Chartering New Frontiers: Battling Oppression From Saigon to Sacramento

Chartering New Frontiers: Battling Oppression From Saigon to Sacramento

The California State Capitol building in Sacramento on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Stefan Bean

Stefan Bean

3/5/2024

Updated: 3/9/2024

Commentary
As flames engulfed Saigon’s skyline on April 6, 1975, a 4-year-old child boarded a plane, leaving behind a war-torn homeland. That child was me, and my journey—shaped by Operation Babylift, the name given to the mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam to the United States and other Western countries at the end of the Vietnam War—altered the course of my life forever.
When the cabin doors of the airplane closed, I didn’t understand what was happening at the time. Still, my life would become one of resilience, determination, triumph, and an understanding that the fight for freedom is never over.
Born Nam Le Thanh amid Vietnam’s turmoil in the early 1970s, my childhood years were marked by hardship. Stricken by polio at the age of 2, I found myself abandoned on the streets of Saigon, my legs paralyzed. Rescued and taken to an orphanage, I received minimal medical care until fate intervened and led me to the loving embrace of an American family upon my plane’s touchdown on American soil.
Walking through public school doors for the first time was exciting and terrifying. Learning English was a challenge on day one. Overcoming the language barrier was hard enough but was compounded by significant health issues requiring multiple surgeries, including muscle transplants on my legs and stomach. It did not take my adoptive parents long to see that I was not receiving the academic or physical support to thrive in public school.
My parents then found a private school where I received encouragement, was treated equally, and excelled academically. Whether participating in sports on the basketball court or the baseball field or taking a course load that forced me to learn about history and political science and taught me how to think critically, it further fueled my passion for education. I received a B.A. in Business Administration with a full scholarship to USC. The program inspired me to pursue advanced degrees, culminating in a master’s and a doctorate. That took me down a path to teaching and leading through administrative and leadership roles.
The California State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., on Aug. 28, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The California State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., on Aug. 28, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

My journey has also included a look at the corrupt underbelly of the political process in local politics and government. California’s leaders, policies, and governance are starting to look a lot like how my birth country is governed by the heavy hand of communism. California is not a petri dish the progressive left should use to implement untested policy experiments on its citizens, following the lead of China. I have witnessed this first-hand in Vietnam as the communist regime took away fundamental rights and freedoms we take for granted in the United States.
The liberties that are under threat are reminiscent of the oppression I fled in Vietnam. The encroachment of critical race theory, rooted in Marxist ideology, and the stranglehold of teachers unions pose existential challenges to educational freedom and critical thinking. Many of those theories are taught today in the classroom, sometimes under cover of ethnic studies or DEI—diversity, equity, and inclusion.
This is why I decided to run for superintendent of the Orange County Board of Education. My real opposition was the teachers union, but I still came close to beating incumbent Al Mijares with a little money and lots of volunteer effort the first time he had ever run in a contested race. The California Teachers Association and the union representing classified employees endorsed Mr. Mijares and were among his biggest financial contributors in the 2022 election.
All current trustees serving on the Orange County Board of Education have consistently championed charter schools in the face of persistent and vigorous opposition from the teachers union. The union’s unscrupulous tactics are worth noting. In 2021, the union attempted to manipulate the trustee redistricting process through the County Committee on School District Organization, a taxpayer-funded entity overseen by Superintendent Al Mijares’ Orange County Office of Education. Mijares stacked the committee with anti-charter members, who then used public funds to hire partisan operatives to try to reshape the board.
During recent election cycles, the union-backed candidates have contested the pro-charter majority. Now, they seek recourse through Sacramento with Senate Bill 907. This bill, co-authored by Democratic State Senators Josh Newman and Dave Min, singles out the Orange County Board for “special” treatment, aiming to add two more board members and shift trustee elections to coincide with the general election. With all the issues facing the state, state senators should say “no” to the teachers union and their desire to increase the Orange County School Board, where they can use their sizable political campaign war chest to gain seats on the board.
(L-R) The Orange County Board of Education trustees Tim Shaw, Lisa Sparks, Jorge Valdes, Mari Barke, Ken Williams, and the county Superintendent of Schools Al Mijares during a meeting at the Orange County Department of Education in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Aug. 17, 2022. (Micaela Ricaforte/The Epoch Times)

(L-R) The Orange County Board of Education trustees Tim Shaw, Lisa Sparks, Jorge Valdes, Mari Barke, Ken Williams, and the county Superintendent of Schools Al Mijares during a meeting at the Orange County Department of Education in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Aug. 17, 2022. (Micaela Ricaforte/The Epoch Times)

The board’s approval of dozens of charter schools highlights the real issue: the union’s resistance to expanding public school choice. Charter schools offer valuable alternatives within the education landscape, threatening the union’s stronghold.
Charter schools are a means to elevate public student achievement, yet the unions persist in obstructing their proliferation. Sacramento Senators should reject SB 907, manipulating a county school board because the teachers union wants more seats on the board, so they can stop the pro-charter members. It’s time to prioritize the needs of students over union interests and ensure that all children have access to quality education and options in education.
My journey away from tyranny did not end when I boarded the Operation Babylift jet. It continues today as I support and promote public education using charter schools.
I will continue to fight for the academic success of my students and the preservation of educational choice. But this is not my battle alone. Say no to the teachers union at the polling places and schools. Together, we can ensure that the promise of freedom and opportunity endures for our children and future generations.
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Stefan Bean

Stefan Bean

Author

Dr. Stefan Bean is an Orange County resident, former candidate for Orange County Superintendent of Education, and the current executive director of Irvine International Academy.

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