As regular readers to this blog know already (and as I write in the top section of every Asian-Nation post I write), I feel very strongly “public sociology” — to make sociological theory, research, and data as accessible to as wide of an audience as possible, and as applicable to real-world issues and situations as possible. I recently received an email that gave me just that opportunity.

Specifically, one reader wrote to me:

I am a full time elementary school teacher and I will have a new student in a few days from China. He and his family do not speak English–they are opening a restaurant in our small community. In our community, he will be the only Asian child. What can I do to help him not feel so alone and alienated? I know language will be a problem, but what could I as his teacher do to help? I was scanning the internet trying to find resources and found your site. Thank you for your time.

I replied back:

I commend you on trying to find ways to make this new student feel welcomed. Although my expertise is not in education, these are some suggestions that come to mind:

Young Chinese student © Justin Guariglia/Corbis

(1) Some time ago, there was a commercial (I forgot what the actual product or service was), but it showed a young Chinese boy about to enter a predominantly White school for his first day. Before entering, he was speaking in Chinese with his mom outside and told her, “My English is not good. What if the other students hate me?” His mother calmly replied, “You’ll be fine.” As he entered his classroom escorted by the principal, the teacher introduced the new student to the class. Then the entire class welcomed him by saying in unison, “Ni hao [student’s name]” — translated, it means “Hello [student’s name].” It was very sweet and it would be great if your class would do the same.

(2) You may already have plans to do so already, but I’ve heard from many educators that it helps new students if one or two other students are assigned to be their “guide” or someone who will spend time him the new student, show him around the school, eat lunch with him, introduce him to other students, and basically act like an ambassador for him to make him feel more comfortable.

(3) You may know Google Translate already , but if not, it’s a great tool to assist in translating between different languages. In the meantime, you’ll probably be surprised how quickly the student will learn English. Just stay patient and positive while he does.

(4) Perhaps some time in the future, your class can make a field trip to his parent’s restaurant to learn about Chinese food, running a small business, etc. This would be a great way to welcome the family to the community and to show the other students that he is welcomed in their class.

(5) Finally and perhaps most importantly, I hope you and the rest of the teachers and administrators can do whatever possible to stay on top of any incidents of racial teasing. Nothing will alienate the new student more than if other students start making fun of him because he’s Chinese — because he’s different than everybody else around him. With that in mind, it is absolutely critical to let the other students (in your class and elsewhere) that it is not acceptable to make fun of him because he’s Chinese and that any such incidents will be punished. This how we start to break the cycle of racial prejudice — one student at a time.

The teacher wrote me back and thanked me for the ideas and seemed very excited about them.

This question of how a school, administrators, teachers, and students can best welcome new student who is both an immigrant and a racial minority to their class got me thinking that, rather then just giving her my ideas, I should “crowdsource” this question and ask all of you for your suggestions on how to best welcome this new student.

If you have been in this situation, either as the new student, one of the existing students, or the educator, what were some ways to make this new student feel welcomed and comfortable? Or even if you were never in this situation, what are some strategies to try? If you are a researcher who is familiar with this issue, what are some “best practices” that have been shown to be effective? I would love to hear from others with your ideas and suggestions.

As globalization and demographic changes keep taking place and as U.S. society and more communities around the country like this become more diverse and multicultural, this kind of situation is likely to become more common. In other words, this is sociology taking place in the real world.

This article originally published at Asian-Nation.org and is copyrighted © 2013 

Please welcome guest blogger R. Tyson Smith, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Rutgers University Institute for Health. Starting this July he will be an American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow in the Sociology Department at Brown University. He can be reached at: tyson321@gmail.com.


In Philadelphia, a great divide splits the opportunities for students who attend public school from those fortunate enough to attend private schools. The differences in resources, safety, class size, and most importantly, educational attainment, are a few of the contrasts that make the two systems almost reverse images of one another.

As problematic as this divide already is, it will get even worse if Governor Tom Corbett succeeds with his proposal to cut 11% from Pennsylvania’s K-12 public school budget. These cuts, coupled with reduced federal funding, means the Philadelphia School District must slash more than $600 million from their annual budget.  All public school students in Pennsylvania will suffer, but students from large urban districts—who already contend with lower per pupil spending than their suburban neighborhood—will be especially hard hit; Philadelphia’s school district will likely need to lay off almost 4,000 teachers.

