17 SES 03 B, Educating 'The Other'
Since the late 1990s, a growing body of educational research has examined the exceptional academic success of ‘Asian’ diaspora students in North America, the UK, Canada and Australia (e.g. Archer & Francis, 2007; Lee & Zhou, 2015; Ho, 2015). Much of this scholarly work has aimed to problematise the category ‘Asian’ and to challenge the kinds of essentialised ‘cultural’ categories that are highly visible in contemporary public discourse. In Australia, for example there is common understanding both that ‘Asian’ students are scoring high grades in public examinations and that this academic success is related to their Asian-ness (e.g. see Watkins & Noble, 2013; Pung, 2013; Broinowski, 2015 for various accounts of such discourses.)
In this paper we are particularly interested in how the legitimacy of Asian educational success is contested within the public discourse—often in coded ways. For example, ‘Asian’ students are often collectively described as newcomers or immigrants, no matter how long they or their families have lived in the country of settlement. Arguing that the category ‘Asian’ is a concept formed through the imagination, conflation and reduction of geopolitical and cultural histories, we consider the value of examining the phenomenon of ‘Asian’ educational success in Australia as it is constituted historically rather than culturally. We use this analysis to reflect on the contributions of an historical approach to research on recent and contemporary migrant educational participation and experience, not only in Australia but also internationally.
This paper examines a series of vigorous twenty-first century newspaper debates about the apparently disproportionate success of ‘Asian’ students in qualifying for entry to a prestigious state high school in Sydney, Australia. Race and racism, enmeshed but silenced within the historical structures of Australian schooling, were made hyper-visible through media representations of this ‘problem’ which brought together concerns about masculinity, entitlement, and Australia’s complex post-colonial relations with both Europe and Asia. We consider these debates as a case study of a racialised struggle over social and educational legitimacy.
We argue that we need to think about ‘migrant success’ or ‘Asian educational practices,’ and similar struggles over legitimacy in schooling, as specific historical and political conjunctural effects. In the case of the settler colonial state of Australia, this requires attention to the histories of European colonialism that endure in present educational systems and a recognition of how the ‘subjects’ of our research, or of our public debate, are constituted with respect to that history. As historian of imperialism Ann Stoler (1995, 69) aptly notes,
'Racism does not merely arise in moments of crisis, in sporadic cleansings. It is internal to the bio-political state, woven into the weft of the social body, threaded through its fabric' (see also Stoler, 2013).
Drawing on the work of the anthropologist Ghassan Hage (1998; 2014), and the historians Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds (2008) among others (e.g. Anderson, 2003), we mobilise ‘whiteness’ as a category of analysis, arguing that race is crucial to the understanding of the long relationship between privilege and academic selection in Australian schooling. As postcolonial theorist Sara Ahmed (2007) suggests, ‘institutions involve the accumulation of past decisions about how to allocate resources, as well as “who” to recruit. Recruitment functions as a technology for the reproduction of whiteness’ (p.157). The operation of recruitment is particularly crucial for the analysis of secondary schooling, with its exclusive origins and its historical operation as a site for the differentiation of young people, and the making of future leadership classes.
 In Australia ‘Asian’ is most often conflated with the almost equally catch-all identifier, ‘Chinese’.
Ahmed, S. (2007). The phenomenology of whiteness. Feminist Theory, 8:2, 149–168. Anderson, Warwick (2003). The cultivation of whiteness: science, health and racial destiny in Australia. Basic Books, New York Archer, L. and Francis, B. (2007). Understanding minority ethnic achievement: race, gender, class and ‘success’. Routledge, Abingdon. Bessant, B. (1984). The influence of the ‘Public Schools’ on the early high schools of Victoria. History of Education Review, 13(1), 45—57. Broinowski, A. (2015). Testing times: selective schools and tiger parents 24 Jan 2015 Good Weekend magazine, Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/good-weekend/testing-times-selective-schools-and-tiger-parents-20150123-12kecw.html Campbell, C. (1999). The social origins of Australian state high schools, in C. Campbell, C. Hooper and M. Fearnley-Sander, (eds), Toward the state high school in Australia, ANZHES, Sydney, 9—27. Crotty, M. (2001). Making the Australian male: middle-class masculinity 1870-1920. Melbourne University Press. Hage, G. (1998). White nation: fantasies of white supremacy in a multicultural society. Pluto Press, Sydney. Hage, G. (2014). Continuity and Change in Australian Racism. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 35(3), 232-237. Ho, C. (2015). The New Meritocracy or Over-Schooled robots? Public Attitudes on Asian-Australian Education Cultures, unpublished paper, Asian Migration and Education Cultures International Workshop, Western Sydney University, 9–10 December. Lake, Marilyn & Reynolds, Henry, (2008). Drawing the global colour line: white men's countries and the international challenge of racial equality. Melbourne University Publishing. Lee, J. & Zhou, M. (2015). The Asian American Achievement Paradox. Russell Sage Foundation, New York. McLeod, J. & Paisley, F. (forthcoming). The modernisation of colonialism and the educability of the ‘native’: transpacific knowledge networks and education in the interwar years. Proctor, H. (2011). Masculinity and social class, tradition and change: the production of 'young Christian gentlemen' at an elite Australian boys' school. Gender and Education, 23(7), 843-856. Pung, A. (2013). The Secret Life of Them. What it takes to shift class in Australia. The Monthly. http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/february/1363325509/alice-pung/secret-life-them Sherington, G. (1983). Athleticism in the antipodes: the AAGPS of New South Wales. History of Education Review, 12(2), 16—28. Sherington, G., Brice, I. D., & Petersen, R. C., (1987). Learning to lead. Allen & Unwin, Sydney. Stoler, A. (1995). Race and the Education of Desire. Duke University Press, Durham. Stoler, A. (2013). Imperial debris. Duke University Press, Durham. Watkins, M. & Noble, G. (2013). Disposed to learn: schooling, ethnicity and the scholarly habitus. Bloomsbury. London.
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