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Information Cascade: Hmong American High School Students

http://eus.sagepub.com/content/34/2/233.full.pdf+html

As we learned in class, an information cascade is what occurs when people make decisions one after another with others watching and inferring something about what the earlier people know. In EDUC 2710, we were assigned to read an article about the Hmong American High School students in a high school called University Heights High School (UHS). Stacey Lee studies how second generation Hmong students interpret race in the U.S. Information cascade is seen particularly in how teachers responded to these students.

UHS reflected and favored students from white middle class-educated families. Although teachers were quite ignorant of the Hmong students, they continued to act as though they knew how to handle the Hmong students. Many used cultural explanation to justify responsibility for serving these students. Teachers believed that once these Hmong students assimilated, they would have no problems. They sent many of these students to the ESL (English as a second language) programs even though these students were fluent in English. During this time, Hmong students saw that whiteness set the racial hierarchy. They adopted the hip-hop style that identified with African-Americans who identified with poverty.

We learned in class that after the first two rows of students voted that most birthdays in the class were in the later half of the year, the rest of the class voted similarly (even though most of the birthdays occurred in the first half of the year). In the same way, teachers at UHS assumed that after meeting a few Hmong students that they would all be the same. And indeed, this problem developed further in that the Hmong students self-fulfilled these expectations. They idealized whites and thus saw themselves as second-rate. In a way, American public schools have constructed their own information cascades and now must reconfigure the definitions of “America” and “American” to reflect the reality and diversity in schools.

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