Beyond Underrepresentation: Constructing Disability with Young Asian American Children to Preserve the “Model Minority” Stereotype

Soyoung Park
page. 73~95 / 2019 Vol.13 No.3


Decades of disproportionality research has consistently documented underrepresentation among Asian Americans in special education. Often the “model minority” stereotype is faulted for this trend. Underlying this argument is the assumption that the few Asian Americans who do receive special education services are properly identified. In this study, I resist this assumption by exploring how the model minority stereotype contributes to cultural and racial biases in the special education identification process for Asian Americans. Using an ethnographic case study, I follow two Asian American kindergartners through their special education eligibility determinations across one academic year. The findings from this study reveal that educators’ internalization of the model minority stereotype led them to jump to the conclusion that Asian Americans who deviated from this image had disabilities. This study suggests that the social construction of disability among young Asian American children essentializes the model minority stereotype and contributes to maintaining racial hierarchies.

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