“What Are you?”

"What Are You?"

This spring we completed the pilot of our Art & Storytelling Book Club at Shrevewood Elementary School in Fairfax County. School counselors hand-picked a group of 20 students for this program. The curriculum was created to support identity development, an understanding and practice of empathy, and an increased sense of belonging. Literature, which  anchors the curriculum, is used as a tool to lead discussion and introduce activities. With the support of our Children's Literature Consultant, Cassie Sheets, we thoughtfully chose: The First Rule of Punk by Celia Perez.

First Rule of Punk

In The First Rule of Punk, Selena - one of the supporting characters in the story - asks the main character Malú: “What are you?”. We paused as a group to consider this question and asked students if anyone had ever said this to them. Many club members raised their hands! Seems a dehumanizing question to me, one that characterizes you as an object rather than a person. However, increasingly prevalent within our children's schools.

While I learned a lot through this 12 week program, the greatest take-a-way is how important the topic of identity really is. How could we possibly reach a true belonging with others if we do not know who we truly are? How could we truly know who others are (providing them a sense of belonging) without understanding and practicing empathy?

Children are not only beginning to ask others: What are you?, but they are also asking themselves, What am I? Am I American? Korean? Korean-American? Asian-American? The last four questions came out of a real-life conversation with my 10 year old daughter and her friends during lunch at their school. This is real; children are crying out for definition! Are we providing it? At the very least, we should be sharing that culture is not a fixed construct but fluid and evolving over time, even within them.

Learning From Corporate Response To Globalization

The use of the word identity in literature and the study of identity has grown alongside globalization. A leap of multinational corporations yields a leap in families with children transplanted globally. What was previously a more homogenous upbringing has now become, as Celia Perez writes: "a patchwork quilt" of various cultures. It is logical to assume the effects of global living only impact children that are moving around, but this is not true. Even the “fixed” individuals within our global classrooms, schools, and communities are impacted by our shifting landscape.

There are many facets to globalization and the effects on children and education are varied and complex. However, I think that we can learn something from corporations. My husband works for Deloitte which has more than 100 firms worldwide. I have seen how they have supported productivity and collaboration within their multicultural communities: personality tests, cross-cultural communication training, team building exercises, etc. This is the norm in any well-established, growing, and healthy global company. It makes sense! If a company is going to succeed internationally, they have to invest in unifying their global communities.

How are we investing in our schools' global communities? I would argue that it is even more important for our children to be supported with tools and skills to grow global competence. They are at a vulnerable state of development and the impact we have on them now will shape the type of working professional they become. Children are our future global problem solvers and world leaders. Self-assessment and identity development will be a necessity for humanity.

Our Response

Because this topic is rather cumbersome and can be very challenging for educators and students, we wanted to share where we started: Strengths Explorer Assessment from Gallup. This assessment was created for children between 10-14 years old and will identify the top three strengths in each child. This is a small, tangible, and direct way for children to start gaining a greater understanding of self. The assessment results will create connections between peers that share similar strengths and provide clarity to parents, educators, and peers.

During our book club we made a production out of presenting them with their strengths, complete with a drum roll. We also created individual cards with their strengths written on them to clip with an “o” ring to their backpacks, which many of them did. Their strengths have become an anchor for them amidst the cultural complexity that exists within them and around them. Regardless of where they are in the world, what language they are speaking, or custom they are practicing, they can be confident in their strengths.

This tangible take-a-way is not the end but the beginning! Recognition is the beginning and should be a launching point for more in depth understanding and practice. Knowing their strengths is one thing but learning how to use them is another. If you are working with the recommended age range (10-14 years), the Strengths Explorer Assessment might be a great option for you. If you are interested in learning more about the services we can provide in conjunction with the assessment, we would be happy to meet with you.