Hello from the US Pacific Northwest, my last international port of call before returning to a New Zealand summer at the end of Research and Study Leave. I stopped off in Montreal. This let me catch up with Thom Garfat and together we drove to Burlington, Vermont to visit Professor Gale Burford, Director of the School of Social Work at the University of Vermont. Gale moved to Canada at the same time I moved to Scotland and is best known for his research on Family Group Conferences. We first met on the day classes began at the University of Washington School of Social Work, hence the connection with Seattle thirty years ago.
Sign Found in Hunan Province that spoke to me of Family Visits
One very special feature of this visit was being able to meet up with two old comrades who taught me a lot about child and youth care practice. In particular, they both offered lessons about engagement and responsiveness in specialist work with troubled and troublesome young people. It was a special treat to meet up with Erin Brokovitch II, my socially constructed identity for a former resident of Birch Cottage where I worked 25 years ago, the first specialist secure unit for girls established on the West Coast by the Washington State Division of Juvenile Rehabilitation. Erin II was the same kid that turned up on my doorstep after hitch-hiking for three hours upon hearing I would be taking up a post in Scotland training social workers. I reminded Erin II of how she threatened to “haunt my ass all over the world if I turned out social workers like she had had to endure".
It was pleasing to catch up with Erin II and to hear of her journeys over the past couple of decades. As the wife of a naval officer and mother of two children based in Cuba, Erin helped draw attention to the plight of Chinese immigrants hired by the US Government to performing as domestic workers for the US Naval Base on the island with Castro's Cuba. These workers lived on container ships while working as indentured servants. Erin has also been involved in promoting the rights of First Nations' Peoples in the Pacific Northwest. With legal training she is now becoming a specialist in that field. What a proud older brother I felt! When did you last get feedback from a kid you worked with? Makes you feel real good!
Henry Maier trying on my Chairman Mao Tse Tung hat
The other old friend I caught up with was Henry Maier. We had a great time talking about how language development amongst Chinese children involves word pictures or a visual syntax. This differs from Western children who learn language more through an audio syntax. While there, another friend, George Cohen, dropped in on his way to Vancouver, BC. While chatting we learned that similar issues involving visual syntax and language development operate with hearing impaired children, especially when deafness occurs at birth. Have you ever thought about language development beginning for children through audio mode? Then they are formally taught how to read and write through a series of word pictures or visual syntax? Chinese children learn to think in pictures. Western children learn to think with sounds. Another thing I've learned on this trip is how we so often hear with a funny accent, just as we speak with a funny accent. That helped explain the Chinese/English translation on the sign! It will be good to get home!