Intro to “How to go to school like an Asian” (upcoming book)

Note: book version has footnotes. At some point I’ll add reference links to blog version.


Back Book Description

Curious about homeschooling?  Ever fantasized about swapping your kid for an Asian one, even if the Asian is a paraplegic?  Want to be Asian at school so you can win all sorts of awards, build robots named Tiffany, and get rejected by Harvard and Princeton but accepted at CalTech?  Did you write hate mail to Tiger Mom Cunt, Amy Chua?  Then this is the book on education for you!  The notorious Juice Nazi is back and ready to read your hate mail and death threats with his most offensive and triggering book since the banned on Amazon cookbook, How to Cook Like a Racist.  Here he breezily explains why Asians as the model minority isn’t a myth, it’s for real; why Filipinos, Indonesians, Thais, and Malaysians aren’t Asian unless they’re ethnically Chinese.  And why it’s better to commit suicide as a teenager than to become a lifelong heroin addict.  As a bonus, there are 20 exercises — lots of Math, of course — you can do to help you go to school like an Asian.  Ching Chong! 

Introduction

Asians — not all Asians, I’ll define what I mean by “Asian” later — do better at school than do most other demographic groups (Jews are the exception). Take Asian Americans, they do so well that they’re handicapped when applying to top colleges in the US.

(This is for 1995-2013, maximum score for each section of the SAT i s 800).  

Despite having the highest test scores (and grades, and the most impressive extracurriculars), Asian Americans are accepted at the lowest rate for all racial groups.  

And not just in the US, Asians are similarly discriminated against elsewhere, such as in Malaysia, where there are limits to the number of Chinese in universities.  

Asians are comparatively good at school 

Why is that?  An “anti-racist” Marxist would explain Asian performance in school as the function of their economic wealth and pernicious stereotypes — Asians as model minorities to allegedly justify discrimination against underperforming minorities — that give Asians an unfair advantage at school.  That is, teachers are so racist that they subconsciously treat Asian students in a way (“Suzie Wong must be good at Math”) that gives them, but not Tyrone and Shoquana, an edge, especially in Math.    

Wealth has little to do with Asian performance — low-income Asian Americans score higher on the SATs than do high-income African Americans — and there’s a chapter in this book on how ghetto Asian Americans overcome economic struggles to do relatively well in school.  The argument that some teachers are racially biased, that I agree with and have seen, though I don’t know how to measure its effect on student performance. From Yale University: 

“According to new research by Cydney Dupree, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Yale SOM, white liberals tend to downplay their own verbal competence in exchanges with racial minorities, compared to how other white Americans act in such exchanges.”  

In other words, White liberals — aka “the armies of compassion” — tend to be nicer to Blacks and Browns than to others, such as Asians. What are the consequences of such patronizing behavior?  Is it detrimental to Blacks and Browns? Is it an example of the “soft bigotry of low expectations?”           


Why write this book?  


I started to write this book when the 2020 pandemic shut down Washington state schools.  Parents were freaking out about having to homeschool their kids.  I saw this as an opportunity to correct some of the bad habits learned in school and to make homeschooling less intimidating and an attractive option to parents.  As a business owner — a juice bar, a dance studio, and a clothing store at the start of the writing — seeking competent employees, the bad habits taught in school have been pissing me off since 2010 and has turned me into an anti-school activist. I’m tired of teaching employees to unlearn nearly everything they learned in school.     

Why bring race — Asian, or “White Adjacent” as the Woke put it — into a book about education?  Why not be race neutral during a time when any mention of race triggers lots of people?  Several reasons.  To begin with, this isn’t a book about race, it’s about culture and how different cultures approach education, life in general really.  So by “Asian,” I mean Confucian cultures  — think Japan, the Koreas, China, Vietnam, and not Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines (unless  they’re ethnically Chinese).  I’m not writing about how Asians, as defined by the United States government, approach education because of the diversity in lifestyle, mindset, and results among geographically defined Asians. I am writing about how and why a cultural group does as they do educationally. My aim here, at best, is to give readers an opportunity to compare and contrast different approaches to education.   

