It would appear that way according to a new Pew research poll Asians are the fastest growing immigrant population in the United States surpassing Hispanics; coming to America better educated and thus getting some of the highest paid jobs in the land, making nearly $20,000 more per year than the average American household. Further Asian young people attempt to come here for high school, college are almost always likely to attend some form of graduate school, looking to be at the top of their field gaining PHD’s in engineering, going into nursing and other medical fields, Asians being encouraged to come by relatives already settled here for entrepreneurial opportunities, jobs a thriving place to practice and pass on their values, priorities; those top priorities, family, education and excellence. While 2 out of the 3 major news networks aired stories based around those facts, touted the desire of Asian individuals to come here, success stories of those who have immigrated to the land of opportunity, one interview with an Asian woman stood out; her candid account of her parent’s expectations and the expectations she intends to place on her children had at least one viewer harkening back to another semi famous Asian American Amy Chua and how she chose to raise her kids, Asian rigidity once again sending shockwaves through American culture.

So is this another threat to American mediocrity, another wakeup call about failing standards in homes as well as American schools; no doubt some will see it that way. Others see it as how immigrants raise their first generation American children; where Asians in China and similar countries across the globe see the innumerable benefits to their children being happy, choosing their own career, having the support of their parents no matter their choice of profession, this is how select Asians interpret making the most of opportunities provided, pushing for excellent grades, expecting children to be the best, expecting them to go to top schools and to pursue the very height of education, to be at the top of their field, emphasis on acceptable fields vs. frivolity, embracing math, science engineering, medicine and discarding art, sports, limiting the exploration of music to specific instruments and genres. However there is a misunderstanding on both sides of the cultural divide, misconceptions held both by those who champion such an approach and those who decry it; chief among them Asian parents who equate top education with success, who equate highest paid work with achievement, personal fulfillment. On the other side, American parents who think rote learning, rigidity and extreme focus on excellence, perfection is the way to solve our standards gap, insure your child gets a job and doesn’t land on your couch after high school or college. Both mindsets are inaccurate; increasingly colleges are discovering that students with the best test scores have difficulty with the more abstract parts of colligate learning, when asked to write, think, form an opinion. Children raised in this type of setting may fail a college or job interview based on lack of social skills, lack of basic ability to answer questions that don’t have concrete answers. Additionally more and more Americans with college degrees find themselves unemployed or in low wage work; even some with PHD’s fall into this trap. Many Asian and identically raised kids from every culture burn out under the stress of expectation, before ever reaching where they wanted to go, never mind where those in their life said they should be, often committing suicide when they do fail.   

Misunderstood by members of the non-western culture is that some of the largest barriers to Americans’ translating education into workforce, career success is not a lack of assimilation of facts, accumulation of knowledge or skill in basic k-12 education nor a lack of will to attend college or go beyond a 4 year degree but instead a matter of access both in finding information regarding the type of job you want to obtain and gaining funds to continue your education. Over and over again students wanting to enter fields cannot find anyone in the business or position they wish to hold who is willing to speak with them about how they got started how they ended up where they are now, can’t get their hands on rudimentary information about how to get into career X, guidance counselors and college career services departments are woefully ineffective at telling young people how much education they need to achieve their goal, the absolute necessity of internships, practical experience, subsequent certifications, licensures required to make their degree function outside the educational institution. Thus many come out of school holding a B.A. disappointed by the lack of jobs. Financially, the controversial woman in the news piece remarked graduate school was expected and sacrifices were made within her family to make sure that happened. One can guess it’s easier done when you make roughly 20,000 more than the average American, when you can take that surplus annually and place it into a college fund, savings account; and, having had this mapped out for your child from the time you knew you were expecting, you arguably have more to give them. In contrast American parents are too busy making sacrifices so their kids have school supplies, a roof over their heads, food, are paying more for a house or apartment so their child grows up in a safe neighborhood, goes to a good school; there are droves of struggling middle class parents who don’t have a college fund for their kids because they just can’t afford one. For those who do have one it likely only covers undergraduate studies in the face of ever rising tuition costs, room and board for students going out of town, state to school; a repeated scenario becomes a student financially unable to finish a 4 year degree. When those lucky enough to finish do, most are saddled with thousands of dollars in student loans, no way to get a job, no money to go forward with education primarily because the employment world doesn’t want you unless you embody their perfect job candidate; complicating the issue, once you have a B.A., federal funding for education decreases in terms of Pel grants and other programs meant to help people gain education.  

