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Category Archives: education & schooling

When I posted about the Beverly Hills Unified School District expelling non-district (or “permit”) students I made assumptions. I assumed wealthy residents were seeking to expel middle and low income families from their community. My knowledge of Beverly Hills – a composite of scenes from the Slums of Beverly Hills and pictures of Rodeo Drive.

A commenter on my simultaneous post to K2Twelve told me I was wrong. My commenter from Horace Mann told me the situation was very much the opposite. My commenter told me the wealthy families were actually from outside the Beverly Hills school district. My commenter goes on to say that the Beverly Hills permit policy was being used to “dilute the number of Persian kids in Beverly Hills schools, which the then-Board majority felt drove away white, non-Persian Beverly Hills families to private schools.”

I had never thought of Beverly Hills residents as being anything but wealthy and White -  Assumption #2.

Fatemeh writes on Racialicious about a W article she read titled, “The Persian Conquest.” The title hints at the W author’s (Kevin West) feelings about the influx of Persians in Beverly Hills.

From the myriad of titles he could have chosen, he chose the aggressive one – the negative one – the descriptor of an invader – the one set in the game of Risk. As a 2nd Generation Chinese American, I am particularly sensitive to war inspired immigration descriptors like “conquer” and “invasion.” In social studies, you learn the Chinese built the railroads and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. If you are lucky you may have a teacher who whispers about the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Internment Camps.

Despite the title, Fatemeh wants to believe Kevin’s intentions were well meaning:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right? In attempting to dispel stereotypes, W simply backed them up: showy images of wealth and references to media and real estate empires are uncomfortably close to the stereotypes of “rich Jews” and “Jews running the media and the banks.”

What are the intentions behind this 2007 article from the LA Times: “Diversity program at Beverly Hills High enrolls mostly Asians?” The author says the Beverly Hills diversity permits were begun in 1969 as an effort by school officials to diversify Beverly Hills school campuses –

For decades, the permit program aimed to bring in a deliberate mix of black, Latino and Asian students from outside the city limits… Today, however, the vast majority of the students enrolled with diversity permits at Beverly Hills High are high-performing Asian students… Critics say the program has shifted by default from a program aimed at increasing racial and ethnic diversity to one that simply brings smart, well-rounded students into the district.

Are the critics of a strong Asian presence in the Beverly Hill permit program (which now no longer exists) undermining the significance of “Asian” as an ethnic group embracing a multitude of cultural histories and traditions?  Are they saying all Asians are the same – all East Asian and light skinned? Are they saying that Asians are somehow “less ethnic” (and thus less deserving of public services) than Blacks and Latinos?

Are they making assumptions about Asians? As Kevin West did about Persian immigrants? As I did about Beverly Hills?

Like a baby putting every accessible object in its mouth, we taste the world around us to know what we like and what we don’t care for. We draw conclusions – make assumptions – about new experiences based on the outcomes and sensations of old experiences. We then compile our feelings about these experiences into personal systems of belief that we use to help rationalize the world around us.

Assumptions try to create a “truth” but are not the truth. Our understanding of our world should be mutable – changeable – with growth and personal development. Assumptions are a necessary evil – An evil that can only be repented by thinking more deeply about the roots of what is being assumed.

“Beverly Hills to Boot Non-District K-8 Pupils.”  I don’t know which disturbs me more: the headline or the “under-informed” (as opposed to “uninformed”) comments justifying the headline.

Briefly: “the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) approved a controversial proposal Tuesday to boot out more than 400 out-of-district students.” (Edweek, 1/13/10).

I understand the pressures of budgeting in poor economic times (though I do not accept it). Is it worth displacing more than 400 children for the sake of water polo?

I agree with former Beverly Hills Mayor Tanenbaum and the 2600 residents who signed his petition asking that the non-district students be allowed to stay – “The children are not expendable. They are not financial assets.” Sadly, Beverly Hills Unified and those that support expelling the non-district children were unmoved.

But perhaps even more offense than the district’s decision are the “misinformed” opinions of those supporting the decision to expel the children:

"This is a community trying to take care of its own, and there’s nothing wrong with that," Genevieve Peters said.

Resident Lee Lewis said the argument that forcing students to switch schools would be harmful is baseless because children change schools all the time, for all sorts of reasons.

“Resident Lee Lewis” is only partially correct. Children do change schools for all sorts of reasons. However, it is not a harmless act. There are multiple studies confirming the negative effects of a forced change in schools on children. Red Orbit and Better Homes and Gardens present approachable summaries of the negative impact on children.

Decisions to displace a child from an environment where he or she feels nurtured and engaged are always made under great duress. It is always preferable to keep the child where he or she is when he or she is thriving.

To further illustrate the point, consider the fact that children’s bones heal faster than those of the elderly. However, knowing this doesn’t mean we knowingly break our children’s arms simply because we know their bones will heal. It is preferably the bone remain unbroken.

More insulting than Lee Lewis’ comment is Genevieve Peters’ comment that there is nothing wrong with “a community trying to take care of its own.” Like Lee, Genevieve’s comment demonstrates a dangerously limited and superficial understanding of the situation. While the overall idea of a community “taking care of its own” is not wrong, her understanding of community (as implied by the article) is overly simple (bordering on xenophobic).

The online Encyclopedia of Informal Education provides these three interacting definitions of community (by “interacting” I mean these definitions are not singular but often overlap):

Place… where people have something in common, and this shared element is understood geographically. Another way of naming this is as ‘locality’.

Interest… people share a common characteristic other than place. They are linked together by factors such as religious belief, sexual orientation, occupation or ethnic origin.

Communion… In its weakest form we can approach this as a sense of attachment to a place, group or idea (in other words, whether there is a ‘spirit of community’). In its strongest form ‘communion’ entails a profound meeting or encounter – not just with other people, but also with God and creation.

A school district by definition is not a true “place.” It only considers geography in its most simplified context. It is a set of arbitrarily drawn lines in the sand. However, a school district can become a community by carefully nurturing shared interests and communion.

BHUSD is not “taking care of its own” by ignoring its 2600 residents and expelling 400 plus students. The isolationist views expressed by those who supported its decision to displace the students are direct threats to the spirit of democracy we as educators and parents endeavor to impart to our students/children.

Personally, I am hoping the quotes included in the article were off the cuff and spoken out of frustration. I am hoping that they are not a deeper seated biased belief accidentally revealed in the heat of the argument.