A spotlight has been shined on the treatment of Asian Americans for the worst possible reason. Hate crimes against Asians have risen since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Some people have attributed this to the coronavirus rhetoric. But unfortunately was more than rhetoric. A man, Robert Aaron Long, walked into three spas. He is now awaiting trial, accused of ending eight lives. Six of the victims were Asian women. This incident has led to serious conversations about the experience of Asians in America.
This conversation needs to happen in the context of schools, too. While the backdrop of this conversation is the killing spree in Atlanta, there are smaller interactions that happen every day in schools across America that marginalize Asian people.
Not Teaching Their History
Racism against Asian Americans is unfortunately not new. However, some people may be under that impression because the history we are taught in school leaves out their experience. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to the internment camps of Japanese Americans during WWII, this country has a long history of discrimination toward people of Asian descent. But like all ethnic groups, their history is not solely defined by their oppression either and schools also need to do a better job of teaching about their achievements, and contributions as well.
Subscribing To The Model Minority Myth
The term model minority encompasses a number of aspects. However, as it relates to schools, it is essentially the narrative that exalts Asian American children as academically gifted and harder working relative to their peers. At first glance, this does not seem problematic, but it is important to remember that this is a stereotype. Like all stereotypes, the model minority myth is inherently wrong:
It robs successful Asian students of their just due for performing well in school by labeling their academic achievement as a by-product of their nature as opposed to their individual drive.
It is factually inaccurate. There are millions of Asian-Americans and they are more diverse in every way than they are portrayed in popular media. School districts that bother to disaggregate beyond the traditional box of “Asian” will find there are massive disparities between and even within Asian Americans. Southeast Asian students like Cambodians, Laotians, and Vietnamese have lower college attendance rates than the East-Asian groups they are often lumped into. The data collection practices and the model minority myth itself obscure their needs and leave them hanging without resources they would be entitled to otherwise.
The myth drives a wedge between Asian students and their Black and brown peers. It is important to remember that the myth itself was designed to do that explicitly.
Mispronouncing Names (Or Not Even Trying)
Like other immigrants, Asian students often suffer the daily indignity of teachers mispronouncing their names. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for teachers to go through the entire year butchering their names. Many times, this happens in the same class where mispronunciation of other words related to the content will earn you a bad grade. Many Asian students will opt to use a name that is easier to pronounce for Americans—but if they do not, teachers, administrators, and even other students should learn to say their names correctly.
It is unfortunate that it took a hate crime in Atlanta to get the ball rolling on this dialogue. Hopefully, the Asian American experience in schools remains a topic of conversation longer than the news cycle typically allows.
An original version of this piece appeared onIndy K-12.
Andrew Pillow is a fifth grade social studies teacher at KIPP Indianapolis, a charter school where he has taught since 2011. He is also a former Teach Plus Policy Fellow and he has taught technology and social issues.