Saturday, February 4, 2012

Shoes for Diversity

Last night I had trouble locating a suitable pair of shoes to put on when I took Maggie outside for a visit to her favorite patch of grass. I settled for less than fashionable look. Glancing down at my feet encased in crisp white socks and stretched taught between my toes by the canvas of my flip flops, my mind tumbled backward in time.

Simple images can sometimes trigger very complex memories. My shoes took me almost 35 years into the past to a particular day in Kindergarten. I remember my teacher clearly (or perhaps, I remember her clearly through the memorabilia saved by my parents). Mrs. Haag was someone very exotic and exciting in my young life. 

on my way to Kindergarten 
These are the things I most remember about kindergarten: I remember my first few moments of my first day of school. It was warm and sunny. My mom walked with me to school and guided me toward an orderly line of children who waited along a well groomed hedge of privets. I remember how much fun I had talking with people. I'm told I was much more interested in socializing with my classmates than just about another other activity. I remember my very patient teacher and some very patient friends tying my shoes. Bunny ears, bunny ears, playing by a tree. Criss-crossed the tree, trying to catch me. Bunny ears, bunny ears, jumped into the hole, popped out the other side beautiful and bold. 

Most of all, I remember one very special day. Rather than coming dressed in the colorful polyester pant suits that were popular in the day, Mrs. Haag came to school wearing a kimono, geta shoes, and tabi socks. She talked about her summer in Japan while showing us slides of what she experienced on her vacation. 

waiting for class
We each got to have a taste or two of some Japanese candy. We used a soroban (Japan's version of the abacus) to learn and practice a few basic math lessons. We looks at slides of trees, animals, and flowers and got a lesson about the natural world. My favorite was the slide of Mount Fuji. Mrs. Haag actually hiked up the mountain. How cool is that? I'd not yet seen a mountain--let alone a mountain in another country. It all seemed so exotic. So interesting. So exciting.

Mrs. Haag provided me first lesson on diversity. Before knowing about the culture wars, hearing fear peddled about people who are different, and before meeting someone who lived outside my home town, my kindergarten teacher helped nurture and stoke my curiosity about the larger world. 

Since those first lessons I've studied with some of the greatest scholars in the world that focus on multicultural issues. While each of them had something special and important to teach me, none of them offered the powerful gift of Mrs. Haag. 

How easy it is to forget that at the heart of diversity is curiosity. When we are able to open to the experience of another, and be open to the notion that each of us experiences the world differently, a richness can be found that no single viewpoint can expose.

Thank you Mrs. Haag. I'm so glad I thought of you last night while I was looking at my shoes while standing outside in the cold winter air.

top row: David Ezat, Lynn Cook, Shawn Mallory, Joe Rizen, Sandra Jones, Sylvester Harris; 3rd row: Patricia Pratt, Frad Fronek, Charles Whitemore, Jason Mihalko, Jeff Glem, Anthony Pugh, Debra Presley; 2nd row: Rebecca Farley, Brian McKlovie, Michelle Chmura, Daniel Engstrom, Missy Davis, Andrea Zander; 1st row: Danielle Felton, Bridgette Lakner, Shane Castner, Keith Rufin, Carrie Rulong, Andrea Weeda, Lorri K.; helpers: Mrs. Waldrop, Mrs. Semelsburger (missing); teacher: Mrs. Haag; missing: Robby Prunella, Tina Harness

1st report card of the future Irreverent Psychologist


  1. I am still wiping away tears as I type this. I don't think you ever told me, the MIP (Mother of the Irreverent Psychologist), this story.

    What an absolutely lovely & incredibly touching story, Jason. I would encourage you to locate Mrs. Haag to share this story with her. I have no doubt that it would mean the world to her. I still remember the note that she sent to you after she recognized you at 14 as the accompaniest playing the piano for Cleveland's world renowned Singing Angels. Only a very devoted teacher would remember a student after so many years & take the time to write a note.

    I am also so very happy that I was able to add to this lovely story by saving your report card & packing up all your childhood pictures & memorabilia & insisting that it was time for them to be in your possession!

    One piece of your memory is missing though...both your Dad & I walked you to school on that first day. He always took time away from work to walk you & your sister to school on the first day of school.

    I have to tell you how deeply touching it was for me not only to read about your memories, but to have those pictures of that little boy carry me back in time to revisit the pure joy of having you as my little boy & back again to the present day to the pride I feel in having a son who would take the time to recount such an inspiring story. I have no words that can adequately convey how full my heart is at this very moment. Thank you, dear Jason, for being who you are!

    P.S. I just have to add, what was I thinking about dressing you in that outfit! I hope my excuse is it was a very hot day...but even that wouldn't excuse the tank top & loud shorts! AND I noticed you were the only boy wearing a tie in the class picture! And to make matters even worse, I recall you having a liesure suit at that age. I'm so sorry, Jason...please forgive me!

  2. Thanks, Mom.

    I'd forgotten that Dad would also walk to school back at Neeley!

  3. Awwwww, your mom just made me cry!

    *sniffle and deep breath*

    What I came here to say was I still had this post in mind when I came across something about Meyers-Briggs, and started wondering there's any correlation between the different types and level of prejudice or the way it's expressed. Also, it seems there might be different ways of presenting material promoting diversity that would be most effective for each type. Something I'm going to ponder, and wonder if you have any opinions about it.

  4. Interesting question. I would imagine yes, there are. I'm reminded of Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente's theory of change. I would imagine targeting diversity interventions based on some particular stage, outlook, worldview, or developmental level might be a very effective way to teach multi-cultural issues.

  5. I am, indeed, taking up my mother's suggestion of contacting Mrs. Haag. Surprisingly not everyone is as easily located via the internet as I might have hoped. I reached out to someone today who very well might be her daughter. I'll keep you all posted.

  6. After some searching I made contact with someone who turned out to be Mrs. Haag's daughter in law. She told me that Ann had died 22 years ago--the day before their wedding. It's such a bittersweet moment to recall this found memory and discover she died so long ago.

  7. Hi Jason! This is pretty cool to be experiencing! My mother-in-law would be honored and grateful hearing of your kindness. As a teacher myself, it warms my heart to be reminded that teachers touch lives everyday. Most of the time we never know how much we've impacted our students. Even though you didn't get to share this with Ann, it means alot to her family to hear your story. My husband, her son, Rick, remembers when she'd teach that unit. He remembers going to Payne and East 55th to a little Japanese store to buy candy, cookies and tea. Rick was a senior in high school the year you were in Ann's class. Thank you for seeking us out - it was a real treat!

    1. Her kindness, in no small part, taught me kindness. I'm glad we connected over this memory!

  8. Wow, all this becuase of a pair of shoes and a memory brought on by them .... Excellent :) I hope you find everyone you are trying to contact :)

    1. Funny, right? Such a little thing can bring back such a big (and important) memory.