When Race and Class Intersect with Learning: Little Things Matter 7 | Haiyun Lu | 7 Min Read

July 5, 2022

The first time I learned about proms in America was during the movie, “American Pie.”  My newly arrived Chinese brain couldn’t comprehend what I was watching.  My roommates were laughing up a storm, which irritated me even more.  In China, during preparation for the brutal college entrance exam, high school students were not even allowed to date, and that was written in the Student Handbook.  Watching a teenager practicing sex with an apple pie in the kitchen and worried he would be laughed at if he was still a virgin after prom was too ridiculous.  

Back then, I knew little about the significance of proms and other school-sponsored social events, and how much they could help teens to grow and learn to navigate through different social dynamics, develop important interpersonal skills, and foster a positive sense of self.

That realization was illustrated by the painful story a student of color shared with me recently, having attended a prestigious private school on the east coast.  K was a bright, talented student who received a full scholarship. Coming from a middle-class family, becoming a scholarship recipient at a prestigious private school, and receiving a top-notch education was like a dream come true.  She was cheerful, bubbly, grateful, and ambitious on the first day she arrived on the campus.  Unfortunately, that good feeling was rather evanescent.  Soon enough, she noticed how difficult it was for her to penetrate different friend groups, as more than half of her classmates had been attending since kindergarten or middle school.  In class, teachers often made references to a book or a project that students had done in middle school and assumed they all had that shared experience.  She felt bad for missing out and she was more worried if she revealed her deficiency, that she would be much “less of a student”.  Then, the amount of homework and the pace of the classes hit her hard.  In her previous school, as a superstar student, everything came easy.  She rarely had any work to do at home.  But in this distinguished private school, academic rigor was a virtue.  Suddenly she noticed that she was falling behind, juggling the homework load, and exhibiting poor time management. And she was not fitting in socially.

If that were not bad enough, being excluded from a homecoming after-party shattered her sense of self.  She has struggled with trust…

Register Now
You may use your member school or partner discount code !!!

Haiyun Lu

Haiyun Lu, a Chinese language teacher at the University School of Milwaukee (WI), is also a writer, blogger, trainer, curriculum designer, meditator, and Co-Founder at Ignite Chinese.