An up-close look at the arms race in after-school learning, academic competitions – and the perceived failure of even our best schools to educate children, which The Wall Street Journal said is, “[A] fascinating look at a growing subculture…”

Beyond soccer leagues, music camps, and drama lessons, today’s youth are in an education arms race that begins in elementary school. In Hyper Education, Pawan Dhingra uncovers the growing world of high-achievement education and the after-school learning centers, spelling bees, and math competitions that it has spawned. It is a world where immigrant families vie with other Americans to be at the head of the class, putting in hours of studying and testing in order to gain a foothold in the supposed meritocracy of American public education. A world where enrichment centers, like Kumon, have seen 194 percent growth since 2002 and target children as young as three. Even families and teachers who avoid after-school academics are getting swept up. 

Drawing on over 100 in-depth interviews with teachers, tutors, principals, children, and parents, Dhingra delves into the why people participate in this phenomenon and examines how schools, families, and communities play their part. Moving past “Tiger Mom” stereotypes, he addresses why Asian American and white families practice what he calls “hyper education” and whether or not it makes sense. By taking a behind-the-scenes look at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, other national competitions, and learning centers, Dhingra shows why good schools, good grades, and good behavior are seen as not enough for high-achieving students and their parents and why the education arms race is likely to continue to expand.

Reviews of Hyper Education

“[A] fascinating look at a growing subculture and an account of the ways in which public schools are failing our most gifted and hard-working ­students and putting the blame on their parents.” 

~The Wall Street Journal

“Dhingra presents a compelling and cogent examination of this phenomenon and analyzes whether or not it is a positive development. […] Based on over 100 interviews Dhingra conducted with children, parents, principals, teachers, tutors, and other stakeholders, the research underlying the book’s thesis is rigorous, well reasoned, and reliable.” 


“This is a book that is sure to push everyone’s thinking. … This is an important book that is sure to endure.”

~American Journal of Sociology

“Families who want their children to succeed often send them to private learning centers and encourage them to participate in spelling bees and math competitions. Why? That question is at the heart of Dhingra’s thought-provoking book…A well-researched work of interest to parents and educators.” 

~Library Journal

“As the failures of the US’ fragmented, highly unequal, and increasingly privatized education system have been laid bare amidst the COVID-19 crisis, Dhingra’s book is a timely look at how families respond to such a system. In doing so, he debunks harmful stereotypes about Asian American culture and parenting. His book will be of much interest not only to sociologists, but also to educators and families alike.” 

~Social Forces

“Why do so many Asian American parents seek hyper education for their children? Through his fascinating exploration of spelling bees, math competitions, and enrichment centers, Pawan Dhingra gets to the root of education obsessions to expose our global anxieties, national biases, and parental hopes for our sons and daughters.” 

~Min Jin Lee, author of Free Food for Millionaires and National Book Award Finalist, Pachinko

“A fascinating and timely look at the risks and rewards of cranking up the academic pressure on children. Pawan Dhingra does not just analyse the status quo: he shows parents, educators and society as a whole how to change so that we can find the sweet spot between pushing the next generation too hard and not pushing them hard enough.” 

~Carl Honore, author of Under Pressure: Putting the Child Back in Childhood

“Carefully researched and written, Hyper Education shows how race saturates the conversation about education. This book is a clear and nuanced treatment of a complex trend that too often gets obscured by stereotyping. Ultimately, Dhingra helps us learn more about the evolution of what it is like to be a child amidst the privatization of social goods in an age of insecurity.” 

~Allison J. Pugh, author of The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Insecure Age

“Dhingra tells a fascinating story about U.S. hyper education—a common practice of American middle-class parenting taken up and advanced by Asian immigrants. Hyper Education explains what drives this phenomenon and what is at stake from the perspectives of children, parents, and educators, dispelling many erroneous assumptions and stereotypes about high-achieving Asian Americans.” 

~Min Zhou, co-author of The Asian American Achievement Paradox

“In this book, Dhingra offers a multi-layered perspective on the effects of over-programming young people to meet educational goals. He opens a window into the experiences of Indian American families and youth, and invites the reader to consider how race, immigration, culture, and class influence educational outcomes. Hyper Education is an accessible and necessary read for anyone connected to the American educational system and committed to educational equity.” 

~Deepa Iyer, author of We Too Sing America; South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future

“Third graders worrying about the SATs? Middle schoolers with stress ulcers? Eight National Spelling Bee Co-Champions? Pawan Dhingra spent years immersed in the world of hyper education to write a gripping study on the culture of success. What he uncovers are the fascinating, often unexpected motives behind achievement and the deep undercurrents of white normative ideology, historical racism, government policies and gender bias that are at play. This book challenges the very way we approach education in America.” 

