Examining the "Model Minority Myth": A Review of Asian Americans in Class: Charting the Achievement Gap among Korean American Youth

By Amos, Yukari Takimoto | Multicultural Education, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Examining the "Model Minority Myth": A Review of Asian Americans in Class: Charting the Achievement Gap among Korean American Youth


Amos, Yukari Takimoto, Multicultural Education


Examining the "Model Minority Myth": A Review of Asian Americans in Class: Charting the Achievement Gap among Korean American Youth Reviewed by Yukari Takimoto Amos Asian Americans in Class: Charting the Achievement Gap among Korean American Youth by Jamie Lew New York: Teachers College Press 2006, 144 pages ISBN 0807746940, $54.00

Jamie Lew's Asian Americans in Class: Charting the Achievement Gap among Korean American Youth challenges the widely believed model minority myth that lumps all Asians as being model students. It debunks the myth by presenting convincing, in-depth ethnographic studies of 72 Korean American students in New York City schools. Relying on Bourdieu' s "social capital" concept, Lew compares highachieving, middle-class Korean American students who attend an elite magnet high school with Korean American students who have dropped out of neighborhood high schools and who are poor.

She finds that class determines how much and what kind of educational resources and social networks students can gain access to, and discovers that the process of obtaining or not obtaining social capital differentiates the academically successful students from the dropouts even within the same ethnic group. The most original aspect of this book is the fact that Lew paid attention to a rarely researched subgroup-Asian American dropouts. The reality that Asian Americans can fail academically is eye opening in the society where all Asians are stereotyped as smart and academically successful. The finding that the dropouts' academic failure is largely determined by class is also perceptive but depressing.

Lew's findings tell us that 42 Korean American students who attend an elite magnet high school are academically successful and busy with the preparation for admission to elite universities. Their parents are mostly Korean American entrepreneurs who made their economic success possible with their strong work ethic. The students have internalized their parents' belief that future economic success depends on the quantity and quality of education and they follow the parents' wishes closely. In other words, strong trust and partnership exists in the minds of successful middle-class Korean American students and their parents. The parents, using their economic resources, compensate for their lack of knowledge of the American educational system and their limited English language skills. They provide their children with abundant opportunities for academic success, such as private afterschool academies and bilingual tutors and counselors.

Also important for the students' academic success is the quality of information they obtain through ethnic and peer networks. Korean churches reinforce the value of education, language, and family ties. An elite magnet high school, because its students are already selected, constructs a peer-network that caters to entrance in elite universities. This peer-network acts as a buffer zone within which students can combat racism and negotiate their racial and ethnic identity.

Lew also documents 30 Korean American dropouts who have a different story. Although their parents' expectations and wishes for their children's success are as strong as the middle-class parents, their economic status limits the supports they can provide their children. Not being able to provide external social and economic support, the parents are forced to rely heavily on neighborhood public schools where the quality of instruction and academic advice is significantly inferior to that of an elite magnet high school.

Unfortunately, this context also determines the type of peers the students associate with: mostly students from lowerincome families. The type of information they obtain differs from middle-class Korean Americans, and is mostly about shortterm jobs, GED programs, and joining the military. In other words, the working-class students lack the access to the social capital necessary to advance academically and economically.

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