‘They give away education’

On News Gorilla, Ed Susman, former city editor of the Hartford (Conn.) Times, writes about handing out American flags to newly arrived immigrants. It was a community service thing and a nice photo for the paper. One day, he gave a flag to the first group of Vietnamese refugees.

No one spoke a word of English, but I managed to communicate with the 12-year-old daughter who spoke some French and I hadn’t forgotten all my French from high school days.

Flash forward about 4-5 years, during the last days of the Times, and this young Asian woman shows up at my desk. In flawless English she thanked me for the flag so many years past. She was now graduating high school, had a scholarship to some school I would never have even applied to and was either valedictorian or salutatorian or something major in her high school class.

He asked why Asian students outperform native-born students. The girl said that after the flag picture appeared, a school official came to the door and told her mother to register the four children for school. Her mother explained she could afford only to register the two boys. She was told there would be no fees; education is free.

The girl told me that after the school official left, her mother gathered her children around her and said, “It is true that the streets are paved with gold in this country. They give away education. If any of you ever misses a day of class I will beat you so hard you will never sit down again.” The girl said that grades less than a B were similarly punishable. All the girl’s siblings were at the head of their classes.

An English teacher in San Jose once told me that all her best students were Vietnamese. This was a few years after the refugee influx. I said, “How can that be? They all speak English as a second language. How can they be the best in English.”

“They work harder,” the teacher said.

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  1. OK, so the secret of Asian success is they beat their kids if they make less than a B? I know an awful lot of Asians who make good grades and never got beaten. Or is this just implying they would never beat their children because their children would never make less than a B.

  2. If it works, maybe we can make mandatory beatings part of NCLB…

  3. The implication is that asian parents aren’t infected with the attractive entitlement mentality. Proximity to the brutalities of life means they don’t stand there, arms folded across their chests, toe tapping while they wait with barely concealed impatience for what’s rightfully theirs to be delivered.

    Oh yeah, and they transmit that understanding to their kids with, if necessary, a willow wand. Better a rueful memory then a wasted opportunity.

  4. Being a child of the willow wand, I don’t think it was abuse. Although I do think a parent who used only that method is going to have really bad results. Not preparing children for adult life is abuse.
    I don’t the driving force of this statistic is a very clear understanding of good social behavior. I honestly don’t notice that Asian’s are better at performance when they are placed neck in neck with anyone else. What I do believe is the Asian’s who migrate to a new country are insightful communicator’s. They are very patient, repetitious and call a problem to task until it is resolved. They readdress the problem in assorted ways until it registers on the social conscious. I don’t know what I would attribute that to, but it is an exceptional value.

  5. To paraphrase the familiar slogan, “The beatings will continue until GPA improves!”

    This article helps to emphasize the importance of involved parents to educational success.

  6. The point is not the ‘beating’ – that just sounds like typical parental hyperbole (“bust their heads until the white meat shows”, as Bernie Mac once put it). The point is the cutoff point is at the ‘B’ level.

    I admit to having some mixed feelings about these sorts of stories. While they’re undeniably rooted in some truth (my school was based on a 100 point scale, and the ‘lecture point’ was a 90 in 9th-10th grade, 95 in 11th and 12th grade. Most of my non-Asian friends were usually rewarded from 85 upwards), they also tend to create some uncomfortable stereotypes of Asian family life. What these stories usually miss out on is that the children are generally happy, well-adjusted, and genuinely motivated, and not just slaving away for their parents’ sake. I always understood exactly why my parents were pushing me so hard, and generally agreed with them (no matter how much I complained).

    One time, I remarked to a friend how much I identified with the Indian boy in ‘Spellbound’, and she acted as though I were a victim of child abuse. She just couldn’t get it into her head that by pushing me the way they did, my parents made schoolwork fun in the way that progressive educators always say it should be. Work is always a lot more fun when you actually know what you’re doing.

    That’s why I get so irritated with David Brooks’ complaints about the ‘achievement factory’ mentality amongst kids and parents today. It always felt like he’s defending some sort of aristocratic system, where the rewards go to the ‘gentlemen’ who have the right breeding, even if they aren’t as smart or hard-working as those uncouth achievers from the lower class.

    Ironically, that’s actually a very Confucian attitude which remains pervasive in much of Asia (the ideal of success through minimal effort, the emphasis on breeding and culture, the distaste for seeming to work ‘too hard’). The so-called ‘Asian mentality’ is in fact a distinctly American phenomenon. It’s sad that so few recognize that anymore.

  7. I taught high school Latin in the Atlanta City schools for 7 years – and most of my best students were Vietnamese. It wasn’t the beatings; it was the HOMEWORK system.

    I heard from multiple students that after supper the table was cleared, the books came out, and the whole family sat around and worked together — up through college-aged students who were on full scholarship at Emory.

    The family that studies together excells together.

  8. Tim from Texas says:

    Asians students are also in the mindset in the habit of doing homework and studies in groups of fellow Asian students. Non Asian students have been taught to believe that going it alone is the better path. The whole individuality thing.

  9. Tim from Texas says:

    Hello, is there anybody out there? Trying again to make a post. Testing testing.

  10. Tim from Texas says:

    Disregard the last post of testing. I must be losing my mind.

  11. Non Asian students have been taught to believe that going it alone is the better path. The whole individuality thing.
    I’ve participated in Asian study groups and thought they had value. It raises the awareness of those who aren’t catching on, and creates a social obligation to help others (which included one-on-one tutoring).
    I tutored an Asian woman in programming and was surprised at how acurately she was able to repeat detailed technical solutions, she couldn’t code and didn’t understand. She was also very persistant about seeking help and never gave up. It different than my experience where verbal expression was the result of understanding the work.
    While group learning activities have value, my understanding is adult authority is the rule. Asian study groups are not similar at all to the ‘brain-storming’, ‘facilitating’, ‘planning’ sessions I hear about in schools. Often the kids who do best in these groups are the ones who control the behavior of the other children. I think this becomes polarized quickly and promotes bullying.

  12. I assumed the “beating” comment was typical parent hyperbole. My parents said similar things – not about beatings, perhaps, but about grounding or not being allowed to participate in “fun” activities. (FWIW: my family is Irish/WASP background)

    I do think the “family involvement” is a big key. The second thing my mom asked me when I walked in the door in the afternoon (after “how was your day”) was “what homework do you have?” She saw to it that my brother and I got it done, and got it done before we could watch tv, or play, or read for fun.

    As for “study groups,” they never worked for me. Either it felt like some of the kids were “coasting” and were leeching off of those of us concerned about our grades, or if we were friends, we spent more time goofing off than studying. I did a lot better going it alone.


  1. They work harder

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  2. Hube's Cube says:

    Proportionate representation in school discipline

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