and solid advocacy for non-traditional education.  Until then, I’m happy typing away a blog nobody reads.

When one or twenty words would do, I offer Daniel six hundred sixty three.


Blocked Streams


Too many things in my mind compete to be written but the words are jostling, kicking, stuck in that narrow part of the funnel.  They elbow each other and shout expletives, wanting to be first and wouldn’t let anyone get out if it’s not them.

I start a letter to my sister in law and figured I’d tell her in person tomorrow in her office instead.  There’s another important good reason for our move to be explained.

I start a letter to Rick, my dissertation adviser who has encouraged me to do a journal article instead of pursuing a PhD.  He read my motives well and unearthed the fact that maybe it’s not a PhD I’m after and he’s correct.  I’m after the mentorship and the process of learning more than anything else.  The certificate is not necessary.

I want to write the proposal for the journal article and drew diagrams and a table for two ideas – one on Project Based Learning (PBL) and another on freedom of choice in learning.  But the diagrams and table remain without substantial explanation.  A tiny paragraph would suffice for now but needs to be expanded.

I want to write about my own experience about PBL when I tried it last semester in my English class and we held a big exhibit of the students’ works.  This semester, I adjusted and improved my methodology and am excited to see the results after three weeks.

I want to write about theses done in the past and how much I’ve enjoyed the ritual of getting obsessed over a topic, collecting all the materials one could possibly amass, talking to as many resource people one can get hold of and savoring the ride.

I want to rethink the book proposal in relation to the journal article.  How are the interviews for the book going to be different from the interviews for the journal article?  Rick assigned me two books to read; Learning From Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies and Interviewing for Qualitative Inquiry: A Relational Approach.  Maybe I have to finish those before threshing out the journal articles and fine-tuning the book proposal.

I want to write letters to my shortlisted authors.  Their books and articles serve as models for me but first I have to fix the book proposal.  How can I fix the book proposal when I haven’t delved into the project purpose and interview goals deeply enough?

I want to write to my cousin updating her about how the PhD project has evolved into a journal article after consulting with two professors with accumulated degrees from Harvard, Yale and Stanford.  I want to tell her I don’t know where the flow is taking me but that’s what I came here for.

I want to write about our mountain climbing trip last weekend when it rained one whole day.  We lagged behind the main group and had to be rescued.  The whole adventure reminded me to hang on to God.  In great moments of despair, Our Lord’s Prayer and Hail Marys rush to bring calm to the emergency.

Why can’t I write all these at the same time and type out the words with ten pairs of hands on ten laptops?  Maybe if forced out before their time, they won’t make much sense and I’d have to keep re-thinking, re-mulling, regurgitating, re-channeling, reframing, re-conceptualizing, redoing, recycling, reforming . . . .

Okay, okay I get it.  I need a break.

App Zap


In one of the TED Talks, a 12-year old boy taught himself to develop iphone apps and encourages others to follow suit.  Whatever age or background, some people want to come up with life-assisting and hopefully life-changing apps.

I’m sending a message out to the universe of app creators.  I wish somebody could invent an app that could zap other people’s phones and disable the phone for a few seconds repeatedly enough to get the person to stop using the phone thinking there’s something wrong with the wifi but actually there isn’t.  It’s a clever way to shut up nearby targeted phones.  Somebody just wants other people to stop using the phone so much such as during meals at home or outside, or when others are trying to concentrate but you can’t because somebody’s playing a video or music loudly.  Or there’s that person who keeps inviting you out but when you’re together, that person ironically is on the phone longer than in conversation with you.

It boggles the mind how some people still can’t get how rude, even insulting, it is to be fiddling with your phone while sharing a meal with someone.  It’s like how some cigarette smokers can’t get how rude it is to be smoking in an enclosed public space such as a bus or elevator.  Yes, there are people who do smoke in those places in China!

