Mother Tongue

by Amy Tan
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How did Tan’s teachers identify her when she was in high school? On what were these descriptions and perceptions based according to paragraphs 15-16 of "Mother Tongue"?

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At one point in "Mother Tongue," Amy Tan wonders why it is that there aren't more Asian Americans represented in American literature and why there aren't more Asian Americans enrolled in creative writing programs. The answers to these questions, she acknowledges, require sociological analysis. But some possible answers...

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At one point in "Mother Tongue," Amy Tan wonders why it is that there aren't more Asian Americans represented in American literature and why there aren't more Asian Americans enrolled in creative writing programs. The answers to these questions, she acknowledges, require sociological analysis. But some possible answers can come from recent surveys which show that Asian students tend to do better in math achievement tests than in English.

It seems to be the case that many Asian-American students, like Tan herself, speak non-standard, or broken English at home, and so are steered away by their teachers from writing towards math and science. This is what happened to Amy Tan. Although her English skills in grade school were good, they were not considered good enough to override the opinion of her teachers in high school that her true abilities lay in math and science. In those subjects, Tan regularly used to achieve A grades instead of the B grades she achieved in English.

It seems to be the case, then, that a subtle, unacknowledged prejudice is at work when it comes to Asian-American students. Because of the non-standard English they pick up from home, it is considered more appropriate that they should be steered away from English as an academic subject towards math and science.

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