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Curriculum as Colonizer: (Asian) American Education in the Current U.S. Context

by A. Lin Goodwin - 2010

Background/Context: The United States is currently undergoing a period of unprecedented immigration, with the majority of new arrivals coming from Asia and Latin America, not Europe. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (APIs) represent the fastest growing racial group in the United States, and schools are again being asked to socialize newcomer students, many of whom are APIs. Yet, even as the United States becomes more racially diverse, the national mindset regarding immigrants and immigration ranges from ambivalent to increasingly (and currently) hostile, and is often contradictory. “American” typically is imagined as “White,” and perceptions of APIs and people of color as “other” remain cemented in our collective psyche. It is this sociohistorical-political context that frames the education and socialization of Asian American citizens, immigrants, and their children.

Objective/Focus: As APIs are absorbed into the fabric of society, how will they define themselves? How will they be defined? This article begins by deconstructing the social category Asian and Pacific Islander in order to reveal the immense diversity contained under this label. The discussion illuminates both the horizontal diversity of APIs—differences between ethnic groups, and vertical diversity—differences within ethnic groups, to underscore the insufficiency of the API label. Against the diverse backdrop that APIs truly (re)present, (Asian) American education framed by three curricular contexts in the United States—the major reforms of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, culturally relevant pedagogy, and the “model minority” mythology—is theorized using postcolonial theory as an analytic lens. The article concludes with thoughts on how APIs can resist domination and what might be sites of resistance in schools or society.

Research Design: This is an analytic essay that examines both historical and contemporary educational and policy contexts.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Curriculum, defined not simply as subject matter content and instructional procedures, but as a tool of acculturation and a depository of (U.S.) national and cultural values, has the power to emancipate or colonize. Each of the three curricular contexts in the United States—the major reforms of the No Child Left Behind Act, culturally relevant pedagogy, and the “model minority” mythology—exemplify the role Curriculum plays in defining, silencing, and/or marginalizing APIs. Imagined sites of resistance against Curriculum as colonizer include this very page, where one voice deliberately pushes back against the obfuscation of fixed realities layered onto people of Asian descent in the United States, the reexamination and revision(ing) of teacher preparation curricula, and the larger policy arena.


The United States is commonly characterized as a country of immigrants, where everyone supposedly originates from somewhere else. This depiction is problematic and has hegemonic undertones, because it denies the existence of indigenous peoples long before the first settlers arrived, overlooks U.S. imperialism in territories such as Puerto Rico and Micronesia, and ignores the forcible abduction and enslavement of millions of Africans. Still, the rate of population growth in this country has, historically, been significantly affected by and increased through immigration, and immigrants have contributed to and rewritten the American narrative in multiple and indelible ways.

However, immigration is not merely a historical phenomenon, but certainly a contemporary one, as the United States once again finds itself undergoing a period of unprecedented immigration. By March 2007, the immigrant population had soared to 37.9 million, a record in American history (Camarota, 2007). In fact, since 2000, the immigrant population has been increasing at the rate of about 1 million per year, and accounts for 12% of the overall population (Capps, Fix, Murray, Ost, Passel, & Herwantoro, 2005). According to most recent census data (2002), the decade between 1990 and 2000 saw a 57% increase in the foreign-born population, compared to a 31% increase between 1900 and 1910the time of the great immigration wave. Indeed, if current trends continue, it is expected that by the end of this decade, the percentage of foreign-born people in the United States will surpass the 1890 record of 14.8% (Center for Immigration Studies, 2002).

The current immigration wave is not simply larger, but is markedly different in its demographics, with the majority of new arrivals coming from Asia and Latin America, not Europe. In 2000, for example, more than 50% of the foreign-born in this country were from Latin American countries, and those of Mexican descent accounted for 31% of all the foreign-born in 2004 (Camarota, 2004). However, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (APIs) represent the fastest growing racial group in the United States, which promises to triple in size to 38 million by 2050 (U.S. Census, 2000). Figures indicate that by 2002, APIs made up 4.4% of the U.S. population, and numbered 12.5 million people (Reeves & Bennett, 2003), an increase of about 100% since the last census conducted a decade ago (Reid, 2000). Thus, during this period of ever-increasing levels of immigration to this country, schools will, more than ever, be called upon to serve as a mechanism for socialization and acculturation as newcomers, many of whom are of API descent, as they enter and are absorbed into the fabric of society.


In the midst of this historical and unprecedented immigration, it is ironic that the national mindset regarding immigrants and immigration ranges from ambivalent to increasingly hostile, and is often contradictory. There has been little national discussion of what it means socially, economically, and so forth to absorb so many newcomers or how decisions regarding who can enter and who cannot areor should bemade. Still, individual states, such as California and Washington, have easily passed bills and propositions limiting social and educational services for immigrants and effectively abolishing bilingual education, and we are currently witnessing controversial and oppressive moves by Arizona to severely restrict and control immigration (Archibold, 2010). While these examples may represent extreme responses of individual states to the immigrant problem, discourse surrounding the question of immigration is rife with paradoxes and inconsistencies that reveal a national environment that is both welcoming of and hostile towards immigrants. For example, 322 languages are spoken in the United States, yet ironically, this fact is employed by U.S. English to forward their English-only agenda (U.S. English, 2010). Immigrants are frequently accused of stealing jobs from U.S. citizens, even while so many of the jobs immigrants assume are eschewed by Americans. As a country, we celebrate our heritage as a land of many peoples, yet E Pluribus Unum1 seems to sum up why there is minimal attention paid to the education of immigrants (Goodwin, 2002a), the implicit assumption being that theythe diverse manyshould or must simply conform to the mainstreamthe American one. But what does American mean?

The meanings of America should be as varied as the countrys culturally and racially diverse makeup, yet American typically is imagined as White (Goodwin, 2003; Lee, 2005; Ngo, 2010; San Juan, Jr., 1998; Takaki, 1989) or Western (Maeda, 2000). While this construction of a white America rests on a variety of factors, the perception of Asians as not American owes its legacy in part to the long history of exclusionary immigration laws that targeted different Asian groups, beginning with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act barring the entry of people of Chinese descent. The ugly legislation was & the first ever passed by Congress targeting a group based on race (Zia, 2000, p. 28; see also San Juan, Jr., 1998), but it was not the last, and laws prohibiting the immigration of other Asian groups soon followed. These acts, coupled with laws that denied Asians citizenship, land ownership and education, effectively inhibited Asian American political development for decades to come (Zia, 2000, p. 28). In fact, even after the repeal of these exclusionary immigrant laws, a quota system of preferences for whites (p. 50) ensured that APIs continued to be numerically contained and therefore socially disempowered. It is the history of the formation of the U. S. nation-state as a settler society & [and] the ideological construction of whiteness in U.S. history that positioned non-whites as immigrants (vs. settlers) and sanctioned racially-based subordination of nonwhite groups and communities (San Juan Jr., 1998, pp. 162163). Thus, the internal colonization (Sharpe, 2000) and otherization2 of APIs and other people of color has been effectively cemented into the psyche of this country. It is within this socio-historical-political context that Asian American immigrants find themselves; it is this context that frames the education and socialization of their children. As APIs enter the United States in ever-increasing numbers, how will they define themselves? How will they be (how are they) defined?

In an effort to answer these questions, this article begins by deconstructing the social category, Asian and Pacific Islander, in order to reveal the immense diversity contained under this label. The discussion illuminates both the horizontal diversity of APIsthat is, differences between ethnic groups, and vertical diversitydifferences within ethnic groups, to underscore the insufficiency of the API label. Against the diverse backdrop that APIs truly (re)present, (Asian) American education framed by three curricular contexts in the United Statesthe major reforms of the No Child Left Behind Act (2001), culturally relevant pedagogy, and the model minority mythologyis theorized using postcolonial theory as an analytic lens. Admittedly, there are numerous debates about what postcolonial theory entails (King, 2000; Mongia, 1996), debates that this article will not take up. Yet, as a window into the effects of colonization on cultures and societies & the subtleties of subject construction in colonial discourse and the resistance of those subjects (Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin, 2000, p. 18687), particularly subjects of Third worlds and their experiences with or in First worlds,3 postcolonial theory affords a perspective on the colonizing effect curriculum can (does) have on API identity, socialization, and agency. The article concludes with thoughts on how APIs can resist domination and what might be sites of resistance in schools or society.



