Academic journal article New Waves

Rethinking Identity and Agency in Minority Education: Preparing Asian American Leaders for a Global Future

Academic journal article New Waves

Rethinking Identity and Agency in Minority Education: Preparing Asian American Leaders for a Global Future

Article excerpt

Introduction

In a provocative article appeared in New York Magazine on May 8, 2011, Wesley Yang asks, "What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?" The answer is: many of the high achieving Asian Americans who performed well in top schools are facing career obstacles and few assume leadership positions. According to Yang (2011), though Asian-Americans comprise about 5% of the U.S. population, they make up only 0.3% of corporate officers, fewer than 1% of board members, and 2% of college presidents (see also The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2008). Yang (2011) attributes the obstacles to the self-identities of Asian children who grow up with cultural values that include filial piety, deference to authority, humility, hard work, harmony and sacrificing for the future; and therefore they do not develop the agency they need to assume a leadership role in most workplaces. Asian Americans' lack of mainstream cultural lessons and skills in leadership or "leadership capital" is further compounded by a general discriminatory perception of Asian Americans as competent and hard working model minorities who lack leadership skills. As a result, Asian Americans have been largely kept out of leadership positions including higher educational institutions (The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2008). These two-pronged barriers to leadership development and success suggest a need to reconsider Asian Americans' development of self-identity and agency and the current racial and structural relations in the educational contexts and beyond. In this article, we argue that such reconsideration must begin in K-12 schools and that the current narrow-minded definition of good education as measured by standardized test scores is not enough to prepare Asian Americans for a successful global future. Rather, they must be equipped with critical skills to accumulate leadership capital to ensure social success in life after school. Such reconsideration must address both learner identity transformation and learner agency in reconfiguring power structures that often exclude them from leadership roles.

The subjects of self-identity (one's conception of oneself) and agency (the ability to exert power) have long been one of the foci in the fields of philosophy and sociology and social psychology (Cerulo, 1997; Côté & Levine, 2002; Holland, Lachicotte Jr., Skinner, & Cain, 1998). In the field of education, these issues have gained increasing attentions, but due to the influence of multicultural education, they are, more often than not, framed in a (racial) minority versus majority lens. Minority refers to the socially, politically, economically subordinated group (versus the dominate group which has higher social status and holds more power). In the context of multiculturalism, minority as a term often refers to racial minority even though it has been expanded to other social categories such as ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, and disability. In this article, we question the minority/majority binary through complicating the storylines of racial identity and reclaiming Asian American students' agency, especially contextualized in a transnational, global society. We draw on readings of multicultural education, sociology, anthropology, and psychology as we engage educational debates and discuss the education of Asian American students as leaders in an increasingly complex globalized context.

Research on multicultural education has either focused on mainly socio-political and socio-cultural issues or developed culturally specific curriculum design and teaching strategies. Neo-Marxism oriented critical approaches systematically examine the institutional and structural constraints concerning minority education (Giroux, 1991, 1992; McLaren, Macrine, & Hill, 2010). Similarly, research on minority students have generally focused on their groups' collective cultures (Schetcher & Bayley, 2002; Valdes, 1996; Li, 2002, 2006a), rather than their individual identity and agency. …

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