In the War On Smart Kids Department, tiger mom mentalities may cause ethnic outcasts, say sociologists.
Smart Asian kids will be shunned for being too smart? of course not. Instead, the scholars argue, the children who don't achieve might be. Sociologists Jennifer Lee of UC Irvine Min Zhou of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore detail in Race and Social Problems their weak observational study based on a small sample to make their headline-grabbing conclusion.
The data was surveys of 82 adult children of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants, who were randomly selected from the survey of Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles.
They found that the Asian immigrant parents see education as the only sure path to mobility and are open about their intensive efforts to groom their children through extra classes and tutors. They fear that their nonwhite children may experience discrimination in fields like writing, acting or art. Therefore they shepherd their children into more conservative professions such as medicine, law and engineering which require advanced degrees and higher education and skills.
Lee and Zhou say this trend occurs because Asian immigrant parents think their children are susceptible to potential discrimination from their host society - and in some sense they are right. When college admissions are done based on race, it has been shown that Asian kids have to achieve much higher scores than white or black or Hispanic kids (it has improved, thanks to recent court decisions - see Post-Affirmative Action: Racism Occurs Less Often In College Admissions). In Asian families where the surname sounds American, Asian families encourage the child to check off white rather than Asian in order to have a better chance of being accepted. Colleges that accept students using racial discrimination are actually causing cultural self-loathing with their politics. Schools that refuse to discriminate based on race, like Caltech, don't have that problem - they also have a student body that is 30 percent Asian.
The sociologist recommend that Asian immigrants combat implied racism of native Americans by changing their success frame, so that their children do not feel like outliers or failures when they do not achieve the same successes so often attributed to their ethnicity.
The scholars believe that the decoupling of race and ethnicity from achievement can provide the space in which to debunk the stereotype that most Asian Americans are exceptional, and many do not achieve extraordinary educational and occupational outcomes.
The authors say these "underachievers" may then be less likely to reject their ethnic identities and could improve the self-esteem of Asian American college students. They say it might also boost the self-esteem of whites, blacks and Latinos who are often stereotyped by teachers as less likely to be be academic high-achievers compared to Asians.
"May", "might", "could" - sociology papers require lot of helping verbs to sound like data. Don't look for Asian immigrants to scale back their expectations over concerns about the self-esteem of a few just yet, nor will they try to create a generic mid-performing student body. They may have moved to America but they have not yet become that American.