We’re Still A Fearful Society

The Mercury News reports that the creation of a Mandarin immersion program for Kindergarten to First Graders will likely get squashed.
It’s amazing to see people still fearful of their own turf in this day and age. Haven’t we moved beyond this? Of course not. Drive to Oregon and you’ll see people stare at you (if you’re Asian) as if you’re from Mars…by the way this happened just a few months ago. And just try heading to the middle of the country. Let me tell you – ignorant and bigoted folks still exist in great quantity. Perhaps I should be nicer and say “naive”. Should I stoop to their level and call them something negative when they just have not experienced the world and become more comfortable with that which is unknown to them now?
How can we compete on a global scale if we can’t even see the realities of the situation that our children need to be better prepared for the future? Humans have a tendency to blind themselves where fear is concerned.
Global warming? Just a fluke. Might lose my business if I do something about it. Of course might lose the planet if I’m wrong….
The article is reprinted below – if I get an email from the copyright people, I’ll likely delete this so sorry about that!
By Sharon Noguchi
Mercury News
After the Cupertino Union School District began the nation’s first Mandarin immersion elementary program eight years ago, interest in teaching Chinese skyrocketed, with schools from San Mateo to Charlotte, N.C., following suit.
But the Palo Alto school district probably won’t be joining them.
On Tuesday night, faced with a blizzard of opposition, trustees indicated they can’t support Superintendent Mary Frances Callan’s recommendation to offer Mandarin classes to 40 kindergartners and first graders in August. They said they were worried that the program would further burden administrators, crowd elementary and middle schools, and divert attention from projects such as improving writing.
“We’ve stretched our staff so much, and we can only do so many things,” said trustee Dana Tom. “It’s like going to the grocery store and buying a candy bar in the checkout line, without thinking that, ‘Gee, I really need bread.’ ”
A group of parents have been lobbying for the program for four years, but implementing Mandarin immersion in Palo Alto could have proven costly politically for trustees.
In the contentious discussion leading to a public hearing Tuesday, opponents threatened to boycott fundraising efforts, vote against board members, oppose future tax measures and even try to rescind the parcel tax passed in 2005. Several accused the district of catering to an “affluent, vocal minority.”
That perception — that Mandarin programs serve a limited and privileged constituency — helped incite passionate opposition and fueled intense online debates. About 120 people turned out for the hearing, divided among proponents wearing red — the Chinese good-luck color — and opponents wearing green.
As a result of the surging interest in Mandarin, the College Board will offer an AP test in the language for the first time this spring. At the Chinese American International School, a private school in San Francisco, applications have more than doubled in four years. And for the first time in its 25-year history, non-Chinese students form the majority in the pre-kindergarten classes, said Andrew Corcoran, head of the school.
The trend, at least in part, reflects the growing economic importance of China.
In Cupertino, Mandarin immersion also engendered intense controversy at its inception with parents voicing the same fears as those in Palo Alto: They worried it would divert precious funds, and they disliked the growing influence of Asians in schools.
But opposition has subsided; there are now 40 children on the waiting list for kindergarten. The 315-student program at Meyerholz Elementary draws from both native Mandarin speakers and those who know no Chinese at all, said director Mary Jew. In fact, she said, “sometimes non-native speakers have a much better pronunciation.”
Several districts had been hoping to follow the Cupertino model. Palo Alto had conducted a “feasibility study” in response to a request last spring from a parent group, Palo Altans for Chinese Education.
As a result of the study, Callan suggested starting two K-1 classes at Ohlone Elementary School in August. Principal Susan Charles had met Tuesday with her staff and welcomed the program.
Ohlone has one of Palo Alto’s three alternative programs, along with a direct-instruction program at Hoover and a Spanish immersion program at Escondido.
But at the public hearing Tuesday, four of five trustees expressed reservations about adding a fourth alternative program. The final vote is scheduled for Jan. 30.
While acknowledging the demand for Mandarin language instruction, trustees still said they didn’t want to tie district hands by adding another commitment. Only board President Camille Townsend supported the idea.
“Language acquisition happens best at kindergarten and pre-K,” she said. The district should continue being an educational leader by starting a Mandarin program, she said.
Despite the superintendent’s assertion that the program would not cost extra money, opponents and several board members expressed concerns that it would siphon staff time and other resources.
Some worried that a Mandarin program would attract more families as the district nears its school-room capacity, noting that because Palo Alto schools get most of their funding from local property taxes and not the state, more students doesn’t mean more money.
And many objected to offering a program for only a small portion of students.
“This is a private school for the Mandarin-speaking population,” said Anya Finseth, who asked whether speakers of other languages should also get a program.
Trustee Mandy Lowell said, “I think it is a terrific program.” Then, after debunking opponents’ arguments, she concluded, “The pluses don’t outweigh the minuses.”
Ultimately, proponents concluded that the board found the political costs exceeded the value of the program. “I thought they would have a little bit more vision about where they are taking the school district,” said David Yen, parent of a 4-year-old boy.
Other proponents concluded that it was simply easier to disappoint proponents than to further enrage opponents.
“For Chinese to become a mainline language in school, it has to be something those who are not ethnic Chinese will support,” said Corcoran of the Chinese American International School. “It’s very important that we look at the study of Chinese as serving the whole community.”