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Southeast Asian Students Are Often Overlooked


Read "Struggling Asians go unnoticed," published today in the Chicago Tribune, to learn more about how and why educators may not give as much attention to Asian students who struggle with English or other subjects than students from other regions of the world.

For more on this topic, see "The 'Other' Gap," which my colleague Lesli Maxwell wrote for Education Week in February 2007.


A lot of these so-called problems stem from the problem of calling people Asian-Americans. Asia is a huge continent with many different people and different languages, even alphabets. Why group them together? Some students aren't Americans yet, or plan to become Americans. I have students whose families are planning to stay for a year or two and go back to their home countries too. Even Southeast Asians are very different peoples, so a big factor must be the lack of understanding and knowledge American educators have about Asia and Southeast Asia. How many times have I walked into a Thai restaurant and seen Americans trying to eat Thai food with chopsticks? I think there may be problems in countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Burma and some parts of Thailand with lack of prior education and that is the true difficulty in educating these students.

Lynn: I think you raise some good points. In the U.S., there does seem to be a general lack of understanding about Asian/Southeast Asian cultures and countries. Further to that problem, there definitely is a common perception in American schools that Asians generally perform better academically. For that reason, I can see a correlation between that stereotype and the fact that Southeast Asian students who struggle with English do not receive adequate resources or attention as do struggling African-Americans or Hispanics, as the article notes.

So while students from some Southeast Asian countries undoubtedly may lack prior education, I think the difficulty in educating these students lies within the existence of the "model minority myth" that Asians perform better academically. That generalization simply cannot be made anymore because statistically (read: the test scores in the article) Southeast Asians are NOT performing well. That should be enough to say that something needs to be done to ensure that they do receive adequate resources and attention to keep them from falling behind. They deserve just as much as other struggling minorities.

The problems of Asian students in American schools is the same as the problems for all ELL students who are not Spanish speakers. Funding, programs, interventions, policies, and materials are provided only for the minority groups with the highest represented numbers and most vocal or powerful lobbying groups.

Students from Eastern Europe, the Middle east, and the East end up in ELL classes , most of which are populated with Hispanics. While many ELL teachers speak and translate materials into Spanish and the students speak to one another and to the teacher in Spanish, all other minority non-English speakers are further handicapped by not having materials tailored to their needs, and additionally by not being socially accepted by the Hispanic students. Often, these students are looked down upon by Hispanic students, have no one to do cooperate work with, and realize that they must first learn Spanish before they can get help to learn English. My Chinese, Turkish, and Bosnian students either dropped out of school quickly, or accepted their "outsider" status and struggled with prejudice and isolation in the classroom. The more we focus on providing appropriate materials and instruction for Hispanic students, the more we fail to meet the needs of other individual ELLs who simply are too few in number to really 'matter'.

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