Palo Alto Weekly
Spectrum - July 11, 2007
Board of Contributors: Thursday night's HRC meeting will tackle two sensitive situations
by Jeff Blum
The Palo Alto Human Relations Commission meeting in July is not to be missed and you are invited, indeed implored, to attend. We will be engaging two hyper-sensitive local issues: leftover feelings about Mandarin immersion and allegations of anti-Semitism at the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center.
I am one of the locals who reads the Palo Alto Weekly religiously to get a sense of what is going on in our community. I am not just saying this because the Weekly periodically publishes my guest opinions. I am generally a news hawk and an avid reader. I read the Weekly because it strives to be accurate and comprehensive in its coverage of local news. Reading the Weekly is also my way of checking for issues falling within the Human Relations Commission's jurisdiction.
My faithful perusal of the Weekly led me to read about two disputes during the past few months. The upheaval over the Mandarin immersion program was one. This issue was resolved with the school board's decision to proceed with a pilot Mandarin language program.
The other dispute concerns the charges that the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center promoted anti-Semitic believers and beliefs. The dispute goes beyond that but that is the heart of it. This dispute was not resolved. The parties may simply have decided to agree to disagree, or they have taken a break from arguing.
These two disputes caused me concern. While these disputes may have been resolved to some degree I suspect that resentment remains.
I relentlessly hunt for lingering resentment at home and elsewhere. On those rare occasions when my daughters need to be punished I allow them to suggest their punishment to avoid feelings of resentment by them over whether I may have overdone it. We are almost always able to agree on a suitable punishment.
Similarly in my family law practice I hunt for hints of resentful feelings between divorcing spouses, knowing such feelings can turn a simple case into a war.
My senses were therefore heightened as I read about these disputes between Palo Alto residents on both sides of the Mandarin immersion issue and the Peninsula Peace and Justice disputes who are intelligent, passionate about their beliefs and committed to their causes.
How much resentment remains, I wondered? Are there racial and religious biases at work? Even if there are no prejudices looming below the surface how harmful will it be to our city, let alone to the parties, if they walk away from their disputes feeling battered, bruised and beleaguered? Trying to make Palo Alto's image of being a compassionate and caring community a reality is at the heart of the HRC's task.
So, jumping into the fray on matters that are obviously highly sensitive, I have invited the parties to these disputes to attend the HRC meeting Thursday night (July 12).
Hopefully it is an appropriate time for the parties to the Mandarin immersion and Peninsula Peace and Justice disagreements to heal, clear up misunderstandings and possibly set common goals for the future. Hopefully, our HRC is up to the task of aiding the parties in reaching these goals.
Few people award gold stars simply for trying. If this process is to succeed we will need to be persistent and ask pertinent questions. Where is the common ground between the disagreeing parties? Where are the disagreements? What are the arguments in support of or against the positions of the other party? Is it possible to combine constructively the incredible energy, resourcefulness and initiative of the parties?
Being a big fan of the Palo Alto Mediation Program, assuming they are amenable to it, I envision as a possibility a series of mediation sessions overseen by their skilled mediators, who can provide the HRC with periodic progress reports. The HRC can perhaps offer advice and direction.
My gut instinct tells me that the greater the turnout at Thursday's meeting the more likely it is to move the parties to the disputes and our community as a whole toward that goal of being a harmonious community.
The meeting is tomorrow (Thursday) at 7 p.m. at City Hall, and as noted at the outset, you are invited to attend.
Palo Altan Jeff Blum, a family law attorney practicing in Redwood City, is a member of the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission and is on the Board of Directors of the Palo Alto YMCA. He can be e-mailed at Blumesq@aol.com.
Posted by Historian,
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.
on Jul 21, 2007 at 10:13 am
From that same thread:
"I don't there is a general dislike of the increase in Asian American in Palo Alto, but I do think there is resentment in schools that have a tradition of high parental volunteerism being negatively impacted by parents who don't feel the need to volunteer and who do not value the sense of community in our schools."
Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Apr 22, 2007 at 3:03 pm
Say for instance that a group of jews, or muslims, or christians, or tree huggers, decided that they wanted more of their religious outlook presented in their education and got together and found that there were enough kindergartners who wanted this to approach the district and ask for it. They could say that it would be open to any who were interested of whatever religion and it could be done as a lottery. What about a group of people who wanted their children geared up for British GCSE exams, or Australian exams, or Canadian exams, but they didn't have to be of that nationality, just interested in that form of education. What would be the feeling here. I feel sure that the answer would be to go private, or to go back to Britain, or Australia, or Canada. The point being, is that we can take choice to extremes and we have to draw the line somewhere. We cannot all realistically expect PAUSD to meet all our desires, no matter how earnest we are and would it be right for PAUSD ethically to try?
