The term "racism" is being thrown around too much – masking the underlying issues facing new immigrant students. "Immigrant students share their frustrations with legislators" states that, “They [students] said too often they are segregated into English-as-a-second-language classes and are discouraged from rising to higher-level classes” (BFP 2/24/12). If this “segregation” is based on race, as opposed to English-medium academic level, then it is racism – otherwise it’s not. I’ve volunteered for over 7 years with Chinese, Sudanese, Congolese and Somali Bantu immigrants/refugees and have seen the challenges they face. When I visited one mentee in middle school, I was upset to see him in a mainstream science class, where he had no idea what was going on as his peers read words like photosynthesis, when he could barely read or write – this was not helping him learn. Balancing the children’s sense of inclusion with their academic progress is very important, but finding this balance has as much to do with attitudes of all students, as with the so-called racism of administrators and teachers. Bullying for any reason is despicable, and needs to be addressed at its root (often the bully’s own misguided insecurity), not by band-aid solutions of putting kids in classes they’re not ready for, further deepening their sense of isolation despite appearing to be integrated.
In "Students from Africa Speak out at Burlington Highs school” (BFP 4/19/2012) there seems to be similar confusion with what “racism” is. The article describes students not wanting to take the NECAP, quoting a letter stating, “ ‘Test scores have nothing to do with who we are and who we will be as grown men and women! . . . Coming to America is hard enough! Sometimes a week later we were given a test to take in a language that we can’t understand.’ ” The article goes on to say the students were (according to Sarah Osaba) offended by David Rome's assessment, particularly the term “statistical outliers”. Rome’s report, according to the BFP, concluded that learning a new language/starting school late explains the achievement gap – not the students’ lack of effort, or ability or racism of the teachers (3/25/2012). This is exactly what the disgruntled student’s letter stated -- that the test results need to be contextualized with the their backgrounds, and shouldn’t define them! Rome’s use of the “outliers” was taken out of context -- Outliers is a scientific term, having nothing to do with the perception of the immigrants as people, but rather used to show a correlation between scores and age of school start, rather than race. It seems that what the students were really objecting to was being judged based on test scores and the assumption that theirs were low – these are fair complaints, but blaming David Rome misses the mark.
Blaming lack of diversity or “Judeo-Christian values” rather than the reality that “Coming to America is Hard enough” is also off base – the BFP says that Osaba states that the students don’t want to be “blamed” for low scores – who is blaming the students? Not Rome, and not the “Task force” – which is blaming racism. Nowhere do the articles state that the students think that their scores would improve if their teachers were of non-white skin colors – to suggest that they would implies that the immigrants are not progressing fast enough. The reality is that the situation is tricky – and slinging buzzwords does not help solve it. The “real world” is probably a lot more racist than BHS, and for better or worse, it values tests and grades – a lot. The job of the teachers and administrators is to help all students achieve academic success in a supportive, inclusive environment – this is not an easy task -- let’s focus on this rather than name-calling.