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A note about Chinese-Americans, immigration and the role of Chinese immersion schools in looking hard at history

January 30, 2017

This thoughtful take on the President’s immigration executive order comes from the head of the Chinese American International School, the nation’s oldest Chinese immersion school, based in San Francisco. Too few programs teach about the history of Chinese-Americans in the United States and the terrible racism and bigotry that the community was subject to, especially the heinous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.


I applaud Jeff for speaking out about an issue that is too often ignored in our programs – and which is newly relevant today.



Dear CAIS Community,

On Friday, January 27, not long after all our kids had been picked up from the Mass Greeting celebration, President Trump signed an executive order that indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days.

Since that time protests have broken out at airports around the country, and a legal challenge to parts of the executive order has been sustained.  This morning, Sunday, I find myself wondering, “what is our role, as parents and educators, in the face of all this?”  I’d like to share some of my thoughts.

Over a year ago, in December of 2015, I read a piece in the Washington Post comparing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to then candidate Donald Trump’s call for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States.  Is this a valid comparison?  In 1882 the United States Congress passed, and the President of the United States signed into law, the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States.

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-10-00-21-amSuccessive federal laws made Chinese immigration to the US increasingly exclusive until its repeal some 61 years later in 1943 when China became an ally to the US in its fight against Japan in WWII. However, Chinese immigrants still faced restrictive quotas for more than two more decades.  It was not until 2012 that both houses of the US legislature passed a resolution expressing regret, “for the passage of laws that adversely affected the Chinese in the United States, including the Chinese Exclusion Act.”

Here at CAIS, nearly three-quarters of our students and half of our faculty and staff claim some Chinese ethnic heritage.  We claim this heritage in our school name: Chinese American International School, and in our mission: “Embrace Chinese.”

Think about it, the vast majority of our school community members are descendants of people who were or could have been excluded from the US under the Chinese Exclusion Act.

If nowadays, as a part of our children’s education, we talk about the Chinese Exclusion Act, or about systematic discrimination against any historically marginalized group, would anyone in our community feel offended that we were criticizing their political party of preferred presidential candidate?  Would anyone think that we were indoctrinating our students and preventing them from being free thinkers?

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-10-01-08-amHow many people reading this are even familiar with which president signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into law or his party affiliation?  It was President Chester Arthur, and he was a Republican, the party of Abraham Lincoln who had been selected as president 22 years earlier (for comparison, 22 years ago it was 1995, and Democrat Bill Clinton was president).

At CAIS our work on curriculum is and should be a process of ongoing revision and improvement.  As your head of school, I believe there is a new urgency in our curriculum work around citizenship education.  This means continuing and improving our emphasis on thinking critically about historical instances during which groups of people were marginalized, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, or historical movements in which engaged citizens organized and took a stand to claim their Constitutional rights, such as the Civil Rights movement.

It means continuing and improving our efforts to learn from our history of immigration and systematic discrimination in our country.  It means continuing and improving our commitment to provide our students with the tools they need to examine critically contemporary political events and make up their own minds.  I am talking about tools like an understanding of the US Constitution–separation of powers, the Bill of Rights, the history of important legislation and judicial interpretations of constitutional law.  And it means a greater emphasis on questioning–critically–the actions of our leaders today, actions such as the President’s executive order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”

This is not partisan education, it’s citizenship education.  It is not political indoctrination, it’s critical thinking.  I encourage you as parents to engage in similar conversations with your children at home, in conjunction with our zoomed in study at school, challenging your children to become engaged citizens.

For a long time as your head of school I have been applying a great deal of my energy and focus on the Chinese piece of Chinese American.  It is time that I apply equal energy to the American piece of Chinese American.  It’s patriotic, it’s inclusive, it’s respectful of a diversity of perspectives, and it’s grounded in the Constitution of our country.

If I am completely honest, I do not know exactly what citizenship education will ultimately look like in the different grades given the new sense of urgency we now feel.  But I do know that we need to adjust to a changing world if we want our kids to be able to create their places in it.

Finally, if there is anyone in our school community whose family has been impacted by the President’s executive order limiting immigration, please regard our community and our school as a resource and share any concerns you have so that we can support your children.

It is an honor to be able to serve as your head of school. Equipping your children to become their best selves is a responsibility that I and all of my colleagues take very seriously.   Best,

Jeffrey Bissell | 毕杰夫

Head of School, Chinese American International School, San Francisco

Happy Year of the Rooster!

January 28, 2017


Wishing everyone a happy Year of the Rooster.


So how does immersion work, anyway?

January 22, 2017

The folks at CARLA, the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition in Minnesota have made a great video to show how it works and why it’s important.

Utah’s high school plans for immersion

January 21, 2017
For anyone with kids in Mandarin immersion, here’s a look at what a well-planned K-12 program can look like.

What happens with immersion in high school (in Utah)?

Some people have expressed confusion about what happens to dual language immersion students when they get to high school. There have been some very exciting developments over the past year and the purpose of this post is to explain the Utah State plan. We’ll discuss AP tests, college language courses taken in high school (for dual credit), and how this will impact Regents Scholarships (spoiler: it’s really good news!).

Please read more here.

The inventor of pinyin dies at 111

January 14, 2017

Zhou Youguang, Who Made Writing Chinese as Simple as ABC, Dies at 111

New York Times

Zhou Youguang, known as the father of Pinyin for creating the system of Romanized Chinese writing that has become the international standard since its introduction some 60 years ago, died on Saturday in Beijing, Chinese state media reported. He was 111.

In recent decades, with the comparative invincibility that he felt great age bestowed on him, Mr. Zhou was also an outspoken critic of the Chinese government.

“What are they going to do,” he asked bluntly in an interview with the BBC in 2012. “Come and take me away?”

Please read more here.

Eugene, Oregon votes for Mandarin immersion

January 12, 2017

The Eugene School ­District will offer a fifth language immersion program to its students beginning in the 2017-18 school year.

At its meeting Wednesday, the Eugene School Board unanimously voted to approve the district’s proposal to implement a K-12 Mandarin Chinese program.

But concerns about a split school location and equitable practices ­dominated the conversation about the future program.

The plan is to implement a Mandarin Chinese program in the Churchill High School region of the district, beginning at the Family School at Crest Elementary School. The school has four classrooms available, the district said.

Please read more here.

High school summer program in Shenzhen, China

January 10, 2017
International Partnerships in Education (IPIE.US) in cooperation with Hanbridge Mandarin are pleased to announce the 2017 International Language & Culture Camp in Shenzhen, China. The program is open to American and Chinese high school students.
The summer camp program consists of a 15-day on-campus immersion environment where the American and Chinese high school students will share equally in the camp experience. Students will live, learn, play, and participate in the cross-cultural activities together. An optional 3-day cultural tour of Beijing is available upon conclusion of the summer camp.
Each camp day will include foreign language instruction in the target language, educational cross-cultural lessons, and recreational activities designed to foster teamwork and trust. Instruction is provided by a dynamic international management team of certified and fully licensed American and Chinese educators. All camp activities are supported with the assistance of Chinese university students.