Asian American Students: Educational Needs
Overshadowed by Stereotypes
April 23, 2001
Within our society, education is seen as the number one priority. Orestes Brownson commented that “every child is born with as good a natural right to the best education that community can furnish, as he is to a share of the common air of heaven or the common light of the sun” (Brownson, 1839, p. 277). Throughout the history of public education, schools have been used as a tool for correcting society’s woes and balancing economic opportunity. Although this goal of education remains the same, the variables are always changing. Cultural and ethnic differences comprise the most troublesome problems relating to education. The belief that each person deserves a fair and equal education still exists, but in reality the school system in this nation falls short of providing a complete and universal education for its youth.
Immigration has always been a significant contributor to the changing ethnic and cultural composition of the United States. Asian Americans have more than a 150-year history of immigration to this country; about 90% have immigrated following the Immigration Act of 1965. The Asian American population in the United States represents members of 31 ethnic groups who speak 300 different languages and dialects (Olsen, 1997). The popular image of Asian American students is they are industrious, high achieving, and well adjusted; they are typically considered the model minority in America. The disproportionate emphasis placed on the academic performance of Asian American students, due to the model minority stereotype, stands in the way of dealing with actual student needs, it jeopardizes their ethnic identity, and overshadows the importance of their individuality; we need to take action to establish a multicultural approach to determining and meeting the educational needs of Asian American students and to create an educational experience that will provide them with an equal and adequate education as a means to obtain a level of economic opportunity and social wellbeing equal to that of the majority population. The first notable immigration from Asia into the United States began in 1848, by the Chinese. The Chinese initially arrived in the United States to fill the need for labor on sugar plantations and the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Later, the discovery of gold in California brought many immigrants in search of Gam Saan or Gold Mountain. Approximately one million people entered between the California gold rush of 1849 and the Immigration Act of 1924, an act that ended immigration from Asian countries (Takaki, 1989). The lapse in immigration from Asia lasted more than forty years, but along with the civil rights movement during the 1960’s, there was a push for immigration reform; a new immigration act renewed the possibility of immigration from Asia. Between the years 1965 and 1985, a second wave of immigration from Asia brought approximately three and one-half million immigrants to the United States (Takaki, 1989). Currently among Asian Americans, two of three were born in foreign countries; Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian groups had the highest proportion of foreign births, whereas Japanese had the lowest proportion (Chiang, 2000). More recently the United States has become an asylum for refugees frantically fleeing their homelands because of war or political unrest. Three-quarters of Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and Hmong have entered the United States since 1975. If immigration into the United States continues at present rates, the Asian American population is projected to grow to thirty-four and one-half million by 2040 (Chiang, 2000). The label of Asian American applies to many different subgroups of people who are vastly different from one another, in respect to their individual cultures; their reasons...
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