位于皇后区法拉盛的领航学术补习中心。Alice Yin for The New York Times
On Main Street in Flushing, Queens’s Chinatown, the GPS Academy building announces itself with a sign printed in both English and Chinese, hanging over a crush of bubble-tea shops and souvenir street vendors. Inside, exactly 10 felt pennants adorn the back wall of the main office, bearing the titles “Harvard,” “Yale,” “Princeton” and so on. They seem to wield a hushed influence over the academy’s students, daring them to imagine one day being accepted to such universities. But it’s unlikely that they really need the reminder. They’ve known those names for a long while.
In the lobby, a lattice of makeshift certificates papers the walls. Each crimson-bordered “GPS Academy Award” boasts a name, almost always Chinese, captioned with the kind of hallmark accomplishment that just about any parent in the area would celebrate (or simply expect) from a child. A perfect SAT score, “Stuyvesant High School,” the name of an Ivy League institution. “That’s what parents are looking for,” says Lawrence Yan, the GPS founder and manager. “The results.”
大厅墙壁上的框框里展示着一些简易证书。每一张以深红色镶边的“GPS Academy Award”（领航学术补习中心奖状）上都有一个名字，通常是中文名，并列明了一些标志性的成就，该地区的任何家长大约都会因为孩子取得那样的成就而庆祝一番（或者只是期盼）。完美的SAT分数，“史岱文森高中”(Stuyvesant High School)——一家向常春藤盟校输送大量学子的机构的名字。“这就是家长们追求的东西，”领航的创始人兼校长颜谦业(Lawrence Yan)说。“结果。”
GPS Academy is an educational enrichment business that specializes in preparation for standardized tests. Students range from seventh to 12th graders, most of them from immigrant Chinese families. Group test-prep classes like these have become a coming-of-age tradition in Asian immigrant communities, which nurse entire ecosystems of businesses like this one. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a majority of New York City’s 411 prep centers are rooted in Queens and Brooklyn, with over a quarter of them springing up in the past four years alone, most notably in the boroughs’ Asian enclaves of Flushing and Sunset Park in Brooklyn. On the opposite coast, 861 such tutoring centers exist in California’s Orange, Santa Clara and Los Angeles Counties, all heavy with Asian-American families.
领航学术补习中心是一个教育补习公司，专门帮助为标准化考试做准备。学生来自七至十二年级不等，大多出自华裔移民家庭。在亚裔移民社区里，参加这种集体备考班已经成为成长必修课，领航这样的公司置身其中的整个生态系统由此得以形成。美国劳工统计局(Bureau of Labor Statistics)的数据显示，纽约市共有411家备考中心——其中超过四分之一是过去四年间冒出来——一多半都位于皇后区和布鲁克林，尤其是这两个行政区的亚裔聚居地：法拉盛和布鲁克林的日落公园。在对面的海岸上，加州的奥兰治县、圣克拉拉县和洛杉矶县，共有861家这样的辅导中心，那些县全都是亚裔家庭占比很高的地方。
At GPS, as with its competitors, one of the most popular courses focuses on New York City’s Specialized High School Admissions Test, an entrance requirement for eight of the city’s nine specialized high schools. (LaGuardia High, a performing-arts school, has an audition system.) Less than 20 percent of eighth graders who take the exam clear the minimum score needed to get into a specialized school, including — at the most competitive end — Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School. A typical summer class for this test at GPS lasts three hours a day, every weekday, and can cost around $1,400. But Yan says virtually all his students get into a specialized high school. He knows this because he hands out Visa gift cards once results come out: $50 for Stuyvesant, $30 for Bronx Science, $20 for the others.
