Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Language Test Controversy

Don't be defensive, SLHS, a protest shows you did your job well.

Here's a thought. Instead of forcing Storm Lake senior honor student Lori Phanachone to take that English language assessment test, everyone is talking about, give it to me.

The girl sent me a statement about her sadness and anger after being told to leave school for refusing to take the test recently, and I have to tell you, if she isn't English proficient, I'll eat your thesaurus.

In fact her eloquent writing, when compared to mine, is a shiny new black Mercedes purring in the linguistic lane next to a rattling, rusty pickup missing three hubcaps and a muffler.

I could probably use a test like that. This student, not so much.

Somehow, this little act of defiance by a single teen has become the talk of the town, inspired a small walkout and protest rally by fellow students, and even attracted TV cameras to the doors to the high school.

For a girl who was reportedly told to drop her protest because she is "no Rosa Parks," Phanachone is seemingly doing much more than she ever intended to draw attention to a test policy she feels is demeaning and racist in that it singles out minority students to make them prove their language abilities.

We could have lawyers involved and even stir up the state and federal education authorities who create and mandate such tests.

This is a rare controversy in that there isn't any bad guy.

The girl is speaking her mind; good for her.

The school is doing what it is required to do, and doing so for the goal of providing needed help for those who may be struggling with the language they will need to be successful.

Darn it, there is just no Dr. Evil in this equation to unload upon. Maybe it wouldn't hurt for the feds and the IDE to rexamine their tests and their policies for who has to take them. Maybe the school could reexamine what it considers to be "insubordination." Maybe.

Granted, you can't have inmates running the asylum, as the adage goes. I'm sure the district is concerned about setting a precedent that students could simply refuse to do any assignment they don't want to.

And perhaps there is a different way to handle such a protest - taking concerns to the school board or even petitioning to the state as opposed to just not taking a test - but that is water under the bridge.

School officials say the girl could be punished by losing conduct privileges like open campus; okay, fair enough, when you act in protest you know you will pay a price.

I'm told she can be held in violation of the activities policy as well. That means potentially losing out on extra-curriculars.

I hope that isn't necessary. Protesting a test that isn't part of the educational curriculum has nothing to do with extra-curriculars. The girls should run track and go on the DECA trip she earned and go to her senior prom, for goodness sake.

She was reportedly put in an "ed lab" room and not allowed to attend her classes for a few days last week. We are going to punish an honor student over her concern for her educational rights by denying her access to education in a classroom?

Needless to say, the district has a responsibility to avoid distractions for other students. But I'm not sure we need to be afraid of a National Honor Society kid.

It is probably time to put the controversy behind us and let the school concentrate on preparing its latest batch of grads-to-be for the horrors of the real world. The test is not the district's to have to defend.

Incidentally, a Pilot-Tribune reporter who was at the school Friday to cover a simple blood drive event, was barred from the school. Media lock-down. A careful statement has been issued by district officials, who are understandably cautious about unwanted attention.

On the contrary, though, I think they should celebrate. They have done a whale of a job, in my opinion, and I applaud them.

This school helped to produce a young woman who has eloquently and courageously stood up against what she feels is wrong. That's part of what we teach, too.

It has helped to produce other students of such loyalty that they will stand up for their classmate even if means discomfort and maybe punishment for themselves.

It has engaged a caring community enough that people will talk about and debate this situation. Uncomfortable as that must be for school and district leaders, it's a hell of a lot better than the educational apathy you would find in a lot of places.

Debate is healthy, and peaceful protest is an American ideal. In a school/community where such things can happen without compromising others' learning, something positive must be happening.

Now, let's get help where the help is needed. If someone could just help me tell my adverbs from my adjectives, please...