Over the past two weeks, more than 400,000 students in Central Florida started their 2014-15 school year. They are expected to make meaningful progress, with support of many diligent teachers and caring parents. To facilitate our educational progress, our society needs to foster a pro-education culture, by elevating academic education and honoring top students.
I have written that in American society, pop culture and distractions from various video games and TV shows have created a powerful counterforce against educational progress. When sports stars are widely viewed as role models and entertainment celebrities are worshipped, academic education is often put in the back seat in our society and subsequently by many students.
However, in the communities where academic education is elevated and top students are honored, such as in Chinese- and Asian-American communities, we see excellent academic performance, Just take note: Chinese-American students comprised more than 20 percent of 2014 Presidential Scholars, while making up only 1.2 percent of the U.S. population.
Influenced by Confucian values, most Chinese-American parents view education as the primary way for their children to have a great future. They are willing to challenge their children to study diligently and to achieve top academic performances. Winning various science, technology and other academic competitions is highly encouraged, in particular at the regional, state and even national levels.
The success of Chinese/Asian-Americans in education clearly disproves the “Self-esteem Movement” doctrine — that accommodating students’ self-esteem, not challenging them academically, is the best way to encourage them to learn. The truth is outstanding academic achievements give students true pride and confidence to continue studying and excel academically. In Chinese/Asian-American communities, expectations for academic excellence have created a strong pro-education climate. Children make efforts in learning, feel cool in learning and are proud of being top students.
It is important to point out that many schools overlook the importance of academic clubs. These schools would rather fund sports than support academic competitions. By ignoring academic competitions, they lose the opportunity to instill a pro-education school culture, because winners of various academic competitions are great role models for other students.
Honoring top students is also essential in creating a pro-education culture. In America, although schools honor their top students, our society has done too little to applaud academic excellence. In 2012, I took my kids to the National Junior Beta Convention in Greensboro, N.C., where my son Hubert won the national championship in science competition. To my surprise, no local English news medium covered the award ceremony. In contrast, as soon as World Journal, the largest Chinese newspaper in the U.S. learned about this, it reported my son’s story and published his picture.
In Chinese culture, academic-competition winners are heroes and get the media attention they deserve. Similarly, students who were admitted by Ivy League and other top universities are regarded as role models for younger students. In large Chinese communities, such as New York and San Francisco, they are frequently invited to give speeches and share successful experiences.
Even with a small Asian-American community in Orlando, each year the Asian Heritage Foundation selects and rewards top students of each grade level for the best academic performance, leadership and volunteering activities. Honoring top students will inspire more students to pursue academic excellence. In this regard, it takes more than schools, but the whole society to support education.
On June 18, WFTV-Channel 9 broadcast a great program, “OCPS Super Scholars,” featuring Orange County Public Schools’ graduating high-school students who have been admitted into our nation’s top universities. We surely need more programs like this. If our local TV and newspapers had more coverage on exceptional students; the winners of our regional, state and national competitions; and especially those who achieved academic excellence from our disadvantaged communities, I am sure we would be able to build a culture supportive to learning.
When most of our students are inspired to learn, America will have the chance to become an educational leader again.
Note: This Oped was first published by Orlando Sentinel on August 24, 2014