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So excited, finally, after years of work on it, our textbook on multicultural education is due to be published by SAGE in January of 2013 – Becoming a Multicultural Educator: Developing Awareness, Gaining Skills, and Taking Action (Howe & Lisi).
from Rethinking Schools
Some months ago, Yale law professor Amy Chua wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that set off a media and cultural firestorm. Titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” the piece’s outlandish assertions about Asian immigrant parenting hit the requisite rounds on the 24-hour news cycle. Though the media chatter was nonstop for weeks, what was not adequately addressed is Chua’s calculated exploitation of a pernicious stereotype that has had deep impact on youth—particularly youth of color—in our schools: the model minority stereotype of the superhuman Asian student.
The “model minority” stereotype promotes the idea that Asian youth will succeed academically under any circumstance because they have families at home that push them toward academic excellence, because Asians understand and support the U.S. system of education, because Asians have access to more resources than others, and because they are resilient and can withstand any manner of abuse. Asian students supposedly have parents who are a relentless and constant presence in their children’s lives, who demand academic excellence and support nonstop tutoring and music—even on vacations.
As Chua explains:
Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish, and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.
Chua boasts about the impact of her extreme parenting style—crackdowns, punishments, prohibitions, and verbal abuse. Whether intentionally or not, she plays to the “zero tolerance” and “race to the top” mentality that has driven much of the recent remaking of inner-city schools.
The model minority stereotype implies that Asian Americans are a docile group with a pull yourself up by the bootstraps culture—a group that doesn’t need services or much political or cultural attention and resources. It’s a message that creates and widens divisions between Asian Americans and other people of color. The model minority narrative reinforces “personal responsibility” and “culture of poverty” interpretations of low achievement that often blame African American and Latino students and their families for the impact of racism and poverty on learning and school climate. By implying that one set of students’ moral and cultural values can overcome any obstacle, it implicitly condemns other students of color for allegedly failing to have the moral and cultural resources to do the same.
For Asian students, the impact is just as damaging. This stereotype is often at the heart of the denial of a host of educational services from language services to lack of testing for special education, counseling services, and multiracial ethnic studies in schools. The U.S. Supreme Court case supporting bilingual education, Lau vs. Nichols (1972), was a hard-fought battle by Asian community advocates contesting arguments against offering English language and bilingual services based on biased assumptions that Asian youth can learn English quickly.
Consider these challenges:
•Mental health counseling services are notoriously lacking for Asian communities. After all, why provide such services when Asians are so successful in school?
•Tutoring assistance? Special ed placement? College advisory? Aren’t Asians “overrepresented” in colleges?
•Curricula? Why bother to teach Asian American history when Asians assimilate so well?
Stereotypes of Asians as the model minority have triggered informal quotas in higher education and the neglect of racial harassment and violence in schools. For example, at South Philadelphia High School, school officials ignored repeated attacks against Asian immigrant students, forcing a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against the school district for unlawful discrimination and civil rights violations against Asian youth. In numerous instances, district officials implied that language programs for Asian youth were special privileges. The school’s principal called advocacy around stopping racial violence an “Asian agenda.” In public testimony, Philadelphia School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman equated non-English-speaking, recently arrived immigrant youth at the school to Asian youth at an elite magnet high school, implying that the immigrant youth didn’t need specialized services as much as they needed to “integrate” and blend in with their classmates.
As a parent, Amy Chua has every right to her memoirs and her child-rearing style. The problem is that the mainstream media—with Chua’s complicity—has seized on and sensationalized a racialization of Chua’s life. It’s ridiculous to make the assumption that Chua, a second-generation Yale law professor with wealth and privilege, represents the lives of all Asian immigrant parents; meanwhile, the complex lived realities of Asian immigrants in the United States are ignored.
There’s nothing in the dialogue around the Tiger Mom debate that talks about an immigrant parent’s 12-plus-hour workdays or children left home alone to look after themselves. There’s nothing about racial alienation and cultural dissonance, about extreme poverty or the mental health and social problems—domestic violence, addiction, and depression—within many recent immigrant families. There’s no mention of the vast differences in academic achievement and educational experience of ethnic subgroups within the broad category of Asian America. Among women ages 15 to 24 in the United States, Asian Americans have the highest suicide rate of any race or ethnic group; suicide is the second leading cause of death for Asian American women in that age range.
These are sobering statistics for all educators to consider.
At the end of the day, Chua’s essay says more about a hypercompetitive, wealthy, elitist mom seeking to one-up everyone else than it does about raising children to live in a complicated world. And for educators who buy into that line, it’s our students who will likely live with the consequences.
Helen Gym is a parent activist and board member of Asian Americans United, where she works on education and immigration issues. She is also a board member of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, where this article first appeared, and an editorial associate of Rethinking Schools.
WITNESS TO WAR
Imperial army war vet haunted by horrors in ChinaBy NATSUKO FUKUE
23rd in a series
Repentant executioner: Ichiro Koyama is pictured in his Imperial army uniform. COURTESY OF ICHIRO KOYAMA
Ichiro Koyama’s schedule is filled with lectures, talks and interviews. The 88-year-old, a former soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army stationed in Jinan, Shandong Province in China, believes he has a duty to pass on his war experiences to younger generations.
