How Kumon Bred Persistence and Panic Among South Asians

The after-school program was a fixture for the South Asian diaspora. But, after peaking in the 2000s, does it now hold the same draw?

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The Kumon Math Challenge at the University of Maryland, Shady Grove. Ravij Metha during the 1st grade math test (Getty Images)

Mehr Singh


May 11, 2023


11 min

In his 2022 comedy show The King’s Jester, Hasan Minhaj takes the stage, using the usual suspects of South Asian immigrant life to galvanize the crowd.

“When I look out here tonight, I see so many broken dreams,” Minhaj says. “So many IT consultants, so many pre-med majors, so many dudes that work at Deloitte.” He then speaks about his daughter, who, Minhaj says, has something nobody from his generation had: choice. “She can choose who she loves. She can choose her major. She can choose whether or not she goes to Kumon! Anything. Is. Possible.” 

Kumon is a global company whose math-forward learning centers champion rote learning. Some equate its franchises, whose “thinking face” logo looks worried, to prison; others attribute their success to the Kumon method. Many in the South Asian diaspora are intimately familiar with it: they studied there, they taught there, and they own Kumon franchises. But after the U.S. reached peak Kumon in the 2000s, is Minhaj onto something? Is the brand destined to be a relic of the diasporic experience, no longer relevant as future generations have “choice”?

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