Life Writing as a Migrant Act: A Mother Gains Voice from Her Son by Shuo Zhang for EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture, and Language

Life Writing as a Migrant Act: A Mother Gains Voice from Her Son by Shuo Zhang for EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture, and Language

At first, I got lost in Ng-A-Fook’s navigation as a migrant act. However, after going through the whole narrative journey with him, not only did I see the “multiplicities” of Ng-A-Fook, but also a vivid image of Elizabeth that was presented to us as readers. Standing on the third person’s point of view, just like an audience of a movie, I have watched the panorama of the story and constructed my perspectives on the m/other-son plot.  According to Pinar (1995), the method of currere consists of “four steps or moments depicting both temporal and reflective movements in the study of educational experience: the regressive, the progressive, the analytical, and the synthetical” (Pinar, 1995, as cited in Kanu & Glor, p.105). As the leading actor of this ‘movie’, Ng-A-Fook presented the regressive moments of currere; while as the director, he finished the progressive, the analytical and the synthetical steps.

Now, I am playing the role of a qualified audience, writing my reflective comments on the ‘movie’. I would like to share my commentary in two aspects: the life writing style and the educational implications of m/other-son plot.

Life-Writing Style

As a reader of this narrative, I admire Ng-A-Fook’s life-writing style for three key points: the arrangement of point of view, narrative circular structure and intertwined narrative space-time.

According to Buber’s (2002) Dialogue Philosophy, a genuine dialogue is

…no matter whether spoken or silent—where each of the participants really has in mind the other or others in their present and particular being and turns to them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relation between himself and them. (p.22)

In Ng-A-Fook’s migrant act, as an actor, he built a genuine dialogue, in which the narrative space and time is intertwined, with his mother Elizabeth; as a director, he also establishes a genuine dialogue with the ‘audience’.

Buber (2002) also maintains that, to build mutuality between teacher and student, the teacher must experience what the student experiences as the teacher gives the lesson. However, in practice, it is hard to build such a mutual relation by experiencing all students’ lived experiences. Does listening to a Justin Biber’s song or reading vampire novels mean a teacher has built a mutual relation with his/her students? No, that is just a superficial connection. After ‘navigating’ with Ng-A-Fook, I believe life writing is an effective method to reach a genuine dialogue with my future students. Although it is impossible to have the exactly same experience with the students, I can share my lived experience through currere with them and find a common ground. For instance, my English learning experience—from a passive recipient of knowledge to a critical thinker of the curriculum and an active participant of the class, can be written as a currere, through which a student may gain inspiration for their own learning. As Kanu & Clor (2006) state, “currere provides teachers with the capacity to gain voice, as individuals, within or even against the system” (p.112). Life writing can easily connect the writer to the readers. In a teacher-student relation, currere is a relational way to reach across and touch each other.

In “Navigating M/Other – Son Plots as a Migrant Act”, Ng-A-Fook runs currere as a migrant act, a collaborative autobiography which is a combination of his mother’s life narratives and his own. Through this narrative journey, which can be treated as a reproduced curriculum to examine women’s status on education’s stage, Ng-A-Fook tries to de/re/construct the mother-son plot. In navigating his narratives, I saw the multiplicities of Ng-A-Fook in different age bracket—a mommy’s boy attached to feminine love, a masculine adolescent escaping from ‘motherland’, a mature man rethinking about maternal love and a pro-feminist educator later claiming the importance of women’s role on education’s center stage.

Ng-A-Fook’s lived experience provokes my memory of trying to get rid off my mother’s domestic authority when I was a teenager. Although, being a girl, I did not need to gain masculinity through getting rid off mother’s feminine love as Ng-A-Fook did, I was eager to get away from her ‘wings’ and make my own decisions for proving my maturity. Also, I can fully understand the “patriarchy pedagogy” used by Ng-A-Fook’s mother, because it happened in my family as well. When I was young, my dad played the role of ‘absent father’ and my mom would use dad’s authority in his absence. If I made mistakes, my mother always said, “waiting for your dad, he will punish you when he comes back home!” As Ng-A-Fook describes, “upon his return, father would have to discipline, often in colonial style caning my body and mind, on m/other’s request” (p.170). That was the exactly same situation in my family. After recalling those memories, in surprise, I found myself walking a similar journey described by Ng-A-Fook. In the analytical moment, I need to think about how those memories can transform my present life.

The Educational Implications of M/Other-Son Plot

Our m/others, first teachers, daughters, and sisters have become political scapegoats, constructed by narratives of distancing, dependency, blaming and devaluating (Ng-A-Fook, 2012, p.179).

As part of his regressive and progressive work, Ng-A-Fook follows Pease’s four patterns of ‘normative’ relationships between mother and son: “distancing, devaluing, dependence, and blaming” (p.163). Elizabeth is depicted as a mother distanced by her son, a housewife devalued by her family and a female blamed by her brother. However, through the flashback of Elizabeth’s first person narrative, I hear her voice as a daughter, a woman, a mother, a sister, a wife, a student and a teacher. She went through the trauma of her parents’ separation, her mother’s suicide and alienation living in another country, all of which lead to her insobriety and depression. “There was no time for mourning what I had lost or sacrificed as a daughter, woman, a mother, and your first teacher” (Ng-A-Fook, 2012, p.165), Elizabeth said.

Like Ng-A-Fook, I always take mother’s domestic labor for granted. In my mind, there is a list of what mother ought to do for her children: encouragement, appreciation, support, care and unconditional love. I always have unlimited demand for her, but I never think about making an ought-to-do list for my mother, just as river never flows back. However, through Ng-A-Fook’s currere, I realize that it is high time that I should take a new look on what I have obtained from my beloved mother—my first teacher.

Ng-A-Fook has built a genuine dialogue with the readers through the life writing; furthermore, he has gained voice for her mother by navigating mother-son plot as a migrant act.  How many hidden curricula on earth have we learned from mother? And why is mother’s domestic labor on education devalued as their silenced and concealed voice in men’s narratives? What role should woman play on education’s center stage in this patriarchal society? Now, provoked by Ng-A-Fook’s narrative navigation, I would like to working on my synthetical moment…


Buber, M. (2002).  Between man and man. New York; Routledge.

Kanu, Y. & Glor, M. (2006). ‘Currere’ to the rescue? Teachers as ‘amateur

intellectuals’ in a knowledge society. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 4(2), pp. 101-122.

Ng-A-Fook, N. (2012). Navigating M/other-Son Plots as a Migrant Act:

Autobiography, Currere, and Gender. In Springgay, S. & Freedman, D. (Eds.).

Mothering a bodied curriculum: Emplacement, desire, affect, pp. 160-185. Toronto,  Ontario: University of Toronto Press.