“I’m old now. This may be my last chance to tell what really happened,” Koyama said in a recent interview with The Japan Times, adding that the war turned him into a monster who didn’t hesitate to kill.
Koyama was working at an ironworks when he was drafted at age 20 and five days later shipped off to Qingtao, China. He later moved to Jinan, which a major general said was enemy territory.
“He gave us five bullets, saying four were for fighting the enemy and one was for killing ourselves,” Koyama recalled. “I had been a salaryman the week before, and the first thing I learned on the battlefield was how to commit suicide.”
One of Koyama’s most terrible experiences was being taught how to execute Chinese civilian prisoners.
One day, Koyama saw seven or eight Chinese men from a village in Zaozhuang, Shandong Province, blindfolded and tied to trees. They were being punished because they would not reveal the location of the Chinese Red Army. Seasoned soldiers ordered the green recruits to execute them for not cooperating.
“I was scared to kill a man at first,” Koyama said. “I felt much guiltier killing someone with a bayonet than with a pistol from 100 meters away.”
With his comrades, he tried to pierce a man’s heart, but was unable to because the victim kept squirming to avoid being stabbed.
Koyama eventually bayoneted the man in the stomach and shoulders. After his first killing, he said he was unable to eat. But eventually he started training new recruits to also execute their prisoners, justifying his actions by arguing he had no choice because it was war.
See bottom of the story to view video segments of the interview with Koyama.
“It was hell,” he said. “I still cannot forget their blood spraying.”
Koyama said the new recruits, by this process, also got used to killing. However, one comrade, who used to teach traditional Japanese dance, committed suicide because he could not bear it.
The teacher missed training one night, saying he was sick. Koyama told him to rest and left on a two-hour exercise. As soon as he returned, a commander told them the man had killed himself while they were away.
The commander decided to report his suicide as death in battle because a suicide during training would be dishonorable. “He was a kind man. He could not become a monster,” Koyama said.
Koyama was mainly involved in patrolling towns the Imperial army had captured, but in 1944, his unit was caught in a firefight with the Chinese army in a village of Shandong Province.
It was a surprise evening attack on a farm field that offered no place to hide. As far as Koyama can recall, seven or eight fellow soldiers died and more than 10 were wounded in the attack.
Koyama remembers it took several hours to cremate his fallen comrades, and he found it horrifying to think he himself might be turned to ashes one day soon.
On Aug. 15, 1945, he received word of the Imperial army’s surrender while he was in Hamhung in what is now North Korea, preparing to fight the Soviet army. Koyama said he felt relieved he no longer had to face death on the battlefield.
However, he and his comrades were captured by the Soviets a few days after the war ended and he was kept in Soviet and Chinese prison camps for 10 years.
The five years he was held in the Soviet Union, most of which he spent working in coal mines, were especially tough, he said. He was always starving and ate anything he could, even dandelion leaves. Others who were there were so hungry they mistook bricks dropped on the ground for loaves of bread.
“All I did there was count the days until I returned to Japan,” Koyama said.
In 1950, he was transferred to Fushun, Liaoning Province, in China. Although he was interned there for five years as a war criminal, he said he was grateful for the good treatment he received. The Chinese fed him three meals a day, unlike the Soviets.
“I used to be prejudiced against the Chinese . . . but I received good treatment in China. My attitude changed.”
While imprisoned in China, Koyama said he gradually became aware of the tragedy and suffering the war caused and regretted what he did to the Chinese.
When put on a military trial in Shenyang, he realized he was trembling, even though he felt ready to accept whatever penalty was meted out, Koyama said. After being told he would be freed, he cried and bowed to the judge.
“We must not resort to war to solve our problems,” said Koyama, who is well-versed in world news and domestic politics. Since Barack Obama was inaugurated U.S. president, he said he hopes the world will become more peaceful.
“We need to pursue real peace, and that means to cherish each person’s life.”
In this occasional series, we interview firsthand witnesses of Japan’s march to war and its ensuing defeat who wish to pass on their experiences to younger generations.
WITNESS TO WAR WITNESS TO WAR Recalling Nagasaki’s fateful day JUN HONGO WITNESS TO WAR Veteran sheds hatred, finds Japan now like second home TAKAHIRO FUKADA WITNESS TO WAR Finding Papua war dead a vet’s life DAVID McNEILL WITNESS TO WAR Women’s postwar triumph recalled AKEMI NAKAMURA WITNESS TO WAR Richie offers history lesson TAKAHIRO FUKADA WITNESS TO WAR War trauma leads to efforts to reconcile JUN HONGO WITNESS TO WAR Survivor still haunted by night’s fiery terror JUN HONGO WITNESS TO WAR War exacts top toll on bottom echelons: vet TAI KAWABATA WITNESS TO WAR Aug. 13 field draftee fast-tracked to Soviet gulag JUN HONGO
The Japan Times: Thursday, April 9, 2009