Asian Students Battle Bigotry

As if New Yorkers needed any more evidence that serious

reform is needed immediately in the

public-school system-that haven for institutionalized incompetenece and bureaucratic mediocrity-news has

surfaced of bizarre behavior on the part of an assistant principal at

Lafayette High School in Bensonhurst. The

story is a perfect example of how one bureaucrat can cause distress in the

lives of several families, for no apparent reason other than what appears to be

personal malice.

During the first weeks of school last fall, reports The New York Times, Rosemary Assenso,

an assistant principal at Lafayette High, stunned five seniors-all Chinese

immigrants-by telling them that they had to leave the school immediately

because they had already completed the requirements for graduation. She handed

two of them diplomas on the first day of school, and sliced up one student’s ID

card in front of her. When Anna Eng, a guidance counselor, protested that the

students had not completed the college-application process, Ms. Assenso told

her that the students could attend a community college and that they were not

Ivy League caliber, anyway.

Some of the Chinese students’ parents did not speak English

and thus had little recourse with the school

administration, but the news was reported in Chinese-language newspapers, after which a rally was held at the

Board of Education headquarters. Board of Ed

employees told the five Chinese students that there was no early-graduation

rule and escorted them back to the school.

Ms. Assenso has not offered any defense for her actions. The

school’s acting principal, Kenneth Sinclair, has also been silent. A longtime

teacher at Lafayette told The Times,

“You start to think it’s a premeditated persecution of Asian students.” As for Ms. Assenso’s low opinion of the

five students’ academic abilities, one was captain of the math team and

another, Wan Shan Hu, was class valedictorian and will be attending Columbia

University this fall.

It is disgraceful that, nine months after Ms. Assenso tried

to prevent five students from exercising their right to attend school-a right

that immigrants have always embraced as their ticket to success in

America-neither she nor Mr. Sinclair have been fired. Schools Chancellor Harold

Levy should step forward and get some answers. Unless Ms. Assenso provides a

rational explanation for her behavior, her continued employment at the expense

of city taxpayers is an outrage.

Pataki’s Budget

Disaster

For most of the Pataki years, New York has been rolling in

money: so much money that George Pataki, elected Governor in 1994 as a fiscally

responsible critic of tax-and-spend politics, has launched several expensive

statewide initiatives, including the EPIC prescription-drug program and the

state’s plan for universal pre-kindergarten. Even as Mr. Pataki unveiled these

new programs, he was lowering taxes. That tells you just how flush Albany has

been in the last five or six years.

Sooner or later, however, the figures on the state’s ledger

are going to fade from black to red. By the Governor’s own reckoning, the state

will begin running a deficit in the 2002-3 fiscal year. That year’s deficit

figures to be more than $2 billion, and it will grow, according to the Governor’s

estimates, to nearly $3 billion, in a budget of $40 billion, in 2003-4. One can

only imagine how quickly that $3 billion hole will grow to $4 billion or $5

billion if the economy continues to slow. We know from experience that spending

is never cut. So, let’s face it: The only realistic cure is a huge tax

increase.

It’s hard to believe that a Republican Governor is leading

the state down this primrose path. What makes the budget news that much worse

is next year’s election. With Mr. Pataki

certain to face a tough battle, and all of the state’s legislators up

for reelection, no tough budgetary decisions will be made next year. Quite the

opposite-everybody will be looking to fund their favorite programs and create a

few more new ones to ensure a favorable result on Election Day.

City residents have reason to fear these developments. Our

schools already are scandalously underfunded, and if the time comes to cut, you

can bet that Albany, pressured by powerful upstate interests, will focus on New

York City.

The Governor and the Legislature ought to be preparing for

darker days. Instead, they’re dragging this year’s budget deadlock into the

fall. Now is not the time to be dreaming of Saratoga weekends. The outlook for

the near future is grim, and it will become grimmer unless Mr. Pataki and his

cohorts make some decisions now, before the reelection campaigns begin.

To Forgive Is Healthy

If psychotherapy is the religion of choice for many New

Yorkers, one topic it has tended to skirt is that of forgiveness. A highly

regarded value in traditional religions,

forgiveness has been treated as a sort of footnote by many in the mental-health

field, or mentioned only in terms of forgiving oneself. But in a new book, The Forgiving Self: The Road From Resentment

to Connection , Manhattan psychotherapist Dr. Robert Karen looks into the

emotional benefits of truly forgiving others.

According to Dr. Karen, forgiveness is a subtle thing. To

forgive someone because you think you “should” is worse than not forgiving them

at all, he recently told The New York

Times, because forgiveness “entails an important, internal process” that

should not be rushed. One element of sincere forgiveness is when the parties

involved learn to express their anger appropriately, to learn to “enjoy their

anger” without holding a grudge or exploding. Dr. Karen points out that when

two people are in conflict, “who needs to forgive and who needs to apologize is

often a tossup. In most situations, everyone shares the blame, to some extent.”

To fail to forgive, he says, often means harming yourself, since you end up

living with gnawing resentment.

One block to forgiveness, says Dr. Karen, is that we are

constantly “rekindling” the “inner dramas” of childhood with those we are close

to, so that what may be legitimate anger at a spouse or loved one spirals out

of control because it ignites those earlier hurts.

Forgiveness is not easy and cannot be faked. Forgiveness,

says Dr. Karen, “develops out of a real struggle with your own psychology. It’s

not like, ‘Well, I’m going to be more forgiving now because my blood pressure

is too high.'” Asian Students Battle Bigotry