与竞争对手的情况类似，在领航，最受欢迎的课程之一聚焦于纽约市的特殊高中入学考试(Specialized High School Admissions Test)，要进入该市的九所特殊高中就必须过这一关。（表演艺术学校拉瓜迪亚高中[LaGuardia High] 有一套选拔体系。）参加这一考试的八年级学生当中，只有不到20%的人分数能达到进入一所特殊高中所需的最低标准，其中包括竞争最激烈的史垈文森高中、布朗克斯科学高中(Bronx High School of Science)和布鲁克林技术高中(Brooklyn Tech)。在领航，这一考试的夏季考前辅导班通常每个工作日都上课，每天三小时，费用在1400美元左右。不过颜谦业说，他的学生实际上都进入了特殊高中。他之所以知道，是因为结果一出来他就会送出Visa礼品卡：考取史垈文森高中的，能收到50美元；布朗克斯科学高中，30美元；其他学校则是20美元。
GPS also prepares students for other exams: the SAT and the ACT, Advanced Placement exams, New York Regent Examinations. Its instructors can home in on almost any potential weak spot in a college application — even extracurricular activities and personal statements can be curated with the help of one-on-one college counseling. “You know how a GPS leads you to the place you want to go?” Yan asks. “GPS Academy is basically a place where we fulfill your dreams in terms of education. So we are navigating you to the right place.”
领航还帮助学生准备其他考试：比如SAT和ACT、大学预修课程(Advanced Placement)考试，以及纽约高中会考(New York Regent Examinations)。它的教师几乎可以针对大学申请中任何潜在的弱项进行辅导——即便课外活动和个人陈述也可以通过一对一的大学入学辅导进行策划。“你知道GPS导航系统会怎么把你带到你想去的地方吗？”颜谦业问，“领航学术补习中心基本上就是我们在教育方面实现梦想的地方。所以我们是在为你导航，带你到正确的地方去。”
The GPS staff includes Ivy League alumni and full-time high school teachers; some tutors are both. Yan himself grew up in Flushing, attending the selective Da Vinci Science and Math Institute for high school. As an adult, he worked as a financial analyst until 2011, when, feeling a lack of purpose on Wall Street, he turned to the test-prep industry. “I felt like I was just part of the process,” Yan says about his former career. “But now I feel very proud when my kids get into a top school or get a very high SAT score. I see the results right away, and I feel more in control.” He floods local Chinese radio stations and newspapers with ads for GPS, but he estimates that a majority of his customers arrive through simple word of mouth. “Basically,” he says, “one person gets into Stuyvesant — all his relatives and friends ask where he went for prep.”
领航员工包括常春藤盟校毕业生和全日制高中教师；一些导师兼具这两种身份。颜谦业本人在法拉盛长大，高中上的是择优录取的达芬奇科学与数学学院(Da Vinci Science and Math Institute)。长大后，他当上了金融分析师，直至2011年，当时他感到身在华尔街的自己缺少生活目标，于是转向了备考行业。“那时我觉得自己只是工序中的一部分，”颜谦业说起他以前的职业。“但是现在，当我的孩子们进入一流学校或者取得非常高的SAT分数时，我感到非常自豪。我可以得到立竿见影的结果，感受到了更多的控制权。”他在当地的中文广播电台和报纸上为领航做了大量广告，但他估计大部分客户都是通过口碑找到他的。“基本上，”他说，“只要有一个孩子进了史岱文森高中(Stuyvesant)，所有的亲戚朋友都会来问他是在哪里补习的。”
It was in a GPS Academy class for the city high-school test, three years ago, that Join Wang first met most of his close friends. That group, now juniors at Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, regrouped again this summer for SAT classes. “It’s kind of become a joke: ‘What are you going to do in the summer?’ ‘Go to prep,’” Wang says. “We all go to prep.”
