Monday, November 23, 2009

Foster Care and Adoption

Today, the students had a very interesting discussion. We are reading the book Things Fall Apart by Achebe Chinua. The protagonist Okonkwo is a fierce warrior, titled wrestler and immensely wealthy man who hates his indolent father, Unoka. His father represents failure and weakness, qualities that Okonkwo deplores. Okonkwo is a revered member of the clan, in Umuofia, and has a reputation for "ruling with a heavy hand." He also has three wives and eight children.

During a tribunal meeting, it was determined that a neighboring tribe would gift Umuofia with a young male and a virgin, in compensation for the death of a female Umuofian tribe member. The elders of the clan decided that since the young male belonged to the tribe, Okonkwo would care for him. This is how Ikefuma came into the household of Okonkwo. He lived with Okonkwo for three years as a foster son.

My co-teacher, Ms. S. asked a very interesting question: What is the difference between foster care and adoption? The students responded that foster care is where a child is in the care of a family but still a ward of the state. The child in foster care can still have contact with their biological parents. They then stated that adoption is a process in which a parent or parents are legally responsible for a child that is not their biological child.

Ms. S. then told her experience of foster care in which she had a seven year old girl, Valerie, come into her family when she was four years old. Valerie was taken from her biological parent because she was viciously abused by her mother's "friends." Ms. S. told of how her father would not smoke around Valerie. There was an incident where he went to light a cigarette and Valerie jumped back, begging him not to burn her. From that moment, Ms. S.'s father refused to smoke in the house. Sadly, the day came when Valerie was taken from Ms. S.'s family and returned to her own mother. It was the first time that Ms. S.'s father had ever cried. Sadly, to this day, Ms. S. has no knowledge of what happened to Valerie.

The students then began sharing their own stories. It was heart-breaking. They also debated with the issue of whether they can see themselves fostering a child in the future. These are the answers they shared aloud:
  1. It would depend on how old they are. I want a kid as a baby so that I could raise them how I am raised. Kids that are older don't really change and can cause trouble.
  2. I would foster a kid because I could bring them wonderful experiences like what it means to love or what it means to have a family.
  3. I would foster a child that is a teenager because they may have nothing but bad experiences and I think that I can show them a better life.
  4. I would adopt a kid if I wasn't able to have children. I think I would be a great mom.
  5. I wouldn't want to foster or adopt a kid because what if the biological parent wants them back, then I'll be hurt. I would love the child just so they could be taken away from me.
  6. I would foster a child if they were in my family. Like if you have an aunt that is on drugs and then you take their kids in foster care just so they don't lose their roots. Everybody should know where they came from.
I found these answers to be so thoughtful and to tell the truth, surprising. I did not think that my students cared that deeply. I guess they really understand the meaning of "Am I my brother's keeper?" They made connections between Ikefuma's experience with foster care and Ms. S.'s experience. I was impressed.

On day's when I feel that my students aren't listening and am distraught with despair, I'll look back at this blog and smile.


  1. Chary, I absolutely loved this post. It is so comforting to hear young people have such grown up thoughts - it makes me want to stick my tongue out at people saying "kids these days" etc.

    Also - did you read all of Chinua's book? I think this book is extremely powerful and heartwrenching, but the topic of adoption/foster care does not strike me as the most apparent one in the overall story. I really like that it is something that is read in schools, though, as it's very much an African classic that should be part of the world literary canon.

  2. I really have to read this book, it sounds wonderful.

    Aside from that, this was a wonderful post, Chary. As Mari said, it's great that there are kids out there that DON'T make interfering busybodies justified when they say 'kids these days'.

  3. Hi Mari,

    Yes, yesterday was a very good day with the students. I did read the entire book. This is the third time I am teaching this book. Adoption and Foster care are just one of the themes we are talking about. We are still very early in the book (Chapter 4). And I agree this is a wonderful book to teach especially while students are learning Imperialism/ Colonialism.

  4. Hi Tara,

    I agree. MOst people see our teens as troublesome but my students were exactly the opposite yesterday. They were "on point." I can't wait until we talk about Okonkwo's decision concerning Ikefuma's fate and the poor choices he makes as the conflict escalates. You should definitely read this book.