May 20, 2014

The third act of This American Life this week was really interesting. Story's about an African-American woman living in Paris. There are three things she mentioned about her experience there that I resonated with also, partly from my own expat experience.

First, she talks about how she realized that French don't see or treat black people in the same way Americans do, for both good and bad, and how that was a bit of a shock to her self-perception. I've related to this a little bit in the past couple years living the UK also. Because Asian-British are not seen in the same way that Asian-Americans are. I can't even quite explain the difference. I'm probably not even aware of the full difference. But for example, I find the Asians (I mean East Asians - not the South Asians Brits mean by "Asian") here are simultaneously more and less integrated. On the whole, I feel like their English language skills are better and they feel less like immigrants. At the same time, they feel never fully integrated. I'm doing a poor job explaining it, but it's a weird feeling.

There's also that the high-achieving areas aren't dominated by Asians here, and that also affects how we're seen. There's no Stuyvesant or Lowell or Whitney in the UK, good schools that by virtue of their quality became dominated by Asians. Not sure why, maybe it's just a different Asian population that ended up here. But it affects the perception. All this to say, I feel like Asians are seen slightly differently here than they are in the States, and it's a kind of odd, unfamiliar feeling.

The most interesting thing she says in the TAL episode is how shocked she is when French people say how American she is. That totally gets to the heart of the minority experience in the US. But I think for her, me, and probably most minorities, we never feel fully American in America, never fully comfortable, always feeling slightly like an outsider. It's shocking for her to be called American in character because she's never fully felt that way. And it's even more shocking to realize that it's true - she is American. I totally relate to that as well. I had a conversation with a coworker about this last night. But most people don't have enough bandwidth to categorize people by subtle distinctions. So when interacting with other people here, I kind of have to choose which category is most me, Asian or American. And to my shock, it's my American side. I'm totally American.

It's only shocking because in America, I think I'm categorized by others as Asian. If you ask me in America what category I belong to, there's no question - it's Asian. So it's an odd feeling to be categorized as something else. And to resonate with those different categories in both places.

The last insightful thing she said related to how, despite gaining fluency in French, she at times reverted to a bad American accent, specifically because she wanted to be treated like an outsider. And when she thought about it, she realized it's because there's a part of her that's actually more comfortable being on the outside.

I totally recognized myself in her comment and realized that explains a lot about me. And maybe that's another odd part of the minority experience in America. But I also find that I'm more comfortable being on the outside. For example, when there are too many Asians around (read: Cupertino schools), I feel uncomfortable. Jieun thinks it's a weird self-loathing thing. But I think the TAL gets to the heart of it more accurately. Whether it's from accommodation or whatever, I'm more used to being on the outside, so I'm more comfortable there. I prefer to be a minority. It's weird.

9:22 AM
May 6
Holy Spirit Songs

One thing that struck me about the church we visited in Malaysia was that we sang a song addressed to the Holy Spirit in the second person. I felt myself feeling slightly uncomfortable about that, not because it's wrong, but because it's so rare. In fact I can't think of a single worship song that's sung to the Holy Spirit. There's Father, I Adore You and Spirit Touch Your Church, but both those songs start off by addressing other persons in the Trinity. Songs sung just to the Holy Spirit? Can't think of any.

My mindset towards the Holy Spirit and the charismatic has changed a lot in the past 15 years. Someday I'll talk about it.

7:10 AM
April 9

For no particular reason, thoughts on Crimea.

One thing I've liked about working in the Facebook London office is how international it is. So I've talked about the Crimea thing with Russians, Ukrainians and even one Crimean. It's really interesting to get insiders' views on foreign affairs; it's much different than just hearing things secondhand from the media.

In terms of what I've learned from them, Fresh Air had an interview with some expert and it was surprisingly accurate, or at least very much in line with what my Russian / Ukrainian coworkers told me.