三年前，在领航的纽约高中升学考试辅导班里，卓伊·王(Join Wang)结识了自己大部分最亲密的朋友。这个小圈子如今都已经成为史岱文森和布朗克斯科学高中(Bronx Science)的三年级学生，今年夏天，他们又重新聚在一起上SAT备考班。“说起来有点像笑话：‘你们今年夏天打算干点什么？’‘上预备学校，’”卓伊·王说。“我们都上了预备学校。”
Wang’s parents came to the United States from Fujian, China. He says it’s difficult to get them to open up about their past, but he knows his mother came from an affluent family of winemakers, while his dad grew up in the countryside. They started fresh here, teaching themselves English and saving money to help family members follow; now they run a laundromat business in Elmhurst, Queens. This summer, Wang and his two younger brothers shared a room with one bunk bed, taking turns sleeping on the floor’s bamboo mat. His parents were in the other bedroom, with his sister and youngest brother. If test-prep classes were ever a financial burden for them, they never showed it, brushing off Wang’s questions, he says, telling him: “You’re just a little kid. Calm down, and leave the finances to us.”
Yan says many of his customers struggle financially but will still pay thousands if it helps ensure that their children can get into a prestigious high school, which will, presumably, lead to a prestigious college. “It’s more like a culture thing, you know?” he says. “They would rather not get expensive sneakers, but they will try to put their kids in a very expensive prep school.”
Traces of the Asian tutoring industry have emerged in the United States after each wave of immigration from countries like China and South Korea, says Pyong Gap Min, a sociology professor at Queens College in the City University of New York. They began in the 1960s, Min says, after the repeal of longstanding exclusionary immigration laws — but it was in the 1980s that cities like New York first saw a notable presence of supplemental educational centers, following a swell of migration from China, Korea and South Asia. Min considers the test-prep centers of Flushing offshoots of their origin countries’ rigorous “cram schools,” called bǔ xí bān in China and hagwon in South Korea. This rigor is seen as necessary to keep up with national test-based systems like China’s, where a single exam determines university placement. “It’s Confucian to emphasize your children’s education,” Min says. “You go to China, Korea and Taiwan, there’s after-school programs that they transplanted here.”
纽约市立大学(City University of New York)皇后区学院(Queens College)的社会学教授平甲敏（Pyong Gap Min，音）表示，在中国和韩国等国的多次移民浪潮之后，亚洲辅导行业的痕迹就出现在了美国。平甲敏称，它们是在20世纪60年代废除长期的排外移民法后出现的，不过在20世纪80年代，中国、韩国和南亚移民大量涌入之后，纽约等城市才第一次明显注意到补充教育中心的存在。平甲敏认为法拉盛的备考中心是那些移民祖国严格的“填鸭式学校”的衍生物——在中国叫“补习班”，在韩国叫“补习学校”。这种严格的要求被认为是与中国等国以考试为基础的全国教育体系相一致的必要做法——在中国，一次考试决定能上什么大学。“是儒家在强调孩子的教育，”平甲敏说。“你去中国、韩国和台湾看看，都有课后班，它们被传到了这里。”
The preparation certainly pays off; Asian students from varying backgrounds are now a majority in New York’s most competitive public schools. Stuyvesant is three-quarters Asian, and Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech’s shares are over 60 percent. This has come with its share of controversy; a federal complaint, filed by a coalition of advocacy groups in 2012, argued that the high-stakes, single-exam admissions process has a discriminatory impact on black and Latino children (who may find fewer resources and opportunities to prepare for it), and should consider a wider set of factors, like previous grades, interviews or teacher recommendations. (The Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights announced that it would open an investigation, though the current status of that investigation is unclear. Only the New York State Legislature — not New York City itself — can change the admissions policy for the schools.)