As the fastest growing racial group in the United States, Asians and Pacific Islanders represent numerous multiplicities in terms of language, culture, traditions, pre-immigrant (and/or colonization) histories, and length of residence in the United States. In fact, in the midst of this immigration boom, it is interesting to note that while the immigrant population in the United States is becoming more ethnically homogeneous overall (Mexico leads the list of top immigrant-sending countries), the Asian American immigrant population is, in sharp contrast, becoming more ethnically and nationally diverse. For example, after Mexico, China, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, and Korea rank second, third, fourth, seventh, and eighth in the top-10 list of immigrant-sending countries (Camarota, 2004, November). In addition, the latest census data identify 11 Asian groups: Asian Indian, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Pakistani, Thai, and Vietnamese, as constituting at least 1% of the Asian population; five of the eleven groups number more than a million people4 (Reeves & Bennett, 2004). Clearly, Asians are enormously diverse in national origins (Zhou, 2004, p. 33), and the monolithic veneer of the racial category Asian and Pacific Islander5 needs to be dissected so as to expose the heterogeneity and diversity of the many ethnic and cultural groups assigned this label.

This diversity is in part a consequence of the repeal of the various anti-Asian exclusion laws that had previously restricted immigration from most Asian countries (McBrien, 2005; Pang, 1995; Wu, 2002; Zia, 2000), and to a changing world economy that has resulted in increased migration on a global level (Goodwin, 2010; Haskins, Greenberg, & Fremstad, 2004; Rong & Preissle, 2009; Suarez-Orozco, 2001). Indeed, the heterogeneity of the API community has greatly increased since the enactment of the 1965 Immigration Act, which abolished quotas based on national origin (Pang, 1995; Wu 2002; Zhou, 2004). Thus, since 1970, when the Asian community was comprised primarily of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos, the API population has grown to include at least 24 national-origin groups officially tabulated into the census since 1980 (Zhou, 2004, p. 36). But even this change in the way data are collected does not quite do justice to the API population which is comprised of more than 45 distinct ethnic groups and a multitude of cultures speaking more than 28 languages (Asian Pacific American Legal Center, 2004, p. 2). Disaggregating these data further reveals that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders represent 0.3% of the U.S. population: 23 distinct groups totaling close to 900,000 people (Grieco, 2001)about half of whom identify themselves as Native Hawaiian (Kanaiaupuni, 2005). Indeed, from 1990 to 2000, the minimum-maximum range6 for the increase in the Pacific Islander population was 9% to 140% (Grieco, 2001, p. 3).

The numerous multiplicities presented by the API community extend far beyond national origin or ethnicity, and so the group defies all categorization attempts to label it as a coherent, already constituted group (Spivak, 1996, p. 190). Teasing apart these multiplicities can begin to render visible the groups complexity and rich variety, and locate APIs within their own histories and contexts. First, though, it is important to acknowledge that this piece could easily be accused of essentializing all APIs as immigrants, given the emphasis on immigrants and immigration statistics. For example, aggregated data tell us that currently, about 70% of APIs are recent immigrants and refugees (Office of the White House Initiative on APIs, 2001), 69% are foreign-born (Reeves & Bennett, 2004), and 27% are U.S.-born with foreign-born parents (Zhou, 2004, p. 33). Yet, to counter the persistent narrative that constructs all Asians as strangers from a distant shore (Takaki, 1989), or Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders as strangers in their own land (Kanaiaupuni, 2005), it is critically important to underscore that a significant portion of the API population has resided in the United States for generationsas long as, or for longer, than Europeans or Whites who claim(ed) membership in and ownership of this country through colonization and oppression of non-White others. Archaeological evidence confirms that Native Hawaiians mastered the science of navigating across the worlds largest expanse of ocean long before the Western world was able to overcome the longitudinal problem in their journey to Hawaii 1,600 years ago (Kanaiaupuni, 2005, p. 32). Similarly, the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States in 1843 (U.S. Census Bureau, April 2003), Chinese during the late 1700s (Banks, C. A. M., 2005), Filipinos during the 1500s (Zia, 2000), decades to centuries before the arrival of the great wave of European immigrants who are the ancestors of the majority of the countrys European Americans.

Diversity within the API community is also apparent in terms of language and use of English. According to 2000 U.S. Census figures, 79% speak a language other than English at home (Reeves & Bennett, 2004), 4050% of APIs exhibit limited English proficiency, and 73% come from bilingual homes (Dilworth & Brown, 2001). However, these figures do not illuminate APIs who are fully bilingual in English and their home language, those who are fluent in English but do not speak their home language, those who are speakersbut not readers or writersof their home language, or those who are English Language Learners (ELLs). For example, less than half of Japanese Americans speak a language other than English at home, as compared to more than 90% of Hmong, Laotian, Pakistani, Cambodian, and Vietnamese (Reeves & Bennett, 2004). Thirty percent of Asian households and 9% of Pacific Islander households can be characterized as linguistically isolated, even while the extent of linguistic isolation ranges from a high of 47% for Taiwanese and Korean families, to 1% and 6% for Native Hawaiian and Samoan households (Asian Pacific American Legal Center, 2004). Asians comprise 20% of all ELLs, yet within this socio-racial category, numbers of students who scored no higher than the 40th percentile on the Language Assessment Battery vary greatly, from close to half of Chinese immigrant students to less than 1% of immigrants from Guyana (Coalition of Asian American Children & Families, 2004).

Educational attainment levels are also uneven among APIs. Contemporary Asian immigrants represent a bifurcated distribution & along class lines (Zhou & Lee, 2004, p. 13), and include both those who are highly educated professionals, and those who are low-skilled workers with very limited or no formal education. Among those aged 25 and over, 87% of Asians and Pacific Islanders & had earned at least a high school diploma (Reeves & Bennett, 2003, p. 4). Additionally, 44% of Asians versus 24% of the overall population hold bachelors degrees (Reeves & Bennett, 2004). These aggregated data portray Asians or APIs as achieving educationally at levels greater than or equal to the total U.S. population, yet Asians and Pacific Islanders were almost twice as likely to have less than a ninth-grade education (7%) than non-Hispanic Whites (4%) (Reeves & Bennett, 2003, p. 4). These statistics also mask the many differences that surface when individual groups folded into this racial category are compared. For instance, among Asians, Asian Indians7 were most likely to hold bachelors degrees or higher (64%), while 60% of Hmong and 50% of Laotians and Cambodians had less than a high school education. Similarly, while 86% of Native Hawaiians are high school graduates, only 22% have a bachelors degree or higher & [and] & Hmong and Tongans have the lowest rates of attaining at least a bachelors degree, 4% and 6% respectively (Asian Pacific American Legal Center, 2004, p. 9).

Besides educational attainment, the Asian American community is often also characterized as economically stable with the highest median household income among all racial groups, including Whites (Zhou, 2004). Yet, poverty rates for the Asian population and the total population were similar, even though median earnings for Asians were higher (Reeves & Bennett, 2004, p. 17), and per capita income levels were lower given larger household sizesand therefore more wage earners per householdamong many APIs (Asian Pacific American Legal Center, 2004; Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, 2004). In fact, 10% of APIs live below the poverty level compared to 8% of the overall population (Reeves & Bennett, 2003), per capita income for Pacific Islanders is 27% below the national average (Intercultural Cancer Council, May 2001), and among Asians in Minnesota, API children (Hmong) are three times as likely (37%) to live in poverty than all other children (Office of the White House Initiative on API, 2001). Such data soundly dispute stereotypical perceptions of APIs as financially comfortable, based on median household income figures. Still, these data disguise the many wide contrasts within the community. For example, Asian Indian and Japanese median family incomes are significantly higher than those of all other Asian families, while family incomes for Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians, Thais, and Pakistanis are substantially lower (Reeves & Bennett, 2004).

The discussion thus far can only begin to unpeel the many layers of diversity contained within the API community. Space limits further differentiation, even while there is much that can be added in terms of, for instance, cultural practices, values and traditions, generationality, dialecticalism, regionality, identity development and socialization, sexuality, family structures, religious affiliations and beliefs, and so on. In addition, there has been no discussion of APIs who are interracial, who are among the million plus refugeesincluding thousands of Amerasian childrenbrought to the United States after its withdrawal from Vietnam and South East Asia, who are one of the 140,000 Korean children adopted by European American families after the Korean War (Zia, 2000), or those who are growing up as todays Asian adopteesthe generation of Chinese children being absorbed by European American families. Finally, while the discussion has offered inter-group comparisons as a way of revealing the heterogeneity of the many peoples assigned this monolithic label or flattening category (San Juan Jr., 1998, p. 158), intra-group variance also cannot be ignored. Thus, who APIs are and how they are perceived, as well as how they perceive (or receive) the world, cannot be explained by any single characteristic or demographic variable, but only as an intersection of these individual characteristics within and across national, ethnic, and racial borders.

