A group of eight students at Lincoln High School in Los Angeles hunkered down in a room to talk about a touchy subject: What's behind the Asian math-whiz-valedictorian stereotype — and why do other ethnic backgrounds appear to come up short in the classroom?
Long thought to be traceable to socioeconomic backgrounds that theory no longer makes the grade. At Lincoln High School both the surrounding neighborhood and student body are 15 percent Asian — why then do Asian students make up 50 percent of the Advanced Placement classes, and teachers can’t remember the last time a Latino was valedictorian?
The students' talk about the difference was frank. When talking about a Hispanic student who was good at math one said, "I think Carlos is Asian at heart," and described one Asian student who didn't get good grades as, "Mexican at heart." The students squashed the economic background reasoning, agreeing that of their school, the Latino and Asian students came mostly from poor and working-class families.
Looking further at census data, 84 percent of the Asian and Latino families in the area earn below $50,000 — stumping the fact that the Science Bowl team is 90 percent Asian, as is the Academic Decathlon team.
To see possible reasons for this,
- The students say that Asian parents are more likely to pressure their kids to excel academically. "My parents are always like, 'If you don't do well in school, then it's all going to be worth nothing,' "
- Peer expectations also enforce the stereotype. "They expect me to be smart. Even if, like, I do everything wrong on purpose, they still copy off of me — as if I'm right just because I'm Asian."
- Research studying the Mexican work ethic found that labor and education occupy the same pedestal of importance, and in some cases work is even more valued, "In Latino families, being able to work to provide defines your manhood, your worthiness."
Do these reasons seem plausible? Is it possible to figure out why stereotypes exist?