Muslim South Asian Students in the American Classroom

Sadaf Alam


While it is important and beneficial to study the impact of cultural diversity on American literature, it is also important to note that the teaching of literary and non-literary reading and writing in the American classroom is influenced by cultural diversity. American academic situations generally require a display of critical thought and individuality from students, but studies show that students with non-mainstream American cultural backgrounds often have difficulty performing to their fullest in such contexts (see, for example, Helen Fox, Robert Kaplan). These difficulties can occur because the students’ expectations of what constitutes “good writing” may differ from the expectations of their American teachers. The situation worsens when teachers and students both fail to realize that their difficulties in teaching and learning good writing do not arise from inefficient teaching methods or slow learning on the part of the student, but in their foundations in different systems of thought which emphasize different values.

Writers such as Fan Shen (Chinese), Ulla Connor (Finnish) and Virginia LoCastro (Mexican) have demonstrated how differences in cultural standards can affect the kind of writing that is produced. This paper will describe and analyze differences between the mainstream American academic system of writing and that of a Muslim Southeast Asian one—differences in definitions of critical thinking, in concepts of audience, and in taking sides in an argument. This will be done through personal reflections as well as from evidence gathered from surveys of college students in the Houston area. Southeast Asians constitute a group increasing in numbers in the U.S., and a study of their cultural academic background in contrast with an American academic one could prove useful to both teachers and students, to understand differences to overcome them.

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