Chinese-Americans Pushing Back on Identity Politics

Chinese_Americans_gathering.jpgThe room was filled to capacity earlier in July when a large group of Chinese-Americans from across the Twin Cities shared a pot luck dinner at the Kang Le Adult Day Care Center in Edina and listened to invited candidates for local and statewide office. Significantly, most of the candidates were Republicans.

Not all of the remarks were made by the candidates.  Those remarks made by members of the Chinese-American community underscored the values that we share.

The Chinese-Americans present were particularly concerned with how “data disaggregation” is being applied to education in Minnesota and in the nation.  Data disaggregation refers to the collecting of information about students in schools, broken out by such factors as race or ethnic group.

While “data disaggregation” may benefit certain statistical analyses, it can also lead to identity politics. The Chinese-Americans can point to where their community has been hurt by policies rooted in identity politics, and they are firmly against the use of data disaggregation in schools.

The advocates for the collection of data based on race or ethnic group argue that it enables the targeting of remedial measures to enhance performance (i.e., narrow the achievement gap). Much of the data are combined, or aggregated, to represent the student population generally. “Disaggregating” data can show where aggregate data are masking discrepancies. By looking at student data among smaller subpopulations (disaggregating the data), advocates believe that the variation of outcomes by subpopulation can be seen. When combined, the strong results of some subpopulations may mask the poorer results of others.

There are some 40,000 Chinese-Americans in Minnesota. Nearly 300 Chinese-Americans came together at the capital in St. Paul on April 12 to protest the legislation promoting data disaggregation. The leaders of the protest are expanding beyond the Chinese-American community to reach out to the Korean-Americans, Cambodian-Americans, and other Asian ethnic groups that are disadvantaged by these policies.

The community leaders that spoke recognized that data disaggregation has been claimed as a means of closing the education achievement gap. However, these leaders felt strongly that the causes for the gap are multiple and fundamentally do not correlate with either race or ethnic background. They pointed to studies that have shown that educational proficiency is more a function of family income, English proficiency, and social mobility. The Chinese-American families that instill in their children a passion for education and perseverance in efforts to achieve long term goals are more successful than those that seek racial or ethnic focused solutions.

Senator Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) has been of help to the Chinese-American community in voicing their concerns, and he was asked to speak to the gathering. He stated that we have much in common with the Chinese-American community, emphasizing the value that bind us together as Americans. Senator Chamberlain said that the more we focus on our differences, the more divided we become.

He felt that the legislation promoting data disaggregation was misguided and wrong-headed, political and unjust. He called it “destructive public education thinking.” He found strong support for his contention that “ ‘America’ is an idea that stands for hope and opportunity. It transcends race and ethnic identity.” He promised to work with his colleagues to repeal the law.