One would assume that if a student had A's in speech, accounting, chemistry and English composition and a a B-plus, was in pre-calculus that they had more than a working knowledge of English. Is it even possible for a student to obtain a 3.9 GPA and not be able to read, speak and write english with a high degree of proficiency? Apparently, if your family is Laotian in Iowa your personal achievements mean little.
Lori Phanachone has been suspended and was told that her college scholarships for $86,000 at Buena Vista University and more at Iowa State University, would be revoked if she failed to take the English Language Development Assessment. When Phanachone first registered for school she indicated that english was not her first language and this is the basis that her high school, Storm Lake is forcing her to take a test that is clearly predicated on racist assumptions. Phanachone is determined to honour her mother and her ancestry and feels that falsely claiming english as her first language would be a refutation of her identity. She has been incredibly brave in the face of such obvious racism.
"Mr. Ruleaux (assistant principal Beau Ruleaux) told me I was 'no Rosa Parks' -- that I should give up because I would not succeed in my protest," Phanachone said.
Senior Kristi Davis is one of several students who believe Phanachone is being treated unfairly and that her punishment is too harsh.
Davis called Phanachone "a really smart, very talented person. She has a passion for everything she does."
"Lori has never gotten into trouble or done anything bad," Davis said. "She's always been successful at anything she has done. But she sees this test as incredibly racist.
"Many minority kids don't want to take it. But Lori is the first to actually do something about it."
If a visible minority has proven proficiency through class work, why is it necessary to put them through a four hour test? You will note that they are not testing students that have failing grades that are white to discover whether or not the education system actually did its job and taught these kids to read and write properly. They are only interested in asserting difference and not in exploring the ways in which they have let some children slip through the cracks.
It is further disgusting that a principal could tell a young girl who clearly is tenacious about her rights that she is no Rosa Parks. Well, before Rosa decided to refuse give up her seat on a bus she was no Rosa Parks either. What separates us from the ordinary is our willingness to stand up in difficult situations and fight for justice.
This story really struck a chord with me as a mother. The education system continually breaks its social contract be reifying dominant social discourse. Schools should be a place where the young are taught to honour all bodies rather than serve as a site where certain bodies are once again oppressed. More often than not education is not about teaching critical thought, it is about enforcing an authoritarian style of conformity upon the young. We do not praise individuality and we do not praise achievement, however the willingness to submit is highly valued.
Phanachone may not have learned english from her parents but what she did learn gave her strength to stand up against institutionalized racism. Phanachone values herself, her culture, and her history, because these lessons were obviously taught in the home. While the education system would like her to deny those that taught her one of life's most important lessons – self respect; it is a testament to her strength and her wisdom that she is willing to risk so much to assert her value as a human being.