“If you’re the sort of student who says, ‘These are the things that I must achieve to get into college,’ then you’re not differentiating yourself from the pack. And you’re burning out. And it’s probably not going to make a difference.”
Nicholas, a college admissions officer at a highly selective university, explained to me his concern with the ways that many Indian and other Asian Americans parent their children. Many parents have their young children in more academics after school, even though these children are doing just fine academically and attend well-ranked schools. For my book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough, I spoke with college admissions officers, school principals, teachers, and others who all cautioned against a strategy of giving children more academics to make them competitive for college.
I also spoke to parents of many different backgrounds, and this exact strategy made the most sense. Jagdeep, a father in the Boston area, explained, “So we have the competitive thing built into us, so we are pushing our kids to it. We are not satisfied with the status quo.” Having his children in a math center like Kumon or Mathnasium seemed natural. There is an education arms race that all kinds of parents feel caught up in, which helps make these companies some of the fastest growing franchises in the country. After-school education not only helps make the children smarter but also “does something for you on moral grounds,” as Divya, a mother, told me at a South Asian spelling competition.
The children who grow up in these academic households have a mixture of appreciation and regret. A former Scripps National Spelling Bee champion confessed to me, “I do regret. I keep wondering, wouldn’t life have been so different, you know, if I had actually done something that was, you know, more relevant to today? I don’t know.”
We as parents want what’s best for our children. But what seems like common sense to us may not be the best strategy. How should we approach education, how do educators respond to our choices, and how do children experience this both when young and later as adults? The more we can understand this, the better choices we can make.
Praise for Hyper Education:
“Families who want their children to succeed often send them to private learning centers and encourage them to participate in spelling bees and math competitions. Why? That question is at the heart of Dhingra’s thought-provoking book…A well-researched work of interest to parents and educators.”—Library Journal
“Why do so many Asian American parents seek hyper education for their children? Through his fascinating exploration of spelling bees, math competitions, and enrichment centers, Pawan Dhingra gets to the root of education obsessions to expose our global anxieties, national biases, and parental hopes for our sons and daughters.”—Min Jin Lee, author of Free Food for Millionaires and National Book Award Finalist, Pachinko
“Third graders worrying about the SATs? Middle schoolers with stress ulcers? Eight National Spelling Bee Co-Champions? Dhingra spent years immersed in the world of hyper education to write a gripping study on the culture of success. What he uncovers are the fascinating, often unexpected motives behind achievement and the deep undercurrents of white normative ideology, historical racism, government policies, and gender bias that are at play. This book challenges the very way we approach education in America.” – Maulik Pancholy, award-winning actor and author of The Best At It
“In this book, Dhingra offers a multi-layered perspective on the effects of over-programming young people to meet educational goals. He opens a window into the experiences of Indian American families and youth, and invites the reader to consider how race, immigration, culture, and class influence educational outcomes. Hyper Education is an accessible and necessary read for anyone connected to the American educational system and committed to educational equality.” – Deepa Iyer, former director of SAALT and author of We Too Sing America
Pawan Dhingra is an award-winning author, Former Curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s Beyond Bollywood project, and Professor at Amherst College. He has been published in The New York Times and been covered in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, National Public Radio, and elsewhere. His past books include the award-winning Life Behind the Lobby: Indian American Motel Owners and the American Dream. He is a keynote speaker, including at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC. He also appears in the Netflix documentary, Spelling the Dream.