Corbett’s cuts to public education have important racial implications because public schools in Philadelphia are overwhelmingly students of color whereas private schools are mostly white. Only 14% of the public school students in Philadelphia are white despite the white population of the city being nearly 50%. This disparity is largely due to the enormous cost of a private school education. Philadelphia has one of the highest poverty rates in the country—half of Philadelphia’s households have incomes less than $35,000 year—and tuition in certain private schools can run nearly $30,000 a year. The difference is compounded by the fact that middle to upper-class families commonly opt out of the public system. In the more affluent and white zip codes of Philadelphia, it is taken for granted that one’s child will attend a private school. This norm increases the contrast in racial composition between public and private and lowers the social investment in Philadelphia’s public schools by elites.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Corbett’s cuts and their impact on Philadelphia’s racial equality go largely unnoticed by families privileged enough to pay top dollar at area private schools (on the order of $250,000 for kindergarten through 12th grade). This is despite the fact that most private schools today routinely champion “diversity” and “community service” as values central to their educational mission.  One look at the websites and admission brochures of private schools (often more euphemistically called “independent schools”) show how diversity and service are integral to their striving for inclusion, equity, and justice. Some of these private schools, of course, do a better job than others in trying to address the inherent inequalities, and financial aid can make it more affordable for a certain percentage of the families; however, from looking at their publicity materials, you might think racial and class inequality had been solved. (Or perhaps this is the point?)

Nevertheless, even though certain groups can afford to look the other way, everyone should be concerned about Pennsylvania’s cuts to public education. Strong public schools provide a public good that improves the Philadelphia community as a whole—when the overall populace is better educated, everyone benefits. And regardless of where you or your children attend school, we all live and work in the same society once you are past high school age.

Moreover, Corbett’s cuts will further exacerbate the gulf in opportunities between Philadelphia’s black and white children. This is a harmful divide that should be no more the responsibility of Philadelphia families enrolled in public school than families enrolled in private school. If we want racial segregation to be a relic of the past, shouldn’t we make fighting Corbett’s cuts a priority like other collective efforts such as diversity initiatives and community-service projects?

Accepting politicians’ claims that “there is no money” and that these are tough times requiring tough decisions is today’s norm, but state budgets, like all financial decisions, are less about dollars and more about priorities. Whether it is through a severance tax on drilling during Pennsylvania natural gas boom, a stronger demand for funding which has been directed to serial wars, or redressing the lenient tax enforcement on major corporations, money could be found if public education were a true priority.

I recognize that many people feel that educational reform is beyond their reach; the myriad of issues, from No Child Left Behind to standardized tests to teacher unions, is commonly cited as obstacles to improvement. While these issues are not necessarily invalid, let’s not let them derail this conversation or prevent us from acting on what’s right in front of us—protesting Corbett’s cuts to public education.  We may not be able to change inequity in education overnight, but we can do our part by stopping it from getting worse. In doing so, we serve our community, fight a divide in children’s opportunities, and help sustain a more genuine racial diversity, not the patina of diversity so often advertised.

I presume that by now, all of you have heard about the debate and controversy over Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, her accompanying article in the Wall Street Journal provocatively titled, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” and the resultant backlash throughout American society and on the internet from Asian Americans and non-Asians alike.

Although I have not yet read her book, from her various public appearances lately and based on other people’s summaries of her points, I understand that her main arguments are that American parents tend to be too lax in their parenting styles, particularly when it comes to not emphasizing hard work, persistence, and total commitment to education and other tasks necessary for your child to be a high achiever in contemporary American and global societies. In her own words on the Wall Street Journal article, she writes:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

Tiger mother © Michael K. Nichols/National Geographic Society
  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin . . .

To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America.

I’ve been meaning to comment on her points for a while and I also know that there are plenty of other writers and bloggers who have already weighed in on this subject. However, I’ve been occupied with preparing for the start of the new semester and have not been able to read many of their responses yet. Therefore, I apologize if I am restating points that others have already brought up.

As I describe in more detail below about the specific arguments Chua makes that I agree and disagree with, the main point that I want to emphasize is that parenting does not have to be an “either-or” proposition — there does not have to be a rigid line drawn between “rigorous” and “permissive” styles, nor does there have to be a complete separation of “Chinese” and “American” styles. As I have consistently emphasized throughout this blog, frequently there is an artificial division between these two identities that inevitably creates unnecessary barriers, misunderstandings, and tensions between all those involved.