The interesting thing is many Ukrainians find Crimea useless and annoying. They're poor, so somewhat supported economically by the rest of Ukraine. And their population is very Russian, which skews the entire nation's politics. Most of the country leans pro-West. Crimea leans pro-Russia. So there are not a few Ukrainians who think it wouldn't be that bad if Crimea left - they'd be getting rid of a drain on resources and a drag on forming stronger ties to the West.

The only thing they value in Crimea is some base or port, can't remember which. That base or port is valuable because Russia gets access to it in exchange for low natural gas prices. That deal is already off and Russia's gouging Ukraine now. The other concern is that Russia won't stop there. Crimea first, who knows what's next.

Another complication is that there's an ethnic Tatar minority in Crimea (that I think has the longest ties there), They're Muslim. And my Crimean coworker is actually Tatar. The USSR treated Tatars horribly. There's a real concern that Russia would do the same. So they're one group within Crimea that's very wary of going back to Russia.

It's also not true that Crimea is solidly pro-Russia, even among the Russians there. The election to join Russia was (obviously) rigged. The issue is that Ukraine is in some ways a better Russia. Russian is spoken everywhere, it's culturally similar, and there's actually a very free press and free elections. It's like Russia with more freedom. So even many of the Russians in Crimea are wary of joining Russia. But it's impossible to say how many because the election was rigged.

So it's a super complicated situation. Many Ukrainians don't really care about Crimea save the precedent it would send in losing it. It's unclear how many Crimeans actually want to join Russia. And in the middle of it all are the Tatars. So what should the EU / US do? Who knows.

9:24 AM
March 29
Random Observation

At the grocery stores in the UK, there are no baggers, and they don't help you at all. Like at the old Pak N' Save, you have to bag all your own groceries. I kind of find it stressful, especially if I'm with the kids, managing them, paying and bagging everything without holding up the queue.

3:59 PM
March 17
Bonds of Marriage

At church on Sunday, the vicar made an announcement of upcoming bonds of marriage, along with a proclamation that if anyone knows of reason why they shouldn't get married, he should be informed. Fascinating. Apparently, in the Church of England, this process is legally required - the announcement must be made in the parish they attend and in the parishes each one resides in - up to 3 in all. And apparently, the history is that this was done to make sure they're not already married to someone else, or to ferret out other such shenanigans. Probably made more sense when said parishes were the ones they grew up in all their lives and they knew them very well, as opposed to today in the city when everyone is so transient. But that's the law.

I'm guessing this is the origin of the US wedding tradition of "speak now or forever hold your peace", and to me it makes far more sense - giving time for people to object before the wedding as opposed to at it.

I'm still interested in how US wedding (and other) traditions came to be, because I kind of assumed they had their origins in antiquity but Brits find many of them bewildering.

4:28 AM
February 3
Super Bowl, Identity

Hats off to the Seahawks. I hate them, but they were the best team in the league this year and deserved to win. As a 49er fan I'm just gutted because now it seems clear they were the 2nd best team in the NFL.

I cannot express how annoying the UK coverage of the Super Bowl was. The announcers kept making really bad mistakes: one repeatedly referred to Seahawks receiver "Daniel Baldwin"; the main (Scottish) guy claimed at halftime that Seattle was winning because Russell Wilson was "on fire". Uh, was he watching the same game? Seattle's D (and special teams) utterly dominated. That was the game. Sometimes we complain in the US about announcers saying dumb things, but the UK just takes it to another level.

I enjoyed Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner)'s tribute to Candlestick Park. It made me realize one reason why I love football so much: it's probably the first thing in my life that made me feel really American. Asian-Americans have these complicated issues of feeling split and mixed identities. In my early childhood, I was raised Korean. I spoke only Korean at home, ate Korean food, went to a Korean church. So I remember feeling really out of place when I first attended school.

But once I got in the 49ers, I felt a commonality with my "American" classmates. I might eat weird food, they might think my house smells funny, I might have a bad Asian bowl haircut, but we could at least relate with the 49ers. I think that bond with my schoolmates is one reason why football means so much to me.

