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SCHOOL MATTERS: The Importance of Community Resources for Chinese and Korean Parents

New America Media, Q&A, Carolyn Goossen Posted: Sep 26, 2008

Editors Note-- NAM education editor Carolyn Goossen interviewed UCLA Sociology Professor Min Zhou about her research regarding Chinese and Korean American families and the community resources they rely on in order to support their childrens educationin particular, the roles of the ethnic media and ethnic after-schools. While language barriers prevent parents from engaging directly with the school, Zhou argues that these ethnic community institutions allow parents to give their children the resources they need to succeed in school.

According to your research, what does parent involvement mean in the context of immigrant Asian communities?

Parental involvement in education is a big thing in the Asian community, and specifically in the Chinese and Korean communities. But they have a different involvement style because of the language and cultural barriers. They dont necessarily get involved directly in schools, but do it through their ethnic community, and particularly through ethnic institutions geared towards education and youth services.

From my interviews with parents, its clear that they know its very important that their kids go to college, and to good ones, and that they want their kids to work hard and fulfill parental expectations. These parents are kind of narrow, very focused on the outcomes. And they believe that in order to achieve their expected outcomes, the public school doesnt have enough resources to serve their children.

They also feel powerless to change the system directly. To bypass these constraints, they build their own supplementary education system and access that system for their children.

Why are there so many ethnic supplementary after-schools in Chinese and Korean communities?

Its about entrepreneurship. And its the demand that stimulates the supply. When we look at educational institutions we think about public institutions and public services, and we never think of them as private entrepreneurial activities. But the after-schools in Chinese and Korean communities are a form of business. Entrepreneurship is very common in the Asian community, more than other immigrant communities, because of higher levels of education and economic resources among Asian immigrants. In the past they opened up stores, restaurants and garment shops. Today, because of the demand, they run after-schools.

How do they feel about public school, and what do they perceive their responsibility to be concerning regular school?

They feel that public schools dont do a sufficient job. Asia has a different education system, one that they believe is geared towards the kids getting good grades and (getting) into good schools at different levels, while the U.S. system is not. The ethnic supplementary schools here in the U.S. mimic the system back home. And the kids from Asia, they tend to do better with the Asian methodslearning by route, and monotonous repetition. They tend to excel in math and science because its very objective. If you do one problem over and over again you are going to get it right. So they think that our system here is not good enough. If you dont have homework, and students dont practice and practice, you wont get it. They are in disagreement with the pedagogy of public schools. So they are involved instead in their ethnic after-schools. The kids can get tutoring and a lot of preparation for their regular classes and for various tests and exams.

If they dont engage with their kids public school directly, how do Asian parents stay on top of what is happening with their childs public school education?

Even though parents arent directly involved in public school, they do so through their own ethnic institutions, where they lean about whats happening in regular schoolsthe teachers in ethnic schools know about the regular school curriculum, testing schedules and more. In my research, I often find that some parents dont speak English at all, but they know more than I do as a parent of a high school kid. For example, they know when the standardized exam is going to be given and when the final exam will be given. Where do they get information? They get it through the ethnic after-schools, the Chinese schools, the Korean church-based schools, and also though the ethnic language media. Ethnic media in Chinese and Korean communities have a lot of coverage of education.

Even if they are trapped in a poor community, they have access to the ethnic language media. Large numbers of Chinese and Koreans read these ethnic language papers, so working class families are able to access the same information as middle class families.

How do these after-schools and Saturday schools impact parents relationships with their children?

In terms of parent-child relationships, the effect is often negative. But when you send the kids to the school, the school becomes the bufferthe kids develop a peer group to share this feeling of resentment with pushy parents. If they have no such schools to go to and they are forced to stay at home and do extra work, they probably wont do it. At these schools, they are surrounded by other Chinese or Koreansso they accept it, that this is part of being Chinese or Korean, so they are less likely to rebel against it.

Related Articles:

First day of School Blues

Too Much Self Esteem Spoils Your Child

The Perils of Academia for Asians

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