ERIC Identifier: ED369577
Publication Date: 1994-06-00
Author: Feng, Jianhua
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Asian-American Children: What Teachers Should Know. ERIC
Asian-Americans constitute a significant minority in the U.S. and are one of
the fastest growing ethnic groups in this country, yet little is known about
their particular educational needs, especially at the early childhood and
elementary levels. This digest provides information to help teachers gain a
better understanding of Asian-American children, particularly those from East
and Southeast Asian cultures, and identify culturally appropriate educational
practices to use with those children.
ASIAN-AMERICAN CHILDREN: WHO ARE THEY?
Asian-American covers a variety of national, cultural, and religious heritages.
Indeed, Asian-Americans represent more than 29 distinct subgroups who differ in
language, religion, and customs. The four major groups of Asian-Americans are
East Asian, such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean; Pacific Islander; Southeast
Asian, such as Thai and Vietnamese; and South Asian, such as Indian and
Pakistani (Pang, 1990). Although there are similarities among the various
subgroups, they have different origins, ecological adaptations, and histories.
In addition to these between-group differences, diversity exists within
national groups and among individuals. Individual differences are found in
reasons for migration, related hopes and expectations, and reception by the
dominant culture. Some immigrants are refugees from countries torn apart by war,
others from the middle class of stable countries. Some came with nothing, others
with skills and affluence (Brand, 1987). Many Asian-Americans were born in the
U.S. Some are fourth- or fifth- generation Americans. A disparity exists between
foreign-born Asians living in this country and American-born Asians who are
often quite acculturated (Hartman & Askounis, 1989).
ASIAN-AMERICAN CHILDREN: ARE THEY ALL "WHIZ
Asian-Americans are generally stereotyped as successful, law-abiding,
and high-achieving minorities. The success of many Asian-American students has
created a new "model minority" stereotype. They have been described in popular
and professional literature as "whiz kids," and as "problem free." Some claim
that Asians are smarter than other groups; others believe there is something in
Asian culture that breeds success, perhaps Confucian ideas that stress family
values and education (Brand, 1987). However, Asian-Americans' educational
achievement cannot be attributed to natural superiority or shared cultural and
family values, but rather to the interaction of those cultural and family values
with social factors (Siu, 1992).
The "whiz kids" image is a misleading stereotype that masks individuality and
conceals real problems. If Asian students are viewed as instant successes, there
is less justification for assisting those who may need help. The result may be
neglect, isolation, delinquency, and inadequate preparation for the labor market
among those students. For many Asian children, the challenge of schooling can be
overwhelming. Not only may American schooling contradict their own cultural
system, but it may also undermine their sense of well-being and self-confidence
(Trueba & Cheng, 1993) because the ethnic identity of Asian children is
often based on their relation to their group. In contrast, American schooling
emphasizes independence, individualism, and competition.
Asian-American children are a diverse group. Not all are superior students;
some have various kinds of learning difficulties (Shen & Mo, 1990). Some
lack motivation, proficiency in English, or financial resources; others have
parents who do not understand the American school system because of cultural
differences, language barriers, or their more immediate quest for survival (Yao,
1988). Many children, struggling with a new language and culture, drop out of
school. Further, the majority of Asian-American students do not reach the starry
heights of the celebrated few, and an alarming number are pushing themselves to
the emotional brink in their quest for excellence (Brand, 1987; Trueba &
ASIAN-AMERICAN CHILDREN: HOW DO THEY DIFFER FROM OTHER
Although diversity among Asian-American groups makes overall
descriptions difficult, there are general cultural characteristics, values, and
practices shared by most Asians, particularly East and Southeast Asians, that
are different from the mainstream American culture.
In many East and Southeast Asian cultures, Confucian ideals, which include
respect for elders, deferred gratification, and discipline, are a strong
influence. Most Asian-American parents teach their children to value educational
achievement, respect authority, feel responsibility for relatives, and show self
control. Asian-American parents tend to view school failure as a lack of will,
and to address this problem by increasing parental restrictions. Asian-American
children tend to be more dependent, conforming, and willing to place family
welfare over individual wishes than are other American children.
