Life is hard enough as an Asian. Not all of us can get perfect SAT scores, graduate from medical school, or trick out a Honda Civic. The pressure to embrace our culture remains, but sometimes, we just don’t want to. How To Be A Bad Asian is an ongoing series of personal essays by the 8Asians writers about what sets us apart from the API community, how we deal with the stereotypes that we put upon ourselves and why we all can’t be that perfect Asian. It’s time to be bad.
I have a confession to make. I don’t send my daughter to Kumon, nor did we, her parents, fight tooth and nail to get her into a good kindergarten. I guess I’m just not a very good Asian dad. My cousin had both his kids in Kumon before they started school, because he didn’t think they were progressing fast enough in math and reading. An article on Hyphen talks about getting into the right Kindergarten, partly because of how “bad” the schools in LA are, and partly to get the right racial mix (the author didn’t want her child to grow up in an all-white school like she did and be the one who was teased/ostracized), and to avoid the underperforming schools. It reminded me of my own experience with my daughter and choosing schools, and all those things concerned me, but we didn’t let them drive our decision.
If you’re a parent you already know the strain and anxiety of choosing just the right pre-school and kindergarten in today’s competitive world. As a parent I didn’t go all “tiger” in selecting the pre-school my daughter went to, instead, we picked the closest big daycare near our house. Not a lot of thought went into it. And that I guess makes me a bad Asian.
When it came time to enroll my daughter in kindergarten, I was adamant that she go to public school. I went to public school and probably the least desirable public school in the area I grew up in. So when open enrollment for kindergarten started, I went to our neighborhood school and signed her up. The ratings on the school weren’t terrible, but they weren’t great either. 36% of the school is English as a second language learners, and 40% came from low income (low enough to qualify for the free/reduced lunch program) families. The same author of the Hyphen article worried that at her neighborhood school 62% were English as a second language learners, and 88% qualified for free/reduced lunch, so I guess we were doing doing pretty well.
Not surprising, the elementary school’s API scores were also mediocre, ranking 820 out of 1000 and placing the school right in the middle of all schools in California. But none of this phased me, and I went ahead and signed up my daughter for afternoon daycare (since both of her parents work), or at least I tried to. And that’s where we ran into problems. No one ever returned any of my six calls, or responded to my application. Finally, mere weeks before school started we had to give up on the local public elementary school and put her in a private kindergarten (the same daycare company she went to for pre-school), just to ensure we had afternoon daycare. And the afternoon daycare at the public school finally called me in December, four months after school started to ask me if I was still interested in enrolling my daughter.
So I guess I did the right “Asian” thing by putting my daughter in a private kindergarten, but I was undeterred. And when enrollment came around for first grade for public school, I went ahead and enrolled my daughter again, but this time, we applied for a different public school. I chose the one that was the next closest to our home school. It was smaller, which I thought was a good thing. But the statistics on the new school weren’t anything to write home about either. If anything they were worse than the first public elementary school. 44% of this school were English as a second language learners, and 42% of the families qualified for free/reduced lunch. So while the demographics were less desirable, this school had slightly higher API scores, at 836 (showing you that less desirable demographics doesn’t mean worse performance), but still in the mediocre range. My daughter completed first grade at this new public elementary and is now almost finished with second grade.
So the question remains, how bad of an Asian have I been, in not getting my daughter into the best elementary school possible? If you ask my daughter, she’s been pretty happy with the new school, as some of her friends from pre-school attend the same school, and she’s made new friends easily at the new school. If you look at her performance, she’s excelling in math and reading, doing above grade work already, so her academics aren’t suffering. But there are problems, mostly around extracurricular activities (there are none due to budget cuts, no music, and library is only open 1 day a week), and parent involvement in the school is at a minimum.
In the end, I still believe we did the right thing by going the public education route. She may not be in the best school in the region, but she’s doing well and apparently thriving in her school. We do supplement her education with some after school activities outside of the school (gymnastics, girl scouts, Chinese school), so I guess we’re more involved parents than the average. But I think I still qualify as being a bad Asian, for not having gotten her into the best school possible.