I thought the xenophobia displayed by a Louisiana high school's reaction to a valedictorian giving part of her commencement speech in Vietnamese last year was pretty outrageous, but here's another case that I find even more nefarious. A high school student in Iowa with a 3.9 GPA has been suspended for refusing to take an English proficiency test required by the school because she speaks Lao at home. As if she could have managed those academic accomplishments with anything other than proficiency in English?
Look, I can see how the policy, part of No Child Left Behind, might have been conceived with good intentions. But what gets me is that even when presented with convincing evidence that there are some very wrong assumptions behind this policy, the school officials didn't take the student's side and advocate for an exemption or at least acknowledge the idiocy of the requirement. No, they've instead directed all their energies into putting this young woman "in her place"; the assistant principal even went so far as to tell her she was "no Rosa Parks" and should give up her protest. Though some of the comments on the news stories are nothing short of appallingly racist, I'm glad that she is being supported by classmates and administrators in nearby districts.
And I'm sure all of my readers realize this, but there are many, many people who managed to become fully proficient in English---including yours truly---despite having immigrant parents who speak another language at home. In fact, doesn't the school district effectively admit its own failures if it assumes it can't teach its own students English without the help of the parents? These assumptions about bilingualism remind me of something told to me by a Caucasian friend who recently adopted a girl from China. As she was discussing with her friends and relatives how she was going to facilitate her daughter learning Mandarin, some of them asked her, "But don't you just want her to be a 'normal' American girl?"
There's a common joke that goes, "What do you call someone who speaks two languages?"
"What do you call someone who speaks three languages?"
"What do you call someone who speaks one language?"
Or, at least, a "normal American."
(Once again, thanks to Angry Asian Man for calling attention to this incident.)