Lao and Proud: Teen activist

For most of us if we were asked to compile a list of the most profound activist we would more than likely list Gandhi, Nelson, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King and the list goes on. These individuals without a doubt shaped our world with their tireless effort to make a difference. They set the standard for activism as well as show us why and how we should stand up for change.
One individual who is causing a ripple is Lori Phanachone, a Lao student from Iowa. This young lady may not be famous,or have a massive influence yet,  but her fight against what she sees as discrimination and injustice is noteworthy. She is an example of an ordinary person doing extraordinary things. She reminds us that we should fight for what is right.  Sometimes, doing the right thing is not the most popular, but necesary if we want to be the vehicle for change.

Lori is an honor student at Storm Lake High School. It is her senior year and instead of enjoying her last year, she is stressed out with her  fight against her school’s demand that she takes the English Language Development Assessment. This test is given to students who are identified as ELL(English LanguageLearner).  Usually students who are identified as ELL are place in a class specifically geared toward helping them with the acquisition of the English language. However, in Lori’s case, she has been been placed in any type of language class because she can speak and write English rather well.  According to Russ Oechslin, Journal correspondent for the Sioux City Journal, “…school officials have told her she is considered to be illiterate based on her refusal to satisfactorily complete the English Language Development Assessment, a test she says is demeaning and racist”. Lori was identified to take the test based on her response on her registration for school. She had put Lao as her primary language spoken at home instead of English so the school assumed that she was not proficient in English. Lori told the Sioux Journal, “”Someone told me I should have put English as my first language when I registered for school,” “But I refused. I will not deny who I am. And I will not disrespect my culture or my mother.”

I have to agree with Lori that her having to take the test is demeaning and racist because the school had assume that she is illiterate based on her response to that language question. So if all of us put our primary language as something else other than English, are we going to be called out and tested? What the school should have taken into consideration is that Lori is an honor student. If she was struggling with the English language then why did none of her teachers say anything? I know as a teacher, I can identify my students within the first week of my interaction with them. By looking at their writing samples as well as their verbal response, I can tell if they are proficient enough in English to stay in my class or be placed in SEI. I just want to know where were her teachers in the middle of all this?  Why did they not come to her defense and vouch that she does not need to take the test? or

If you would like to find out how you can show her your support go to the blog:

Speaking from an educator’s stand point, I understand that the goal or purpose of the English Profiency Test is to identify the kids who do need help, but it is obvious that Lori is not one of those students. According to the Sioux Journal, “The school district’s curriculum coordinator, Lori Porsche, said taking the test is mandatory because Phanachone indicated on her school registration that English was not the first language spoken in her home. Her parents are Laotian and still speak little English.” Just because her parents speak very little English does not mean she is deficient. Are they saying that just because her parents struggle with the English language that she also has the same problem?  Is that not being a little presumptious? As an educator and immigrant, I see this assumption as very offensive and discrimatory because the implied message behind Ms. Porsche’s statement  is that if you do not speak English primarily at home, you are illiterate or stupid. This may not be her intended message, but her remark does have an negative connotation that only intelligent people speak English. In contrast, I think that being able to communicate in many languages shows that you ARE intelligent because it does take some effort to be able to switch back and forth between languages.

What I find very inappropriate and unprofessional is the remark made by Mr. Ruleaux , the Assistant Principal. In the interview with the Sioux Journal, Lori said, ” Mr. Ruleaux (assistant principal Beau Ruleaux) told me I was ‘no Rosa Parks’ — that I should give up because I would not succeed in my protest,” Phanachone said. I beg to differ because look at the positive ripple effect of Rosa Parks’ defiance and bravery to give up her seat on that bus.  Her action eventually led the Supreme Court to announced that segregation on city buses was against the law.
Lori’s protest and refusal to take the test is as admiral and significant because she is fighting against what she sees as injustice and discrimination. Her refusal to stay in her “seat” and take that test is momentous for all students not just Lao students. Any form of injustice suffered by any race is wrong and should not be accepted. We need to remember Eli Wiesel’s powerful words,” “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Lori is a role model for all people because she has the courage to stand up and fight against discrimination. She is an ordinary person doing extraordinary things. If you are interested in reading the rest of the story please go to:


One thought on “Lao and Proud: Teen activist

  1. A couple of thoughts, and then some comment.

    Could it be that the school district recieves funding based on the number of English as a Second Language students who place highly on standardised English assesment tests? The school district might well know who she is.

    Assesment tests don’t necessarily classify someone as stupid or uninteligent because their English ablity isn’t up to par, but rather to assist students to reach a proficiency such that they can participate in regular classes.

    Whatever the motivation assuming that a person can’t be extremely fluent in two languages is nutty. I think the whole escapade is an indicator of the inflexiblity of the school system where Lori attends. It tells me that probably quite a few people are working at jobs that are above their abilities. What is it that keeps the curriculum coordinator from making the judgement that there isn’t a need for the test in this case. Five seconds of thinking and a little common sense.

    Good for Lori, I hope she goes on to become the first Lao/American President.

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