The many examples and images of APIs offered thus far simply peek beneath the API surface; they serve to differentiate and complicate, even while they simultaneously solidify and simplify. In essence, in naming APIs, no matter how many names I use, I cannot use, cannot know, all of them, and so my discussion can only be partial, and runs the risk of constructing a totalizing narrative & [whereby] intersections themselves become fixed locations & rather than a shifting positionality (Maeda, 2005, p. 95). Naming and confinement go together (Trinh, 1996, p. 15), yet still the attempt to name APIs in multiple ways exposes the limitations of the homogenizing label to which they are assigned and makes the risk worthwhile. This exposure accentuates their lived reality:

The term Asian American [emphasis in original] can no longer hold together a diverse group that includes not only American-born Chinese and Japanese, but also Chinese and Filipino immigrants, whether skilled laborers, undocumented sweatshop workers or small-business owners, as well as Vietnamese, Hmong, and Mien refugees. Asian immigration to the United States also cannot be understood without explaining U.S. imperialism in Hawaii, Vietnam, and the Philippines. (Sharpe, 2005, p. 117)


History informs us that public schools have been used to Americanize, categorize, and exclude those perceived as different, who have meager resources or limited political clout (Greer, 1972; Lazarus, 1991; McLaren, 1989; Tyack, 1974).

Those in control of schools, white businessmen for the most part held a common set of WASP values, professed a common core (that is, pan-Protestant) Christianity, were ethnocentric, and tended to glorify the sturdy values of a departed rural tradition. They took their values for granted as self-evidently truenot subject to legitimate debate. (Tyack, 1974, p. 109)

As the key institution in the practical process of social differentiation and selection and the heart of the ideological process through which inequality is made to seem legitimate (Shapiro & Purpel, 1993, p. 62), schools have been instrumental in maintaining a hegemonic legacy via a variety of structures and mechanisms, especially curriculum.

Curriculum8 has been traditionally defined as the documents, materials, or textbooks that outline the knowledge and skills to be imparted to studentswhat and in what order. Curriculum may also include instructional suggestions, activities and learning experiences, additional or relevant resources, exercises and assignments, and a variety of assessments. Thus, curriculum often informs both what is to be taught and how the teaching should occur. However, Curriculum is much more than subject matter content and instructional procedures. Curriculum embodies a societys implicit consensus around what is worth knowing and what is worthwhile; it shapes and defines students learning experiences, speaks to or ignores who they are, and ultimately influences (some theorists might argue determines) their vocational choices and options. Curriculum, as a tool of acculturation and a depository of (U.S.) national and cultural values, has the power to emancipate or colonize. Thus, the knowledge that got into schools in the past and gets into schools now is not random (Apple, 2004, p. 60), but representsand serves (both historically and currently)the economic and social interests of those in power. By confer[ring] cultural legitimacy on the knowledge of specific groups, schools Curriculum contributed to inequality & [and] & served as mechanisms of social control (Apple, 2004, p. 61).

There is a substantial body of work by scholars and curriculum theorists who join Apple in analyzing Curriculum as a mechanism of social control and replication (cf. Greene, 1988: Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Greer, 1972; Pinar, 2004; Miller, 2005; Friere, 1970; Kincheloe, 2008; McLaren, 1994). While Horace Mann spoke of education as the great equalizer, and while it has been considered instrumental in accelerating upward social mobility, Anyon (2005) has found that higher levels of education have not prevented a corresponding decrease in incomes over the past 30 years, and that educational attainment & is cross-cut by institutional factors of unionization, gender, and race (p. 35). Greer labels the persistent belief in the goodness of school the great school legend which is a pernicious legend & because it justifies the exclusion of millions who will never share in Americas greatness (1972,   p. 3).

Unsurprisingly, immigrants, people of color, and the poor find (have found) themselves in over-crowded, inadequately provisioned classrooms, and in the lowest academic tracks, if they are (were) welcomed by schools in the first place. Scholars have written at length about the stratification of schools by race and class (Anyon, 2005; Grubb & Lazerson, 2004; Weis, 1988; 2004), and we have ample evidence that poor and minority schools typically receive the least in terms of the physical school plant, the depth and richness of the curriculum, and the expertise and quality of teachers (Carter & Goodwin, 1994; Corcoran, Walker, & White, 1988; Council of Great City Schools, 1987; Darling-Hammond, 1990, 1995, 2004; Dreeben, 1987; Fine, 1991; Garcia & Pearson, 1991; Grubb & Lazerson, 2004; Kozol, 1991; Moll, 1991; National Center for Education Statistics, 1987). For instance, recent data indicate that schools serving predominantly minority children, ELLs, and children from low income families are more likely to employ new, inexperienced teachers and less likely to have teachers with masters degrees (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004; see also Darling-Hammond, 2004). In many states, per-pupil expenditures vary tremendously, so that children in the same state receive vastly unequal amounts of funding (Anyon, 2005; Darling-Hammond, 2004); invariably, it is children of color who receive the least (Darling-Hammond, 1995, 2004; Kozol, 1991). A notable contemporary example involves New York Citya system of over one million students, the majority of whom are children of color, immigration, and poverty who speak home languages other than Englishwhich recently prevailed in a suit challenging New York States unequal educational funding formulas that resulted in the citys schools receiving millions of dollars less than suburban schools (Rebell, 2007). Many researchers, such as Michelle Fine, Linda Darling-Hammond, Luis Moll, and John Goodlad, have also examined how Curriculum is commodified and rationed in ways that ensure that those children who are least privileged in U.S. societychildren of color, immigrant children, poor childrenreceive the least rich, meaningful and robust curriculum.

This systematic (and systemic) withholding of adequate resources, strong teachers and rich educational opportunities from children who are marginalized teaches them about their (in)significance and place in U.S. society. When they look around their poorly resourced or dilapidated surroundings, when they fail to see themselves in the texts and images they study, when they learn from unqualified teachers, when they are fed a steady diet of low-level, unchallenging skills and content, and when they witness the marginalization of their families and communities, they realize quickly, as stated earlier, that Americas greatness is not meant for them. Such an analysis of Curriculum helps us recognize the ways in which groups of people, including those who are younger, are colonized through hidden messages about themselves (Viruru & Cannella, 2001, p. 160). This colonizing process is intensified by current reform proposals that represent a neo-conservative reassertion of turn-of-the-century values and beliefs embedded in notions of competition, meritocracy, the neutrality of schools, and Anglo-conformity, and offer little or no mention of & how poverty, racism, and limited expectations affect the educational treatment of poor and minority children (Oakes, 1993, pp. 95, 96). Oakes analysis of some of these proposals reveals how effectively they reestablish white privilege and entitlement under the guise of economic development, high standards, and educational excellence. Thus, for children who are neither White nor economically privileged, the purpose of schooling is not to liberate but to limit, not to intellectually expand but to sort and classify, not to transform but to conform. This has been pointedly articulated by Edward Said who implicated academic learning in colonialism by establishing connections between images and institutions, the production of knowledge, and the securing of power (Sharpe, 2000, p. 108).


Even as our understanding and awareness of the colonizing power of Curriculum and schooling has deepened, there continues to be minimal attention to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who, as outlined earlier, constitute the fastest-growing racial group in this country, and whose diversity is increasing as their numbers grow. These students are increasingly in our schools: 25% of APIs are 17 or younger, a percentage that is even higher among more recent immigrants (Zhou, 2004). Ironically, while educators are unquestioningly facing the challenge of educating larger numbers of API immigrant children who are bringing complexities and diversities that are numerous in quantity and various in kind into the classroom, the educational literature remains silent about their needs and experiences. APIs are rendered invisible.