So this application would be life-changing because we need people interacting with us rather than with mobile devices.  Sadly today, people would rather hear the news from Facebook feeds and WeChat moments than from loved ones right in front of them.  It’s a rather sorry state of the world that Einstein has predicted, if viral memes are to be believed.  People obsess about how many likes and comments their status gets and are sleeping far less than they should.  Imagine the power of that app to create pockets of release and peace from habitual and late night phone checking.

I wonder if this worrying habit is a form of addiction, a co-dependency relationship between the cellphone over-user and the over-used device.  Take the gadget away and there would be withdrawal symptoms like shaking hands and insane mood swings.  Have studies been done to determine the unhealthy psychological and physiological effects of being too enamored with handheld devices?  Are these devices being used to compensate for some sort of lack?  Is it a fear of direct communication or an insecurity about human connection failure?   Is it a totally unavoidable modern high-tech woe?

The potential solution would be the zapping app which doesn’t have to be harmful. It needs to be innocuous enough to fool people that their phones temporarily can’t be used. Innocently, you can feign, yup it’s happening to my phone too.  Damn, some areas have such bad signal!  The app will target only the person whose phone number you key in and zap!  Instant disability.

Who would benefit from this app?  Families and friends.  Lovers old and new.  Spouses sick of their partners hogging the cellphone more than they themselves are hugged.  People tired of being ignored, taken for granted, taking a back seat to a measly gadget.

Who will invent this app?  Any takers? I don’t need any royalties. Just allow me to use the app and I’d be a happy pappy.

I probably need to zap myself more often than others!



Serving Kafka


To some women, writers are like rock stars.  To my Chinese students, the equivalent would be Korean pop idols.  I always fell for writers.  My first love was a writer.  When I was young, I wanted to be married to Franz Kafka.  No, he wasn’t that first love, but I imagined bringing Kafka trays of food to his den whenever he’d forget to take his meals.   When I asked myself if I wanted to be any writer, I wish I could be Italo Calvino.

At 45 with two children, it’s simply too old and encumbered to have feelings akin to teenage crush but yesterday I found myself falling for one writer on my kindle.  Out of 170 authors, the funny, tickly infatuation hits me smack in the belly.  I wanted to meet him, email him, stalk him if I could.  Will he email back?  In his book, Walden on Wheels, he wrote how awkward he is with the opposite sex but I projected that after being published, tons of women must be throwing themselves at him.  That’s me imagining other women have the same weakness for men who write extraordinarily well.   We don’t fall for every exceptional writer but there are some writers that we’d like to go to bed with more than others, a biological, Darwinian selection of species.

I went to his website and found he’s fighting for the right to roam, the right to walk and ramble on private property.  Ah, a man after my own heart!  He writes for the New York Times.  Weak Jello knees!   He wrote Walden on Wheels and the title of my PhD Dissertation is Walden Meets Ken and Gray: Journey as a Search for Knowledge in Nature, Creativity and Play.  Surely the stars might be conspiring!   Although the Ken in that title refers to Sir Robinson, the advocate of creativity in education and speaker of viral TED Talk videos.

At a voracious, nay irresponsible rate, I’ve been filling my electronic book with materials about alternative education, memoirs of people travelling around the world, homeschooling and unschooling.  Some of those documents are so blah, I couldn’t get past the first few pages but Ken Ilgunas’ shone like a beacon slash starlight.

When I was a young girl with strings of crushes, I concluded after much contemplation that some of those may not even be because I liked the guy at all but because I wanted to be like that guy.  Like those feelings of admiration in my youthful past, perhaps this sudden fondness for Ilgunas is but a reflection of how desperately I want to improve my writing.  I want to write as well as he does.  My prose feels clunky and clumsy, inelegant and immature beside his which reminds me of that ugly duckling feeling beside the impossibly gorgeously cute guy one foolishly pines for.  Of course, he’s not going to like you back, you idiot!  Dream on!

Ah the dangers of so-called research.  Can I just bring a tray of food to Kafka?