Educators: What You Should Know About Ethnic Minorities in the United States, Part II

In Part I, we discussed the importance of ethnicity in the United States and what African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans have experienced in terms of accessing a quality education over America’s history.

Here we will talk about a couple of other major ethnic groups and their specific challenges.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. People from Asia and the Pacific represent another diverse group. They have ancestral origins from many different countries, including China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Cambodia, and the Samoan Islands. Like other minority groups, early Asian immigrants to America, notably those from China, were excluded from the American way of life. They too were made to attend segregated schools, a practice that declined after World War II as Asian Americans began to move into more integrated settings.

Asian Americans have often been stereotyped as the model minority, and their children have been stereotyped as being good students. This evaluation places undue pressure on Asian American students, particularly those who need additional support to succeed academically. Some of the pressure, however, stems from attitudes inherent in certain Asian American families, as the child’s performance in school is seen as a direct reflection on the family.

Being viewed from stereotypical perspectives can be confusing and stressful for students of any cultural background. Asian Americans are as multifaceted a group as any other minority, and they suffer from some of the same issues and problems. They also demonstrate great variability in academic achievement. When compared to their peers, Asian Americans often score similarly to European Americans and higher than other underrepresented groups in reading and verbal tests. Also, Asian Americans outperform European Americans in terms of their overall or average grades, grades in math, and test scores in math. This overall finding is mostly for students in later elementary, middle, and high school, but not necessarily in the transition to school or in college.

Many Asian Americans have central cultural values that guide and influence their school experiences. Working successfully with Asian American students requires an understanding of their cultures and its issues. The most pressing issue of Asian American students is the “model minority” label. It can be viewed as a good thing, but it does have some negative implications for students. This status implies that Asian American students are superior to other minority groups and that this is true for their entire ethnic group. There are always students who are exceptions to this rule, and they will be held to unrealistic standards. This can place an undue burden on underachievers, and in some instances has led to suicide.

Multiethnic students. The number of multiethnic students in U.S. schools is growing. These are children whose parents are from different racial or ethnic backgrounds. The 2010 U.S. Census showed that children who identified (or were identified by their parents) as multiethnic increased by 50% since 2000, making it the fastest-growing group among young people.

Laws prohibiting marriage between individuals of different races are called miscegenation and have existed for hundreds of years. Miscegenation was only ruled as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1967 (Loving v. Virginia).

Labels that can be psychologically damaging are often placed on multiethnic children. Many of these youth attempt to throw aside the labels, as they seek to establish a sense of identity. In the past, racial identities were externally imposed on multiethnic children. For example, a child with an African American and a European American parent was automatically considered to be African American. Now, multiethnic individuals can self-identify, based on changes that were made during the 2000 Census. For your multiethnic students, you’ll need to be sensitive about the identity issues some of these children may face. Creating learning environments that are generally accepting of diversity will help all children, including multiethnic children, feel more comfortable about the unique racial, ethnic, and cultural background characteristics they bring to the classroom.

With an understanding of your students, you can create learning environments that are respectful and that allow students to more easily bridge the worlds of home and school. Gloria Ladson-Billings, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, conducted a study in which she picked a number of teachers believed to be top teachers of multicultural students, based on the votes of both parents and principals. She then studied these teachers to find out why their students were so successful. Based on her findings, she recommends three principles for teaching in multicultural classrooms:

  • Build students’ self-esteem by helping them experience academic success.
  • Ensure that students attain and maintain cultural competence, using their home culture as a basis for learning.
  • Ensure that all students become critical thinkers and that they become actively involved in challenging social injustice.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series on ethnicity and its related educational concerns and challenges in the United States.

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