Do you speak English?

Just in case you're thinking that electing a Black president means racism is dead, this post at Angry Asian Man should bring you back to reality. The original article is here: Student rejects 'demeaning' test, is suspended. It says this about Lori Phanachone, the young woman at the center of the controversy:

Lori Phanachone is a member of the National Honor Society, has a 3.9 grade point average and ranks seventh in the senior class of about 119 at Storm Lake High School.

Lori has been suspended. Her scholarships are threatened. She has been counseled to just lie about her first language, which she rightfully has refused to do. In spite of this glaring injustice, one of the first commenters to the original article had the audacity to write this:

If you are going to fight for injustice in this world then at least make it a fight for a worthwhile cause.
How someone could miss such an obvious wrong is mind-boggling. I take from this comment to mean that this person either believes believes racism no longer exists, or that fighting it isn't a worthy cause. Makes no difference: whether they stem from deeply-engrained beliefs or post-election nonsense, they're both dangerous. Lori's situation provides a frightening example why.

I can look within my own family for proof. My husband's first language isn't English. In college, where we met, he was required on college forms to identify his first language, and he answered honestly. No one ever required him to prove his English proficiency.

He is white, however, and his first language is German, a European language. With the same language proficiency but a different face, I have no doubt that he could have experienced what Lori Phanachone is experiencing now.

Shame on Storm Lake High School and the Storm Lake Board of Education.

Edited to add Storm Lake contacts posted by Angry Asian Man, with a call to support Lori and my thanks. Contact these folks to share your outrage and show your support for Lori.

Paul Tedesco - Storm Lake School District Superintendent

Mike Hanna - Principal

Beau Ruleaux - Assistant Principal

Storm Lake High School phone number : (712) 732-8065

Here's the letter I just sent:

As the parent of two children from Korea, the husband of a man who
learned English as his second language, and a former teacher of German and
English as a Second Language, I am writing to express my dismay over your
school's actions regarding Ms. Lori Phanachone's refusal to take an English
proficiency exam.

Because my personal experience touches on both of the areas that are
driving this controversy - language acquisition and race - I feel compelled to
speak out on behalf of Ms. Phanachone's decision to reject your school's demand
that she take this clearly unnecessary test.

What appears to have happened is that Ms. Phanachone's laudable decision to
recognize her heritage by accurately stating that her first language was other
than English has triggered an arcane policy that flies in the face of
reality. This young woman was born in the U.S. and educated in American
schools. To question that reality, regardless of the fact that she first
spoke another language in her home, is racism, pure and simple.

Do the right thing. Reinstate Ms. Phanachone, expunge this incident
from her record, and work to change your policies to prevent similar events in
the future.


a Tonggu Momma said…
I find it terrible that this all boils down to money. I applaud her for taking a stand. She is a young woman of strong character.
mama d said…
Brava, Lori!

As always, the comments are an education in our comfort level with race as a country. Which is to say, as a country, we're not.
Mama King said…
Hello, I am an adult adoptee and fellow Mama to a peanut adoptee. I am celebrating my daughters 1st anniversary of her arrival by featuring adoption. I am doing a roundup of ideas, traditions and stories centered on how you celebrate and honor your child's Gotcha/Arrival Day. If you would like to contribute please email me:
or stop by my blog! Thanks! Kim
Cavatica said…
We have friends whose daughter may be in the same situation one day. She is speaking Chinese and English in the home. She's only 4 now, but the father told me she may have to take an English proficiency exam for school when she's older. Her verbal skills are amazing - probably because she's bilingual! This is pitiful.
blackbelt said…
Slightly off topic but this reminded me of something that happened to me several weeks ago. I went into a non-profit ESL center to volunteer as a tutor. The Assistant Director said, "Oh, you speak English so well."

You must realize I have NO TRACE of a Korean accent. I am totally fluent. Would she have said that if I had immigrated here from Europe?

I will not be volunteering there.
Anonymous said…
I know very little about the school systems but I wonder if the test is given and the school is pushing it based on money and scores. More importantly, her numbers and scores on the test bring up the average of the school itself and help them meet the requirements for 'No Child Left Behind'. By entering 'ESL' originally she is in their system and the federal system. The schools funding is very hinged on how much students, especially ESL students, improve from year to year. The school may be wanting to use her to inflate their numbers. And of course, they won't want to admit that.

Just a thought.
Sandra said…
When he was in first grade in a Chicago Public School, my son was placed in a reading enrichment class for second language learners, even though English was his only language.

He was put into the class because of a school questionnaire which had a box to check if any other languages besides English were spoken in our home. Since my husband's first language is Arabic, I checked the box, and that got my son into the class.

Nobody at school ever told me he was receiving special instruction. I found out by accident and I was amazed they would do that, because he was already an advanced reader, which his teacher knew.

I did not protest the placement. It was a fun pullout class that my son enjoyed, so I let him stay in it. At the end of the semester, after the testing, he was dropped from the class since the test revealed he didn't need it.

However, it was blatantly obvious without any testing that he didn't need the extra class. What a waste of resources.

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