Instead, I want to emphasize that it is possible to achieve a balance between these two identities. This is what Asian Americans have been doing for a while now — taking different elements of each culture to meld and synthesize them into their own style that includes the best of each. As I discuss below, I believe this applies to parenting styles and the drive for achievement and success as well.

In Defense of Chua

One of her points with which I agree is that for whatever reasons, it is very common and indeed beneficial for many (as in a large number, but certainly not all) Asian, Asian American, and immigrant parents to place a very strong and heavy emphasis on educational achievement and success. Many native-born American parents do so as well, but I am reminded of an article that I used for a previous course on racial/ethnic demography, “Test-Score Trends Along Racial Lines, 1971 to 1996: Popular Culture and Community Academic Standards,” written by Ronald F. Ferguson (a chapter in America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, 2001). The article described data to show that when it comes to parental expectations of their children’s academic performance, Asian parents who were high school dropouts still had higher expectations of their children than White, Black, and Latino parents who had a college degree.

My point is, it is not necessarily a bad thing to expect your children to not just perform well, but to excel, academically or otherwise. Particularly in this age of globalization, the need for advanced educational and professional skills in order to stay competitive in the global marketplace is readily apparent and increasingly stressed by almost everyone from all backgrounds. We also know that, as it currently stands, the American educational system needs much improvement in terms of preparing our young people to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In other words, as a society, we as Americans should not and cannot settle for mediocrity if we expect to retain our standard of living.

As other sociological research as also shown, many Asian and Asian American parents also understand that as a racial minority in American society, almost by necessity, they need to push their children a little further to make sure that they are able to overcome some of the hurdles and barriers that stand in our way when it comes to socioeconomic success and full institutional integration into American society, especially in tough economic times when competition for jobs and other resources is even more intense and potentially filled with racial tension and hostility.

With this in mind, I also find it quite unfortunate that some of the criticism directed at Chua includes elements of racism that link her to China’s recent emergence to become the new “yellow peril” threat to the U.S. and even death threats against her personally. Time magazine’s recent article on this debate summed up the global context of this debate nicely:

The tiger mother’s cubs are being raised to rule the world, the book clearly implies, while the offspring of “weak-willed,” “indulgent” Westerners are growing up ill equipped to compete in a fierce global marketplace. . . .

These national identity crises are nothing new. . . . In the 1980s, we fretted that Japan was besting us with its technological wizardry and clever product design — the iPod of the ’80s was the Sony Walkman — and its investors’ acquisitions of American name-brand companies and prime parcels of real estate. . . . [Now] our rivalry with the Japanese has faded as another one has taken its place: last year, China surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy.

The U.S. is still No. 1 — but for how long? We’re rapidly reaching the limit on how much money the federal government can borrow — and our single biggest creditor is China. How long, for that matter, can the beleaguered U.S. education system keep pace with a rapidly evolving and increasingly demanding global marketplace?

Such fears about the U.S. losing its position as the unquestioned political, economic, and cultural superpower are real and valid. At the same time, it is one thing to criticize Chua for her parenting style, but it’s a different matter altogether to reinforce and perpetuate anti-Asian stereotypes and advocate committing violence towards her and others who are perceived to be threats to the “American” way of life. In fact, for many Asians and Asian Americans, such racism only confirms the ongoing challenges we face and the need to overachieve as a reaction to such racial hostility.

Criticisms for Chua

On the other hand, Chua’s style of parenting is certainly not for everybody and in many respects, has the danger of creating some very negative consequences. When it comes to Asian Americans and the model minority image, I’ve written many times before in this blog about the need to balance the drive for success with caution against excessive parental and societal pressure. As a community, unfortunately Asian Americans have experienced too many incidents in which too much parental pressure on their children has led to incidents of suicide and violence. In fact, it is well worth repeating that Asian American women between 15-24 years old have the highest suicide rates of any racial, ethnic, age, and gender group in the U.S.

More generally, I also feel that Chua unnecessarily and unfortunately reinforces this artificial distinction between “Chinese/Asian” and “American.” Beyond the inherent overgeneralizing that Chinese mothers do this while American mothers do that, Chua does not seem to give much credence to the possibility that many Chinese Americans and Asian American parents do both — that we combined the best elements of the different cultures with which we’re familiar. In fact, this is just another example of the kind of “transcultural” assimilation that Asian Americans have done ever since we first arrived in the U.S.

