Photo by paul_houle (Flickr/Creative Commons).

In writing my master’s thesis on Chinese language schools, I’m reading tons of books and articles on ethnic language schools and their cousins, ethnic cram schools. Sociologists and education scholars use the umbrella term “supplementary education programs” to refer to Chinese buxiban (補習班), Korean hagwon (학원), and similar institutions in other immigrant communities. These programs aim to supplement the learning that students get in “regular” schools by providing additional lessons and homework.

A buxiban in Taiwan. Photo by chang17 (Flickr/Creative Commons). Original caption was “可怕的地方” (“Scary place”).

Zhou and Li (2003) and Zhou and Kim (2006) (both links to PDF versions of the articles) argue that these schools are part of the reason why American students of Chinese and Korean descent do so well academically. They contend that, on top of the obvious academic benefits, these programs help develop networks of social relations and information sharing that help immigrant families find paths to success for their children.

Academic articles are generally pretty dry, but these two contained lists of school names that made me chuckle:

More often than not, immigrant Chinese parents measure success not merely by their own occupational achievements but by their children’s educational achievements. If a child goes to an Ivy League college, his or her parents feel rewarded and are admired and respected as successful parents. If their children are less successful, they lose face. In this respect, Chinese schools and the relevant ethnic institutions emerge to respond directly to parents’ desires for success. On the one hand, they produce a community force driving children to attain educational success on their parents’ terms. Flashy names such as “Little Harvard,” “Ivy League School,” “Little Ph.D. Early Learning Center” (a preschool), “Stanford-to-Be Prep School,” “IQ180,” and “Hope Buxiban (Tutoring)” are illustrative. (Zhou and Li 2003, page 67).

The Korean hagwon names that Zhou and Kim listed are a little less inventive. They, too, like to invoke the names of Ivy League universities:

They have eye-catching names like “Harvard Review,” “Yale Academy,” “Smart Academy,” “IVY College,” and “UC Learning Institute.” (Zhou and Kim 2006, p. 16)

As Frances Soctomah noted on Twitter, these names speak to tiger parent-type expectations:


I actually went to a different Chinese school down the street from Little Harvard. Cathy of Gastronomy spotted it back in July:


That’s not the only tutoring center she has documented on her gastronomic wanderings around Los Angeles:

Zhou, Min, and Xi-Yuan Li. 2003. “Ethnic language schools and the development of supplementary education in the immigrant Chinese community in the United States.” New Directions for Youth Development (100):57–73.

Zhou, Min, and Susan S. Kim. 2006. “Community Forces, Social Capital, and Educational Achievement: The Case of Supplementary Education in the Chinese and Korean Immigrant Communities.” Harvard Educational Review 76(1):1–29.


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