With the fall semester under way, parents, students and administrators remain in limbo on many fronts, distracted from the larger goal of a good education. Proposition 227, for instance, continues to be implemented, sort of implemented and not implemented — even though 61 percent of California voters (including a slim majority of Asian Americans) made it law this June and courts backed their decision. Some districts, including Los Angeles, have restructured their language programs to meet the mandate’s requirements. San Francisco is continuing its bilingual programs unchanged, saying that a federal settlement forces it to do so. And many Bay Area districts are hoping that the state will grant their requests for waivers.
If that happens, the fight and wait might be worth it. But we hope the schools bucking Prop. 227 have a Plan B in place now to address the needs of the state’s 1.4 million limited-English speakers if those educators are unequivocally ordered to abide by the law.
The aura of uncertainty extends beyond bilingual education, of course. Another debate that’s just been put off some more is the 4-year-old suit against racial caps at Lowell High and other San Francisco schools. It’s true that since the suit was filed, measures have been put into place that have ameliorated some of the tension that led to it. For example, Lowell no longer has admissions cutoffs that required Chinese Americans to achieve a higher GPA and test scores than those of other races; instead, it permits factors like family circumstances to be considered.
As a result, Lowell maintains an uneasy 43.3 percent proportion of Chinese Americans — putting it in technical violation of the race caps the litigation is attacking. That fact and the unresolved lawsuit itself have continued to be a source of anxiety for many parents hoping to send their children to San Francisco’s best public school. It’s time for closure.
Of course, Lowell isn’t the only institution grappling with the question of whether to potentially exclude some applicants to free up space for those from more underrepresented groups. At the University of California at Berkeley, now in its second year of an affirmative action ban, 40 percent of the incoming freshmen are of Asian descent. Disconcertingly, Asian Americans were the only group to be over-represented on campus in the wake of Proposition 209, which forbade such public programs. That fact, of course, raises the specter of anti-Asian sentiment and the need to address it with power proportional to our numbers. Though more Asian Americans are heeding the call to political activism, their potential clout as a pan-ethnic force hasn’t coalesced. Instead, Asian American activism is dispersed over a huge range of agendas, some focused on specific ethnic identities and others not focused on race at all. And even within those groups with a common purpose, power struggles are causing more factionalization.
We realize that Asian Americans, like everyone else, are going to differ on a lot of things. Still, we bet most would agree that there continue to be issues that unite us — the need to puncture glass ceilings, the need to be heard in Washington, the need to make sure that children aren’t tormented with jeers of “chink-ee” or “dirty Jap.” No. one has to set aside specific ethnic heritage to work toward such goals. In bringing together our sometimes disparate voices, activists should remember to focus not on discord, but on consensus.