Speaking of identity, I realized something interesting about being a Korean-American in the UK. Being here, I'm kind of forced to choose which side - Korean or American - I identify with most. And I was trying to figure out why that is. And I figured out it's purely for other people - like it or not, other people need some sort of framework to understand who I am. And here, most people don't understand the nuances of being Korean-American; saying that confuses how they understand me rather than clarifying. So I have to choose. And which one I identify with subtly affects how people relate to me. I would be treated differently in the office if I categorized myself as Korean. Not necessarily badly, just differently.

But I identify myself as American, because of the two, that's closer to who I really am. And here's the weird thing - since that's how I categorize myself here, I find myself acting more "American" here than in the US. Like, I think I'm vocally louder here. Still not at all loud, just louder than I would be in the US. Because I'm playing the role of an American. Because that's how I identify myself here. Because I need to identify myself in one category to help others understand how to relate to me. It's weird.

Anyway yeah, Super Bowl. In the local papers the Super Bowl got news coverage but I'd say roughly equal (or slightly less) than the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament. It's still seen as an American curiosity more than anything else. People who think London can support an NFL franchise full time are delusional.

Also, are the Winter Olympics big news? I feel like it's hardly mentioned here, probably because Great Britain is not that good at winter sports. If it weren't for the ads on US TV shows, I wouldn't even know when they were starting.

3:02 AM
January 21
The Fall, Design, and Evolution

Andrew Wilson in Christianity Today about how he simultaneously believes "in the fall of Adam and Eve, the argument from design, and Darwinian evolution." I'm tend to not be public about this but I roughly believe the same thing, and have for a long time, like, since I was 14. I used to not talk about it because in my youth, a Christian saying (s)he was sympathetic to evolution was treated like a heretic. I feel like it's more safe nowadays because, as the article notes, many prominent Evangelicals now say the same thing (among them, John Stott, J.I. Packer, and Tim Keller). So at least I'm in good company.

3:48 AM
January 4

Jieun initially loved Amsterdam, then liked it considerably less once she learned more about the Red Light District and the drugs. One thing I learned: "Coffee Shops" in Amsterdam are not coffee shops. Joshua wanted a donut, and in search of one, he and I went into what I thought (based on the sign) was a US-style coffee shop. I barely stepped in the door but my lungs are still recovering.

I don't consider myself super spiritually sensitive to geography, but I have had isolated experiences where I've had a sense of something spiritual about a place. The summer of '95 I spent in Daejeon, Korea, I felt like there was a spiritual light there. I had virtually no community or real access to worship that whole summer, but I still felt a spiritual depth. I felt the opposite the summer of '98 in China, that there was spiritual darkness over the area. I felt a darkness in Amsterdam too, that kind of manifested itself in weird dreams and a lot of difficulty sleeping that felt abnormal. Strange place.

Highlights were the canals and the Anne Frank Museum. The latter is haunting and enraging. Super crowded, but highly recommended. We visited the Charles Dickens House on Christmas and this was vastly different - it's one of those house museums where it makes a huge difference that that's where she actually was.

One thing that stuck with me though was kind of a random video of her father, who talked about his reaction once he was given and first read her daughter's diaries after her death. He was shocked at the depth of her feelings and thoughts. Of course he talked to her every day while she was writing them, and she told him how she was feeling and what she was thinking, but he had no real idea about the depth and content of her inner life. And what he says is that he concludes that parents don't ever *really* know their children.

That thought lingered, because I think it's true, and I already see that in my own kids. I know there's depth to Abby's thought, and I already know that there are ways in which I'm terrible at understanding her. And I know this because she tells me - there are times when she's upset, and when I try to get her to explain why, and she tries to, she frequently ends with "you can't understand". And it's true. Part of it is I'm terrible at understanding women, because Jieun says the same thing, and Abby also frequently says "only mom can understand" (or asks for Jieun straightaway). But part of it is more fundamental also, I think, in that parents can't ever fully know their kids. Jieun thinks this distance is appropriate, that parents aren't supposed to be friends with their kids or fully know them, but that their job is to love them and release them to independence. In any case, the idea that I already don't fully know my kids, and that I may not even be supposed to - that's something I've been thinking about.

