Monday, November 12, 2012

Race and Education

We are just coming off a presidential election where, to some degree, race mattered.  Governor Romney lost because the GOP seems to be tone-deaf to the fact that what they allowed various GOP officials, including Romney, to say about Hispanics and women really DID matter.  The GOP can continue this at their own risk but the numbers are against them (and so is history and common decency).
The NY Times had two articles about students and race and its impacts that I thought worthy of posting.  Both are about Asian-Americans.

One article is about Asian-Americans in college.  This is a large and diverse group of students with varying outcomes.  By the numbers, Chinese, Japanese and Korean-American students tend to do fairly well in school.  Pacific Islanders, Samoans, Vietnamese-Americans tend to do less well.   Add into those groups Pakistani, Indian, Filipinos, and Cambodians and you get a lot of people under one umbrella who are wildly different in their attitudes and outcomes about K-12 public education.   The article is referencing college students in Texas against the backdrop of a US Supreme Court case over the use of race in college admissions.

Asian-Americans, who make up 5 percent of the population, are the fastest growing racial group, with three-quarters of adults born abroad, according to the Pew Research Center. And they are tangled up in the affirmative action issue in complicated ways. For Asian-Americans across the country, the Fisher case is a source of ambivalence. While most people think of blacks and Latinos when they think of victims of past discrimination, Asian immigrants, who first came to build railways in the late 19th century, were also mistreated. Asians have often been grouped under the rubric of “model minority,” meaning they make few political demands and keep their head down.

“Asian-Americans are brought up not to upset the apple cart,” noted Martha Jee Wong, a retired Republican state legislator from Houston. “Our parents taught us that whatever we do, we should honor our family name. So you find ways to make top grades and not rock the boat.”

 (The mean SAT score of Asian-Americans is now 63 points higher than that of whites.)

 In his presentation of some of the Supreme Court legal briefs to the political identity class, Khai Pham, a junior who is Vietnamese, said he didn’t like the use of race in college admissions — and nobody other than the instructor, Lesley Varghese, disagreed with him. Said one classmate: “You can’t make up for what went wrong in the past by helping people today.” Another added: “Maybe affirmative action was necessary at one point in time, but it is outdated today and we need a new formula.” And Anna Akhtar, a sophomore who is half Pakistani, said of her high school classmates: “I had white friends who were struggling and minority friends who were doing just fine.”

The other article that was equally interesting was about the drive of Asian parents to get their children into the best public (read:competitive) high schools in NYC.  

Ting Shi said his first two years in the United States were wretched. He slept in a bunk bed in the same room with his grandparents and a cousin in Chinatown, while his parents lived on East 89th Street, near a laundromat where they endured 12-hour shifts. He saw them only on Sundays.

Even after they found an apartment together, his father often talked about taking the family back to China. So, following the advice of friends and relatives from Fuzhou, where he is from, Ting spent more than two years poring over dog-eared test prep books, attending summer and after-school classes, even going over math formulas on the walk home from school. 

The afternoon his acceptance letter to Stuyvesant High School arrived in the mail, he and his parents gathered at the laundromat, the smell of detergent and the whirl of the washing machines filling the air. “Everyone was excited,” Ting recalled.

The article reports that about 15,000 students take the test to gain admission to these elite high schools and most of the seats go to Asian students.  Last year, of the 14,415 students enrolled in the eight specialized high schools that require a test for admissions, 8,549 were Asian.

Because of the disparity, some have begun calling for an end to the policy of using the test as the sole basis of admission to the schools, and last month, civil rights groups filed a complaint with the federal government, contending that the policy discriminated against students, many of whom are black or Hispanic, who cannot afford the score-raising tutoring that other students can.

 The Shis, like other Asian families who spoke about the exam in interviews in the past month, did not deny engaging in extensive test preparation. To the contrary, they seemed to discuss their efforts with pride. 

 “Most of our parents don’t believe in ‘gifted,’ ” said Riyan Iqbal, 15, the son of Bangladeshi immigrants, as he and his friends — of Bengali, Korean and Indian descent — meandered toward the subway from the Bronx High School of Science one recent afternoon. “It’s all about hard work.” 

They also said they were puzzled about having to defend a process they viewed as a vital steppingstone for immigrants. And more than a few saw the criticism of the test as an attack on their cultures, as troubling to them as grumblings about the growing Asian presence in these schools and the prestigious colleges they feed into. “You know: ‘You’re Asian, you must be smart,’ ” said Jan Michael Vicencio, an immigrant from Manila and a junior at Brooklyn Tech, one of the eight schools that use the test for admission. “And you’re not sure it’s a compliment or an insult. We get that a lot.” Why was a lawsuit filed?  

Melissa Potter, a spokeswoman for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the groups that filed with the United States Department of Education in September, said that though some of the city’s poorest Asian immigrants had found their way into these schools, many were still being left out, for the same reason that poor blacks and Hispanics were: they do not have access to the grueling, expensive and time-consuming test preparation for the exam. The complaint argued that other factors, like school grades, teacher recommendations and personal experience should also be taken into account. It can get very testy in discussions.