As this CBS News video shows, even parents in China are increasingly rethinking their “success at any cost” approach to parenting that Chua insists is “superior”:

As it relates to parenting, I also do not believe it is not a contradiction to instill a drive for achievement and excellence while also nurturing a sense of independence and an understanding that there is more to life than just material success. Toward that end, I personally do not feel that, in order to stress the importance of personal achievement, parents need to berate, criticize, or shame their child. Chua’s “tough as nails” methods may eventually instill a sense of confidence and achievement in her daughters but I am pretty sure there are less harsh and extreme ways to accomplish the same thing. They might include letting our children work out herself many of the interpersonal difficulties that they encounter everyday and explaining to the child the various individual and institutional challenges that lie ahead of her them and that if they expect to have a comfortable standard of living, they will need to accomplish and at times, master certain tasks toward that goal.

Perhaps I am being too idealistic to think that my daughter has the ability to truly understand these multi-level and long-term issues about what she needs to do now in order to have certain things later. But then again, isn’t that what Chua is basically telling her daughters as well?

I recently had the opportunity to interview Asian American filmmaker Christopher Wong about his first feature-length documentary Whatever It Takes, scheduled to premier on PBS stations nationwide on March 30, 2010. The documentary profiles Chinese American Edward Tom, Principal of the new Bronx Center for Sciences & Mathematics:

Christopher Wong’s Whatever It Takes offers a fascinating inside look at the first year of the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics (BCSM), a small public high school in the South Bronx headed by the idealistic Principal Edward Tom, an Asian American man who gave up a lucrative position as an executive with Saks Fifth Avenue for the underpaid, supremely challenging career as an educator in the inner city. . . .

This deeply emotional, character-driven documentary focuses on the school’s dynamic rookie principal and a spunky ninth-grade girl with big dreams but even bigger obstacles. The personal stories of the school’s students and staff call to mind larger themes of school reform and the need for educators, parents and policy makers to prioritize the transformation of the public school system so that all children can receive a quality education.

Grittily realistic, yet ultimately triumphant, Whatever It Takes paints a compelling picture of cutting-edge ideas and dedicated individuals, united in their vision to restore hope to a broken community.

What were your experiences in elementary and high school growing up?

I grew up in a relatively well-to-do neighborhood, so the area schools were excellent. I had good teachers, clean school facilities, and small class sizes. Since my parents were both college-educated, they always checked my homework every night, and made sure I studied for my tests. There was never any question in my mind that I would go to college; it was a foregone conclusion. However, for the kids profiled in my film, college is only a dream — something that only “privileged” people get to experience.

How did you decide to become a filmmaker, rather than a ‘safer’ occupation more typical of Asian Americans, such as an doctor, engineer, etc.?

Believe me, I always thought that I would end up working a high-paying, white-collar job in a Fortune 500 corporation. While being a lawyer or businessperson wasn’t exactly my dream, I thought those careers would be good enough to provide me with a comfortable and happy life. But after graduating with a degree in economics, two years at a law firm, and five years in banking, I finally realized that I was meant to do something more creative, something that was a better fit for my talents.

Right before I quit my last corporate job, I started watching a lot of documentaries (e.g., “Hoop Dreams,” “Salesman,” “Roger & Me”). Those films taught me that the two most important qualities of a documentary filmmaker were 1) the ability to listen well, and 2) the willingness to invest oneself completely in someone else’s life. While I didn’t have the brains to become a doctor or the genes to be a professional athlete, I knew I could produce good documentaries. And so, I quit my job, started taking video production courses at a community college, and 10 years later, here I am.

Why did you decide to focus on Principal Edward Tom and his school?

When you see Principal Ed Tom on screen, you instantly understand why people find him so compelling. He’s a born leader, and people absolutely listen to what he has to say. Leaders like Principal Tom are rare, but those are just the sort of individuals that we all want to see running our nation’s public schools. When I went to school, I never had a principal like him; in fact, I don’t even remember seeing my high school principal more than once or twice a year. But Ed is always with his students, and they know that he cares, and that he will fight for them with everything he’s got.