~Maulik Pancholy, actor and author of The Best At It

Hyper Education is a deeply engaging book, packed with rich narrative accounts and powerful theoretical insights, that incisively demonstrates how critiques of the “over-investment” in education of Indian Americans—and Asian Americans more generally—help maintain the racial status quo by centering normative whiteness and sustaining white supremacy. Expertly situated within the broader context of neoliberalism, accountability policy, immigration, and race, this book should be read by everyone who seeks to better understand the changing educational landscape in the United States.” 

~John B. Diamond, co-author of Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools

Profiles of Hyper Education:

The Wall Street Journal: ‘Hyper Education’ Review: Studying Hard and Blamed for It

NPR/Think: “Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough”

Library Journal: “VERDICT A well-researched work of interest to parents and educators.”

Hyphen Magazine: “Education on the Edge”

NPR/WAMC The Roundtable

NPR To the Best of My Knowledge

PRX Ideasphere

NPR/WGVU The Morning Show

NPR/JPR Jefferson Exchange

NPR One Life Elsewhere

NPR/WGTD Morning Show

Rising Up With Sonali

New Books Network podcast

and more

Life Behind the Lobby: Indian American Motel Owners and the American Dream (Stanford University Press, 2012)

Winner of the 2013 Book of the Year Award, sponsored by the ASA Section on Asia and Asian America.

Winner of the 2013 AAAS Book Award in Social Science, sponsored by the Association for Asian American Studies.

Indian Americans own about half of all the motels in the United States. So it is curious that, despite their dominance in the motel industry, Indian American moteliers are concentrated in lower- and mid-budget markets. Most of these motel owners arrived in the United States with few resources and, broadly speaking, became self-employed, self-sufficient, successful immigrants living the “American Dream.” However, framing this group as embodying the American dream has profound implications. It perpetuates the idea of American exceptionalism―that this nation creates opportunities for newcomers unattainable elsewhere―and also downplays the inequalities of race, gender, culture, and globalization immigrants continue to face. Life Behind the Lobby explains the interesting fact that most of these motel owners come from the same region in India and 70 percent of them share the surname “Patel” though they are not related, and examines their accomplishments, marginalization, and what their own role has been in sustaining that duality.


“Nearly half of the motels in the U.S. are owned by Indian Americans . . . Pawan Dhingra set out to examine why such an ubiquitous and distinctly American roadside fixture became so popular among this community, focusing on a surge of Gujarati motel keepers who contributed to the ‘Patel motel’ phenomenon . . . From participating in community volleyball games to attending local Diwali festivals, Mr. Dhingra dove headfirst into a world he described as being ‘uniformly generous.’ In tracing the daily lives of Indian American moteliers, Mr. Dhingra discovered a world brimming with long hours, low wages and an intense dependence on the family network.”

—Aarti Virani, The Wall Street Journal

“In Life Behind the Lobby, Dhingra, who was born in India but grew up in the US, tells how Indian Americans came to dominate the motel business. . . Dhingra’s empathy for the motel owners he has interviewed is obvious in the easy way he begins to speak in their words, whether quoting directly or simply imagining himself in their shoes. . . Dhingra’s expertise in connection with Indian American motel owners will serve him well as he curates a traveling exhibit on Indian American heritage for the Smithsonian Institution.”

—Greg Varner,

“For many motel owners, Dhingra says, it’s more than a job. ‘They talk about it in the same way as if they’d built their own car—in a really sincere and emotional way,’ he said, adding that when he’d walk through a motel with the owners, they would often brag about how they’d done remodeling, new wiring or put in new carpeting. ‘It’s not just a business to them; it’s a way of life. They may not make a lot of money, but most are able to send their kids to college, provide a living and it’s also seen as a property investment.'”

—Matthew Hilburn, Voice of America

“Dhingra conducted more than 100 interviews with motel owners, observing their families at work, over a period of several years to research in detail the grand story of entrepreneurship, the American dream and exceptionalism. The question he poses: Are the achievements of motel owners’ proof of acceptance and openness of an American society or are their battles with race or culture evidence that discrimination and inequity continue to exist?”

—Nitish Rele, Khaas Baat

“Pawan Dhingra has written a pioneering book on the world of American motels and hotels. Close attention to the stories told by the people who work in the trade allows Dhingra to go behind the stereotypes, and give us a tale of human beings struggling to make livings and lives. This is a people’s sociology of hotel work.”

—Vijay Prashad, Trinity College

Life Behind the Lobby assesses a central debate about U.S. migration: should the achievements of self-employed migrants be regarded as evidence of the openness, tolerance, and meritocracy of an increasingly neoliberal American society, or should their sacrifices, confrontations with racism, and feelings of social marginalization be taken as proof of the enduring place of discrimination, inequality, and white privilege? Pawan Dhingra’s sophisticated and highly original analysis does much to advance our understanding of international migration, ethnic entrepreneurship, and migrants’ ability to work collectively to cope with, if not fully overcome, the circumstances they face.”

