Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Are Most of My Students Asian or Indian?

Today an Asian parent asked me why most of my students are Asian- or Indian-Americans? Why not American-Americans?

Good question. I was recently pondering that myself. Possible answers:

1) Children whose parents do not speak English as their first language want to be sure that their children are getting as much high-level English instruction as possible, because they recognize that the mastery of English, and the ability to think critically in English, will empower their children in this country, as well as in many other nations throughout the world.

1a) American parents take English for granted, and many equate the ability to write a grammatically correct sentence with strong writing skills. They also see that their kids get decent grades, and that is enough for many Americans who have grown up in an educational system which stresses scores and sports over learning.

2) Highly intelligent Asian and Indian children feel unchallenged by the often superficial level of instruction in literature and language arts that they receive in regular elementary and middle schools. Though some of these kids belong in "gifted" programs, they may not have passed the tests back in 2nd or 3rd grade due to having insufficient English skills as new immigrants, like their parents. They might quickly catch up with their American counterparts in English, but by the time they do, they are in English classes designed for non-gifted students, and they lose interest in writing out of sheer boredom.

2a) Some Americans whose children are already in "gifted" programs feel that their kids must be learning more than average kids learn about writing, so why pay for extra classes and add more work to their already over-stressed, over-scheduled kids?

3) Kids of non-English speaking parents often have more difficulty with writing in English than kids of native English speakers; thus, the immigrant parents hire me as a remedial teacher.

3a) American parents who could never write well themselves may not value writing as an art, but rather, view writing as a skill; thus, they hire tutors, not writing instructors, who help their kids improve skills related to the mechanics of writing, rather than the substance and style.

4) Math- and science-focused immigrant families, with parents whose jobs do not involve much English writing, hire me to provide balance for their children by igniting their children's interest in writing, since they cannot do so themselves. They prioritize writing because they recognize, via their own communication problems in America, how beneficial clear writing skills can be.

4a) Many American parents, seeing how the Asian and Indian cultures have exceeded our schools in math and science progress, feel the need to focus their kids on scientific and mathematical studies to keep up with our "competition." This need to compete has caused many Americans to neglect and place a lower priority upon the language arts.

5) Many Asian and Indian kids I've met are avid readers whose appreciation for literature suffers in school, where writing instruction focuses not on meaning, but on formulaic assignments that restrict creativity and make writing a pressure-filled task.

5a) American parents may think that their avid readers learn how to write by osmosis and don't need more than good literature as examples to emulate.

These are some of the reasons that seem logical to me as answers to the question posed in this post's title. If you have any to suggest, please comment here.