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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

August 24, 2006

Written by C.N.

Discrimination Against Asian American Teachers

Soon-Ja Kim is a Korean American teacher in Maryland who has taught third grade at the same elementary school for over 20 years and has been nominated for Teacher of the Year several times. Nevertheless, a recent peer review labeled her as an “underperformer” and she feels that she is being targeted for possible termination because she speaks English with an accent:

Brian Edwards, spokesman for Montgomery County Schools said that Kim’s Korean accent would not have a bearing on the case. “As the evidence of underperformance is the only matter the peer panel considers in making this determination,” Edwards said. Kim said she feels she is being forced out.

“When I retire, I would like to retire with honor — not in shame or disgrace,” Kim said. Her lawyer is representing Kim for free. He said he has had two children in her class. “It’s age discrimination and it’s race discrimination — and it’s ugly. The school system has systematically refused to listen to parents,” said attorney Gary Tepper.

Some parents said they have written the school superintendent on behalf of Kim. “Mrs. Kim found a way to touch my daughter and to get her to feel really interested in reading. She encouraged her. She motivated her,” said parent Ralph Kahn.

Unless there is overwhelming evidence that she is incompetent or committed some severe transgression, it seems pretty clear that she is indeed being targeted because she is Asian, an immigrant, and speaks English with an accent. Also, let’s not discount some degree of jealousy among her so-called “peers,” some of whom may be trying to force her out because they feel that as an Asian American, she might keep quiet and not put up a fight.

This particular story follows on the heels of an earlier controversy in which a Vietnamese American woman, Kimoanh Nguyen- Lam, was initially hired to be the first Vietnamese American Superintendent of Orange County, CA — in the Westminster school district, home to Little Saigon, the largest Vietnamese community outside of Viet Nam. However, shortly thereafter and without any reason, the school board who hired here rescinded their offer:

Board member Judy Ahrens, who voted May 23 to hire Nguyen-Lam, changed her position Tuesday. “My only comment is I felt the process was too rushed,” she said. Board President Blossie Marquez voted to hire Nguyen-Lam. “I’m so hurt and very upset,” she said of the reversal. “This decision is very disappointing and very prejudiced. Race played an issue.”

Marquez said she and the other Hispanic board member, Sergio Contreras, wanted to hire Nguyen- Lam on Tuesday but that the three white members – Ahrens, Jo-Ann Purcell and James Reed – did not.

Unfortunately, these two incidents highlight how the field of education is not immune to racism, prejudice, and xenophobia. What should alarm us even more is that we as citizens have implicitly entrusted these “authorities” to make decisions on our behalf that will have direct consequences on our younger generation and our community.

But instead of representing the wishes of their constituents and reflecting the changing demographics of their community, these “educational leaders” are apparently retreating into fear, ignorance, and plain old racial discrimination. In other words, as the old 1980s song “Some Things Never Change” by Devo goes, “Small minds play big time games, and everybody else pays.”

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Discrimination Against Asian American Teachers" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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