Relatedly no one is telling students why they should seek out higher level math and science, computer courses; no one is telling them the “cool” things it will allow them to do, interesting jobs it would allow them to hold. Next there is the growing phenomenon of jobs in high demand within the American economy that do not require college degrees only classes and certifications in everything from massage therapy, physical therapy assistants, CNA’s, medical coding, medical transcription and so on, jobs viewed by persons who raise their children this way as beneath them, not worthy of pursuit; trends in employment also seem to follow the goals of young people today. They are not looking to be the best at something, they are not looking for the top of the career ladder; the great recession, as it’s being called, has sent them on a search for stability, predictability, the knowledge they can provide for themselves, their family, can ride out financial hard times no matter what the economy throws at us. Compounding the problem of why we seem to be forgoing the college experience, motivating American young people to try for a higher education who see the diminishing returns on any college degree, who know people older siblings, friends with older siblings who as opposed to going to college got or continued a typical high school job as a barista, server, retail worker stuck with it and in the time it would have traditionally taken for them to complete a degree they have made it all the way to manager making roughly $11.00 an hour. Financially these people studies show routinely fair better, because while college degree holders make more money, our hard working manager doesn’t have to forfeit large sections of their earnings into paying off student loans and can funnel that into savings, investments, buying a home, car, starting a family and when the time comes starting that college fund for their children should they want to attend. Multitudes of high school graduates are hard pressed to be convinced such actions are worth the financial risk, fallout of  having witnessed what happened to older students, in some cases their own parents.  Going back to the college education financing dilemma, not to be dismissed is the pure fact colleges and scholarship programs are eager to accept Asian students based on their reputations as excellent students and successful individuals vs. white, African American or Hispanic students possessing identical test score grades and extracurricular activities, leading parents who adopt this lifestyle for their children, Asians in general believing scholarships and top school acceptances are easy to achieve following the right path, having the right focus, expectations and putting in the effort, sadly that’s not the case for everyone.                               

Further looking at the woman at the heart of the interview she is an accomplished surgeon; not everyone can do what she does, not only in terms of academic intelligence, an affinity for medical technology and terminology but many could not handle having a person’s life in their hands, particularly in that way. It takes a certain type of personality to be a capable physician who can cut people open in the interest of making them well again; there is no shame in knowing you don’t have the same constitution. Others may not go into branches of medicine, even professions like nursing, not because of a lack of skill in mathematics a lack of overall knowledge, rather based on the fact they faint at the sight of blood or have trouble dealing with body fluids, especially those not their own; surely as a person receiving medical care you want someone who isn’t going to be rigid, project an unfeeling attitude toward you because they are grappling with these issues, concepts clearly not thought about when berating “lax, lazy” Americans for not attempting these careers. On a practical level she somehow paid for undergraduate study, not only got into med school, survived academically but managed to again pay for it. Another key part of her success, a clear path to follow, people advising her who knew what she needed to do to end up being the doctor she is. Likely she was premed in college, the test used to entrance into med school is common knowledge, once accepted into med school her advisors made sure she knew and fulfilled the requirements to go forward through her residency, specialty to the honored position she now holds. Few career fields are like that; routinely what happens is students go for a degree in an area where they possess a talent only to see the job market shift, to find out they have to relocate to make their degree viable yet cannot afford to do so, who graduate without the added certifications experience needed to get a job, move forward with a career, becoming essentially stuck. The only thing that’s going to fix it is a change in the employment structure¸ additions to college courses allowing students to gain said credentials.    