But I didn’t want to just portray Ed only as a hero. I was also equally curious to see if good intentions and constant effort were enough to bring about change in one of the nation’s worst school districts. After all, Ed was a rookie principal, and failure was always looming around the next corner. Then add to the mix the potentially explosive racial dynamic of Ed as an Asian American amidst a student body almost entirely comprised of African American and Latino children. I remember telling Ed that while I wished him the best, my documentary might show him falling on his face and getting fired midway through the year. When Ed said he was OK with that level of honesty, I knew that I could go ahead and start filming.

There’s a debate about whether race or social class are the bigger barrier for African Americans and Latinos these days. What are your thoughts on this question?

In the South Bronx district of New York City, race and social class are almost identical. The South Bronx is the poorest district in the entire country, and it’s no coincidence that you almost never encounter a white face on the street (unless it’s a cop). So, for a kid who comes from a low-income, African American/Latino family, they have so many hurdles to overcome just to make it into college. They often have no support from their parents, no role models who have gone to college, and few friends with high career aspirations.

And they certainly don’t have the financial means to afford college, or other things that are sometimes necessary to get admitted (e.g. SAT prep courses). Having said that, I don’t think that South Bronx kids should use these barriers as excuses for lack of achievement; however, when we do see someone from that kind of environment make it to college, we should recognize that accomplishment as something truly great.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Asian American students these days?

Just like there are poor African American and Latino students, there are also very poor Asian American students. So, a lot of the challenges are the same. But what seems to be different is that there is an ingrained cultural respect for education and the value of a college degree. Thus, as a whole, Asian Americans have significantly higher college attendance and graduation rates. Therefore, the challenge to Asian American students generally has nothing to do with access to college or finding jobs that pay well. Rather, the real challenge for our community is to seek after jobs that are truly meaningful, and that have positive effects on society at large.

For too long, Asian Americans have been satisfied with replicating the financial success of their white American counterparts, all the while neglecting to invest themselves in causes greater than themselves. Truthfully, much of that selfish motivation comes directly from our Asian American immigrant parents, whose main goals were survival, stability, and social conformity. Liberating ourselves from our parents’ dreams for us is not an easy battle.

Asian Americans as a whole have done pretty well occupationally and economically but in many ways, are still not perceived to be “leaders.” Individuals like Edward Tom are slowly emerging as exceptions to this image, but what else do Asian Americans need to do to change this perception?

To be seen as leaders, Asian Americans need to get more involved in issues that extend beyond their own ethnic community. I think that’s what makes Edward Tom such an amazing figure, because he is absolutely putting his life on the line for people that neither look like him nor can give him back anything in return.

Leaders are made through sacrifice and commitment (e.g Martin Luther King, Jr.), and Asian Americans need to do a better job of understanding that. On a positive note, I should say that I have recently seen more and more Asian Americans pursuing unconventional careers and being willing to take risks on the behalf of others.

A popular topic on this blog is university admissions and the representation of students from all racial/ethnic groups, especially at the University of California (’UC’), the nation’s largest, most diverse, and in many ways, the most controversial higher education venue in the country. With the debate on affirmative action still on high boil and as American society continues to become more diverse, the issue of university admissions is likely to be on the front burner of American educational policy for the foreseeable future.

The latest flare-up involves recently-approved changes to the University of California’s admissions requirements that tries to expand the pool of students who are eligible for admissions (as opposed to the actual criteria for deciding who actually is admitted). As Inside Higher Education reports, according to data from the UC itself, they project that under these new eligibility rules, the racial/ethnic group that would be affected most negatively in terms of admissions are Asian Americans:

36 percent of those admitted to the university system in 2007-8 were Asian Americans. Applying the new admissions standards, that percentage would drop to 29-32 percent. In contrast, white applicants made up 34 percent of those admitted in 2007-8. Under the proposed reforms, they would have made up 41 to 44 percent of the entering class. . . .

But university leaders are playing down the demographic projections and defending the admissions plan, which emerged from the Academic Senate, a system-wide faculty group. . . . The proposal before the Board of Regents today would do the following:

  • End the requirement that applicants submit two SAT Subject Test scores.
  • Narrow from the top 12.5 to the top 9 percent of high school graduates the percentage who will be guaranteed admission to the university system (although not necessarily to the campus of their choice).
  • Expand the definition of applicants eligible for a full admission review to include all who complete 11 of 15 required high school courses by the end of their junior year, and achieve a grade-point average of at least 3.0

The last shift is expected to greatly expand the pool of those entitled to a full admissions review, where personal qualities and other factors may help some win admission. Indeed those deemed eligible for a full review would go up in all racial and ethnic groups. But the gains in eligibility are not necessarily going to translate into gains in admissions for all groups. . . .

