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What language should be taught? Who has the right to determine which languages will be learned? English-only policies and the expiration of the Bilingual Education Act, which is now replaced by No Child Left Behind, make it clear that English is the official language of schools in the United States (Nieto, 2002; Spring, 2002, 2007) with the emphasis moved from the goal of maintaining students' home languages while learning English to a focus of ignoring minority students' home languages (Bennett, 2007). The bottom line is that the dominant group determines what language or languages will be learned in school (Bennett, 2007; Spring, 2002, 2007).
In order to maintain their home language, culture, and identity, minority groups have had to fight for their home languages and for broader issues of social justice (Soto, 1997; Valenzuela, 1999; Wang, 1995; Wang & Phillion, 2007). Speaking and maintaining a home language has been asserted to be a basic human right of minority students and their families (Baker, 2000).
In order to fight language prejudice and discrimination, minority parents, community members, and students have had to negotiate with school administrators and board members (Soto, 1997; Wang & Phillion, 2007), and have waged protests and walk-outs (Valenzuela, 1999) to show their desire to maintain their home language, culture, and identity and to fight for quality education.
Part of this battle has been legal actions over language teaching and quality education. In 1974 in Lau v. Nichols, Chinese parents in San Francisco sued the San Francisco Board of Education for failing to provide equal educational opportunities to their children who lacked English proficiency (Wang, 1995; Wei, 2004). The parents won the case, thereby broadening the possibility of maintaining minority languages and culture in bilingual education (Baker, 2000). However, more than 30 years later educational inequality still confronts Chinese American students (Wang & Phillion, 2007).
Recently Chinese parents became involved with their children's fight to learn Chinese as a foreign language in a high school in a Midwestern university town after their children's request was denied by the school administrators. Chinese parents and Chinese community members met with school administrators and board members, stressing the importance for their children of learning Chinese as a foreign language in school.
A letter from a professor in the foreign language department at the local university was also presented to the school authorities, together with a letter signed by parents from the local Chinese community. The Chinese parents' request, however, was denied, citing inadequate funding and a lack of Chinese teacher availability.
This article investigates the efforts of those Chinese American students and their parents and community members in seeking the right to learn Chinese as a foreign language. This article also examines the assimilative and oppressive nature of school language policies, the importance of learning Chinese as a foreign language for Chinese American students who are losing their home language, and the broader importance of fighting for social justice.
The following research questions guided the interviews and data collection:
1. What did it mean to Chinese American students and their parents when their actions failed?
2. What did it mean to Chinese American students and their parents once the school took away their home language and culture?
3. What is the importance--the essence--of maintaining the Chinese language and culture both at home and at school?
Phenomenology, which answers the question of "what is the meaning, structure, and essence of the lived experience for this person or group of people" (Patton, 2002, p.104), provides the theoretical framework for this project. Phenomenology is appropriate for this project since I explore the essence of Chinese parents who were involved with their children's fight to learn Chinese as a foreign language in their high school and the parents' understanding of the educational inequality that they experienced.
As Patton (2002) states, "A phenomenological study ... is one that focuses on descriptions of what people experience and how it is that they experience" (p. 107). In order to get full and deep descriptions of the Chinese parents' involvement and their actions, in-depth interviews helped elicit detailed experiences from the participants.
In order to understand the importance of Chinese parents' involvement with their children's actions against a discriminative and oppressive language policy and practice in school and their struggle for social justice, it is necessary to examine the related literature to see how minority groups fought for their home language rights and for social change and to see that Chinese parents' involvement with their children's action is not an isolated case.
Minority home languages and cultures play an important role in forming minority students' identity, which helps them know who they are and understand their "historical roots and cultural continuity" (Baker, 2004, p. 58). The importance of home language to minority students explains why dominant groups often try to take away minority students' language and culture and assimilate them into mainstream society (Nieto, 2002; Sleeter, 2005; Soto, 1997; Valenzuela, 1999). In addition, it explains why minority parents, on the other hand, always fight for maintaining their children's home language and culture (Soto, 1997; Spring, 2002, 2007; Valenzuela, 1999; Wang & Phillion, 2007).
It has been stated that oppressive and assimilative language policies marginalize minority students and tend to humiliate them (Nieto, 2002; Sleeter, 2005; Soto, 1997; Valenzuela, 1999). English-only policies drive minority home languages out of school, as English becomes the official language of education. Bilingual education, for example, which has been proved to be effective in helping immigrants learn subject matter and learn English at the same time (Gort, 2005), has been eliminated in several states. California in 1998, Arizona in 2000, and Massachusetts in 2002 passed laws to make bilingual education illegal (Gort, 2005; Soto, 1997).
Sleeter (1997), who studied multicultural teaching in standards-based classrooms, stated, "Even though good …