Education Bias or Social Justice?

About two months ago, a group of more than 60 organizations has filed a complaint with the federal government claiming Harvard holds higher expectations for its Asian applicants than other minorities. The coalition is made up of nonprofit organizations, including Chinese, Pakistani and Indian groups, and it claims Harvard uses racial quotas to control the number of Asian-Americans on campus.

This Asian-American-initiated event bring the pubic a very tricky but extremely important issue of education: What is social justice in education? Asian Americans are a special group when discussing racial issues. They are minorities and protected by the laws and rules against discrimination based on race and ethnicity. However, a considerable percentage of Asian Americans are high in SES and enjoy social privileges, which is represented in education. A lot of Asian Americans come from families of skilled worker immigrants who received higher education. These families are able to provide ample financial support to their children’s education. Another interesting observation is that Asian American families consider children’s grade as the most important part of their school work. Most Asian parents require their children to get high grade and control their leisure time. Even some Asian parents encourage their children to participate in activities other than doing homework, they have a very clear goal — to get admitted by an elite university or college. It’s no doubt, Asian American have taken much more education resources and the advantage of the education system in U.S., compare to African Americans and Hispanics.

The consequences of this situation in education for Asian American are complicated. First, because Asian students tend to spend more time on studying and improving their grades, they are more likely to get a higher GPA, which makes them more competitive in applying for elite schools. On the other hand, when Asian students are enrolled in top schools, they are not doing better than students of other races. To do good in college, there is much more than just maintaining a high GPA. Second, if we looked the ratio of Asian students in elites schools, we will find that this ratio is somewhere between 10% and 15%. However, the Asian American only account for 6% of population. In other words, other races are inadequately represented in U.S. higher education. Under this circumstances, to control the ratio of Asian students is an approach to increase the chance for African American and Hispanic students to get higher education.

However, from the perspective of Asian Americans, these elite schools did have a higher criteria for Asian applicants. Now, the problem becomes whether we should hold same standards for all students or should give the equal chance for all racial and ethnicity groups: education bias vs. social justice. I’ll leave this question in my blog and hope we’ll have to discuss this problem of diversity in U.S. education in class.

2 thoughts on “Education Bias or Social Justice?”

  1. You have raised a very complicated question to which, I think, there is no simple answer. However, I will try to present my perspective on it. Being an Indian myself, I see where you are coming from when you say that Asian parents put a lot of pressure on the kids to succeed in schools. And hence, the kids put in a lot of hard work to do well in academics. And hence, having stricter criteria for Asian-American children is unfair to them as it means that the system does not value someone’s hard work. On the flip-side, you yourself have acknowledged that Asian-American children come from a higher SES and have certain privileges which other minorities do not enjoy. And maybe this privilege is the reason which leads them to succeed in academics. In such a case, it becomes important to take active steps to extend the access to higher education to other minorities.

    Also, you noted that the Asian-Americans have a higher representation in “elite schools,” but is that higher representation coming at the cost of other minorities being rejected for admission in favor of Asian-Americans? Or are those Asian-Americans replacing the majority (Whites) which has been enjoying the socioeconomic privileges for a long time? It is problematic to have higher standards for Asian-Americans in the latter case as the Asian-Americans are themselves a part of the American minority and restricting assess to higher education for them is a form of oppression.

  2. Last semester in the PFP class we discussed how some Asian school systems works and how much work is required from children, with almost no free leisure time. I wonder with what you mention that once Asian students get to college they perform at the same level of their peers. Could this be because they are not under the constant surveillance of their parents now? Could be… maybe not. I believe once you get into this top schools, now you are with other top students, is not the same been the best in some town or city, than the best in a whole nation, even the world (given the allure of this top universities).

    As Ashish mentions, is this big representation of Asians in top schools taking opportunities from other minorities or is this shrinking the majority?

    Very good post!

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