Mary Croughan, an epidemiologist at the university’s San Francisco campus and chair of the systemwide Academic Senate, said that the apparent disadvantage for Asian Americans is actually a result of their success. Such a large share of Asian American high school students already are eligible to be considered and win admission that their numbers couldn’t go up as much as those of other groups, she said.

It appears that there are two separate issues here. The first is, changing admissions eligibility rules so that more students from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (specifically, African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians) will be eligible for admissions. On that count, I have always and continue to wholly support such efforts.

If these changes do in fact allow students from a more diverse set of backgrounds to have a chance at admission, they would be very similar to the kind of “holistic admissions” changes that I and other scholars support that do not focus specifically on an applicant’s race/ethnicity but would still give underrepresented minority students a better chance at admissions. So in this context, I think everybody involved is basically on the same page and share the common goal of wanting to improve the admissions chances of underrepresented students.

But it’s the second issue here that is much more controversial — will these proposed changes affect Asian Americans in a disproportionately negative way and will their proportions of all admissions decline as a result? The first question to ask is, how accurate are the UC’s own estimates and predictions? How likely is it that Asian American applicants will be hurt by these new changes? If it turns out that these changes do not affect the proportion of Asian Americans, the question is basically moot.

A regular reader of my blog (Oiyan Poon, graduate student in Education) is writing an analysis paper on this issue and makes several good points. First is that because the new eligibility rules basically expands the number of California students eligible for admissions (from 46,795 to 76,141), in terms of raw numbers, all racial/ethnic groups, including Asian Americans, will see an increase in the actual number of students eligible (about 4,000 for APAs).

But since the number of the increase for Asian Americans is small in proportion to their existing number of eligible students, the percent change represents an increase relative to the new overall total of students eligible for admissions. However, Oiyan points out that these projections are very tentative (projected to affect the first eligible class four years from now) and are based on several debatable assumptions — for instance, not all eligible students actually apply for admissions to the UCs. Finally, most of the increase in eligibility for APAs will benefit low-income and first generation students.

So as Oiyan points out, there are valid questions over whether the dire projections about fewer APA students being admitted under these new rules. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that the new rules do end up lowering the proportion of each entering class that is Asian American. If so, the question then becomes, how fair are these changes? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to that particular question.

On the one hand, as the article points out, the number of Asian American applicants to the UC’s is already disproportionately high so that as a matter of simple mathematics, there’s not much room to go any higher and almost by default, their numbers would decline somewhat as a result of these changes.

On the other hand, we can validly argue that even if Asian Americans as a whole have disproportionately high application and admissions numbers, the fact is that every one of those Asian American students has worked hard and earned that position. Therefore, these changes would unfairly hurt them when in fact, they did everything right.

Inevitably, if these changes result in lower Asian American admission rates, there would certainly be a loud outcry from many critics of affirmative action — many of whom are already Asian American — that once again, “good” students are being denied admissions in favor of “mediocre” ones.

My position on affirmative action has always been two-fold: first, whether it relates to university admissions, government contracts, job preferences, etc., these areas of contention do not have to be zero sum propositions. That is, one person’s gain does not automatically have to mean another person’s loss. Instead, we can have a system that includes plenty of opportunities for everyone.

I understand that the number of university admission spots is not infinite and you have to draw the line somewhere, but if we as a society make higher education a higher priority, we can provide more opportunities for more students. In the process of doing so, we can also depressurize this atmosphere of intensity and hostility over a resource that in many ways, has been artificially limited.

My second point is that rather than focusing disproportionate attention on the symptoms of the problem, we need to address the fundamental cause of it — the unequal quality of education that underrepresented groups such as African Americans and Latinos face. In other words, through no fault of their own and even if they are extremely bright and hardworking, many such students receive a substandard education that puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to university admissions.

For this reason, affirmative action was created to help them overcome these structural (as opposed to individual) disadvantages. So to really cure the root problem, we need to focus more attention on ensuring that all students, regardless of their race or where they live, receive access to a high quality education that will ultimately put everyone on the same level of competitiveness.