Similarly with engineering, another area where Asians seem to dominate the job market, it isn’t as simple technical skill, proficiency with mathematics, willingness to go as far as receiving a PHD; to do well you have to have a fair amount of dexterity to assemble parts, depending on the type of engineering an ability to draw, sculpt models of parts, equipment, whatever you are attempting to create and or operate computer software that will render diagrams, models for you. Not everyone has the dexterity to assemble car parts, a video piece from one news segment, the drawing or computer skills to be an engineer; to say nothing of as recently as 2008 top engineering students here were being forced into low wage internships because there were few jobs to be had largely owing to the bad economy and people holding the jobs being less likely to retire. True it is nice to see that change and know that there are jobs available; however, it is not fair to blame young people who saw the state of the field 4 years ago and chose something else. Too, Americans who do go into engineering are more tempted toward robotics, aeronautics, hoping for assumed lofty jobs at NASA or now a private spacecraft building company or go into designing novelty convenience products like the attachable French fry container holder for cars, the number of people with or without engineering credentials who create household cleaning solutions, mops, vacuums, rags, pet hair removers, food cookers, juicers, paint sprayers, tools, you name it  

Here again comes into play the culture gap; people who like engineering likewise tend to like working with their hands, have a natural curiosity about how things work, like building things translating into a whole other set of careers usually shunned by Asians and cultures who push their offspring in the manner relayed on the news. Said career fields include construction, woodworking, welding, mechanics, automotive, plumbing, bricklaying, journeymen, all deemed lower class work unsuitable for children who can do so much better. Individuals who founder in regular academia excel in these areas as well as cooking, interior design, professional organization or jobs traditionally overlooked by this group and their parents in marketing, sales, customer service.  In that same vein, you have young people who choose CNA over registered nurse, home health aide over something carrying more credentials; why? It is hardly because they are intimidated by the amount of work they would have to put into reach a higher goal, rather it can be a solution to the aforementioned issues pertaining to the sight of blood, body fluids; CNA’s, dental assistants are less apt to hold a patient’s life in their hands, less likely to be in a position of making significant errors negatively impacting someone’s life, well-being. Solved using this scenario is the conundrum of cost; classes and certifications for mentioned jobs are far less money than a 4 year degree. They are also idea for young people desiring or needing to quickly enter into a solid, well-paying job in the work force to speedily move from their parents’ home or help support siblings left at home.  Simultaneously it falls in line with the ambition of nearly all young people today, to help people; it becomes a positive way to use the social skills that got them in trouble for talking too much at school, it fulfills their desire to work with people in their profession while allowing them to hold a steady job, give back to their community.;flexGridModule

At the same time Americans needn’t worry; Asians still want to come here for high school, college are flocking here to be educated in numerous fields, for jobs, business opportunities they cannot find in their home countries, still longing for the American idea, a piece of the American dream. And of course not all Asians fit the stereotype of one news segment; many go on to careers in digital marketing, media fashion, make their way to Hollywood to star in, direct blockbuster films; and immigrants Asian or not, need not worry either, need not push their children to extremes. People do best in the pursuit of what they love, where their passion lies, spurred on by natural talent and genuine interest; this is how a 15 year old boy won a notable science contest of his invention of an early detection cancer tester made all the more valuable by the fact you can literally switch out what you want it to test for and costs only 3 cents to make. How did he do it, not with rote memorization, advanced science classes, though he probably takes those too, but most importantly an inherent ability and a passion for reading science journal articles? Now medical companies are scrambling to set up tests on real patients; the ability to swap out whatever you are testing for has the potential to help many people, save many lives. All because a boy had a reason and the courage to try, not because of higher standards, perfect grades, striving for perfection a life of rigidity, restriction, rather the opposite, something for all of us to think about.