Washington DC, US, 24 April 2013
It was one fine Sunday during my tenure as property manager at Deshi Phuntsokling (at the Tibetan Association of Northern California (TANC), SF Bay area) when one of my good friends came to drop off his son for the weekend Sunday school.
“Hi, excited about today’s class?” I asked the boy.
“I hate Sunday school!” he shot back, with a grimace.
During a recent trip to New York City, I saw the same grimace on the face of my cousin’s daughter when her father was about to take her to a nearby Tibetan Sunday School. I have a feeling that from Europe to Los Angeles, almost every Tibetan family with kids shares the same story. Why do our kids hate Sunday school to death? Why don’t they look forward to the Sunday as much as they do to the weekday school? Parents do seem excited and look forward to the day as they meet and share their good old memories from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, while their kids sit in classrooms under the care of a “cultural teacher” who is as confused and overwhelmed as the students.
I completely agree that Sunday schools play an important role in giving young Tibetans in western countries the environment and education connected to our roots. Children have an opportunity to meet peers of their colour and develop a sense of belongingness when they’re already a minority in the mainstream American culture.
However, while framing the school’s curriculum and activities, we overlook the core aspects of the day in its entirety — such as, what do our kids feel about the school? Do they look forward to the weekend school as much as their parents do? The true purpose of the weekend school is to instill in our kids a sense of Tibetanness by speaking in Tibetan, reading and writing basic letters, and singing Tibetan rhymes, among others. Clearly our goal is not to produce literary giants given that we’ve only a day in a week. When the whole world is on holiday, and barbequing at their backyard with sunshine, confining our kids into a gloomy classroom teaching Kha Qha Gha Nga is in a way robbing our children of their play time.
Some suggestions: How about removing classroom, blackboard, chalks, and books altogether from the day and do it in a picnic-like situation where kids get to play, learn Tibetan rhymes and alphabet orally on an open grassland, beach, park or riverside? How about changing location every Sunday so that everyone including the parents and teachers are excited about the weekly meet? I would pitch a typical Tibetan tent with eight auspicious signs in the middle where food and snacks are stationed.
How about if a parent wearing a Spiderman costume (doesn’t matter even if he or she is pot-bellied) comes out from a nearby bush and tells Tibetan stories to the kids? Wouldn’t it be fun to watch a pot-bellied Spiderman speaking pure Tibetan? Or, how about two parents doing yak dance? (But one must be careful lest we should fall as our bones are brittle with age.) How about everyone — kids, parents and teachers — hold hands together and perform gorshey to the beat of the drum in the middle of the circle?
Let us admit that when we were kids, all of us hated gloomy classrooms. We must be willing to learn from our experience and not put our children through the same ordeal. Do we really need to stick to the centuries-old teaching methods by which we learned the least, and hated the most?
In order to impart a culturally rich education and experience to our posterity, we should strive hard to sustain our Sunday school for a long time. This is possible only by making it enjoyable and fun.
Let’s welcome the pot-bellied Tibetan Spiderman to make our children’s day fun and exciting.