Yet perhaps a book on education has to be, and unavoidably will be, a book about race,  Especially in racially charged 2020-21. Here are a few news headlines that’ll give you a sense of the centrality of race in discussions about education and pedagogy:

  • From The Wall Street Journal, April 14th, 2021:  Asian-American Parents Sue New York City Schools Alleging Harassment, Racial Bias — Activists say Education Department’s diversity agenda often overlooks Asian students.
  • New York Times, August 27th, 2021: New York’s Private Schools Tackle White Privilege. It Has Not Been Easy.
  • New York Times, April 29, 2021:  Only 8 Black Students Are Admitted to Stuyvesant High School — Once again, tiny numbers of Black and Latino students received offers to attend New York City’s elite public high schools.
  • USA Today, November 12th, 2020: Federal appeals court upholds Harvard University’s use of affirmative action policies
  • Brookings, December 1st, 2020: SAT math scores mirror and maintain racial inequity
  • NY Post, April 24th, 2021: How parents are fighting critical race theory in NYC public schools

So education in the United States is hotly politicized and entrenched in identity politics. That said, it’s not my aim here to make sense of it and to take a position on school admissions, curriculum, and pedagogy. I will not, however, avoid using common tropes — the legendary work ethic of Confucian Asians, for instance — to talk about American education, however offensive they may be to some.  And I will provide exercises that can be used as a supplement to whatever curriculum the student is learning from.    

Finally, I insert race into this book because I’ve wondered if American educators, particularly the neo-Marxist liberal ones, are racially biased when they assess the quality of a curriculum and education culture.  For instance, liberal American educators cite Finland’s education system as the model for the US to follow, but not Singapore’s, even though they score significantly higher than Finland does, especially in Math.  Why is that?  Why not model — with adjustments to suit social and cultural particularities — after the best in the world, instead of the best Western European nation?  Singapore, after all, seems to be a better and easier model to follow since the US has more in common with them than with Finland.  Consider:

  • Singapore, like the US, was a British colony and is influenced by its British legacy
  • Singapore, like the US,  is a multi-cultural and religiously diverse nation
  • English is the language of business and instruction in Singapore, as it typically is in the US (despite not having an official language)

Whereas Finland is, relative to the US and Singapore, racially and culturally homogenous, Finnish educators don’t have to deal with the same problems — racial tensions and diversity, for instance — American educators have to work with.  

I’m not calling  anyone a racist yet. For now, I think the American liberal’s fetish for all things Scandinavian (Sweden’s anti-lockdown approach to the Covid pandemic excepted) — its political and social systems, lifestyles, education curriculum — has more to do with their ideological and lifestyle preferences than from a fear of the Yellow Peril: Asians as a threat to Western liberal lifestyles. But sometimes I wonder if the American education system is reacting to a perceived threat — the Yellow Peril — rather than doing what’s best for American students.  For instance, American education’s move away from memorization (eg. of multiplication tables, historical names and dates, poems and passages) to promote “creative education and students” coincides with the popularization (during the 1980s) of claims that Asians are high scoring automatons and the Asian education system, which relies heavily on memorization, stifles creativity. Meanwhile I’ve had to train employees to memorize the multiplication table because they don’t know what 7 x 4 is when the cash register breaks down. These aren’t drop-outs either, they’re graduating from high school with like 3.8 gpas, and some are college graduates. And they’re not unusually creative either.

Who the fuck am I to write a book about education?

I didn’t graduate from an elite high school (rejected from Deerfield Academy and St. Paul’s School). I wasn’t a star student at my second tier alma mater, The Stony Brook School.  I did graduate from an elite college — The University of Chicago — but it was much, much easier to get into when I applied, no way they’d let my sorry ass in now. My grades were so bad at U of Chicago that I had to pay big bucks to get my grades high enough at a cash cow Masters program to apply to PhD programs in Cultural Anthropology.  Put simply, I’ve never been the stereotypically high achieving Asian student, I’ve never lived up to expectations, mine or others.  I was the underachieving student who couldn’t consistently produce at the elite level.  

So why should anyone read this book? 