One interesting about The Netherlands is that there aren't a ton of taxis around, so we rode a lot of mass transit. And combinations of them. To get back this morning we walked to the train station, took a train to Rotterdam Central (I booked flights via Hipmunk and didn't carefully check the airport. It was only when we were waiting for our flight at Heathrow that I checked to make sure that the "Rotterdam" listed on our flight status is in Amsterdam and discovered to my astonishment that it's not), a bus from Rotterdam Central to the airport, a plane to London, then a taxi home. 5 modes of transit in one morning. Nuts.

4:25 PM
December 31, 2013
Abby's Questions Of Faith

Abby’s starting to reach an age where she has questions about faith. And I’m not quite sure how to address them.

The other night, she asked about how she can figure out if God is real, or if He’s not real, or if some other belief is true. I’m not aware of anyone else in her class being Christian, and her best friend’s family is atheist. If she were older, I would have went with an apologetics approach, about how history and (in my opinion) logic testify to the truth of the Gospel. That’s just how I tend to think myself - I think I’m unusual in that my faith has always been stronger in my head than in my heart. But that doesn’t work at all on someone so young. In the end, I went with sincerely asking that the Lord speak to her heart. And she’s been actively pursuing that. There was no children’s program on Sunday so they were in the main service, and when at the end our vicar asked if anyone is waiting for something and wanted prayer, Abby went to the front and received prayer to hear God’s voice.

I hope that works. But curious how other parents approach their kids’ questions like these.

3:27 AM
November 1

I spent the vast majority of my life in the Bay Area, and it's fair to say that for most of my life I lived in a bubble. When I first went to Houston, I remember being surprised by random things. Rain in the summer! Humidity! True megachurches! Lots of really overweight people! It expanded my worldview, especially in challenging things I previously took for granted as being universal since I had no reason to think otherwise. That's one thing I love about travelling - being challenged to reconsider what's normal.

One of my main hopes in living in a different place for a while was to experience more of that, especially in regards to faith, to distinguish what's truly universal about Christianity and what's cultural. And I think that's happened somewhat. I find myself being surprised by little things, and sometimes surprised that I'm surprised, if that makes any sense.

One thing I've realised is that my Southern Baptist roots run deep when it comes to drinking. As you may or may not know, drinking (and dancing) is pretty much verboten for Southern Baptists. I didn't have a touch of alcohol before I turned 21 (save for a handful of communions at Catholic Masses) and even afterwards, very rarely drank as it felt vaguely wrong. Over the years I've changed quite a bit and now appreciate a good drink, and I'd hardly consider myself a Southern Baptist anymore, but that influence is apparently still there, because I was shocked when I came here. The attitudes toward drink are completely different from my Southern Baptist upbringing.

I think where I'd arrived in my own mentality is that drinking is fine but still in some sense "secular" and shouldn't be mixed with Christian activity. They don't have that hangup here - drinking is fully integrated with church activity. I had read before about C.S. Lewis's favourite pub but I don't think I ever really internalised what that means: they drank while talking about (at least part of the time) Christian things. That's how it is here. At church, they'll advertise get togethers at pubs. At church events, there's alcohol. At a recent church leaders' retreat, there was wine and scotch. Maybe that's not shocking for some, but it was for me, which again, made me realise my Southern Baptistness.

One thing that blew my mind: we went to this retreat over the summer for the the Holy Trinity Brompton church network called FOCUS. Good worship, good teaching. Got a prophetic word prayed for me that I'll write about some other time. But every night starting at 10, they have this thing called Out Of Focus, which is basically like a club, with alcohol and dancing. This is at a Christian retreat! Southern Baptists would have a heart attack. I never quite figured out if Out Of Focus is an indirect reference to beer goggles. I don't think so, but I wouldn't be surprised. But yeah, alcohol is simply no big deal here.