API invisibility is largely a consequence of their characterization as model minorities, a socially constructed stereotype that was created in the 1960s that served to reify Asians as super minorities who apparently needed no government assistance or special considerations to leap to the top of the class literally and figuratively (Lee, 1996; Wu, 2002; Zia, 2000). The persistence of the model minority label has effectively isolated APIs from other minority groups as they were upheld as examples to emulate (Gotanda, 1995; San Juan, Jr., 1998). Positioned as good minorities (Lee, 2005) whose work ethic, academic over-achievement, and economic success exemplify the ideology of individualism and meritocracy (Lew, 2006, p. 14), APIs are used to discipline & bad minorities (Lee, 2005, p. 5), thereby creating divisions and racial hierarchies among people of color. The uniform assignation of the model minority label to APIs has been challenged by numerous Asian American writers and scholars because it perpetuates the mythology of all APIs as successful, and obscures the hardships, racism, struggles, and injustices that characterize the lives of many Asian Americans. Still, this mythology endures, with the result & that the Asian American racial category is defined by this narrow stereotype (Gotanda, 1995, p. 98). Perceived as fully self-sufficient, neither needing nor warranting special assistance, the lack of educational or social services for APIs is considered justified. In addition, the API community has typically been characterized in monolithic terms as introverted, quiet, and passive, and so has been seen as non-threatening and compliant (Goodwin, Genishi, Asher & Woo, 1997; Pang, 1995; Walker-Moffat, 1995). This, coupled with APIs lack of political organizing and representation, has ensured that they cannot rely on the dominant majority to advocate for them, and have been poorly positioned to advocate for themselves.

Of course, many APIs have achieved academic success at rates oftentimes higher than their White counterparts; similarly, many APIs also enjoy economic success, and epitomize the American Dream. However, to assign all APIs the same model minority label ignores the reality that numerous (and growing numbers of) API students confront academic, psychological, and social barriers such as the lack of second language support, the paucity of culturally relevant curriculum, the increase of anti-Asian hate crimes, and limited counseling services (Kiang, 2004; Lee, 2005; Ngo, 2010; Pang, 1998). In addition, academic and economic success is not uniform across all API groups, or even within them. For example, academic achievement among Koreans and South Asians far surpasses that among Hmong and Filipino youth. Yet, to presume that all Koreans enjoy economic comfort and academic ease denies the lived experiences of poor and working class Koreans whose children are marginalized in school (Chae, 2004, 2005; Lew, 2006). In fact, truancy and failure are a growing phenomenon among API youth; in New York City, 33% of APIs either drop out or fail to complete high school in four years (Coalition of Asian American Children and Families, 2004).

Colonialism as a distinctive kind of political ideology, perpetrates a specific form of cultural exploitation, and marks people of color and indigenous peoples as inherently inferior (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin, 2000, pp. 46, 47). The tenacity of the model minority myth juxtaposed against images of the Yellow peril, the continued silencing and homogenization of the API community, and the steadfast failure to recognize, let alone address, their unique needs, are all instruments of control manipulated and wielded by the power majority to manage and oppress APIs, and to define and name them. Analysis from a postcolonial vantage supports an unearthing of the mechanisms and messages employed to obscure API individuality, cultural distinctiveness, differentiation, and voice by revealing how knowledge is shaped, controlled, produced, and disseminated (Mongia, 1996). Postcolonial theorizing can also detect and uncover issues of power, domination, identity, and representation in relation to Curriculum and its powerful history as a colonizing agent. The work of postcolonial theorists (Bhabha, 1994; Chow, 1993; Ghandi, 1998; Said, 1978/1994; Spivak, 1996; Trinh, 1989) illuminates the spaces in-between the social constructions that essentialize and objectify Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and place them in opposition to each other, to other racialized peoples, and to the Western standards established by the U. S. power majority. It is only through the analysis of oppression and subjugationthe discourse of empire9 (Said, 1978/1994, p. xxi)that the enlightenment that serves as the precursor to resistance is possible. Notions of hybridity,10 intersubjectivity, resistance, and intersectionality (Bhabha, 1994; Chow, 1993; Trinh, 1989) render visible the fluidness of identity, raise to consciousness the boundless and self-determined realities embodied in API existences, and allow us to [escape] essentialized explanatory narrativizations of culture while marking a space of enunciation (Maeda, 2000, p. 97). Thus, the intention of this piece is to mark a space of enunciation, to speak with an inclusive voice that honors and respects the multiple stories, positions, perspectives, experiences, and histories of API immigrants in explaining the power of Curriculum and how it does, should, and should not intersect with their lives.



While the United States technically does not have a national curriculum in place, the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and its attendant prescriptions for curriculum, teaching, and testing, has essentially become the de facto American curriculum, driving educational decisions and choices for all 50 states (Sunderman, Kim, & Orfield, 2005). Since the enactment of NCLB, we have witnessed the colonizing power of Curriculum in public education in this countrythe ability of top-down mandates to revise the landscape of classrooms, dictate the actions and decisions of educators, and restrict the breadth and richness of educational experiences for young learners. Of the four pillars of NCLB (NCLB, Overview)stronger accountability for results, more freedom for states and communities, proven education methods, and more choices for parents, it is the impact of stronger accountability coupled with the heavy focus on reading with which this discussion is most concerned. Now, in too many classrooms, a disproportionate amount of each school day is devoted to readingnarrowly defined and in isolation from other subjects, with teachers delivering scripted curricula, implementing mandated materials, and teaching to standardized tests (Center on Education Policy, 2006; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2006; FairTest, http://www.fairtest.org ). NCLB holds educators and school districts accountable for improving standardized test results, threatening sanctions and financial consequences. Thus, it may not be too dramatic to say that school districts and educators are being held hostage by NCLB edicts and the specter of failing to make adequate yearly progress (AYP), given the rising substantiation of NCLB as coercive reform that has been poorly conceptualized and inadequately funded (Sunderman et al., 2005)

The ideological subtext of NCLBs emphasis on reading (as) achievement seems to define literacy as both text- and English-based, given the equating of academic success with high (and quantifiable) performance on standardized, paper and pencil tests in English. Instruction must derive from scientifically-based research (NCLB, 2003), that is, experimental studies using specific populations and designed to measure specific interventions or variables. Arguably, such instruction cannot serve the needs of diverse school populations, who invariably do not mirror the experimental samples. NCLB has, in effect, narrowed conceptions of teaching and learning, limiting the pedagogical scope that should be available to diverse learners, in favor of a one-size fits all perspective (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2006). Therein lies the irony. On the one hand, NCLB ostensibly aims to champion educational equity and dismantle a separate but unequal schooling system; it employs the language of equality whereby our neediest children will no longer be left behind, and holds schools and teachers, not learners, responsible for learning. Yet, NCLB discourse privileges some forms of knowledge over othersspecifically the language of power or of the oppressor, and devalues some learners over others by subtly sorting children according to English proficiency or disability, stressing linear ways of knowing and teaching, and labeling the neediest children as the most problematic students. What all this implies for API immigrant children demands, from a postcolonial perspective, a rethinking of the very terms by which knowledge has been constructed (Mongia, 1996, p. 5) in order to expose the master narrative that has been constructed around achievement, learning, and equity.

According to NCLB, APIs fall under the protected class of students (Capps et al., 2005), which also includes other students of color, LEP (Limited English Proficient)11 students and immigrants. Many API students will be found at the intersection of Asian, LEP and Immigrant, underscoring once again the multiple identities API children embody. Yet, a recent look at the NCLB website spoke volumes of how protected APIs truly are, since they were nowhere to be found.12 A picture of a teacher with LEP students showed a White teacher with three children, none of whom would be readily identified as Asian. The site continues to provide information on the achievement gap, and offers three reports, one for African Americans, one for Hispanics, and one for American Indians. Each report is titled the same way: How NCLB Benefits (Racial Group); Ways No Child Left Behind Is Helping Close the Achievement Gap (NCLB, Achievement Gap). There is no report for Asians. Clearly, APIs are positioned as safe from the achievement gap, constructed as different and other within the categories of knowledge of the West (Hall, 1996, p. 112). Their invisibility belies statistics that tell us 20% of all English language learners are of Asian descentnumbers that cannot begin to specify the numerous Asian groups, among whom the percentage of those designated LEP ranges from 20 to nearly 50% (Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, 2004), nor acknowledge children from Micronesia as one of the fastest growing LEP sub-populations in Hawaii (Talmy, 2005, p. 20). In addition, 80% of APIs are children of immigrants and, along with Latino children, are more likely to be linguistically isolated, with percentages ranging as high as 50% among those who are linguistically isolated in the Vietnamese community (Capps et al., 2005). This invisibility enunciates a national discourse that authors APIs as unimportant, students whom schools can safely ignore.

