Learning about American Families through Civil Rights, Brangelina, and Pictionary

Mr. Cheng is the most progressive teacher his students will ever encounter at their three year, Tier 7 College. I’m super proud to say students have yet to open their outdated and dreadfully boring British textbooks for Oral English.

I keep it real and challenge my students to see and understand America as a wonderful but imperfect, living, breathing, and evolving country. For example, I talked about the American Dream, the whole “two cars in every garage” mandate, and showed them photos of happy families living in the suburbs, in the post-war boom era

Living the American Dream

I immediately followed these slides with a discussion of how Black Americans in the 1950s were refused mortgages in the suburbs, and forced into inner-city neighborhoods with limited access to healthcare and quality education, perpetuating a cycle of poverty. (I don’t recall learning about redlining/ housing discrimination in high school or college, so my Tier 7 students in Lanzhou now know more about systemic and institutionalized racism than I [a #1 ranked STEM high school attendee and NYU Stern alum] did when I was their age)

a march for equal housing

I show them photos of Brad and Angelina, and their six kids, to make a point that biological and adopted kids create a loving family together. And unfortunately, I also use Brangelina as an example for how 40% of marriages in America will ultimately end in divorce, and therefore single parent families are neither unusual nor shunned in American society. (I tell them all to sign prenups when they get married, but under Chinese law men will probably keep almost everything)

short lived marital bliss for the jolie-pitts

Inevitably, I drag Jennifer Aniston and her beautiful hair into the discussion to introduce the idea that women can live fulfilling lives without a husband or children. (OK, maybe I’m not THAT progressive, if the only reason I bring up Jen is because she got a divorce)

My former coworker Holly, who was born and raised in Beijing said to me “thanks for bringing the concept (female empowerment) to young Chinese girls, who have been educated to please men as their life mission!”

I told the story of a married couple Mildred and Richard Loving who were sent to jail because she was black and he was white, and how their interracial marriage was legal in some states but not in others, until their victorious 1967 Supreme Court ruling changed America for the better.

Mildred and Richard- thank you for your courage

The whole idea of a family being legal in one state but not others was also a reality for gay couples in America up until last year, so I discussed LGBT equality at length. There was some uncomfortable giggling (and a really loud *GASP* from Betty) in the classroom, but when I positioned gay marriage as an issue about treating other people (ie. friends, future coworkers, and their freakin’ English teacher, maybe?!?) with respect and kindness, the students were receptive to marriage equality. (In Class 3 Tina nodded approvingly, Maria gave the thumbs up, and Jack said “that’s so cool!”- I love Class 3!)

My final slide was full of photos of my friends in their happy multi-cultural, non hetero-normative relationships. I felt a *little* guilty because half of these couples have since split and moved on with their lives, but I just spent an hour harping on interracial/ gay marriage and I didn’t want to disappoint my students.

“Randy and Tom are both doctors! you should try to become doctors after graduating. and if that’s not possible, try your best to marry one”

In full transparency: Jane (Korean) and Patrick (Irish) never “officially” dated, and the baby they are holding belongs to another friend. Hassan (Pakistani) and Michelle (Chinese) broke up two years ago (“I can’t NOT eat on Ramadan!”), and everyone knows Monique is not a real lesbian and only lives with Ana because her Master’s Degree in Drama Therapy has yet to land her a job with which she can afford to pay rent on her own. But these are just minor details; what’s really important is love in America transcends gender, race, and religious affiliation!!

Now the fun stuff: reviewing the Family Tree (from a prior week’s lesson) and Family-related ideas through Pictionary! I split my class into two teams (“Team K.O.” and “Dream Team”) and the result was lots of screaming and shouting; pure chaos in the classroom.

Some highlights:


Lucy from Team K.O. sees this depiction and is typing furiously into her phone, translating words from Chinese into English: she timidly says “Anti-miscegenation laws” Whaatt?? I don’t even know what that means. That’s totally cheating, and I tell her to think of phrases we used in class. Finally someone screams “INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE!


Someone on Win’s team screams “FAMILY!” Win looked at me triumphantly. I told Win she didn’t Win, and instructed her to re-read the words on the index card. She thought for a second, then wiped “dad” off the blackboard with her sleeve. “SINGLE PARENT FAMILY!!” correcto!


Julie looked at her card, started drawing a stick figure, then erased it and went in with a killer definition. AMAZING. SO PROUD OF MY GIRLS. “INDEPENDENT WOMAN!!!


This was a tough one, neither team got it. Correct answer: adoption


A second attempt at adoption, someone screamed out “Double Income No Kids!” (cell phone research answer, since I didn’t talk about D.I.N.K. in class)






“GRANDSON!” (so cute!)


I didn’t like where this picture was going (we never talked about inbreeding in class), but miraculously, someone screamed out the correct answer after several tries, “NIECE!” Whew!


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