Hyper-education is the growing trend of young children who are already successful in school yet participate in extracurricular education, explained author Pawan Dhingra at a virtual lecture hosted by the Council for Race and Ethnic Studies on Thursday night.
Dhingra, a professor of American studies and Faculty Equity and Inclusion Officer at Amherst College, is known for his book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough. In his book, he delved into how Asian Americans experience racial discrimination and white supremacy in the American school system.
While writing his book, Dhingra talked to countless individuals in the education system including educators, school principals, people at academic competitions and tutoring centers, and college admission officers.
“While administrators and teachers are happy when any students succeed, they criticize Asian Americans for succeeding too much, thus creating problems for themselves and white students,” Dhingra said.
Administrators Dhingra spoke with singled out Asian Americans as the reason for increased stress and anxiety in their schools. One elementary school principal in a suburban Boston school blamed Asian American academic achievement for causing other students to have poor mental health.
“Rather than considering the possibility that schools are not serving students to their fullest extent, Asian Americans are deemed too eager and competitive and whites are the victims of it,” Dhingra said.
However, Asian American students are not the only targets of racial discrimination. White educators also take part in stereotyping Asian American parents, believing Asian American students to be victims of what Dhingra calls “tiger parenting authoritarianism.”
“[The educators’] criticism went beyond just opinions they kept to themselves or shared with me,” Dhingra said. “They would tell Asian American students in one on one conversations that their parents should change.”
Dhingra used the example of one parent of children who went to a suburban Boston public school that worried greatly about the adverse effects of academic competition. She wanted her children to go to school in a relaxed atmosphere and blamed the inability for them to do so in large part to Asian American parents, who are believed to go to extremes to push their children academically.
Thus, Asian American students and parents alike take the fall for creating a stressful and anxious atmosphere due to their own success, according to Dhingra. And, as a result, school districts use institutionalized efforts in attempts to assimilate Asian Americans to their preferred models of parenting.
“Districts organize meetings to tell Asian immigrants to change their cultural ways and become more like the white normative model,” he said.
Dhingra attended one such event co-sponsored by an Asian American mental health initiative in the spring of 2014 in an affluent Boston suburb where Asian Americans made up about a quarter to a third of the district’s student body. The subject of the event was stress and parenting among Asian American students.
According to a school student survey done by the school, Asian American students were stressed at only a slightly higher level than most of their white peers. Yet, Dhingra emphasized that panels of mental health experts, school officials, and youth were all white and spoke for three hours to a 300 plus audience of mostly Asian Americans.
“Therapists on stage explained the dangers of pushing kids too far,” Dhingra said. “Parents were directed to engage through their children differently. They were told to express love to them and not focus on school or grades. Parents were told even how to hold and maneuver their bodies and physically lean towards their children when talking to them – told to hug their children more often.”
During the audience participation section of the event, a white mother pleaded with families to change their parenting styles because the pressure Asian American parents were causing their children was causing anxiety for her own kids.
“Rather than listen to Asian American parents and assume they have a rational perspective to share, educators rely on racial stereotypes to silence them,” Dhingra said. “Asian Americans have supposably failed to think about who their kids are. They’re accused of being uncaring and ungrounded.”
Dhingra emphasized that the hypocritical celebration of multiculturalism by schools plays a role in the forced assimilation of people of color. While schools celebrate varying backgrounds – whether through welcome signs in multiple languages or cultural fairs – Dhingra says they are only endorsing “benign multiculturalism,” which doesn’t threaten the lives of the white majority.
“Such common celebrations of diversity” cater towards displaying “cultural knowledge without questioning [one’s] privileges,” Dhingra said. “Such multiculturalism allows for the colonial attitude towards Asian Americans to proceed unnamed. Asian American culture is not erased, but Asian American parents are called ‘nuts’ because of their presumed cultural leanings.”
To fully understand the reach and impact of how white supremacy works, Dhingra stressed the necessity of studying instances when whites are outperformed. He emphasized the importance of discouraging stereotypes and the white models of parenting that are being offered as objective and superior.
“Asian Americans remain viewed as foreigners. They are either praised or attacked as a result, depending on whether their actions appear to benefit or threaten whites,” Dhingra said. “Schools are not a safe or supportive space, even for our students of color who achieve the most in them.”