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The Challenges and Triumphs of Passing on Family Heritage Across Cultures

The Challenges and Triumphs of Passing on Family Heritage Across Cultures

ESSAY 3: Passing In On: Family Heritage

No tie is more intimate than family ties. And yet, inside one family, we often find a split between cultures – different values, different habits, even different native languages. Sometimes, parents emigrate, and raise their children in a different country whose values their children adopt; but sometimes, it’s the culture itself that changes, giving the younger generation new identities and opportunities that take them out of their parents’ world. When child and parent belong to different cultures, what can parents pass on to their children? Do children shrug off their parents’ culture, as Judith Rich Harris puts it, like a “dorky sweater their mother made them wear” – or do they find ways to keep in touch with their heritage?

In this unit, we’ve heard a number of voices that touch on this issue. Psychologists like Judith Harris explore whether parents succeed in transmitting their culture to their children. Fiction writers, like Amy Tan, Alice Walker and Seamus Heaney, paint pictures of families in cultural transition. And David Sedaris’s memoir looks at one unique cross-cultural family relationship. Now it’s your turn to contribute.

Your task Address ONE of the following questions. Your response should draw on at least three of the works of imaginative literature we’ve read for illustrations and examples; AND on Harris’ and Gladwell’s essays for support, illustration, and factual evidence.

  1. Judith Rich Harris argues that the only thing parents can pass on to their children is biology – that where the home culture differs from the outside world, children will not be shaped by the home culture. Do you agree? Discuss this question, by looking at some of the ways in which the children in the literature we’ve read do (or do not) maintain a connection with their family heritage.
  2. In most of the stories and poems we’ve read, we’ve seen how children can grow up talking a different language from their parents – sometimes literally. How does a language gap affect family relationships? Explore this question, by looking at some of the ways in which families in the literature we’ve read do (or do not) stay close despite their language gap.

Your audience What kind of face should you imagine behind the page? Someone who –

  • is not in our class. Your reader hasn’t been part of our discussions, and will need plenty of explanation.
  • is terribly interested in what you are trying to say. You’re not selling a used car.
  • needs to have everything explained. Your reader is never saying “Oh, I totally know what you mean.”
  • HAS READ the fiction texts, but drawn no conclusions. No summaries – but lots of support and details.
  • HAS NOT read the non-fiction work. You’ll need to briefly explain any research you cite.
  • needs you to be clear and direct. Your reader doesn’t want to be impressed, just enlightened.


Fiction: “You Can’t Kill The Rooster,” Sedaris | “Joy Luck Club,” Tan | “Everyday Use,” Walker

Poem: “Digging,” Heaney

Non-Fiction: from The Nurture Assumption, Judith Rich Harris | “Do Parents Matter?” Malcolm Gladwell


At least 1500 words

Lots of evidence (i.e. direct quotes from the texts, correctly and elegantly integrated into your writing)

Correct MLA citation format

“You Can’t Kill The Rooster” – Sedaris (discussion)
“Everyday Use” – Angela Walker (assigned)Sentence focus I (sentence structure)
Oct 1

“Everyday Use” (discussion)

Malcolm Gladwell, “Do Parents Matter?” (assigned)

Judith Harris, The Nurture Assumption (assigned)

Sentence focus follow-up


Ideas map: Harris’ argument / evidence

Essay 3 assignment (discussion & handout)

Sentence focus II – vague


“Digging” – Heaney

“The Joy Luck Club” (assigned)

Sentence focus follow-up


“The Joy Luck Club” – (discussion)

Sentence focus III – sentence building (modifiers)


Essay in progress workshop

Thesis / outlines due


Introductions and conclusions

Sentence focus




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