备考当然是有回报的，来自不同背景的亚裔学生现在在纽约最具竞争力的公立学校里占多数。在史岱文森高中，四分之三的学生是亚裔，在布朗克斯科学高中和布鲁克林技术高中，亚裔学生的比例超过60%。这也引发了争议。2012年，一个倡议团体联盟提起的联邦诉讼声称，关系重大的单一考试录取过程对黑人和拉美裔儿童产生了歧视性影响（他们能找到的备考资源和机会更少），应该将一系列更广泛的因素考虑进来，比如之前的成绩、面试或教师推荐（司法部[The Justice Department]的民权办公室[Office of Civil Rights]宣布，它将展开调查，但目前尚不清楚调查的具体情况。只有纽约州的立法机关——而不只是纽约市本身——可以更改学校的招生政策）。
But David Lee — a Brooklyn Technical High School class of 1978 alumnus — argues that students at the three most competitive specialized schools are not necessarily economically privileged: About 40 to 60 percent of them qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Lee is a leader of Coalition Edu, a group that defends the test-based admissions policy, joining a chorus of former students who say cultural values and an exceptional work ethic have pushed Asians of all income groups to excel in the specialized high school system.
但是，1978年从布鲁克林技术高中毕业的戴维·李(David Lee)说，能上三所竞争力最强的特殊高中的学生，并不一定来自经济条件优越的家庭：他们中大约有40%到60%的人有资格享受免费或减价午餐。戴维·李是捍卫以考试为基础的招生政策的组织联合教育联盟(Coalition Edu)的领导人之一，该组织和许多从这些特殊高中毕业的学生都说，文化价值观和杰出的刻苦工作精神促使来自所有收入阶层的亚洲人在特殊高中的系统里表现优异。
Jennifer Lee, a professor of sociology at Columbia University, says such perceptions of Asian exceptionalism percolate in both liberal and conservative circles, with conservatives using Asian success as a main point in arguing against affirmative-action policies. But that shouldn’t suggest, she says, that other minorities don’t value hard work or education. She argues in “The Asian American Achievement Paradox,” her 2015 book with Min Zhou, that much of Asian-Americans’ educational attainment actually stems from a hyperselective immigration policy: A 2015 census report found that a majority of Chinese immigrants have college degrees, a distinction matched by fewer than one-third of Americans as a whole and only 16 percent of the population in China itself.
哥伦比亚大学(Columbia University)社会学系教授詹妮弗·李(Jennifer Lee)说，这种亚裔例外论的看法渗透在自由派和保守派的圈子里，保守派把亚裔的成功作为反对平权政策的一个主要论据。但她说，亚裔的成功并不意味着其他少数族裔不重视努力工作或教育。她在与周敏（Min Zhou，音）合著、出版于2015年的《亚裔美国人成就悖论》(The Asian American Achievement Paradox)一书中指出，亚裔美国人在教育上的成就实际上源于一种具有高度选拔性的移民政策：2015年的一份人口普查报告发现，华人移民中多数拥有大学学位，与之相比，美国全国人口中拥有大学学位的人低于三分之一，而在中国本身只有16%的人口有大学学位。
The fortunes of educated Asian immigrants become what’s known as “ethnic capital,” a stock of knowledge and resources that can trickle down — through networks ranging from test-prep centers to religious institutions to ordinary family and social connections in immigrant enclaves — and benefit less established families as well. According to David Lee, demand for supplemental classes is higher for Asian immigrant families that are not as wealthy: “They’re hungrier,” he says. “They need to have this as a steppingstone.” And since they’re often utterly unfamiliar with the American college-admissions process, having obtained degrees overseas or not at all, test-prep schools can be an essential tool. “So working-class families sacrifice what they have,” he says.
Join Wang still remembers the pressure of the city test in eighth grade, which had everyone competing for admission to Stuyvesant. He felt nervous during the beginning and the end of the exam and believes he was too careless in the middle. Rushing through without checking his work is, he says, “a pretty big problem for me.” Early the next year, when scores were revealed, his middle-school Spanish class became a flurry of children opening letters and discovering their test scores. Wang read “551” on his own letter — just a few points short, he’d later learn, of a score that could have won him a place at Stuyvesant. He was able to hold his tears back until a classmate noticed his downcast face and offered a hug. He politely declined. That’s when the sobs came. “It was kind of like anarchy,” he recalls. “They made sure to give it to us the last class in case this happened.”