On the elite schools’ alumni Web sites, discussions can veer into “dangerous territory,” as one commenter from Brooklyn Tech recently noted during a heated exchange. The discussion included a post about how the N.A.A.C.P. ought to be pushing parents to get “more involved in their children’s education.”  

Meanwhile, a parent on a popular education e-mail list referred to the “Asian-ification” of the elite schools, and a post on Urban Baby grumbled about “Asian kids taking all the spots because they prep excessively. Criticizing Asians’ success on the test is “like a defense mechanism,” said Faria Kabir, a sophomore at Brooklyn Tech, who emigrated from Bangladesh when she was 6. “It’s like someone is blaming you for something that isn’t actually your fault.”

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

On a related note:

http://portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/122281-whiteness-is-constantly-thrown-in-our-face

a reader

seattle citizen said...

An interesting peripheral piece was rebroadcast on KUOW this morning -
State of the Reunoin has an episode called Pike County, OH – As Black as We Wish to Be (not available for download at their website until later in the week, evidently)

In it, people talk about how they identify: What choices they make in deciding (those that have the choice...) whether they are Black, White, Native American....

Powerful stuff. Getting closer to one of the big elephants in the room in American discussions about race - who decides race? Who names it?

Rufux X said...

Saw this posted on ArtsCorps' FB this AM, written by a TFA Corp Member:

http://www.good.is/posts/please-stop-using-the-phrase-achievement-gap

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks, A Reader, that's quite a read.

Rufux, I also find the TFA article interesting (especially when the author lists the names that TFAers have been called around the country).

SC, I think the GOP - in their post-election statements on "our country" are getting to that big elephant. No matter what they feel, they cannot undo the look of our country. We are now majority minority and they have to learn to live (and embrace) it.

Anonymous said...

The plight of Asian Americans does not even begin to resemble those of African Americans or Native Americans. Yes, there were immigration acts passed against the Chinese at the turn of the twentieth century and Japanese Americans were interned during WWII, but Asian Americans have never been enslaved or their populations decimated by the American government.

Perhaps they shouldn't qualify for the benefits of affirmative action?

- Another POV

Melissa Westbrook said...

POV, should anyone? How do we figure that out? And, "asian" includes a huge number of very different people from different places/cultures? Should that matter?

seattle citizen said...

A key issue regarding race and education (and everthing else) is how a person is identified and/or how they identify themselves.
The Pike County "As Black as We Wish to Be" piece I linked earlier had a segment where a family that identified as Black had two children - one chose, at a young age, to identify as "White." She saw the benefits, and benefits there are. Her sister identified as Black, which caused the "White" sister to ostracize her sister in school. The White sister, additionally, would not let her schoolmates meet her parents.
Later, when she had kids of her own, the same scenario played out: Her young son identifies as White, while her daughter identifies as Black. The young son was even developing racist ideas from his White father, telling his (Black) grandmother that the Klan was going to come to her house...

Asians, American Indians, Blacks...IF they have certain pigmentations and body features, might be identified by others as a member of a particular group, and judged harshly (by some) as a result. Skin color matters. While only two of the above-mentioned groups suffered colonization (one could argue that those of Vietnamese descent also did...), ALL suffer the effects of others' (racist) perceptions of them.

Some can "pass" and do - there are many examples. Some are mistaken for some other race - Sherman Alexie jokes about being mistaken for an Indian from India and has commented on conversations he's had with similarly pigmented people, the odd way he expeected their to be a comradeship based on "minority" standing yet finding none.
(continued below)

seattle citizen said...

(continued from above) Another segment on the radio show addressed a group of people who had a history of Black and Native American ancestors - both groups found refuge in the place they were located, interbreeded, and hence could claim descent from both groups. Yet some didn't want to affirm their relation to one or the other of the groups, based partly on fear of what the larger (White) society would do if they did - they thought they would "lose" ground if they stated a particular background.

It all, it seems, depends on identification. As the "White" people have in the past, and still do to some degree, control definitions (see Rufus X's link to the fallacy of the "achievement gap," a thing largely, perhaps, created and/or defined by Whites, and certainly a thing that uses "White" as the standard), and these definitions define whole groups of people, maintaining these definitions is, if it's done by a predominantly White struture, a maintenance of the White definitions of race and the heirarchies that pertain.

On the other hand, there is self-definition - the way one identifies oneself. Whites don't have to - no one comes up to me and says, "what race are you?" or treats me worse because of my race. But others can't avoid be identified as a particular race, and therefore often identify this way themselves.

Often, this self-identification is done to be a part of a group for a) community (against an oppressive other) or b) power that might be gained (out of the hands of the oppressor group)

Ideally, race as a political, social, and economic construct would just go away. But we are a long way from their - it requires that the dominant race (and, as things transmute, this might not be "White" but some other iteration of dominance) stop using race as an identifier.

In another thread, the commenter "am I missing smoething" asks about what is being measured in Florida - what is being measured is GROUPS of people, arbitrarily named by Whites, and then measured using a yardstick developed by Whites (or their dominant culture.) Until we stop asking people to mark little checkboxes, to identify as what we call them, we won't move beyond race.

This will certainly be easier as more and more "mixed" people start to populate the country, and the world, but even then a particular pigmentation, or identification, might climb to the top and demand that the others identify by what IT calls them....

ALINA li said...
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