The Asian-American Learning Experience: Are Asian Americans Being Misunderstood in the American Classroom?

The Asian-American Learning Experience: Are Asian Americans Being Misunderstood in the American Classroom?

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Newly immigrated Asian-American students are often misunderstood by their classroom behavior.  They may hesitate or give short responses to questions, use a soft voice, decline to openly volunteer information, and avoid eye contact.  Their facial expressions may be mistaken for displeasure rather than concentration, such as frowning when hard at work.  They may become embarrassed when praised.

All of these examples are often misinterpreted by teachers due to ignorance.  These children are merely abiding by the social rules of their Asian culture, which may be unfamiliar to many Americans.  It is important to understand Asian cultural norms so that children are not thought to be impolite when they are actually trying to show respect as they would in their home country.

Family loyalty is a strong Asian value.  Family members are encouraged to do their best because failure would bring shame and embarrassment not only to them personally but to their whole family.  Guilt and shame are the main techniques used to control behavior within the family.  Americans emphasize personal goals, but the Asian culture encourages family harmony and success as a group.  This can cause difficulties for Asian-American children who must fit in both at school and abide by the social rules at home as well.

A strong work ethic and high expectations in education are values of many Asian-American parents.  Their children are not only expected to get good grades but to be at the top of their class or get straight As.  Many Asian-American children experience test anxiety due to their fears about pleasing their parents or shaming the family.

These children have been taught to be modest, quiet, ...


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...ly.  Children should be spoken to individually if they need help or there is a problem.  Special services such as speech therapists and language specialists can be very helpful.

Keep in mind that this is a very general overview.  There are many different cultures within Asia and they are all different.  Asian students are very culturally diverse, and an effort should be made to learn about their individual characteristics and cultural background.

Nakanishi, Don T., and Tina Yamano Nishida, eds.  The Asian American Educational Experience.  New York: Routlege, 1995.

Baruth, Leroy G., and M. Lee Manning, eds.  Multicultural Education of Children and Adolescents.  Needham Heights: Allyn and Bacon, 1992.

Park, Clara C., and Marilyn Mei-Ying Chi, eds.  Asian-American Education.  Westport: Bergin and Garvey, 1999.

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