This isn’t a follow-the-leader type of book.  It’s more anthropological, where I write out my observations about how Asians in general and elite students from all demographics approach schooling and education (schooling is not the same as education).  In other words, my primary purpose here isn’t to teach readers how to become superstar students. Rather, it’s to show why some are more likely to become superstar students, while others aren’t. And I’m not saying that one needs to be a superstar student to become a superstar in life.  Jack Ma, CEO of worldwide internet giant Alibaba and worth $50 billion as I’m writing this, was a terrible student, only able to get into one of the least reputable colleges in China. One of my former employers was a similarly bad high school student, and he became one of the leading vascular imaging scientists in the world, despite graduating from a low ranked college in China and getting his PhD from a low ranked program in the US.       

That’s why part of me wants to show what it takes to do well in school, while another side wants students to tell schools to fuck off. This tension — a love and hate of school — is the source of this book’s narrative and polemic.  This is a story about how to do well in school despite school, because there is value in learning how to do well in fucked up environments. Most schools — up to the highest levels (PhD) are fucked up environments, just like anywhere else. Thou-Shalt-Not-Fetishize- Schooling, okay?               

Another consideration: what do you gain from a self-help and ethnographic book written from the perspective of someone who has never been a superstar in school or in life? I don’t know, but it’s an intriguing question and I would like to know.  Let me know via email: foodyap@gmail.com.  Address me with “Dear Underachiever” in the subject line.  

How am I qualified to write anthropologically about superstar students, the Asian kind in particular? I grew up and went to school with them in three countries — the US (mediocre and racially divergent scores), Singapore (highest scores), and Taiwan (higher than US scores).  Some were poor, some were Crazy Rich Asians, most were somewhere in between. They and I have attended schools ranked from below average to the best in the world.     

And finally, I’ve been a teacher.  I’ve worked as a University of Washington Department of Anthropology graduate teaching assistant in charge of leading discussion sections and grading papers.  I’ve taught test prep at Princeton Review.  I tutored and significantly raised the Iowa test scores of Black 4th graders at a Catholic school in Harlem.  So I’ve worked with a diversity of students from a teacher’s point of view.   

In summary, this ethnography of Asian Confucian values is informed by my experiences as a student, my expectations as a teacher, and what I want from employees as a business owner. 

Is this a how-to-be-Asian book? Not necessarily, the  Confucian way of living life has its disadvantages, and they’ll be discussed throughout the book.  

Summary of Chapters 

The first chapter, You are NEVER enough!, is an  introduction to Confucian values and how Asians understand themselves in relation to these values.  Chapter two, Ghetto Asians, fancy results, explores how Confucian values, not income status, is what pushes Asians to the top of the class.  Chapter three, The soft bigotry of low expectations, is a primer on the mindset you don’t want to have if you want to do well in school.  

Chapter four takes a look at Anglo boarding schools, and why they’re considered the gold standard of secondary schools.  What can we learn from them about education and why are they so popular with Asians, the Chinese especially?  Chapter five, Grades don’t matter, standards do, explains how one should evaluate a school and a student’s grades and test scores because many Americans are delusional when it comes to evaluating and assessing anything that has to do with themselves.  In chapter six, How to tell a teacher to fuck off, we discuss your options when confronted with an incompetent teacher.  These options are not Confucian at all.  

How to go to school, the title of chapter seven, shows you how to receive an education despite school.  Some of the counsel has nothing to do with Confucian values.  Chapter eight, Are Asians creative?, makes sense of stereotypes of Asians not being creative and explores the limits of the Confucian mindset.  Chapter nine, How to go to school like an Asian, takes you on an educational journey from primary school to post-college from the point of view of successful Asians.  You’ll learn when they start studying for the SATs, when they take it, how they choose where to go to school, which courses and majors they prefer, and so on.  Chapter 10, Academics explained, delineates the main and a few minor subjects taught in school and how you should weigh each in terms of importance so you know how to better focus your study.  

And finally, in the appendix are exercises you can do as a supplement to your school curriculum.  Each exercise includes a section on Math, one on language, and one on an elective subject like Music.  Enjoy!  

Send questions and comments to foodyap@gmail.com.  Address me in the subject line with: “Dear Underachiever.”  

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