Asian-American students are not all high-achieving scholars. And even if they do score well on standardized tests, that doesn’t mean they don’t face other challenges in their academic careers.

Those two points are the premise of a lecture – “Our Asian-American Students: What’s Behind the Myth of the Model Minority” – by Kevin Kumashiro. The professor from the University of Illinois at Chicago will be at Longfellow Elementary School on Thursday.

His lecture is co-sponsored by District 97’s Multicultural Education Center and Families of Asian-American Students, a parent group formed in the district last year. At the time, parents said helping their children deal with those stereotypes led in part to the group’s formation.

This is Kumashiro’s first lecture on this topic, though he’s studied the subject for more than a decade. The stereotype that Asian-Americans do so well in school has its roots in the Civil Rights era, said Kumashiro, noting research by scholars over the years.

“It was a politically useful stereotype that was used to challenge the claims of racism. This notion of all Asian-American students being hard-working and persevering – and if only other minority groups just worked a little harder they could be successful like them – was very misleading. It said that there really wasn’t any racism: Look at how successful this group is,” said Kumashiro, who is chairman of UIC’s department of educational policy studies.

According to Kumashiro, the stereotype has persisted. And as was the case in the 1960s, not all Asian-American students today do well academically, he added. But another reason for the stereotype stems from testing data. The notion that Asia-American students as a group do better on standardized tests in not altogether true, Kumashiro insists.

He pointed out that there are more than 30 ethnic groups from Asia. Students in certain Asian-American groups – such as those of Japanese Chinese and Korean heritage – continue to score as well as white students on standardized tests. But, Kumashiro said, students from Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands students score at or below standards.

“It says that for the high-scoring students, we don’t have to pay attention to them. It also reinforces that there’s something wrong with the other students,” he said.

Kumashiro noted the stereotype has other implications for students, some of whom internalize those beliefs.

“They think, ‘We are supposed to be this way, but we all don’t fit that,’ ” he said.

Along with the model minority stereotype, Kumashiro, a native of Honolulu, will also address what he calls the perpetual foreigner myth that’s associated with Asian-Americans.

“There is this belief that Asian-Americans are all foreigners. It almost always happens when someone asks, ‘So, where are you from?’ And you say, ‘I’m from Chicago.’ The person says, ‘No, where are you really from? Where did you come from?’

“Those types of questions reflect that we’re all outsiders.”


If you go

  • Kevin Kumashiro’s lecture “Our Asian-American Students: What’s Behind the Myth of the Model Minority”
  • 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19
  • Longfellow Elementary School, 715 S. Highland
  • For more information, call the District 97 Multicultural Center at 524-7700.

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