According to a 2012 study by researchers at John Hopkins University, immigrant children who came to the U.S. before turning 13 perform better academically than peers with a similar background who were born in the U.S. This study, among others, reveals at least three of their advantages in performance:
As someone who grew up in an upper middle-class home in Houston, I didn’t consider education a privilege. I considered it a rite of passage. Everyone had to go to school, myself included. And while this may be true in the U.S., it is not in many other countries. You may recall the story of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old girl who was shot in the face for protesting the ban on female education in her native Pakistan. If and when people like this manage to successfully immigrate to our country, they are beyond grateful to have access to educational channels that were not available back home. This gratefulness, in turn, fuels hard work, and hard work fuels good academic performance.
If your child is struggling to see why school is such a big deal, remind them of the things they might not have if school was out of the picture, such as their friends, field day and the prom. If they don’t value school for its educational aspect, they may come to value it in terms of these other things.
2. Sticking Together
Oftentimes, immigrants settle into a community of the same ethnic background. (Think: Little Italy, Chinatown) This advantage comes from being surrounded by likeminded, hard-working individuals in the same place. This means you have a lot of likeminded, hard-working individuals in the same place. For the coming-of-age student, this translates into a wealth of potential role models who can not only show him how to make a successful transition from Old World to New World, but who can also lend an empathetic ear when immigrant-related obstacles pop up, such as racial discrimination.
The takeaway here is to make sure your children are surrounded by hard-working, goal-oriented individuals, whether they’re dish washers, tutors or lawyers, because children imitate what they see.
3. Emphasis on education
My dad loved learning. He earned his PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Houston in 1973 and then went to work for Shell Oil Co. for 24 years. I think on some level I always strove to perform well and obtain academic perfection because I saw the attention my now belated father devoted to school when he was a student, and his example inspired me.
Education is a goal many Asian cultures take seriously, so much so that it has morphed into a kind of sacred family value among many immigrant communities. But not all nations put equal emphasis on education. According to Ruben G. Rumbaut, a sociologist at Michigan State University, “About one American in five above the age of 25 is a college graduate… but three out of five Indian and Taiwanese immigrants have college degrees.”
Maybe you’re a single mom with two jobs who doesn’t have much time to review your children’s homework, much less make it to PTA meetings. You can still emphasize the importance of education and good academic performance through daily conversation. Raising a question like “What did everyone learn today?” every night at the dinner table is repetitive enough to show that learning is important to you, yet casual enough so that you’re not being pushy. Remember that your values become your child’s values.
We tend to think of immigrants as a generally disadvantaged group. And in some ways they are. But when it comes to academics, they have the advantage on better performance – not us. So I challenge you to become a student and allow the immigrant to become the teacher.
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