Still, API children will enter hyper-literacy school environments where knowledge is constructed as language (read English) acquisition and facility with discrete linguistic tasks. For the majority of API immigrant children whose home language is not English, little will make sense to them given the distance between the structures of Asian languages, and the utterances, structure, or conventions of the English language. They will, from the start, be positioned on the margins of the NCLB-driven curriculum, either as silent, peripheral students, or as problems to be overcome. While this is the situation in which many ELLs find themselves, API immigrant children speak more than 100 languages and dialects (Ro, 2002), few of which utilize an alphabetic system, and most of which are completely dissimilar, one from the other. We must assume then that the already small percentage of bilingual or ESL teachers who are Asian4% (de Cohen, Deterding, & Clewell, 2005)is completely inadequate to the challenges presented by so many languages. In addition, support materials and resources, such as bilingual texts, translators, and so forth, in such a range of languages, are simply not available to teachers to help scaffold API immigrant childrens language acquisitionwhether in English or their home language. This is particularly the case with Hmong or Micronesian children whose histories and literacies are orally based, in contrast to the text- and English-based environment of NCLB.

This (un)availability of bilingual support for APIs (and other ELLs) is not simply a matter of resources, but a function of U.S. ideology that supports English as a key signifier of American. NCLB holds schools accountable for LEP students English proficiency & [and] may alter language programs and produce an increased focus on rapid English acquisition (Capps, et al., 2005, p. 1). NCLBs reliance on text-based literacy that lends itself to discrete measurement further bolsters the modernist hierarchy, which marks orality or oral cultures as primitive, as less than the written and codified. Yet, the cloak of equal educational access and excellence for all, in which NCLB is enveloped, sends a message of inclusiveness and invitation. APIs find themselves amidst an irresolvable binarythey are presented with an apparently open invitation, yet they are absent from the guest list, reminded that they are the other within (Maeda, 2000), simultaneously pulled to and barred from the American Dream.

More problematically, they learn quickly the status of speaking in a national language that is not [their] mother tongue, and even though a mother tongue is a language with a history (Spivak, 1996, p. 211), English is the language of power. There is no argument that it is important for all APIs to learn the language of power in the United States However, language becomes the medium through which a hierarchical structure of power is perpetuated (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin, 1989, p. 7). When the oppressed, whose voices we seldom hear are robbed of their language (Chow, 1993, p. 13), and through language, their history, imperialism as ideological domination succeeds & without physical coercion, without actually capturing the body and the land (p. 8). API children become separated from who they are, the spirit of their belonging, they lose the ability to communicate with their families and communities, and they land in a space where they are isolated from both co-nationals and Whites (Goodwin, 2003).

API children are dropped in the deep end to either acquire English (knowledge) or not. Yes, NCLB has suggested that states use appropriate linguistic accommodations (NCLB, 2003, p. 19), yet the examples of accommodations offered have clearly been associated with testing: additional test-completion time, testing in small groups, and so forth. Indeed, states must make every effort to develop and administer native language assessments (NCLB, 2003, p. 20, emphasis added). So the focus has obviously not been on instruction and how ELLs learn or what they need to be successful learners, but on discrete measurements of learning. API immigrant children, especially those who are least privileged, will be trained to read, to regurgitate on cue, to identify discrete sounds and vocabulary, but they will not become literate and fluent knowers who own ideas and integrate knowledge.

Without adequate support within the test and punish (Neill, 2010) machinery spawned by NCLB, API immigrant ELLs are likely to perform poorly on critical assessments and run the risk of being labeled as liabilitieswhat has been called the diversity penalty (Novak & Fuller, 2003, cited in Darling-Hammond, 2006)because they depress test scores and retard adequate progress, which in turn results in sanctions for teachers and schools. The irony is that the current high-stakes testing environment is familiar to some API immigrants, even while it is completely foreign to others. Thus, there will be or are some API children who do well, given this familiarity, and others who will struggle to meet rigidly applied and tested standards. APIs, especially immigrants, will soon absorb the message that there is only one route to academic success. Those who make it will solidify the model minority myth that is planted even more firmly in the minds of the dominant majorityas well as in the minds of all Othersby a media that wastes few opportunities to tout API academic success (Wu, 2002; Zia, 2000). API children who fail, are doubly silenced by their simultaneous positioning as deficient and undeserving of special assistance. API children who succeed are paraded as prized pawns for problem minorities to emulate (Wu, 2002), an equally thorny space to occupy, as they are deployed almost as defending troops to discipline other racialized groups in America (Cheng, 2001, p. 23). In this way, NCLB engineers APIs differential incorporation into the American polity (San Juan Jr., 1998, p. 156), which promises to more deeply divide the API community into those who uphold the model minority stereotype, or what Bhabha would term fixity (1996), and those who can(will)not perform this fixed form of difference (p. 47), placing APIs in opposition to themselves.

NCLB promises to (continue to) essentialize API students as disadvantaged LEP learners or whiz kids. Evidence indicates that many API groups are already experiencing school as unsupportive and culturally oppressive (Lee, 2005; Talmy; 2005; Yuen, Dowrick, & Alaimaleata, 2005). NCLB can only further separate them from their traditional ways of knowing and define them as deficient. Paradoxically, the exclusionary rhetoric of the act may encourage APIs to mimic the gaze (Chow, 1993), that is, adopt the assumptions and values of the powerful (Bhabha, 1994), and engage in self-othering when they erect barriers between or among themselves, as they seek to span the identity-distance between the traditional and the Americanized Asian self (Lee, 2005; see also Chae, 2005; Goodwin, 2003). APIs are implicated in their own oppression as they engage in what San Juan, Jr., (1998) terms the civilizing mission, whereby they re-colonize themselves.


According to Ladson-Billings, curriculum and pedagogy are culturally relevant when teachers aim to support learners academic achievement, cultural competence, and critical consciousness (1995). Indeed, Gloria Ladson-Billings extensive work around the question of cultural relevance in curriculum or Curriculum and teaching, is echoed by numerous scholars, including James Banks, Valerie Ooka Pang, Sonia Nieto, Jacqueline Jordan Irvine, Karen Swisher, Luis Moll, Christine Sleeter, Carl Grant, Kathy Au, and Joyce King, to name just a few. These scholars have all taken great care to explicate and substantiate the importance of incorporating the histories and stories of diverse learners into curriculum materials, differentiating instruction from assessment so as to meet the many ways of knowing presented by culturally different students, and deliberately working towards transformative education by engaging in social-justice teaching.

The scholarship on culturally relevant pedagogy and curriculum serves as a conceptual backdrop for this discussion. However, as valuable and informative as this work is, the actual practice and presence of culturally relevant curriculum continues to dawdle far behind research or intentions (Gay, 2000; Goodwin, 1997a; Pang, 2005), perhaps because the production of textbooks and curricula is often more about economics than about education, equity or truth. We know also that the additive version of multicultural curriculum (Banks, J. A., 1997) continues to thrive because it is easy to implement, disturbs the regular Curriculum minimally, and requires little effort or critical thought on the part of educators. Finally, we are well aware of the fact that the majority of educators are White, monolingual, and middle class (Dilworth & Brown, 2001; Gay, 2000; Goodwin 2004; Ladson-Billings, 2001), and often have had minimal contact with people unlike themselves. Thus, teachers, curriculum developers, and school administrators will likely not have had many (perhaps any) significant or intimate interactions with culturally and linguistically diverse children, including API students, prior to seeing them in their classrooms. It should be no surprise then that too much of the work in the name of multicultural curriculumwhen it is presentis superficial, fragmented, and decontextualized, offered by teachers who have had little preparation in either the content or pedagogy of cultural relevance, and who therefore can do little more than reinforce a tokenized perspective of minorities in this country through an emphasis on celebrations, contributions, food, and heroes.

Yet, even in this barren landscape of culturally relevant curriculum, attention to API students is minimal (Goodwin, 2003; Goodwin, et al., 1997; Pang 1998), with even less focus on the needs or experiences of API (or other) immigrant learners (Goodwin, 2002a). The adjectival status of APIs (Vine Deloria, Jr., cited in Chow, 1993, p. 139) in the curriculum cannot but be otherwise, if we understand U.S. racial minorities as internal colonized nations (Sharpe, 2000, p. 105). Representation, voice, and permission for the subaltern to speak (Spivak, 1988) become avenues toward social control that in marking out a subject nation, appropriates, directs, and dominates its various spheres of activity (Bhabha, 1996, p. 41). As one of the subject nations in a U.S. that frames racial discourses in blackwhite terms (Goodwin, 2004c; Ngo, 2010; Wu, 2002), APIs are located on the margins as sidelined Other. As such, they are placed in the position of competing with the other subject nationsAfrican Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, women, working class, gays/lesbians/the transgendered, people with disabilitiesfor the limited curricular space that is meted out to those who find themselves on the periphery of dominant, White, male, middle-class, normative standards. Invariably, APIs find themselves MIHMissing in History (Zia, 2000, p. 43), their stories excluded and erased (Pfaelzer, 2007), or even appropriated,13 still struggling to be heard (Pang, 1998).

