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Breaking Down the Asian Stereotype

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The stereotype of the highly motivated, high-achieving Asian student is hard not to buy into because Asian-Americans, as a group, outperfrom all other minorities in virtually all categories, and they beat white students on most measures too.

But Education Week reporter Lesli Maxwell's story this week, "The 'Other' Gap," points out that the picture of this group of students is much more nuanced than most people would expect. There are some important lessons to be learned--about culture, teenagers, schools, and motivation--from reading this story. Here is an excerpt from the piece:

"But what about closing the “top gap,” between the most outstanding Asian-American students and their white classmates? Why aren’t educators and policymakers talking about low-achieving Asian-American students, who they are, and what should be done to help them catch up? And what effect does the widely held assumption that all Asian-Americans do well in school regardless of social class or ethnic background—the “model minority” stereotype—have on students across the achievement spectrum?"

Any thoughts, insights?

4 Comments

Every population group, no matter how motivated or disadvantaged, has a normal continuum of intelligence among its members. The average IQ for the Asian population, at least in the US, is about 1 standard deviation (15 IQ points) above the overall average in the US of 100. This is why so many Aisans outperform most other groups on average. But there are still Asians whose ability profile is below their own group's average and the national group average. How do we help them "Catch up?" We don't. We should try to help all people develop their abilities and live up to their full potential. This does not mean that everyone, if properly motivated, would have the same educational coursework and degrees as everyone else and the same career attainments. It is a national shame that we are making so many people feel bad about themselves with this viewpoint about closing the gaps. Let's just make sure that each individual gets the best opportunity to develop their own abilities and skills and quit making it a race against how they compare to others. Let's also start to honor good workers no matter what they do for a living. Skilled tradespeople are becoming a dying breed due to the misguided notion that everyone should go to college. Being good at something is satisfying and can pay well. Our educational system should make sure all people are gaining skills appropriate to their interests and abilities.

Although his research was at the collegiate level, Triesman (Texas) found, if I am remembering correctly, that it was not native IQ that made the difference; it was cultural differences which led to study pattern differences in his college calculus students. In other words, Asian students chose to do their math homework daily, in groups, leaning from each other as they accomplished their assignments. Yes, stereotypes can be harmful, even what we might term "positive" stereotypes if they are used to stigmatize individuals. However if we can discover cultural patterns of behavior that can be passed to other cultures, that's useful. Another example is studying the typical Asian diet to find out why Asians tend to live longer and better - nothing wrong with that in my mind.

Expectations should be personal and should only be assigned to individuals, not ethnic groups. Research like this, with all the variables involved, is dangerous because it pre-judges capacity for educational success based on ethnicity -- not taking into account the hundreds of other variables which effect a student's overrall performance. Successful education is simply about getting the most out of each individual. Every person is different and has a different capacity to learn at different stages of life, most of which is affected by social influences. Helping each student reach their full potential, whatever that may be, is success. To even suggest to a student/teacher that ethnicity plays a role as to what someone should expect of themselves, is simply wrong. This type of thinking insinuates a genetic difference in intelligence, which is crippling to everybody.

I second the opinion of Ms. Ruf, but would like to add my own idea of why on the whole Asian students excel. Culturally speaking Asian people are much more "family dependent and oriented" than Caucasian students are. From what I gather from my daughter's insights regarding her Chinese (by blood) American born, boyfriend and his family is that family is of the utmost importance. It is important to keep up appearances, so that's one reason why Asian students may feel it is important to please parents and keep looking good to extended family. This even carries on to financial situations. There is the expectation to offer gifts, even if there's not enough money to do so. It would be embarrassing not to appear successful. To have status in the eyes of extended family is apparently very important, at least to this one Chinese family!

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  • Conny Jensen: I second the opinion of Ms. Ruf, but would like read more
  • Brett Hodus: Expectations should be personal and should only be assigned to read more
  • KBINGHAM: Although his research was at the collegiate level, Triesman (Texas) read more
  • Deborah L. Ruf: Every population group, no matter how motivated or disadvantaged, has read more

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