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When Demand for Good Grades Leads to Abuse : Education: Teachers worry that many Asian American parents use harsh discipline to force their children to be successful, study finds.

May 12, 1994|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Harsh parental discipline and stress are key concerns among educators in San Gabriel Valley school districts with large numbers of Asian American students, according to a first-ever study compiled by the Chinese American Education Assn.

President Marina Tse, who canvassed educators from the Rowland, Hacienda La Puente, Bassett and Walnut Valley school districts, said the results are astonishing.

The educators in the survey, which was released this week, said they are worried that Asian American parents place high expectations on their children, mete out severe discipline at home and pressure schools to promote youngsters a year or two above their age even when the students clearly need greater emotional and social development.

"If you get an A, it's not good enough. Then the parents say, 'Why didn't you get an A-plus?' " said San-pao Li, a professor of Asian studies at Cal State Long Beach. Li was one of several guest speakers at an educational conference Tuesday in Hacienda Heights geared to addressing the needs of Chinese American students.

The conference at the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple, which addressed topics in the survey, drew almost 200 participants from the four districts. The session was an effort to help educators cross the cultural bridges they might encounter with Asian American students through workshops on parental expectations, school problems, and the philosophy, culture and religion that guide Chinese life.

Throughout the San Gabriel Valley, educators are wrestling with how to best reach and teach increasing numbers of students from various Asian cultures. Students often arrive in public schools unable to speak English, uncomfortable speaking up in class and struggling to get the good grades that will win parental approval in cultures where filial duty is of paramount importance.

Lisa McIntyre, the district nurse at Walnut Valley Unified School District, said many Chinese American students complain about chronic stomach problems and headaches, which she believes are caused by stress.

American education can also be puzzling to Chinese American parents, who tend to prefer a linear, structured learning environment at a time when American education is moving toward a more free-form approach that emphasizes critical thinking and cooperative learning, said Sharon S. Robison, superintendent of Rowland Unified School District.

Jack Nahmias, principal of Grazide Elementary School in Hacienda Heights, said Chinese American parents often ask him what level of corporal punishment is appropriate.

"It puts American educators in an awkward situation," Nahmias said. "What do we condone?"

Loretta Huang, who teaches adult education in the Alhambra school district, said that corporal punishment is very common in Chinese culture and that parents often use belts or sticks to discipline children. She said some parents also burn their children with cigarette butts, although that is more rare.

Often, Chinese American parents are shocked to learn that they are under investigation for child abuse.

"They keep asking me, 'Why is the social worker interfering?' " Tse said. "I tell them that the school has a responsibility to protect the child, and they tell me, 'Protecting the child, that's my job.' The parents don't understand."

Many students, especially newer immigrants, never tell school officials that their parents beat them for bringing home bad grades. But Tse says that youths who have been here longer have grown savvy to the American attitude toward hitting children and will blackmail parents by threatening to report them under child abuse laws if the parents do not allow them to get their way.

Cheating and doing whatever it takes to get top grades are other concerns cited by educators.

"At conferences, parents always want to know how their child can get an A-plus," said Linda Hsieh, a teacher at Rowland High School. "I have students coming in with a B-minus on a test saying: 'Can I take it again? I need two more points. B isn't good enough. Can I do extra credit?' "

Huang says a student once stole a test out of a teacher's locker and distributed it to two classes, thinking he would be considered a hero. When the school transferred the boy to another campus, his parents complained that their son didn't do anything wrong and that the punishment was too severe.

"I'm ashamed to say that cheating is very prevalent at many schools in Asian countries because the competition is so stiff," Huang told the conference.

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