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 23, 2007 at 2:28 pm
Person, when the MI wars began, there were quite a few MI-opposers at the board meetings speaking against providing a "heritage" language program. In this case, "heritage" related to ethnic Chinese, i.e., a racial minority. There were assumptions that "rich" parents didn't want to pay for weekend Chinese classes and were trying to foist "their responsibility" to teach "their children" "their heritage language" on the public school system. There was also an assumption that classes would be overrun with children of Chinese heritage because Chinese was of little interest or value to anyone else, and particularly to other ethnic minorities.
Then there was the statement of Palo alto mom: "I don't there is a general dislike of the increase in Asian American in Palo Alto, but I do think there is resentment in schools that have a tradition of high parental volunteerism being negatively impacted by parents who don't feel the need to volunteer and who do not value the sense of community in our schools."
I don't think this comment was intended to be racist, but I think it shows ignorance and insensitivity. How welcoming is our community to people who are not highly-educated, highly articulate, and assertive?
How many parents can feel comfortable as a member of equal standing in our (over)confident, outspoken community if the newcomers are still struggling to understand and make themselves understood in English or if they have come from cultures where parents would never dream of asserting themselves in school affairs? Whether people have money or not, whether they come from Asia, Latin America, or EPA, if they have not or CANnot assimilate to the Palo Alto way. How often do those of us who are comfortable hanging around on campus, volunteering, and proclaiming our views here on this message board--how often do we go out of our way to greet new faces on campus, faces that do not look like ours? And if we do happen to greet them once, do we engage them in conversation again? Do we encourage our children to invite their children home for playdates?
If we want people to become like us, it is our job to invite them into our world, make them feel comfortable, not override or dismiss their "different" ideas, etc. That is not always easy to do, and it is very hard for outsiders to insert themselves into a group. Joining the mainstream is a slow process, usually done one small step at a time. If we act like Palo Alto Parents toward newcomers, we'll intimidate them to stay away.
Posted by Another perspective, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Apr 24, 2007 at 12:21 pm
Well that's funny because creating "separate but equal" programming in the schools doesn't seem like a great way to improve bringing all the cultures and peoples together.
I read the initial paperwork on the MI proposal, and I believe the specific focus on ethnic heritage stuff came directly from the very unfortunate first paragraph of the proposal: "CI would provide students with fluency in Mandarin and Asian Cultural Proficiency". What? Why would we target an entire school full of students, across their entire 6 year K-5 career, to 'cultural proficiency' of a single culture. Any culture?
I don't think its racist to object to using public school system for teaching a cultural 'proficiency'. In fact, I think its racist to suggest such a thing. Racism is generally a term reserved for someone who believes one culture is 'better' than another or one deserves special treatment over another.
What if we suggest that Duveneck be dedicated to teaching US Culutural Proficiency? Would there be an outcry? Sure would. I assume people across this district expect our schools to be devoted to cross cultural awareness, education and understanding not 'proficiency' in one culture. We certainly have a diversity of many cultures represented in this community, and our children deserve to gain exposure and understanding, appreciation and caring for all of them. We need to learn how to get along, I don't see how that happens when you pull out and create boundary walls.
Now if the schools want to educate on a variety of cultural heritage topics (ie: history, geography, social studies, for many cultures), then I think that's appropriate for the public school system and will further diversity and cross cultural awareness.
Please don't assign racism to the opposition who is in fact opposing racism.
Posted by person, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 24, 2007 at 1:01 pm
Person and Anon,
Racism played a role from the beginning. It wasn't a motivating factor for most or even many opponents, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Many opponents told us that only Chinese (or Asians) would sign up their kids for MI. In the same breath, they'd say that those who really wanted MI could afford after-school programs (most of which are exclusively for native speakers): the message was Chinese people are economically dominant and their educational desires can therefore be ignored. Then, we were told that this minority was pushy. Finally, many people said publicly that Chinese people should not expect the district to teach their children Chinese.
The subtext was: rich, pushy Chinese are unfairly trying to change our (caucasian) community and we don't like it.
So, the merc gets it dead right when it notes the racism in the complaints about the "wealthy minority." (To the list of those who agree, we can add board members, community members and the New York Times.)
Of course, there were other motivations, but it is cowardly to try to shout down those who point out the racist subtext to part of the debate. In fact, it is racist to try to rob the victims of the right to complain.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 24, 2007 at 4:48 pm
Now, you may disagree that some of these excerpts are racist or discuss the racism which was part of the MI discussion.
I believe they show insensitivity.