Asian American Teachers: Do They Impact the Curriculum? Are There Support Systems for Them?

By Ramanathan, Hema | Multicultural Education, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Asian American Teachers: Do They Impact the Curriculum? Are There Support Systems for Them?


Ramanathan, Hema, Multicultural Education


Introduction

The significance and importance of global education and a culturally relevant curriculum have been thrown into relief by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, emphasizing the urgency to understand and be accepting of diverse cultures. This has a strong bearing on the "enculturation" role of schools, as agents of cultural reproduction.

The traditional curriculum transmits Euro-American norms that are seen as the primary American culture. The possible positive effects of a culturally responsive and diverse curriculum (CDC) have been detailed, including affirming the value of cooperation, helping students and teachers build an identity by comparing what they have learned in the classroom with their own experiences, and the importance of a caring community (Gay, 2000; Ladson- Billings, 1992b; Sleeter & Grant, 1991; Zimpher & Ashburn, 1984).

There is little doubt that schools should be more inclusive and that schoolbased personnel should appreciate and affirm what minority teachers bring to facilitate the development of a culturally relevant curriculum that is academically rigorous (Quiocho & Rios, 2000) but there is no systemic effort to genuinely shift from a Western perspective to include other perspectives and materials (Foster, 1994, cited in Quiocho & Rios, 2000; Gay, 2000).

However, adopting CDC or culturally congruent approaches to teaching has its own pitfalls. They can render teachers suspect by the broader school community since such approaches do not conform to the mainstream (Conner, 2002; Foster, 1994; Lipka, 1994, cited in Quiocho & Rios, 2000). Further, race and race-related pedagogy are not considered appropriate topics for discussion among faculty members, and issues regarding them are not raised in faculty forums (Foster, 1994, cited in Quiocho & Rios, 2000).

Where there is no self-examination, there is unlikely to be an expectation of overt support. The result is that the voices of minority teachers have been silenced and many of them do not have a role as decision-makers beyond the everyday decisions that teachers make in the classroom (Goodwin, Genishi, Asher, & Woo, 1997; Irvine, 2002; Quiocho & Rios, 2000).

These issues as they relate to Asian Americans have other features that complicate the matter. The term "Asian American," classed as one group for purposes of census and political policy, embraces sub-groups that differ widely in matters of language, religion, and cultural practices and beliefs. This multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-literate profile engenders a lack of coherent cultural identity so that only a narrow slice is represented in the broad spectrum of the curriculum (Gay, 2000).

In the past three decades, the Asian- American population has been overlooked in terms of the demographic profile in spite of a dramatic increase of about 63%. Of Asian Americans, nearly a fourth is under 17 and of school-going age, accounting for about 3% of the total K-12 student population (Smith, Rogers, Alsalam, Perie, Mahoney, & Martin, 1994) while accounting for only 1.2% of the nation's teaching force (Snyder & Hoffman, 1994). Their low visibility is compounded by the fact that they are not evenly represented across the country in all regions; clustered along the East and West coasts, they are largely "missing in action" in the Midwest and South (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).

Unlike other minority communities, there is no scarcity of qualified persons in this community in which 37% aged 25 or older is college educated. Yet, specifically among Asian-American women who hold degrees, only 1% goes into teaching, a profession still dominated by women. Many of the rest opt for jobs in technical and scientific fields which are higher-paying and where discrimination is perceived to be less of a barrier to advancement (Rong & Preissle, 1997; Su, Goldstein, Suzuki & Kim, 1997).

Emerging literature on Asian Americans shows that perceptions about the community are often at odds with reality. …

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