Because it's so ingrained in the church culture here, my attitude and behaviour toward drinking has changed as well. Even Jieun is drinking more now than she ever has. Neither of us to excess; quite moderately, actually. But the attitude has changed a lot.

7:03 AM
October 31

I wrote years ago about how and why I hate California politics. I've been pleasantly surprised at how some things have improved since then, partly because of one of the things I really supported - redistricting by an independent body. As this New York Times piece discusses, it's been a wild success. The Democrats have gained more power (as is to be expected based on the demographics of the state). But interestingly, everyone has become more moderate - even the Democrat majority, who has been far more friendly to business interests than in the past. In general, there's more bipartisanship and things are getting done. It seems a win-win - liberals get more seats, but conservatives have more of their concerns actually addressed. Exactly what I hoped would happen.

I despise talking about politics nowadays, especially on Facebook. Mostly because I've come to believe there's no point. Everyone seems to have already made up their minds about everything and there's something about Facebook (or maybe just the Internet in general) that facilitates people only paying attention to evidence that supports what they already believe. Newsflash to Facebook political posters: you will not convince anyone to your side on Facebook. At best, you'll preach to the choir while pissing off everyone else. In reality, I think it's self-indulgent, primarily about saying how right you are more than anything else. Much like these Short Thoughts.

I think a lot about whether it's always been this way, that people have always generally been crystallized into thinking what they already think, or whether it's just my peers are getting older and we become more hardened in our thoughts as we age, or whether there is something different about our time. A part of me does think the Internet's changed things. There have always been conspiracy theorists out there, but in the past it required a ton of work to find evidence to support a kooky point of view. Now, it's immediately accessible. So take any crazy thought and with a quick Google search and you'll find reason to believe it. That makes it really easy to reinforce that you're right, and you can always point to that evidence no matter how much contrary information you might encounter.

I posted this link about why most political arguments fail, and mentioned before how I took Ariely's Coursera course on Irrational Behavior, and based on those I've come to believe there are 2 other reasons why people don't change their minds, especially in regards to politics. First, behaviourally, people always try to maintain a positive self-image, and as the article points out, most political arguments try to attack that, and that will not work. I saw this happen on Facebook recently over an argument in regards to abortion. Someone said something, someone said something else about how it's a nuanced and complicated issue, then the other replied with that makes sense if you're OK with the murder of millions, and the other was offended. The whole problem with the abortion debate is that pro-choicers don't see abortion as murder. If you insist that it is, if that's your debate tack, all you do is say that the other side are monsters, and no one believes that about themselves - it's not even true. Whether abortion = murder is true or not, it's a wholly ineffective argument in terms of swaying the opposing side. So many political arguments are like that. To flip the script, Democrats say that Republicans effectively hate the poor. Again, regardless of whether Republican policies do hurt the poor, this argument just will not work, because it implies that their motivations are hateful, and I honestly don't believe that to be true, nor do Republicans themselves, so it's a lost argument. So because of how political arguments are framed, it's all lost on the other side and pointless.

The other thing is that people seek (and largely succeed) to maintain consistency in their beliefs, and they see consistency as a sign of correctness. The problem is, I philosophically believe this to be untrue. Even after many years, I don't fully understand Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems, but the gist of them is that even if you take something as basic and unambiguous as arithmetic, any system that expresses it cannot be both consistent and complete. Meaning, a system that's purely consistent can't fully capture arithmetic. A system that fully expresses arithmetic must contain something in the system that's true but not provable. You can't have both consistency and completeness. It's a proven result.

And this is just in regards to arithmetic. I personally believe that it's just as true when it comes to thought and language. Consistency is good, but overrated, in that you can't have a complete philosophical system without inconsistencies, and if you have a completely consistent worldview, it doesn't fully capture life. Philosophers back to Socrates (probably earlier) devoted their time to logical problems without presenting solutions. That makes sense to me. Just living life means living contradictions. We can't eliminate them, we just have to live with them.