These are issues that we as a society have been dealing with and trying to address for generations and obviously, such solutions are easier said than done. However, for the first time in a long time, I think we have a realistic chance at making such changes. Hopefully this new administration can begin to take constructive steps toward more equality in elementary and secondary schools that can put underrepresented students in a better position to compete for university admissions.

With any hope, such disagreements around these admissions eligibility changes and the entire debate around affirmative action will fade into the background, if we tackle the root of the problem, rather than just trying to alleviate the symptoms.

As the economy continues to worsen and as average American families encounter more difficulties trying to make ends meet, two “social trends” that have been constant through these recurring cycles of bust and boom are that (1) getting a good education is crucial to social mobility and financial security and (2) each succeeding generation has been able to improve their rates of getting a college degree.

But now, as Inside Higher Education reports, new data from the American Council on Education shows that perhaps for the first time in American history, some racial groups may actually be doing worse then their predecessors in terms of achieving a college education:

The latest generation of adults in the United States may be the first since World War II, and possibly before that, not to attain higher levels of education than the previous generations.

While White and Asian American young people are outpacing previous generations, the gaps for other minority groups are large enough that the current generation is, on average, heading toward being less educated than its predecessor. . . .

For Black and Latino women, for example, the most recent generation outperformed the prior ones, but the opposite is true for men. And across racial and ethnic groups, women are achieving a higher educational attainment than men.

Educational attainment by age group and race

To summarize, the data basically show that comparing the percentage of adults with at least an associate’s degree, younger Whites and Asian Americans (those between 25-29 years old) had slightly higher attainment rates than their older counterparts (those who are age 30 and older), and this corresponds with the long-established trend that succeeding generations improving their educational attainment rates over previous generations.

However, the opposite seems to be true for African Americans, Latinos, and Native American Indians — those in the younger group have lower educational attainment rates than their older counterparts, which means the younger generation seem to be falling behind the older generation.

The data also shows that across all racial/ethnic groups, women have higher rates of having at least an associate’s degree than men.

So what are some possible reasons behind this trend of African Americans, Latinos, and Native American Indians falling behind, in contrast to Whites and Asian Americans? It may be tempting, especially among nativists and those who are racially ignorant, to say that these three minority groups are less qualified, motivated, and/or intelligent enough to complete college and attain social mobility.

However, the rest of the Inside Higher Education article provides more details for us to understand this situation more fully. Specifically, the article also notes that high school graduation rates for these three groups of color have remained constant over the past two decades (even though they still trail that of Asian Americans).

Further, the article notes that “Total minority enrollment increased by 50 percent, to 5 million students, between 1995 and 2005.” This tells us that after graduating high school, Black, Latino, and Native American Indian students are still entering college in large numbers.

So the problem seems to be, once they get into college, somewhere along the line, these minority students are not able to complete their associate’s or bachelor’s degrees.

Is it because they are unprepared for the academic demands involved? That is one possible reason. But more likely, and as other studies have suggested, since these three racial minority groups tend to be less affluent than Whites or Asian Americans, the main reason may be that as college expenses keep skyrocketing, these students eventually are unable to afford completing their college education and are more likely to drop out of college because of lack of finances.

As other studies also show, there are still gaps at many colleges in terms of racial inclusion — cultivating a welcoming atmosphere and social environment in which students of color feel supported and secure:

Intolerance, threats and verbal insults pervaded the campuses of three predominately White institutions, the University of California, Berkeley, Michigan State University, and Columbia College, according to a student survey in the recently released report, “If I’d Only Known.”

The report reveals that more than 60 percent of students at MSU reported witnessing or personally experiencing such incidents of violence based on intolerance, followed by 49 percent of students at UC Berkeley and 43 percent of students at Columbia. . . .

Research shows that comfortable environments play a major role in minority persistence. Scholars agree that isolation and racial violence contribute to the high minority drop-out rates at some institutions.

Ultimately, this trend of Black, Latino, and Native American Indian students beginning to fall behind their older counterparts in terms of educational attainment involves many factors. While some reasons undoubtedly relate to individual abilities or motivations, as studies continue to show, there are still many institutional inequalities and barriers that make it more difficult for these students to complete their degrees.

Whatever the causes, this is a disturbing trend that all of us as Americans should be concerned about.