API absence from the curriculum can be attributed to their political disenfranchisement, a direct consequence of immigration laws used as a tool to control certain groups (Hing, 1993, in Maeda, 2000). Their invisibility is also a function of a hierarchy of race that exists in this country, constructed by a White power majority that makes choices about which underrepresented groups are to be emphasized over others. Thus, in most studies and data that describe social and educational conditions, APIs are one of the groups for whom data are not gathered or reported. The excuse is typically that their numbers are too small to be statistically significant, but the reality is that APIs are not socially or politically significant, until they are used to punctuate education achievement or economic advancementalongside Whitesas a contrast always to the lower performance of other racially categorized people. Obviously, API statistical significance in large-scale studies wanes or expands depending on the point those telling the story wish to make, and too often the story is some variation of minority success against all obstacles as an epitome of the American Horatio Alger story, that Other(s) should heed and find instructive, even inspiring. This implicit message forwarding APIs as super minorities helps to foster a willful ignorance about the impact of race and racism (hooks, 1995, p. 16), and forwards an egalitarian discourse [that] is reconciled with the massive inequities of our social, economic, and political lives (Shapiro & Purpel, 1993, p. 62).

Lack of data is also apparent more locally where school administrators at all levels do not keep careful statistics on Asian American students (Walker-Moffat, 1995, p. 21) due to widespread perceptions of their academic success, and therefore their presumed lack of need. (Ironically, NCLB mandates may now result in Asian American data being collected because many API learners will be labeled disadvantaged and LEP.) Much has been written about the need for teachers of color in response to the increasing numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse students (Goodwin, 1997a, 1997b, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 2001; Pang, 2005; Zumwalt & Craig, 2005), yet APIs are often excluded from affirmative action and special scholarship programs, notably those aimed at recruiting teachers of color (Goodwin, et. al., 1997). Thus, the small number of API teachers notwithstanding, there seems to be little interest in recruiting more, which is all the more troubling given the key role API educators seem to play as advocates for API learners and initiators of curriculum meaningful to API pupils (Goodwin et al., 1997). The paucity of information surrounding APIs not only reinforces their unimportance, but also makes inclusive, culturally relevant curriculum development all the more challenging, thereby ensuring mistakes, omissions, and inaccuracies. The dearth of culturally-located insiders in the roles of teachers, school administrators, and curriculum creators also raises the worrisome issue of authenticity and who has the right to speak to and for Other, given the untranslatability of third world experiences into the first world (Chow, 1993, p. 38), and Asian Americans as the other-within (Cheng, 2001; Maeda, 2000; Trinh, 1989).

Virtually still invisible in spite of the victories of the vanguard party of multiculturalism (San Juan, Jr., 1998, p. 172), the curricular silence surrounding APIs seems designed to reinforce APIs status as perpetual foreigners (Lee, 1996; Takaki, 1989). Even while Asians have been pressured into assimilating within an inflexible mold of Americanization (Suzuki, 1977, p, 151), Curriculum clearly transmits the message that they hold no membership in the American story. They are absent, or they are exoticized, cloaked with perceptions of cultural otherness as a significant factor in continued productions of racial differentiation (Maeda, 2000, p. 82), or lumped together with the standard representatives, namely China and Japan (Chow, 1993, p. 124). In this way, Curriculum becomes the mode of representation of otherness (Bhabha, 1996, p. 38), offering no opening that allows API children and immigrants to find their place or their voice in classrooms, no third space (Bhabha, 1994) for meaningful connections with schooling. Moreover, in a high-stakes testing environment, cultural literacy, cultural competence, and language development are poorly nurtured, if incorporated at all, given the stress of performance over understanding. Through Curriculum, the processes of subjectification [are] made possible (and plausible) through stereotypical discourse (Bhabha, 1996, p. 37, emphasis in original); API students come to see (and believe) themselves to be cultural caricatures. They learn quickly to distance themselves from (them)selves, turning in their home languages, traditions, and cultural norms in exchange for English and American ways in an effort to minimize their difference (Goodwin, 2003). The colonizing power of Curriculum separates immigrant and native-born API children from their communities and families by stealing the tools they need to belong. They reject their own cultural knowledge in favor of the power code, yet, knowing this code does not transform them into the powerful, as they find themselves in-between, not ever fully accepted by the dominant majority and not fully a member of their own community (Goodwin, 2003).


Much mention has been made in this article so far of the Model Minority mythology that has become so firmly attached to Asians in America. A powerful socio-political construct whose appearance in the 1960s coincided with the period of great civil unrest and racial conflict in this country (Zia, 2000), it has successfully infiltrated public, educational, and economic discourses to the point that it has become the primary lens through which Asian Americans are perceived, portrayed, and identified. This mythology is solidly entrenched in the American psyche and must be recognized as a colonizing Curriculum at both the micro classroom and school level, and the macro national and societal level, because it has reduced or produced the colonized as a fixed reality which is at once an other and yet entirely knowable and visible (Bhabha, 1996, p. 41).

Historically, APIs have been assigned many fixed realities. Prior to the emergence of the model minority label in the mid 1960s, Asians in this country were usually depicted by dehumanizing stereotypes that conjured up visions of invading yellow hordes [and] were also victims of some of the most repressive, vicious and humiliating acts of racism (Suzuki, 1995, p. 113; see also Pfaelzer, 2007). Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have been similarly labeled as indolent, savage, and backward (Kanaiaupuni, 2005; Talmy, 2005), or are romanticized and exoticized (Kaomea, 2003). We are familiar also with images of APIs as the faithful servant or sidekick, the cruel and evil villain, the naively innocent woman-child, the buck-toothed dolt, and the sexualized whore. All these social imaginings of APIshow they have been known and made visiblecontinue as an undercurrent of colonial discourse that construe[s] the colonized as a population of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin, in order to justify conquest (Bhabha, 1996, p. 41). These narrativations exemplify histories and contexts that have already constructed Americanness against cultural others, especially Asians (Maeda, 2000, p. 96), and position APIs as subaltern.

Unlike, however, the other fixed realities that locate APIs as deviant contradictions to the White dominant standard, the reinvention of APIs as model minorities was symbolic evidence of an America that was indeed a land of economic opportunity and social advancement for all, and of the assimilability of minorities upon appropriation and mimicry of the ways of the dominant group. This Curriculum was quickly absorbed into the national consciousness as a way to counter the accusations of activists of color who were speaking out and pushing back against racism, oppression, and exploitation. This new API identityan identity as the good othermanufactured an uncomfortable, clearly schizophrenic identity for APIs that is two-faced (Wu, 2002). Says Wu,

Every attractive trait matches up neatly to its repulsive complement, and the aspects are conducive to reversal. If we acquiesced to the myth in its favorable guise, we would be precluded from rejecting its unfavorable interpretations. (2002, p. 67)

Thus, no matter which way they turn, APIs find themselves the target of someones fear or scorn. Their highly advertised success, used to magnify lack of accomplishment on the part of other racialized peoples, especially African Americans and Latinos, rationalizes the disavowal of racism against Asian Americans & [which] misses the point that economic competition often fuels the very energy behind racism, as well as intensifying conflict with other minority groups (Cheng, 2001, p. 22). At the same time that Asian success is flouted, Asian success is also viewed with suspicion by whites who fear the competitive power of the Pacific Rim countries (San Juan, Jr., 1998, p. 164) and have perpetrated violent hate crimes against APIs or erected barriers to keep them out of the university and the boardroom (Wu, 2002).

Thus, the Model Minority as a Curriculum of othering accomplishes four critical goals (Goodwin, 2001), each of which exerts control over APIs. First, by instantly transforming APIs from reviled to revered, it has secured API gratitude. After years of racial oppression that taught Asians to adopt behavioral patterns that would not attract too much attention or elicit adverse reaction from the larger White society (Tong, 1971, cited in Suzuki, 1995, p. 121), APIs have learned to hold their heads down further still, and call no attention to themselves for fear of losing the favored status façade. Second, it masks API needs. Their great success has meant that they cannot ask for help, and indeed are deemed to not need or deserve any. Their great success has meant also that when they speak aloud of oppression and racism in their lives, few are inclined to listen. Third, it has separated APIs from other communities of color by upholding them as enactments of the American dream despite all odds. By driving a wedge between them and potential allies in the fight against oppression, it has caused other(s) to discount, or worse even, mistrust them. Finally, it has divided APIs from within or from themselves as some embrace the mantle, believing in its protective and redemptive power, and others reject it. While the Curriculum of othering is deliberately applied to all subaltern groups, the otherness effected by the Model Minority Curriculum is complete and totalizing because it positions APIs as separate from every other groupthe powerful and the powerless, the dominant racial minority and the dominated minority majority, the mainstream and the marginalizedincluding those who would claim membership as APIs. In essence, the Model Minority Curriculum places APIs at the fulcrum of multiple marginalities, effectively isolated as the Other Other (Talmy, 2005).