Few people believe this though, and instinctively seek to maintain consistency in thought. And that's another reason I think political debate is useless. Much of it attacks the consistency of the other view. And since most people think consistency is necessary for truth, when challenged they'd rather reject the argument than reconsider their own consistency. When I see public figures go at it (e.g. Paul Krugman vs Niall Ferguson) that's exactly what I see - each has a fully consistent (and fully opposed) worldview, each attacks the consistency of the other's worldview, and each rejects the others arguments precisely because it attacks their consistency. End result: pointless.

So debating politics is pointless. The only time anything actually happens, in my opinion, is when people haven't formed a viewpoint yet, or when they're actively seeking pure information as opposed to opinions. The young and the curious. That's about it.

It's sad, but I honestly feel this cynicism has affected how I see evangelism. In my head, I feel like trying to convince others is pointless. I do think that's partly true. We can't convince others to faith with arguments, especially the older people get. People are changed by actions in love and the Holy Spirit. That's it.

3:28 AM
October 30
Natural is Bad

This Slate story about the repulsive behaviors of "cute" animals is fascinating and disgusting. Animals are... animals.

This gets to one of my beliefs about morality that I feel most people don't think about: what is natural has nothing to do with what is good. People increasingly believe that if behaviour has a scientifically explained, genetically induced cause, then it must be OK. The thought being, if you're made that way, if you "can't help it", it can't be wrong.

I don't believe that to be true. If we took our cues of morality from what's natural, we'd have a terrible world. So when we talk about what's behaviourally right and wrong, whether it's natural has little to do with it.

3:28 AM
October 29

Drew resolved to write more frequently; I'd like to do so also even if it's brief and not that heavy. Some quick thoughts about Austria:

  • Wow do Austrians smoke a lot. Londoners smoke a lot too. And according to Wikipedia South Korea consumes more cigarettes per capita. But it felt worse to me in Austria than anywhere else I've been. And I hate smoke, so it was off-putting.
  • Not a friendly people, either, outside the tour guides and hotel staff. Even our Sound of Music tour guide, I would describe her as sarcastic and jaded.
  • The country is incredibly clean, save for one huge exception - lots of graffiti everywhere. Kind of a weird juxtaposition.
  • Reminded me a lot of Paris (partly because of the graffiti). Same old buildings, same cafe culture, same cultural emphasis on art, except Paris is more about visual arts and Vienna about music.
  • In both places we stayed, the master bed had separate comforters. So a queen size bed, but 2 twin comforters on top. Odd. Makes cuddling more difficult.

7:41 AM
October 3
The Influence Of US TV

I had the most fascinating talk with my coworkers (British and French) the other day around the influence of American TV and movies. It started as we talked about Halloween. That's not a holiday that's historically been celebrated in Europe, but it is more and more (we got trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood last year), and in my coworkers' estimation, it's because of the influence of US TV shows. So many TV shows have Halloween episodes, and people here have started mimicking it since US TV is so popular.

It's not just Halloween; there are a bunch of events that are big in the US that aren't here, but are becoming big again because of how they're depicted in American shows and movies. These include wedding proposals (not a big deal here), weddings (not nearly as formal, ceremonial, or elaborate), bridal showers, bachelor parties, baby showers, high school proms. All of those things are not a deal here, but they're growing in popularity here as they mimic what they see on TV. Even something as small as getting on one's knee to propose - that's a formality that isn't done here, but people are starting to. That's fascinating.

So the interesting part of the conversation was that they assumed that what Europeans mimic isn't accurate US culture. It's what they see on TV, and they assumed that it's skewed and stereotypical, not real. But as we talked, I realized that some of what they assumed to be unreal is actually fairly accurate. For example, they assumed that all US TV shows and movies about high school are wildly hyperbolic, especially how cliquish and divided they are. That blew my mind, because that's actually the aspect of high school that pretty much everyone in the US identifies with. Maybe not the same types of cliques. But that high school is deeply cliquish, I mean, I thought that was universal. But my coworkers found that stunning. And I in turn find it stunning that anyone could find that stunning.