The conversation with his parents that night seemed anticlimactic in comparison. “I got into Bronx Science,” he said, as if confessing to a small disobedience. “Oh, it’s not the end of the world,” his dad responded. But Wang couldn’t help feeling disappointed. “You know, they’re my parents,” he says. “I don’t want to make them sad or anything.”
Wang has never thought of his mother and father as “tiger parents,” that stereotype of the cold, disapproving Asian parents who demand success, on threat of denouncing their child as a dishonor to the family. Wang’s parents, he says, just want him to be happy. “But my dad also wants me to get into Harvard, just like every other Asian dad!” he says with a laugh.
His comments reflect the unspoken contract that the children of immigrants often perceive: Because our parents sacrificed so much for us, we will always be in their debt. Those expectations weighed heavily over my own hometown, Cupertino, Calif., an affluent suburb full of Asian immigrants working high-skill STEM jobs in Silicon Valley. Local parents poured exorbitant shares of their income into mortgages to secure their children spots in public schools regularly ranked among the nation’s best — and then poured even more into supplementary tutoring classes, music lessons, sports leagues and more.
I did not quite express the same gratitude for this as Wang does. I spent my time fuming over being born into a hypercompetitive bubble and missing out on the “true” high school experience. When the time came for summer SAT classes, I made a point of not paying attention or finishing the homework packets, out of sheer annoyance with my parents. I wished I could just live a “normal” life. But as soon as I escaped the Bay Area and moved to the Midwest, I saw that being normal was never entirely possible for me, whether socially or professionally. “The Asian American Achievement Paradox” touches on this, too: Despite supposedly positive stereotypes of Asians, we still face what Lee calls a “bamboo ceiling,” keeping us from leadership positions and from recognition in more subjective career fields — which tend not to favor a demographic that lacks networking connections and has long been imagined to be uncreative or submissive. This, she says, is why some Asian immigrant parents view their children’s future through such narrow lenses. “In order for their kids to succeed as minorities,” she says, “having the right credentials, scoring well and getting into a top school can achieve mobility in a field where you might be less likely to experience discrimination.”
There’s also the concept Lee calls “parental bragging rights.” When immigrants move to the United States, she points out, they often experience a drop in status — socially, professionally and legally. Some will never regain that stature, settling over the long term for more menial jobs. But they may attempt to recoup some standing through their children’s success. Chris Kwok, a 1992 Stuyvesant graduate who knows Wang from church, grew up in a working-class family in Flushing; in China, his father had been an engineer, but in Queens, he worked as a blue-collar city contractor, and Kwok’s mother was employed in a garment factory. For his first summer prep class, Kwok recalls: “I made no decision. It was just, ‘This is what you’re doing.’”
The programs he attended in the late 1980s, he remembers, were “terrible,” but at least half his classmates got into either Stuyvesant or Bronx Science, in part because the classes forced a certain kind of discipline. “My parents spent money that they earned,” he says. “The message is that you’re supposed to be paying attention to studying. If you didn’t, you know, you just felt guilty.”
Now that Wang is halfway through high school, he wonders at times where he will go from there. He admits that he would like to leave New York and try being independent for a while. But, he says, “my No. 1 priority is making my parents happy, because they have done so much for me. After that is what I like.”
On a recent Saturday, Wang was logging in to check his SAT results at a Thai cafe near his house, tapping at the screen as if playing some mobile game. “Oh!” he exclaimed, breaking into a sly smile at the score that emerged. “Checking my answers was so worth it.”
Was he going to celebrate? Wang wasn’t sure; it might be premature. His parents had already started him on private college counseling. He would have plenty of time to relax and pursue hobbies later, he said — once he had a solid job. I was reminded of a phrase he had recited earlier, one that almost every Chinese child has heard, including me: “Xiān kǔ hòu tián.” First bitter, then sweet.