Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 2019 Issue »

    "Asians Are Good at Math" Is Not a Compliment

    STEM Success as a Threat to Personhood

    NIRAL SHAH

    In this conceptual article, Niral Shah critically analyzes how the narrative that "Asians are good at math" positions Asian people as racial subjects. Despite being false, the "Asians are good at math" narrative is prominent in STEM education and is also familiar to the general public. To analyze the narrative's discursive impact on Asian personhood, Shah uses poststructural race theory and Mills's notion of the racial contract, focusing on the interaction between discourses of STEM and discourses of race. Rather than a harmless compliment, Shah argues that the type of mathematical success implied in the narrative dehumanizes Asian people and perpetuates White supremacy, and calls for racial equity and justice work in STEM education to account for ontological questions of personhood alongside traditional concerns about academic content learning and economic access to STEM careers.

    Click here to access this article.

    Niral Shah (https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8895-4524) is an assistant professor of learning sciences and human development at the University of Washington. His research focuses on racial and gender equity in learning settings, with an emphasis on STEM education. Shah's work has been published in Teachers College Record, Cognition and Instruction, and the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. He is also a codeveloper of the EQUIP classroom observation tool (https://www.equip.ninja/), which supports teachers and district leaders in identifying implicit bias in classrooms.

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