Bottom of the Barrel

Vincent Avatar

Using a stereotype to judge people is like using a standardized test to gauge intelligence. A stereotype does not capture the complexities of a people and a test does not reveal the full body of knowledge.

There is an article in the latest issue of Rethinking Schools written by two Asian teachers addressing a book by two Asian sisters. Race is important here because it immediately (though superficially) demonstrates diversity within an ethnic community.

In “You’re Asian, How Could You Fail Math,” Benji Chang and Wayne Au, touch upon the rarely considered needs of Asian students in addition to the range of distinct cultures under the “Asian” umbrella. Their article was written in reaction to Dr. Soo Kim Abboud and Jane Kim’s book: Top of the Class – How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers and How You Can Too.

I’ve said it once before but it bears repeating: Teaching is one of those jobs that everyone thinks they can do better than the person actually trained to do it! I would like to add parenting to this statement: Parenting is one of those jobs that everyone thinks they can do better than the actual parents of the child!

It is no surprise that neither of the coauthors of Top of the Class are classroom teachers. To my knowledge neither has studied child development or education. Dr. Soo Kim Abboud is a surgeon and her sister is a lawyer. Also, neither (as far as I know) are parents themselves. However, they were children. Children who grew up in an Asian immigrant household where it seems report cards and test scores determined their worth.

I grew up in an Asian household where report cards and test scores determined my worth. I learned to live without candy bars. I learned to kill time during my time outs because I could not recite my times tables. I learned that I was an embarrassment who only scored 70s and 60s on his tests (if he were lucky) and instead of studying harder, squandered his time daydreaming. I learned I was stupid.

I am not a doctor or a lawyer.
I am not a success.
I do not achieve.

This is not a review of the Kim sisters’ book. I have not read it. I am put off by the title. Why single out Asian parents? Are report cards and test scores a fair measure of achievement? How active were the sisters in developing the marketing concept for the book? Did they consider the detrimental results?

Benji Chang and Wayne Au point out some frustrating inequalities and stereotypes in their article. Frustrating because despite the years and a larger more diverse population of Asian students in the classroom, it seems nothing has changed. They also point to potential remedies. Their words hold more weight with me because like me they are both former classroom teachers. And like me, they are Asian American and actively involved in education.

As an Asian American parent, 2nd Generation (my parents are both new immigrants but I was born here), I constantly teeter between a strict approach of incentives and punishments for academic performance I grew up with and the more child-informed progressive model I admire.

As frustrating as it may be sometimes, as a trained educator, I understand that learning is a process and that there is an art to teaching. It is widely accepted that most children regardless of race and gender want to please the authority figures in their lives. When pleasing their parents seems impossible and becomes frustrating, these children often rebel.

Even as an adult I want to please my parents. When it seems impossible and becomes frustrating, I rebel. I don’t call and I say, No, not because I believe I am right but because I know it will frustrate them just like they have frustrated me. Unlike the dutiful Kim sisters, I am not “top of the class.” I’m “bottom of the barrel” – In fact, some days I feel like they’ve determined that not even good enough to be placed in the barrel!

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