As a colonizing instrument, the Model Minority Curriculum objectifies and essentializes API youth and in so doing, gives educators permission to bypass their instructional needs and waste no energy on knowing about the histories and valued practices of [APIs] rather than trying to teach prescriptively according to broad, unexamined generalities (Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003, p. 20). It upholds a false and racialized standard for all API students to meet while ignoring the complicated nuances ethnicity, gender, socio-economics, culture, and so forth, bring to bear on learning and knowing. It silences and alienates poor, working class Asian youth who do not see themselves reflected in Curriculum and reject the Model mythology (Chae, 2005; Fell-Eisenkraft, 2005; Lew, 2006; Talmy, 2005). In facing the myth, API students can elect to acquiesce, in essence effectively silencing any needs they might voice, any issues they might battle. Or, as an alternative to acquiescence, they can resist and run the risk of being characterized as oppositional to school and labeled as deviant (Lee, 2005; Ngo, 2010). Whichever way they turn, API students confront, are judged by, and are measured against the Model Minority Curriculum that first assigns them a false and constructed identityeffectively silencing and segregating them, and then exploits them by putting them on display as proof of an equitable and non-racist America, and a school system that meets the needs of all children.


Conversations about resistance are not easy because in theory all sounds simple, almost commonsensical, yet history tells us that resisting colonizing forces is arduously challenging and never a straight route from start to finish. In initiating the conversation, I may unwittingly present myself as one who has answers, but I can say from the start, I have none. I engage instead in supposing as a way to imagine some pathways that might make themselves known to meas an Asian American, Singaporean, South East Asian, Chinese, first-generation adult immigrant, who is also a biracial, (now) middle-class, woman, daughter, and teacherand to others like me, in solidarity with me and other APIs. This conversation is, therefore, about possibilities, imagined sites of resistance where we might begin.

The first site of resistance is this very page, where one voice deliberately pushes back against the obfuscation of fixed realities layered onto people of Asian descent in the United States. Attention to the category Asian challenges the binary understandings of racial constructions (Maeda, 2000, p. 85), and begins to chip away the hegemonic façade of a monolithic nomination that blends all of us into one Universal Oriental (Goodwin et al. 1997) even while it erases us from the wider U.S. context by pretending we do not exist.

The simple act of articulatingnaming out loudthe existence of multiplicities of lived experiences, identities, and histories, challenge[s] a dominant discourse by resurrecting the victimized voice/self of the native (Chow, 1996, p. 129). As Gayatri Spivak says, If the subaltern can speak then, thank God, the subaltern is not a subaltern any more (cited in Chow, 1996, p. 128). While this action might seem anemic and almost simplistic, it is what the powerless must do to initiate their own liberationstep into any space where they have been silenced. Small steps such as this page interrupt colonizing discourses by abrogating or rejecting normativity in the (mis)representation, definition, and translation of the API community. Anyone reading this page must now hold suspect any data basewhether national or localthat excludes us, any American story in which we are not present, the validity of any study that obscures our diversity. Anyone reading this page is awakened to the part he or she plays in the perpetuation of Asian American as a monolithic, standardizing rubric (San Juan, Jr., 1998, p. 163), each time she or he accepts without question a research study, a report, an op-ed piece, a journal article, or a dataset that fails to acknowledge the varied and shifting identities and realities of APIs. Anyone reading this page is confronted by the complicatedness of the writing and research they may choose to do about the API diaspora. This page underscores the ethics involved in speaking about other and frames the necessity of authentic, multiple, inclusive, yet admittedly always partial, representation as a moral, not an intellectual, choice. What readers actually do is, ultimately, their decision. But, by introducing the very notion of resistance, this page holds the promise of persuading more to join as resistors.

This conscientization (Freire, 1970) of communities both API and not, could then be the seed for resistance in other sites, specifically pedagogy, curriculum, and educational policy. Once a different reality is revealed and we become conscious of our oppression or our oppression of other(s), it means that we have voice and the courage to question ourselves and the role we are playing in maintaining educational (I would add social, political, economical) processes that we do not value (Wink, 2005. p. 32). We can no longer maintain a culture of silence (McLaren, 1994, p. 306), but must be moved to act.

In terms of pedagogy, a critical action would be the reexamination and revision(ing) of teacher preparation curricula, given the ever-shifting U.S. context. As discussed earlier, definitions and enactments of culturally relevant pedagogy, oftentimes weak and inconsistent, seem to bypass API students. Changing this reality requires teacher preparation that is culturally inclusive and culturally sophisticated. Broad stroke sweeps through racial groups as a way of understanding other, as is often typical of teacher preparation, cannot be allowed to continue. However, the preparation of teachers for diverse populations cannot simply be a study of other, but must begin with a study of self. By virtue of being reared in a country that traces its roots to the subjugation and annihilation of the Taino, the enslavement of people of African descent, the colonization of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, the exclusion and internment of Chinese and Japanese Americans, and the marginalization and alienation of people of color and women, too many teachers-in-the-making have unwittingly absorbed the racist ideology that permeates American institutions, regulations, structures, and society. As a consequence, many teacher education students, most of whom are White, have reaped the benefits of a school system that is socially engineered to serve the agenda of the dominant White majority, and have likely developed unconscious yet deeply rooted assumptions that schools are inherently fair, that childrens capacities to learn are predetermined and unalterable, and that meritocratic competition is the road to equal educational opportunity. In other words, they have absorbed, the ideological mechanisms that shape and maintain our racist order (Bartolome & Macedo, 1997, p. 223). Preservice teachers expectations, assumptions, beliefs, and preconceived notions about children, such as APIs who are labeled different, need to be interrogated and disrupted (Genor & Goodwin, 2005; Goodwin, 2002b, 2002c) before they enter the classroom.

When teachers and teacher educators are consciouswhat Maxine Greene (1995) calls wide awaketo (their own) pedagogical practices that perpetuate the invisibility of APIs, the possibility of curriculum that is similarly wide awake to the needs and capacities of API learners becomes possible. As a significant site of resistance, curriculum guides, and school texts, resources, and materials require vigilant assessment on the part of educators who are able to perceive curriculum through a racialized lens (Goodwin, 2002c). This perceptive ability will enable them, for example, to recognize the subjectification of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in classic childrens stories such as Tikki Tikki Tembo (Mosel, 1968) and Five Chinese Brothers (Bishop, 1938) that remain staples in elementary curricula, yet are authored by those outside the API community, are filled with stereotypical and exotic images, and are culturally inaccurate and insulting. Evaluating curriculum through new eyes directs teachers to question texts or curriculum standards that are silent on the issues and histories affecting the API community, for instance, the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II, or the role of global capitalism and U. S. neo-imperialism in the continued manipulation and oppression of post-colonial API (and other peoples of color) economies and communities. Acts of resistance would also include educators speaking out against curricula for LEP immigrant learners that are deficit-oriented, English only-focused, and so-called culturally neutral. The official knowledge (Apple, 2004) represented and sanctioned by current curricula, distorts API histories or erases their existence, leaving them-us to continuously struggle to maintain our footing on slippery ground as our identities and positions are constantly reinvented by those who are not of us (Goodwin, 2001, p. 1). Curriculum as a site of resistance will ensure APIs are not left yearning to remember who we are (Darder, 1995, p. 1).

