A Vacancy in Education

I meant to write about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s visit to Clark on March 14th, but I realized that a bunch of sources have gotten that covered already – probably written much more eloquently and comprehensively than I would be able to (Check out Clark News, Telegram, Worcester Magazine, and MassLive). So, instead, I present some of my personal reflections on her speech.

The first impression I had was how much inspiration and motivation her presence brought. You could feel the energy change as soon as she stepped onto the stage. The first thought I had was: so that’s how a politician looks like. Even though most people didn’t seem so engaged in the first minutes of introductions – probably because it was Monday morning and we had been waiting for a while for the event to start – Atwood Hall was full of applause and cheers when Warren approached the podium.

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(Image: Clark News)

It brought me back to a high school English class that covered rhetoric. We read Jay Heinrich’s Thank You For Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson can teach us about the art of persuasion. (I would highly recommend this book!) In it, we learned about the three main tools of persuasion: logos, pathos, and ethos. You appeal to the crowd’s sense of logic (logos), evoke their emotions (pathos), and establish yourself as a credible source (ethos). That is exactly what Warren did. She presented her statistics and evidence in a way that made sense – federal resources helped drive desegregation back then in history, and so it should continue to drive the push against inequality today. Various quotes were charged with emotions – “Teaching is not a job, it is a calling”; “We cannot abandon our children”. Lastly, her speech starts and ends with her establishing her credibility – beyond having been a teacher herself, public education is personal to her because it allowed her to get to where she is today.

With so many interesting points being said and so many inspirational quotes to write down, one may forget the spaces between the words. What was not said? What was ignored?

While many points were addressed and brought to question by the panelists following the speech, I would like to address a very specific vacancy in Elizabeth Warren’s speech.

Asians.

She spoke of several goals for the federal government, that it should ensure Blacks and Latinos aren’t pushed to special education or disproportionately sent to prison lines. She spoke for the girls – how they should have access to sports, maths, or whatever they want. She spoke about economically marginalized groups.

But what about Asians? What about the minority group that makes 5.6% of the nation? Was the group ignored because it was presumably already doing well in education? And is that okay?

I have little to no knowledge on issues of discrimination on Asian Americans. As I mentioned in my previous post Nearsighted, racism and prejudice are social problems that I am still understanding and beginning to see in daily life. However, the concerns that came up to me during Warren’s talk were there because they reflected a social issue I heard of just a couple weeks ago.

In early February, filmmaker Curtis Chin had visited Clark to talk about his documentary “Tested”. The film speaks of the gap in opportunities for different races in public education, specifically in New York City. My education class (Complexities of Education Class) received an invitation to attend a pre-screening Q&A session with Curtis, and so I had the chance of also hearing his personal stories before watching the film.

In telling his inspiration to create documentaries, Curtis asked the class if anyone had ever heard of Vincent Chin. Facing a row of blank looks, he explained that unfortunately, not many people do. Vincent Chin was a Chinese American man who was beaten to death by two men who claimed that “it was because of you little motherf**kers that we’re out of work” in 1986. They blamed the decrease of US auto manufacturing jobs following the growth of Japanese economy on Vincent, who was not even Japanese. It was this story that sparked the Asian American movement and inspired Curtis to create a documentary – Vincent Who?

Curtis continued to tell us more about his experiences and insights of Asian American discrimination – and the missing dialogues on it. I was reminded of a particular statement he said as I listened to the Senator list future goals for public education. Curtis expressed his frustrations at politicians’ failure to address Asians. He would wait to hear those two syllables in Obama’s or Sanders’ speeches, and would, again and again, be disappointed when lists just like Warren had said ended with no mention of Asians.

Not even once.

Do Asians not suffer through the same oppression faced by other minorities?

A recent article on The Economist tells the story of discrimination of Asians in higher education. While the Asian American Achievement Paradox does exist, and 49% of Asian-Americans do have a bachelor’s degree (in contrast to the general population, 28%), there exists a disparity with their representation in higher ranked schools and the jobs they obtain after graduation. Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford found that Asian-Americans need 140 SAT points out of 1,600 more than Whites to get a place at a private university, and that Blacks need 310 fewer points. In 2014, whereas 11% of law-firm associates were Asian, only 3% of partners represented the group.

You could say that equity is not equality, that Asians are overachieving so it is okay for a “roof” to exist. You could say that entrance to higher level universities and positions is not as pressing as access to education itself. You could say others have it worse.

But I have a feeling the problem is more complex than that. I just can’t accept the notion that Asians are doing “okay” when I still see stereotypes portrayed in the media, still hear my friends’ stories of feeling not good enough, still feel the weight of judgement made in introductions and first impressions.

And when politicians continue to speak of social development without the mention of Asians, what message does this send?

During my education class, we discussed the tendencies of people stick with “safe” dialogues. By avoiding conflict, hidden judgement and oppression survive without being challenged. I know from my personal life that Asian culture and philosophy places high values in tolerance and resilience. The silence that these traits can bring, though, allow for a continuation of oppression.

I really enjoyed Elizabeth Warren’s talk, and walked out of Atwood that morning feeling inspired and motivated. She had convinced me, to an extent, that the federal can make a big impact in public education, and is needed for a development towards equity. However, I still am skeptical about the quality of impact that a large-scale action such as this one can really achieve. Is it even possible to create a policy that benefits a group at no one’s expense? I have lightly touched on the fact that Affirmative Action may be harming Asians here in this article, but there are even more groups of minorities in the US, beyond Blacks and Hispanics, that have not been addressed in Warren’s talk – and most likely other political speeches.

We must continue to strive for a world of equal recognition, and we must not lose sight of people’s different experiences. I believe that everyone suffers – the least we can do is recognize it.

-Charis

(Cover image source)

 

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