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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 7.30.09




Getting It Straight

A Chinese immersion school can be equitable 

by Helen Liu 

In his Viewpoint “An Issue of Equity — Chinese immersion must be done carefully” (6/25), Edwin Way made a number of serious misstatements. A response is called for, since comments like his can create the perception — a misperception, in fact — that a Chinese immersion school would be inequitable and bad for this community.

The readers of Eugene Weekly should know that equity was a major priority for the proponents of a Chinese immersion school, both within 4J administration and in the larger community. Had the school board approved such a school, it would have been located in the Churchill region — the only one of the four regions lacking an immersion school and one that loses a number of students to the south region. It would have brought language immersion to the kids in this region who currently do not have this opportunity.

Furthermore, the proponents of a Chinese immersion school did not want to follow the previous immersion model in which students enter a lottery to compete for the spaces available. We wanted a school that was a “hybrid” — one in which everyone in the catchment area would be eligible for enrollment, but if there were spaces left over, those few spaces would be open to enrollment by lottery, just like any other public neighborhood school.

A hybrid Chinese immersion school in the Churchill area would finally bring language immersion to the students of, and help draw them back to this region. It would help to address issues of inequity.

Way also claims, incorrectly, that “most if not all of the teachers at an immersion school will be citizens of the People’s Republic of China or Taiwan.”

First of all, to gain legal employment in the U.S., one needs to satisfy the proof of identity and employment authorization requirements outlined in a Homeland Security document. Only in rare occasions can one obtain authorization for employment in the U.S. while holding a temporary visa. 

Second, let us keep in mind that the U.S. is, at its core, a country of immigrants. Many of our friends, neighbors, employees and, yes, teachers have been citizens of another country at one point. Contrary to Way’s false claims, most if not all of the bilingual teachers in our public schools are (and will continue to be) legal permanent residents or U.S. citizens who are native speakers of the languages they know.

Finally, a good Chinese bilingual teacher does not have to be a native speaker. S/he could be someone like Way, a non-native speaker with no heritage background but one who possesses superior language skills.

Way and I can agree on one thing: The day that hundreds of Eugene school children — rich, poor, brown and white — are bilingual Mandarin and English speakers will be a day that both of us will celebrate. 



Helen Liu is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Taiwan. She has lived in Oregon since 1977.