Teachers in Asian culture are accorded a higher status than teachers in the
United States. Asian-American children may be confused by the informality
between American teachers and students and expect considerable structure and
organization. Asian children tend to need reinforcement from teachers, and work
more efficiently in a well-structured, quiet environment (Baruth & Manning,
Self-effacement is a trait traditionally valued in many Asian cultures. Asian
children tend to wait to participate, unless otherwise requested by the teacher.
Having attention drawn to oneself, for example, having one's name put on the
board for misbehaving, can bring considerable distress. Many Asian children have
been socialized to listen more than speak, to speak in a soft voice, and to be
modest in dress and behavior.
HOW CAN TEACHERS HELP ASIAN-AMERICAN CHILDREN?
adopt practices to address problems that relate to their unfamiliarity with
Asian-American cultures and to the differences that exist in Asian-American
populations. When developing curriculum and instruction that are developmentally
appropriate, culturally sensitive, and methodologically adaptable, teachers
* Familiarize themselves with the values, traditions, and customs of various
cultures; and learn the migratory conditions specific to each of their students'
families. If possible, a home visit should be made to gain insight into the
student's family life and support system (Baruth & Manning, 1992).
* Learn at least a few words of their Asian students' native languages. By
showing such interest, teachers can set the tone for better communication.
Classroom teachers should also collaborate with language professionals and ESL
teachers (Trueba & Cheng, 1993).
* Encourage parents to help children maintain their native language at home,
while the school helps the child attain proficiency in English. Teachers can
also use English-proficient Asian students as interpreters with Asian parents.
* Base academic expectations on individual ability rather than on
* Alleviate the disjunctures Asian children may experience between school and
home. For example, while a student may be told at school to challenge others'
views, the same child may be told at home to be quiet and not challenge
authority. To avoid such conflicts, teachers can organize classroom activities
around naturalistic interactions that permit the child to take the lead and to
build upon modeling.
* Consider peer teaching. Asian-American children who are not fluent in
English may feel threatened by having to answer questions in front of the whole
class. Peer tutoring can be an effective means of engaging these children in
activities that foster language skills.
* Utilize the student's natural support system, including family, friends,
and the community. Know who makes the decisions about education in the family,
who provides care for the child after school, and, when applicable, who provides
translation for the family.
* In planning instruction and activities, avoid assumptions about what the
children know. For example, not all children have experienced a birthday party.
* Learn about the Asian population in their school district. Teachers can
encourage parents to assist one another in serving as facilitators and
informants (Trueba & Cheng, 1993), and can work with a network of Asian
parents, encouraging parents established in the community to provide assistance
for new arrivals.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Baruth, L.G. and M.L. Manning. (1992).
MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION OF CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn
Brand, D. (1987). THE NEW WHIZ KIDS. Time, 130(9, Aug 31): 42-51. EJ 358 595.
Hartman, J.S. and A.C. Askounis. (1989). Asian-American Students: Are They
Really a "MODEL MINORITY"? SCHOOL COUNSELOR, 37(2, Nov): 85-88. EJ 408 177.
Pang, V.O. (1990). Asian-American Children: A Diverse Population. Educational
Forum, 55(1, Fall): 49-66. EJ 416 435.
Shen, W. and W. Mo. (1990). REACHING OUT TO THEIR CULTURES: BUILDING
COMMUNICATION WITH ASIAN-AMERICAN FAMILIES. ED 351 435.
Siu, S-F. (1992). How Do Family and Community Characteristics Affect
Children's Educational Achievement? The Chinese-American Experience. EQUITY AND
CHOICE, 8(2): 46-49. EJ 443 932.
Siu, S-F. (1994). TAKING NO CHANCES: PROFILE OF A CHINESE-AMERICAN FAMILY'S
SUPPORT FOR SCHOOL SUCCESS. Boston, MA: Wheelock College. ED 361 446.
Trueba, H.T. and L. Cheng. (1993). MYTH OR REALITY: ADAPTIVE STRATEGIES OF
ASIAN AMERICANS IN CALIFORNIA. Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.
Yao, E.L. (1988). Working Effectively with Asian Immigrant Parents. PHI DELTA
KAPPAN, 70(3, Nov): 223-225. EJ 379 981.