Asian American stereotypes affect the classroom
By Andrew Larkins and Eva Weisenfeld
The model minority myth, coined in 1966, is a term used to describe a group of people who are seen as more successful than the population average. Historically, the term was used to describe the success of Japanese Americans post World War II. Now, it has come to describe the Asian American group as a whole. Both Daniel Choi, a Korean American who teaches 8th-grade history at Summit Denali, and Ella Chen, a sophomore at Summit Denali who identifies as mixed Chinese and white, have felt pressure to excel due to the effects of the model minority myth.
“I think that the model minority myth is very harmful because it completely focuses on mostly Eastern Asians while disregarding [other groups],“ declared Chen. “The model minority myth, at a glance, does not sound harmful to Asian Americans,” said Mr. Choi, “However, it dismisses the idea that Asian Americans can be different from the stereotype. I feel like some people get offended when Asian Americans act differently from the model minority myth.”
When asked how the idea of model minorities has personally affected him, Mr. Choi said he is often expected to be good at math. “Some have mistaken me as a math teacher,” he remarked, indicating that the model minority myth currently impacts various generations of Asian Americans.
Growing up Asian American, Mr. Choi felt he needed to “prove the myth,” which added pressure on him in school. “I felt the stress/pressure as a student to be a ‘good Asian.’ I think part of why I tried hard in school was to not disappoint my parents.”
As a teacher, Mr. Choi has seen the idea of model minorities affect his students’ schoolwork. “Many Asian students are more concerned about their grades than the actual learning,” he lamented, “I think this might be an effect of students being pressured to fit the model minority myth.”
Chen reflects on being surrounded by talented peers, many of them being Asian. “I feel pressure to excel at all of my school work and to at least be on par with them. Sometimes I feel like I don’t do enough because my friends are doing more AP tests and have a multitude of diverse extracurriculars,” she said.
Mr. Choi believes this pressure is brought on to many students in part by “Tiger Mothers” — a term that describes strict parenting styles typically found in East Asian countries. Mr. Choi also felt that part of the reason he tried so hard in school was to not disappoint his parents. This is consistent with many in the Asian American community who feel they need to excel to make their parents happy and proud.
Despite the model minority myth being perceived as a “positive stereotype” from outside the community, it is just that — a stereotype. Overall, stereotypes are inherently limiting and perpetuate oversimplified and often erroneous images of individuals. The model minority myth “places a lot of pressure on Eastern Asians to perform well and erases all of their identity other than their academic proficiency. There must be more representation of Asian Americans breaking the stereotype. Young Asian Americans need to see it’s okay to follow different career paths,” Chen concluded.
When asked whether or not he has seen the idea of “model minorities” in non-Asian students, he admitted that he hasn’t noticed it much in other ethnic student groups. “Maybe it is because I am an Asian American and I only notice what I have experienced as a student,” he hypothesized.
Stereotypes constrain all of us, and the best way to break the mold is to be persistent about challenging them. “I think whenever we face a situation, speaking up would be the best way to fight the model minority myth,” Mr. Choi reflected. “Many times, we just ignore it or go along with it so the myth continues. We just have to be diligent and persistent in addressing the issue.”
FEATURED IMAGE (at top of post):Empty Classroom. PHOTO CREDIT: Canva