Asian-American Education: Historical Background and Current Realities

By Meyer Weinberg | Go to book overview

class. This was one of the reasons that Chinese were mistakenly regarded as especially gifted in the field of education. Ethnic factors were confused with class factors, indigenous development with that stemming from immigration.


CONCLUDING REMARKS

Chinese who emigrated to the United States during the past generation encountered many conditions with which they were well acquainted. Chief among these was a tightening class structure that increasingly governed the allocation of life necessities, including education. In China, upper-class status led to enrollment in elite educational institutions, culminating in the most selective universities. In the United States, a parallel hierarchical structure awaited the children of the most privileged Chinese immigrants who settled in urban and suburban areas accessible to high level and expensive schools and colleges. Class privilege was truly international.

But so also was class disadvantage. The great majority of Chinese could look forward only to meager educational fare. Among the peasantry and urban working class, the upper reaches of education were unattainable. Except for a historical moment, unequal schooling was the everyday experience. During the century after exclusion, few Chinese peasants immigrated into the United States. But when they did, particularly during the past generation, they confronted a familiar deprivation as their children attended large urban schools that were invariably crowded, unstaffed, and underfinanced. Most of all, they were impervious to the need for special language instruction to accommodate equal educational achievement.

A third group of Chinese immigrants was frequently misclassified with the second group. These were persons who came from a highly educated background and who had held professional-managerial jobs in China. Now, however, they could be found working at the most menial occupations in the United States. Former college teachers, engineers, factory managers, and lawyers stressed to their children the centrality of higher education, thus supplying indispensable academic motivation. Outsiders might view the resulting upward mobility as a stirring of ambition in the lower ranks of society. More so, it was a continuation of a trend within the upper reaches of Chinese society. (The same was also true of other Asian-American groups.) This is not to say, however, that past education was a guarantee of similar accomplishment by one's children or that high academic attainment from a modest social background was rare.

Historically, wealth and power had served effectively as material rewards of education. During the life of the classical Chinese Examination System, it escaped few ordinary Chinese that wealth and power followed the trajectory of academic success. Whereas the scholar was admired for his scholarship, popular

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