Sunday, May 08, 2016

What Happens When Your Parents Aren't Who You Think They Are?

When raising the issue of epistemology (very loosely, how do you know what's true?) with my students, I'd sometimes ask things like, "How do you know your mother is your mother?"

It quickly become obvious that all their evidence is second hand.  They have evidence (such as birth certificates)  and what other people tell them.  But there is always a possibility that there mother really isn't their mother.  Maybe she's their grandmother and their sister is their mother.  Or maybe they're adopted.  It's a good opening to issues of knowing what is true and the different rules different people use to verify truth.

But this story I'm going to link to is even more unlikely.  What if your mother is really your biological mother, but she's not who you think she is.

The Guardian has a story Saturday of two Canadian-born, naturalized American brothers, who, well, here's the beginning of the article:
Tim Foley turned 20 on 27 June 2010. To celebrate, his parents took him and his younger brother Alex out for lunch at an Indian restaurant not far from their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both brothers were born in Canada, but for the past decade the family had lived in the US. The boys’ father, Donald Heathfield, had studied in Paris and at Harvard, and now had a senior role at a consultancy firm based in Boston. Their mother, Tracey Foley, had spent many years focused on raising her children, before taking a job as a real estate agent. To those who knew them, they seemed a very ordinary American family, albeit with Canadian roots and a penchant for foreign travel. Both brothers were fascinated by Asia, a favoured holiday destination, and the parents encouraged their sons to be inquisitive about the world: Alex was only 16, but had just returned from a six-month student exchange in Singapore. 
After a buffet lunch, the four returned home and opened a bottle of champagne to toast Tim reaching his third decade. The brothers were tired; they had thrown a small house party the night before to mark Alex’s return from Singapore, and Tim planned to go out later. After the champagne, he went upstairs to message his friends about the evening’s plans. There came a knock at the door, and Tim’s mother called up that his friends must have come early, as a surprise. 
At the door, she was met by a different kind of surprise altogether: a team of armed, black-clad men holding a battering ram. They streamed into the house, screaming, “FBI!” Another team entered from the back; men dashed up the stairs, shouting at everyone to put their hands in the air. Upstairs, Tim had heard the knock and the shouting, and his first thought was that the police could be after him for underage drinking: nobody at the party the night before had been 21, and Boston police took alcohol regulations seriously. 
When he emerged on to the landing, it became clear the FBI was here for something far more serious. The two brothers watched, stunned, as their parents were put in handcuffs and driven away in separate black cars. Tim and Alex were left behind with a number of agents, who said they needed to begin a 24-hour forensic search of the home; they had prepared a hotel room for the brothers. One of the men told them their parents had been arrested on suspicion of being “unlawful agents of a foreign government”.
The reporter follows up on many of the questions you're probably asking yourselves.  Here's the link again.

This is a great story for a high school class - I can't imagine any high school students who wouldn't be totally sucked into this story and imagining what it would be like if this happened to them.  And there are lots of lessons a teacher could get the students to explore.

1 comment:

  1. Consider this more a letter to you (and spying readers) than a fully-developed essay.

    That said, how do we know what we know about our parents? Arguably, that’s a troubling question any time of one’s life. I really hope you’re still out there teaching. It’s so obvious it’s what you love doing. In my own study of philosophy, it’s become clear to me how the university’s regime of moving graduates into student teaching roles is so vital to their learning, to become the thinker-writers good scholarship demands.

    I have several books in philosophy, history and economics that are simply bound versions of 'greatest hits' lectures given by exceptional professors. The seminar, (and small tutorials still used at elite unis in the UK) taught by doctoral students is so integral to how we learn. I'm no natural in philosophy, and my university is kind enough to let me join in the discussion.

    Which brings me to your linked story on the once-and-future Canadian lad in the Guardian. It's good to see this plucky paper pick up the international readership a net-connected world has granted. It’s a great example of e-journalism rewarding excellence with sky-rocketing readership, reasonable growth in subscription (still not enough!), using a fabulous charitable foundation base with paid membership services here in London. It's a paper of record for Britain and the world. I’m proud of that. A bit of what the BBC is known for, but without government licence fees.

    Reading this story, not as your imagined student, but as someone who moved country, gives insight as to why there is what seems natural resistance to someone who moves one’s country. Call it the ‘Who are you, and why are you here?’ (unspoken) question. There is little doubt the immigrant is doubted, having their past under scrutiny, yet finding that past doesn’t help them as it would back home.

    In some small way, we have a story that unintentionally lays out an argument against hiring the foreign-born. I’m making no claim to justify xenophobia. I'm thinking of this in the case of anyone, hired by a multinational and placed into its foreign office who CAN and DOES have transferable references to test CV veracity. I’m applying a muted bias that exists toward folks like Gene and me, who move as individuals without any transferable and vetted local references.

    We are set apart. Often, we have to start over, in order to build locally known and trusted networks. Think about career moves in the states without company portability, only much worse given language and culture differences. It’s why Gene and I now ask folks (who live internationally) if they work through a birth-country company contract. Their experience isn’t that of one who moves country to settle. Their pay packets often come in home-country currency rather than local; their visas secure their treatment in any ‘official’ emergency.

    In other words, they are international, but they are not nationals. With continuing ties to home country, questions arise about loyalty and identity. This Guardian story helped me see another side of these sentiments. It also reminded me of the family story of a great uncle of mine, who having arrived in the USA as a young man in the early 20th c, went back to fight for Kaiser Wilhelm in WWI.

    Darkly, I can see my relation's decision grounding a fear we don’t share, that governments must think about: allegiance is not assured, at best; at worst, not at all. It’s Trump-ette blaring of these fears that set us building walls, since in a world of border-hopping insurgency, we should fear the other. Trumping that, racism then hands us with colour-coded ‘reasonable suspicion'.

    Not unreasonably, if we think we inhabit a global village, we allow that we live where we need to trust each other. That trust takes real relationships forged over time. But as the Guardian story reminds us, one can never be too careful… (smile emoticon here)

    Going back to my comments last week, Steve, it’s tough building the modern Zion.


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