Racial imbalances in classes damage student potential

December 15, 2008 — by Tiffany Tseng and Jocelyn Ye

Drama 4 Honors: 2 Asians, 11 Caucasians. AP Chemistry: 78 Asians, 13 Caucasians. Newspaper staff: 57 Asians, 12 Caucasians, as determined by a Falcon headcount.

Statistics obtained from the school registrar show that in comparison to other public high schools in the area, Saratoga High School, sporting a 41.0 percent Caucasian, 40.9 percent Asian, and 11.9 percent Indian student population, according to the SHS Student Distribution Report, is relatively diverse. However, despite a near-equal ratio of Caucasians and Asians, an increasingly large racial imbalance has developed in some classes over the years.

The imbalance is particularly noticeable in advanced and challenging classes and has put stress on many students who may therefore be discouraged to sign up for them. This is unfair, as many of these students who may otherwise have excelled in a more advanced course lose motivation because of the uneven racial distribution. Students should sign up for classes based on their own potential rather than being influenced by outside pressures.

Racial imbalance in courses at Saratoga High is often a result of different cultural backgrounds. Students who are pressured by their parents starting from a young age sometimes feel that the only way for them to excel in the future is through a good education. These students typically have parents who immigrated from countries with high value on academic standards. This forces some students to take tougher classes offered at the school. As a result, many AP classes have high numbers of students from similar races and backgrounds.

“My parents pressure me to get A’s in my AP classes,” said senior Megha Raghavan. “Even though I want to do well in school, sometimes it’s hard to live up to their high standards.”

In contrast, parents who grew up in the United States or even within the Saratoga community were able to experience a life very similar to the typical Saratoga High student and have a better understanding of the pressures present in high school. These parents are more likely to encourage students to enjoy their high school years and take classes of their interests in order to lessen the pressure to be at the top of the class.

Racial imbalance in classes also stems from peer pressure around campus and the competitive nature of students. Many feel that if their friends are enrolled in more advanced classes, they also need to take tougher classes to be at the same level as their friends.

“There’s a lot of pressure from peers, especially in AP classes,” said junior Fred Chua. “Students don’t want to have the lowest grade in their class, but at the same time there are a lot of smart people in the harder classes, so there’s a lot of competition.”

For some students, racial imbalances may even serve as a discouraging factor to take certain classes. Many AP science classes at Saratoga High have large racial imbalances. Students who constitute a racial minority in their class may feel out of place and be pressured to drop down to regular level courses. The creation of the open access system enabled students from all academic levels to enroll in difficult classes without fulfilling certain prerequisites. Even though students are free to decide for themselves which classes are suitable, racial imbalances prevent them from taking advantage of the opportunity.

Although many students on campus are aware of this issue, few steps have been taken to improve the situation. Teachers and the administration should encourage students to interact with a wider variety of peers, rather than solely those with a similar cultural background. For example, in classroom activities, this could be achieved if teachers formed groups consisting of students of all different races and encouraged them to work together. This way, social barriers created artificially based on culture would be broken, and the factor of race would play less of a role in students’ key decisions.

Racial imbalances manifest themselves in a variety of ways around the school campus, from classes to extracurricular activities and sometimes even to social groups. If steps were taken to promote more diversity in these activities, students would experience less pressure and enjoy greater freedom to pursue their unique interests during their high school career.

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