By Ann Dornfeld
Nick Barth is a freshman honors literature student at Chief Sealth High School. He loves to read. Right now he's in the middle of two 500–page books. One is "The Fellowship of the Ring," and—
Nick Barth: "—I'm reading a compilation of dystopic novels called 'Brave New Worlds,' and it's edited by John Joseph Adams."
Last year, Nick was pulled out of class at Madison Middle School to take a surprise test.
Nick Barth: "All they said is 'English proficiency,' and because we're Native."
Nick is White Earth Ojibwe, and he found himself in a room with other Native American kids.
Nick Barth: "They gave us questions like 'What do you live in?' And then it showed two pictures: a house or a basketball."
The test was the Washington Language Proficiency Test. It's usually given to kids who aren't fluent in English.
Nick Barth: "In the vocal quiz they made us sit down with some lady that I've never seen before. She made us pronounce words. They made us start with, like, one word and then they slowly built up to sentences."
Nick says some kids were so upset by the test that they tried to leave. But he says a security guard turned them around at the door.
Wendy London: "And what the literature suggests is that kids feel isolated and different and that they just don't fit in. And so this particular training is about—it really is targeting how to make kids feel like they're not separate."
But mom Sarah Kelly says singling out kids for English proficiency tests because they're Native is not the way to help kids fit in.
Sarah Kelly: "I think it's the very definition of irony. For them to execute the testing in this way and then use it for cultural competency is beyond ironic!"
Seattle Public Schools Native Education Program Manager Arlie Neskahi says he got a lot of phone calls and emails about the test.
Arlie Neskahi: "The test, then, is really strongly a bilingual type of test. And for most people it's a very basic and very elementary kind of test to go through."
Neskahi says a lot of parents were offended that their Native American children were given a test usually given to immigrants.
I'm not seeing any justification for the "surprise" test or the rigid attitude. Does London think Native youngsters will quickly learn English and "cheat" the school out of its funding? The whole thing smacks of a biased attitude toward nonwhite students.
This is an example of treating Natives as if they're savage and uncivilized. Hence it goes into the Stereotype of the Month contest.
For more on the subject, see Natives Experience Racism Every Day and NCLB Leaves Native Children Behind.