I'm still thinking about this. I can't even conceive of how high school, with a bunch of adolescents, could not be as divided into groups as it is. Isn't that completely natural, though regrettable? But apparently it's not. Apparently in the UK, while there are interest groups, on the whole, people feel unified as a class. And my British coworker is Indian so it's not that he's naive about race or class. But his experience was such that he finds watching American TV shows about high school, with their sharply defined groups, bizarre. My French coworker also. And I can't figure out why that doesn't happen here, or what it is about American society that makes it that way. Is the emphasis on sports? Race? Money? I really don't know, because I never thought it required a cause before.

I'm still thinking about this a lot. There are parts of your upbringing that you fully realize is culturally influenced, and I could have predicted that. But what amazes me is when I realize that some things I just assumed to be universal, like the fact that kids of high school age will separate into strongly divided cliques, is also a cultural artifact. Mind-blowing. That's happened a decent amount in regards to what matters with faith also, but that's for another time.

11:02 AM
September 2
Public and Private Schools

This manifesto, trollingly subtitled "Only bad people send their kids to private school" is making the rounds on Facebook. I largely agree in principle, though its uncompromising position is wrong, and I hesitate to be so universally judgmental. Like, many (most?) missionaries send their kids to "private" schools. These are people who have made many sacrifices for a greater good. Are they really bad people for sending their kids to private schools? To say that lacks understanding. And there are less extreme situations where I think it's also applicable.

Anyway, forget the article, wanted to write about the school system here. We knew virtually nothing about it before we came, and to be honest, still know very little. We were forced to go private since we found out we're moving after school registrations had closed. (SN - the terminology is super confusing. "Public" schools here are actually private, perhaps the most private of schools, catering to the elites. State schools are the equivalent of US public schools. I get confused all the time. I'll keep using "public" even though it should be "state".) And so we've sidestepped a lot of the public school issues.

But we had a long talk with a friend from Abby's school about how education works and it's fascinating. The mother is from Spain and was always educated in public schools, and really wants to send her daughter to public schools also, as she values the diversity of experience. However, being in London, she feels like she's forced to go private. Reason being, in their estimation, all the public schools are poor. And the reasons why are interesting.

So in London, they don't put social housing (projects) in specific places in town - they're spread out all over. So even in the nicest neighborhoods, you'll have social housing somewhat close by. I thought that was great - I've long disliked the separation of ghettos and poor neighborhoods in general in the States, and have long thought that if affordable housing were not grouped together but distributed in pockets of nicer places, it would be better for everybody.

However, what happens is that only the social housing people attend public schools. The reason being, many of them don't speak English as their primary language. It's nuts how cosmopolitan (SN - when people here use "cosmopolitan", they just mean diverse. To them, London is a cosmopolitan city in the sense that there are many, many different ethnicities) London is. Even the least diverse schools have kosher and halal options. But the effect in public schools is greater, not just affecting culture but language. And so if parents send their kids to public schools, their kids will be in a system where many (possibly most) of the kids don't speak English and much of classroom time will be devoted to that. Many parents don't feel like they can do that. So only the poor send their kids to public schools, and they're dominated by non-English speakers, and everyone that can afford it sends their kid to private schools. You don't have the US effect where there are great public schools that the rich people try to move to. Because of distributed social housing, it's a clean divide where all the rich go private.

I don't know how true this is - I suspect it's not fully, because we did a tiny bit of research and I do know there are public schools that are considered good, and people try to get into the right school district areas (catchments). But I do think there's some truth to it, because the father was raised here and he knows the system, and the mother's despair at not being able to send her daughter to public school feels real. She even mentioned moving back to Spain to be able to do that.

Anyway, I thought this was fascinating because again, I had long thought if we basically moved poor people among rich neighborhoods, that would solve some of the school disparity issues in the US. But now I don't know; it may well be that as in London (if it's true), the rich people will just all send their kids to private schools and we'll get the same disparities. There are no easy solutions.

6:00 AM

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