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  • Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough by Pawan Dhingra
  • Tiffany Huang and Estela Diaz
Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough By Pawan Dhingra, New York University Press, 2020. 352 pages. https://nyupress.org/9781479831142/hyper-education/

In 2019, the Scripps National Spelling Bee, as sociologist Pawan Dhingra puts it, "broke." For the first time, the Bee ran out of words for its contestants to spell, and thus crowned eight co-winners who coined the term "octochamps" to describe themselves. These results received ample media attention, but they also sparked copious negative commentary on the ethnic identities of the co-champions, seven of whom were Indian American. Popular narratives attributed these students' success to "tiger parents"' unhealthy obsession with academic achievement.

But rather than ask why South Asian Americans are so successful in spelling bees, Dhingra flips the script in his new book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough. Why do families invest in academic competitions in the first place? What are the implications for their local neighborhoods and schools? Dhingra takes us into the ecosystem of what he terms "hyper education", or the pursuit of voluntary extracurricular academic enrichment for the purposes of getting ahead, not remediation. Dhingra highlights the case of Indian American professionals in highly resourced school districts and compares them with their US-born white peers. Through individual and group interviews of educators, parents, and children, as well as ethnographic observations of events including academic competitions, Dhingra crafts a vivid portrait of these activities, the families who engage in them, and the educators who contend with them.

In doing so, Dhingra overturns several myths. First, while hyper education is often depicted as a foreign (and specifically Asian American) practice, Dhingra argues that it actually aligns with the neoliberal turn in American education. Parents emphasize tracking and assessment and rely on the private market to make up for the fact that even good schools are not enough to secure success. Moreover, immigrant parents are often depicted as having an ingrained cultural predilection for education, but Dhingra shows they engage in an "Asian American style of concerted cultivation," motivated first by trying to stand out among others, and second by moral concerns over their children's futures. Finally, the children of hyper education are often depicted as victims of tiger parenting, but Dhingra finds they are often highly motivated, socially supported, and participating by choice. As one student shares, "I'm having fun my own way."

In explaining what lies behind hyper education, Dhingra offers a sharp critique of the US educational system and makes a number of important contributions. First, Dhingra enriches Annette Lareau's concept of "concerted cultivation" by decentering American whiteness. As he argues, little prior research examines how middle- and upper-middle-class immigrant parents have adapted to the current education system. Dhingra shows that their parenting style partially responds to a fear that white parents' mobility strategies will be insufficient for their own children, leading them to resist mainstream strategies like heavily emphasizing sports. In fact, they believe that weaknesses in the US educational system will leave their children disadvantaged on an international stage. Differences in imagined outcomes require different mobility pathways and resources.

Moreover, Dhingra brings morals and values into the conversation by describing how Indian American parents view hyper education as a means of leading their children away from possible deviance and toward a stable career and family life. These motivations are not limited only to immigrant parents; white professionals, too, view an American culture of entitlement as a threat, and empathize with immigrant ideals of hard work. Yet white parents who align themselves with an immigrant work ethic engage in further moral boundary-making by also differentiating themselves from tiger parents. Dhingra's discussion of morals illuminates how hyper education's effects extend beyond developing human or cultural capital.

Within the educational system itself, Dhingra notes how mainstream critiques of hyper education are laden with racialized meaning. White teachers and administrators express genuine concern over their anxious and stressed students. Yet solutions are narrowly focused on criticizing Asian...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-7605
Print ISSN
0037-7732
Pages
p. e11
Launched on MUSE
2021-04-02
Open Access
No
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