Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In Today's Times: Asians Don't Know What To Wear to Bar Mitzvahs

Apparently, a New York Times editor or reporter lives in Jericho. How else to explain the bizarre page-one piece this morning about the scarcity of Asian parents at P.T.A. meetings?

There might have been a legitimate story here -- the influence of cultural differences on parental behavior in a school system that has recently become more racially diverse. But in Jericho, to someone's evident horror, an influx of Asian-American students has not meant more Asian parents at school meetings.

Social trend or racist observation? Hard to tell from Winnie Hu's muddled prose.

Instead of delving into the differences between cultures that might explain the limited parent involvement, Hu skims the surface by avoiding any deeper issues that might be at play. Most parents tell Hu that they don't bother to come to school events because they don't want to mess with success; that, and language barriers, are presumaby the reasons that mostly white audiences go to school orchestra concerts.

But there's a hint of racism in Hu's reporting. She informs us that the school system has created a "multicultural advisory committee" that "taught one mother what to wear and what to bring to a bar mitzvah." Isn't it possible that Asian mothers don't like the presumption that they don't know what to wear? Or that bar mitzvah etiquette isn't a top priority for assimilation into a community?

No wonder one Chinese mother, a few paragraphs later, said "friends told her not to bother with the P.T.A. because 'it's run by a bunch of Jewish ladies.'"

The story goes on to blame the problem on Asian parents who emphasize performance over participation. Asian parents "continue to define education in terms of grades, test scores and college acceptances."

How outrageous! Don't they realize that education should be defined by how often parents bake cookies for the bake sale? Or how often they come to football games?

A much better version of this story appeared three weeks ago by Colin Campbell in the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina. It reported that Asian parents don't attend school functions because they're trained, in Asian cultures, not to participate in school events -- a bit of background that might have been helpful for Hu to mention.

But hey, why let some genuine information get in the way of anecdotal analysis and racially divisive generalities.

No comments: