Growing up in a strict, white middle-class household, I always found myself confused about why my parents thought education was so important. They always made sure to remind me that A was the only acceptable grade to receive, in hopes I would be the first in my immediate family to get a college diploma, as neither of them had. While I credit them with pushing me to become as academically successful as I am today, as a young girl I was annoyed every time I was told to go study or practice my music instead of playing my friends. The drive within my family fundamentally comes from the idea of the American dream; hope for a better life for yourself and your children. Asian- Americans especially find themselves engulfed in stereotypes about being the “smart kid” within the American education system and pushing their children to excel. How does education benefit Asians as a minority group trying to achieve the American Dream? How does Asian-American culture emphasis on education reinforce a model minority theory?
While the American Dream manifests itself in a variety of ways, job mobility is one of the easiest ways to gain acceptance and make the money the American Dream requires. Author Ha Jin reflects this balance in a short story called Children as Enemies, evoking these sentiments through narrative. Told from the perspective of first generation grandparents dealing with rebellious grandchildren who are trying to no longer be “different” and join mainstream American culture, the traditional Asian grandfather emphasis on education has practical applications. Grandfather asks of American teachers “ How could they make their students competitive in this global economy if they didn’t instill in them the sense of getting ahead of others and becoming the very best?”. Aware of the tools needed for success, grandfather echoes the importance of education to be the best. The push to become the best person possible lies over a need to be accepted in American culture, be that career equals or otherwise. Coming to a land of opportunity, using education as a tool for mobility and opportunity is a great way to become a model minority.
This success fuels what is today called the ‘model minority’ theory. Created in 1966, this sociological theory postulates that a group of ethnic or racial minorities have individuals who achieve more success than the mainstream public. Being a model minority is rooted in associations of hard work ethic in all facets of life, including education. This theory fuels stereotypes that negatively affect Asian Americans in particular. With over 50% of Asian Americans having attained a bachelor degree in the United States, traditions of hard work produce access points for being accepted within Western culture, but leave harsh stereotypes spread over all Asians inhabiting the U.S. about intelligence. With the average income of Asian American in the U.S. being $68,780 and the national average only $50, 221, a competitive education is the first step in achieving this upper class quality. Unfortunately, these elements do not lessen the discrimination that comes with stereotypes, and the difficulty Asian-American children have when they do not live up to these high expectations. The grandchildren of Jin’s story illustrate this well, rebelling against the educational expectations of their grandfather and trying to assimilate to mainstream culture at their school and breaking away from being automatically labeled the “smart kid”.
Being the “ smart kid” isn’t genetic. Today’s Asian-American “smart kids” are cultural constructs that have deep traditional ties to a hope for a better life. This American Dream is alive and well; finding a way to achieve it can be a tough road filed with stereotypes and hardships. Jin’s short story relates to all people trying to achieve the American Dream , not just Asians. Breaking down these stereotypes will help us understand each other’s personal narratives and gain respect for other cultures.
While not Asian, I too had a pushy grandfather.
 Ha, Jin. Children as Enemies. A Good Fall