Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

High School Electives and University Majors

Posted by chinesecanuck on May 12, 2008

By the time you reach the upper grades at my alma mater, you’d find plenty of non-white students, many of them boarders from East Asia or the middle east.  At least that’s what you see when you go to school-wide assemblies.  Not so when it comes to the classroom.  At least in the 1990s when I was in school. 

When I was in school, the non-white students tend to gravitate towards sciences while the white students leaned towards the liberal arts.  Senior level physics classes tended to be majority Asian while drama, senior level history or an elective English course (such as creative writing) would be almost all white.  Business classes and biology would be somewhere in the middle.  It may be a language issue, but the students who went to my school tended to be phased out of ESL by the middle of the year they enter.  And that’s if they take ESL at all – many of the kids either had intensive tutoring or attended an English immersion school prior to coming over here.  This also doesn’t explain the number of Canadian born Asians who also preferred sciences to history.  Maybe it’s parents? 

This continued on in university.  While my university wasn’t exactly super-diverse from a Toronto or Vancouver standpoint, it wasn’t “really, really white” either.  I’d say the school was around 25% non-white when I was there, give or take.  I was a drama and history major.  The drama department probably had about 100-120 students and probably had one Asian student (sometimes two) per year.  So approximately 6 Asian students in the entire department.  All Canadian born (or at least Canadian-raised…no Asian accents in the entire department). History was a little more diverse, but that’s only because some history courses were open to non-history majors, while most drama courses beyond the 100s were restrcited.  My history seminars, open only to history majors was predominantly white.  Even courses that focused on Asian history.  Where were all the Asian students?  Where else?  Engineering, other sciences and business.  I understand that many take these majors because it’s easier to get a job after graduation, but if you really look at it, it isn’t the case at all.  Take Life Sciences for example.  Life Sciences (aka Life Sci) is what you major in if you want to be a doctor.  That’s another four years of school.  More money.  Why is it any different from majoring in, say, politics and history, then going on to law school?  Lawyers can make decet money.  And it’s one year less of school.  And if you’ve been educated in English your entire life, you shouldn’t have a problem with law school, unless you are LSAT-phobic.  In any case, you can be MCAT-phobic too.

So why do you think this is?  Parental influence?  I have a cousin who was basically “forced” into majoring a specific subject.  She’s now working in that field, but I’m not sure if she’s 100% happy or just pretending to.  So her parents can be happy.  My parents didn’t try to force me into anything, although I think they would have liked it had I majored in business.  I did get a certificate in public relations at a community college later on, but that’s not the same thing as FINANCE, which is probably what my parents would have preferred.


***NOTE: I don’t think a more “diverse” school (such as the University of Toronto) would have changed much.  English and Classical Studies majors would likely still be predominantly white.***  


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