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Shattering Stereotypes to Embrace Individuality: Honoring a Child's Personality and Academic Needs

“When I get home my parents make me do all of my homework,” he continued. “They’re Chinese and they’re strict. They say school is my job...I may as well go to the after-school program so I can play for a couple hours before I get home and do all of this homework.”

I couldn’t take Luke trying to be serious all of a sudden. I had to speak.

“Man, what are you talking about? We don’t have that much homework,” I said, laughing at his foolery…

“Talk about what you know, Lee,” Luke said. “My parents even hire a tutor to give me extra work.”

Dang! This made a lot of sense. Luke is my dude, but no wonder he was the most playful and annoying kid at school- he never got a chance to play at home.

Don’t Bring Me Bad News, Lee narrating, page 49

Stereotyping Asian American Families

Some of the stereotypes I’ve heard about Asian American families are that the parents are strict, the children who are well-behaved and disciplined, they are good at math and make good grades. These are just some that I’ve heard. As an author I want to avoid stereotypes. When I was a teacher and a track and field and cross country coach, the Asian American students I’ve worked with have been diverse in personality, work ethic and interests and so have their families. I think teachers and people who work with children should not assume anything about their families and get to know them on a case by case basis. So I hope that my writing of Luke’s character throughout the book series will show the dynamics of his personality and transcend stereotypes of Asian Americans, especially negative ones.

With recent violence against Asian Americans in the United States, I think it’s even more important that we have children’s literature that portrays diverse characters in a healthy, balanced, and respectful manner. I have worked at schools where as much as 96% of the population was African American. There were no Asian American students. As a Black woman, I wondered what these Black children might think about Asian Americans if they never go to school with them or see them in their neighborhoods. When schools can be so segregated, adults can use books to expose students to cultures beyond their neighborhoods. It’s my goal to portray Luke and all my characters as people who are valuable, worthy of love and deserving to be treated honorably. If children read stories and have friendships with children who are of different ethnicities and races, maybe they will grow up to become adults who do not continue racism, prejudice or hatred in any of its forms.

Supportive Parents

It’s not necessarily bad that Luke’s parents care about his grades. When I was a classroom teacher and an athletic coach, I was grateful for supportive parents. I don’t have children, so I am amazed by parents’ extra efforts to make sure their children are successful. Many parents work and have multiple children. In the story, Luke’s parents spent extra time and money to make sure he was challenged academically and had extracurricular activities. However, Luke’s perception was that his parents were strict.

I think this part of the story is a great opportunity to discuss with children that it’s good to have parents or family members who are concerned about their achievement. By the time children are in 5th and 6th grades they are aware of how their family is different from other families. Sometimes they can’t see different as good. I have heard students say “My parents never let me…” or “My parents always make me…” We can explain to children that it is positive to have parents who get involved, pay attention to them, and establish routines that create structure in their lives. It’s important to help tweens see that what they think is strict could really just be caring. Maybe if children in 3rd through 6th grades can appreciate what’s good about their families before middle and high school, it will help them navigate the teenage years when most will naturally desire and even strive for more freedom and privileges.

Embrace Personality

Luke’s character is important because sometimes active children with high levels of energy and outgoing personalities are overly punished in traditional classroom settings. This can crush their self-esteem if it happens regularly. In the story Ms. Ferguson often allows Luke to stand and move around his desk area while he’s working. It can be a death sentence for an athletic child or kinesthetic learner to be forced to silently sit still most of the school day. These children can be misunderstood by their parents, teachers, and peers if they don’t realize that their need for movement isn’t always preventing them from engaging academically. Lee even thinks Luke is "playful and annoying," but maybe it's because of how he's been labeled. If adults help children by balancing work and play, then children may also be more willing to surrender to focusing when it’s “time to work.” So many children can be labeled bad students because they just need to move sometimes. Creating boundaries and incorporating permissive physical activity can affirm the child’s personality without disrupting the classroom management.

When I was creating Luke’s character the two words that came to mind were joy and inspiration. I didn’t want him to be viewed as annoying or wild. Luke is a lot of fun. Children with extraverted personalities can shake things up at home and in the classroom in very positive ways that should be celebrated. As the book series continues, readers will see how Luke is refreshing to his family and in his peer group. He reduces tension when there’s social conflict, he always shares creative ideas, and he is alert when other students have checked out during classroom instruction. Let’s guide and encourage the busy bodies!

As always, I welcome what you think by commenting or messaging me.

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