Finally, sites of resistance must not only encompass the daily realities and practices of teachers and schools, but must extend to the larger policy arena. Most importantly, policies governing how and what data are amassed and about whom must be immediately modified so that data about API populations are, first of all, collected, and second, disaggregated in ways that reveal the diversity of the community as discussed in detail earlier in this article. When APIs are left out of national discussions and mandates targeting the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse populations, but conversely are conspicuously displayed as poster minorities who fill prestigious universities and achieve perfect SAT scores, the model minority mythology becomes further entrenched in the national and educational mindset. Dismantling this myth requires truth about APIs, truth contained in the details and specifics of their lives and manifold realities. Second, the reauthorization of NCLB must be singled out as a prime site for resistance, not simply because it has failed to live up to its promise (Sunderman et al., 2005), but because, says Darling-Hammond (2006), despite noble goals (p. 662), it has forwarded nonsensical rules (p. 657) that have resulted in perverse outcomes (p. 657) for ELLs and children with disabilities. NCLB has undoubtedly focused the nations attention on educational equity, but modification is necessary if it is to accomplish its intended goals.14 A re-direction of NCLB policy becomes even more critical because it is poised to push high stakes testing into the secondary grades where it will undoubtedly have a dramatic impact on the education of API youth in high schools. Many of these youth enter U.S. schools evidencing large gaps in their education due to inadequate schooling available in their home countries or to the interruptions that are the by-product of war (Goodwin, 2002). Their need for a rich, expansive, and multifaceted curriculum contrasts with the narrowness of NCLB-defined curriculum, which can only position them further as remedial learners, initiate (or deepen) their disenfranchisement from school, and ensure their failure.

Resisting educational policy is a mammoth task that will require the energies of many groups. Successful resistance will depend on coalitions of concerned citizens and educators, who are determined, through collective action, to agitate for changes that can enhance the life chances of all the peoples in the United States. While a call for coalition building is not new, our ability to actually build and/or sustain them is a constant hurdle. This can be attributed to U.S. racial or identity politics that have put people of color in competition with each other, positioned Asian Americans in opposition to other marginalized groups, and perpetuated systems of privilege that encourage those who benefit from these systems to protect their own interests. Through a process of racialization, oppressed peoples are manipulated, reshaped, and exploited in ways that perpetuate the existing power structure and ultimately [serve] to conceal the particular set of social conditions experienced by [them] (Darder & Torres, 1999, p. 181). We fail to recognize our own oppression but instead internalize it and seek to be like the invaders (Freire, 1970, p. 151), and to out-Yankee the Yankees (Chun, 1995, p. 108). To counter this, people of color, along with people of conscience, can together, begin the process of developing

a mode of oppositional consciousness that depends on the ability to read actual situations of power and to choose and adopt tactics of resistance that are best suited to push against the different forms of power configurations that shape actual experiences of injustice and inequality & [and see] & notions of race identity and difference as politically formed rather than embedded in the color of the skin or a given nature. (Darder, 1995, p. 11, 12)

There remains only one final site of resistance and this lies within us. The API community has been named and manipulated by ruling others, controlled by the tyranny of a myth of conformity that has distorted who we are. Unsurprisingly, we have found ourselves in between, belonging neither to the majority nor minority, occupying the strange status of Asians in Americas conceptions of race (Cheng, 2001, p. 22). Rather than feeling coerced to choose a side, we need to embrace the in-between, take ownership of where we are. We need to reinvent ourselves, define ourselves as free-standing as opposed to in comparison or by default, explore hybridization which

does not represent a relativist notion of culture, but instead challenges the global structures of domination that shape the lives of subordinate groups and creates a space for new formations of cultural identity to take hold. (Darder, 1995, p. 13)

Through selfdefinition, we can combat the defiled image, the stripped image, the image-reduced-to-nakedness, by showing the truth behind/beneath/around it (Chow, 1996, p. 123). In being unafraid to look at ourselves and locate change within ourselves, we can look without fear at those who have kept us fearful. We need to return the gaze, this gaze, which is neither a threat nor a retaliation makes the colonizer conscious of himself, leading to his need to turn this gaze around and look at himself, henceforth reflected in the native-object (Chow, 1996, p. 139). In embracing ourselvesall of our many selveswe are able to reflect the native-subject-self to the colonizer. In professing ourselves as multilinear lines of narrative rather than one monologic strand (San Juan, 1998, p. 167), we reject the monolithic yoke of socially invented labels, and open up the way to necessary coalitions with multiple Other(s).

Ultimately, then, there are not possible sites, only one site. Whether we are talking about pushing back against textbooks that speak not of us, defying notions of literacy that fail to honor our languages and history, demanding to be counted in schools and society, or refusing to choose one name over another, the natives are no longer staying in their frames (Chow, 1996, p. 123), but are on the move.


1. Latin for Out of Many, One or One from Many, this motto first appeared on U.S. coinage in 1795, and remains on all currently manufactured coins (U.S. Treasury). E Pluribus Unum was proposed for the first Great Seal of the United States by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson in 1776 & [and] offered a strong statement of the American determination to form a single nation from a collection of states (E Pluribus Unum Project, http://www.assumption.edu/ahc/). It has also come to mean the unification of many diverse peoples into one people.

2. Otherization is a process of subjectification (Bhabha, 1996) whereby individualsor usually groups of individualsare homogenized into a collective they (my emphasis) (Pratt, 1985, p. 139, cited in Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin, 2000, p. 173). Perceptions of Other as exotic, demonic, strange, inferior, abnormal, are maintained by those in power who determine standards of normalcy against which other is measured. Otherness is more than just difference, it is systematic and systemic domination and marginalization.

3. I acknowledge here that the notion of First and Third worlds constitute a constructed binary that privileges colonizers and allows them to maintain their position of power.

4. The range for the five is 2.4 million to just over a million.

5. In the 2000 Census, the category Asian or Pacific Islander was divided for the first time into Asian and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, allowing respondents to be more specific in their racial group choice. However, data for Asians and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders continue, largely, to be reported in the aggregate (see Reeves & Bennett, 2004).

6. Minimum percentages indicate individuals who identified themselves as Pacific Islander only; maximum percentages include those who identified themselves as Pacific Islander in combination with other races.

7. The term Asian Indians has been used by the U.S. Census Bureau since 1980 (Sharpe, 2005), and is the term used in this article when referring to census data. However, many contemporary Asian Indian people and scholars are choosing to name themselves South Asians; this article follows their example when discussing other than census data.

8. From this point on, the use of capitalization and italicization will signify the conceptualization of Curriculum as more than the concrete lessons, content and goals, but as a system and tool of socialization.

9. The discourse of empire begins with othering, the manufacture of supreme fictions in order to persuade the masses that conquest and domination of other is the only reasonable decision. Edward Said establishes the concept of othering and supreme fictions in his classic work Orientalism (1978/1994).

10. Identity is constructed by systems of power, knowledge and ideology, yet identity also resists essentializing and containment. Thus, the concepts of hybridity, intersectionality, intersubjectivity are particularly useful because they emphasize human agency and the shifting, dynamic, restless nature of identity. We are never one self, but many selves, living always the constant struggle between the selves we choose and the selves we are assigned.

11. LEP or Limited English Proficient, is considered by many to be pejorative because of its deficit construction of those who speak a first language other than English. This article uses LEP only in conjunction with discussions about NCLB or when citing/referring to other sources that use this label. Otherwise, the article prefers English Language Learners or ELLs to LEP.

12. It is important to note that these visual images of LEP students defined this population on the NCLB website until very recently. With the recent change in political leadership, the NCLB website has undergone some revision and it is important to point out that President Obamas ESEA Blueprint for Reform (U.S. Department of Education, 2010) now depicts students and families who are of Asian descent. While this change is a welcome one, the NCLB narrative from 2001 until present must still be characterized as one where Asian Americans were invisible, even while its policies had a deleterious impact on the Curriculum they experienced. It remains to be seen what changes in NCLB will be implemented by the Obama administration when ESEA is reauthorized. So far, it seems safe to say that the emphasis on literacy and testing remain firmly in place.

13. One of many examples offered by Zia (2000) is the barring of Chinese workers from celebrations at the completion of the transcontinental railroad; European immigrant workers were congratulated instead.

14. For more in-depth assessments of where NCLB has been, what it has or has not achieved, and what needs to happen next if it is to continue working towards its promise, see Harvard Educational Review, 76(4).


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 12, 2010, p. 3102-3138
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16091, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 9:49:09 PM

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About the Author
  • A. Lin Goodwin
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    A. LIN GOODWIN is Professor of Education and Associate Dean for Teacher Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research and writing focus on the connections between teachers' identities and their development and learning; between multicultural understandings and curriculum enactments; and on the particular issues facing Asian and Asian American teachers and students in U.S. schools. Some of her most recent work includes: “Globalization and the preparation of quality teachers: Rethinking knowledge domains for teaching” in Teaching Education, and Promoting Social Justice for Children: Facing Critical Challenges to Early Learning and Development, an upcoming book edited with Beatrice Fennimore.
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