—Steven J. Gold, Michigan State University, author of The Store in the Hood: A Century of Business and Conflict (2010)

Managing Multicultural Lives: Asian Americans and the Challenge of Multiple Identities (Stanford University Press, 2007)

Honorable Mention in the 2008 AAAS Book Award, sponsored by the Association for Asian American Studies.

How do people handle contrasting self-conceptions? Do they necessarily compartmentalize their personal lives from their professional lives? Do minority and immigrant groups act “ethnic” at home, “American” at work, “racial” in pan-ethnic spaces? Managing Multicultural Lives moves past a common assumption that only one identity is in play in a given setting to demonstrate that, in fact, minorities are actually and always simultaneously bringing together seemingly contrasting identities.

Using the words and experiences of Indian American and Korean American professionals themselves, Dhingra shows how people break down the popular “margins vs. mainstream” conception of group identity and construct a “lived hybridity.” He offers new insight into minorities’ experiences at work, at home, and in civil society. These Asian Americans’ ability to handle group boundaries fluidly leads them to both resist and support stratified social patterns. It also indicates new, more nuanced understandings of immigrant adaptation, multiculturalism, and identity management that pertain to multiple types of immigrant groups.

Table of Contents available.


“[Managing Multicultural Lives] illustrates how second-generation ethnics do not cast their lot with either their American or ethnic sides; rather, they position themselves according to their circumstances, using their diverse backgrounds as valuable resources . . . Highly recommended.”


“Overall, the book offers numerous rich quotes, providing a detailed account of second-generation Indian and Korean American professionals’ views. The book is also analytical, incorporating a variety of relevant sources . . . In the midst of debates over whether Asians will eventually be defined as ‘white,’ this book adds a complex case study.”

American Journal of Sociology

“This comparative study delves into the complex and overlapping dynamics of identity among ethnic minority professionals through insightful narratives and reflexive everyday life stories. It is thought-provoking and theoretically engaging on immigrant adaptation, and also fun to read.”

—Min Zhou, University of California, Los Angeles

“Pawan Dhingra’s study of Korean-American and Indian-American professionals in Dallas charts new ground by juxtaposing two Asian-American communities in the South. It shows through detailed ethnographic study how these upwardly mobile Asian Americans are positioned within a national discourse of liberal democratic citizenship as those who occupy the margins in the mainstream. Their critiques as well as disavowal of racial discrimination, and the cleavages and bonds formed between groups after 9/11, are important to take note of for anyone interested in the paradoxes of neoliberal multiculturalism.

—Sunaina Maira, author of Desis in the House: Indian American Youth Culture in New York City

“Pawan Dhingra provides a provocative attention to detail, to the multiplicities of identity, social worlds and daily practical challenges that his participants must negotiate. In the process, he offers us insights that are equally useful in the boardroom, the classroom, the neighborhood, and even inside our homes. The result is an inviting look at the kind of boundary work that may well lie at the heart of the American immigrant experience.”

—Christina Nippert-Eng, author of Home and Work: Negotiating Boundaries through Everyday Life

“In this thoughtful and well-written work, Dhingra investigates how Indian and Korean Americans in Dallas, Texas, simultaneously distinguish between and reconcile their ethnic, racial, and American identities in daily life In light of the dearth of literature on Korean Americans and especially on Indian Americans in southern cities, Dhingra’s perspectives offer fresh insights while expanding upon a growing topic of scholarly interest.”

—Uzma Quraishi, University of Houston

Asian America (Polity Press, 2014)

Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority population in the country. Moreover, they provide a wonderful lens into the experiences of immigrants and minorities in the United States, historically and contemporaneously. In this timely new text, Pawan Dhingra and Robyn Magalit Rodriguez critically examine key sociological topics through the experiences of Asian Americans, including social hierarchies (of race, gender, and sexuality), work, education, family, culture, identity, media, pan-ethnicity, social movements, and politics.

With vivid examples and lucid discussion of a broad range of theories, the authors demonstrate the contributions of the discipline of sociology to understanding Asian Americans, and vice versa. In addition, this text takes students beyond the boundaries of the United States to cultivate a comparative and global understanding of the Asian experience, as it has become increasingly transnational and diasporic.

Bridging sociology and the growing interdisciplinary field of Asian American studies, and uniquely placing them in dialogue with one another, this engaging text will be welcome in undergraduate and graduate sociology courses such as race and ethnic relations, immigration, and social stratification, as well as on ethnic studies courses more broadly.

Review by the London School of Economics: “Beyond the academic level, the book succeeds in another aspect, which the authors themselves consider important: the promotion of social justice by drawing attention to inequalities that still exist in a supposedly post-racial America.”