About the Book

About the Book

The results of the 2019 NAEP* tests found that 61 percent of 12th graders reported that they had applied to or been accepted at a four-year college. But only 37 percent performed well enough in math and reading to be ready for freshman college courses.  NAEP associate commissioner Peggy Carr said, “Students were very clear that they didn’t know or feel confident in some basic skills when it comes to reading, or being able to conduct some basic math operations.”

Excerpts from  Education Week, November 18, 2020, p. 3. *NAEP = National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Have you noticed that every discussion about how to improve our children’s learning is about what adult educators and policy-makers should be doing differently?

Concerned Americans have long known that the educational systems of Singapore, Finland, China, Japan, and Korea enjoy superior outcomes. That’s why we look to those systems for ideas and inspiration. Invariably, though, the only thing we look at is what their adult educators and policy-makers are doing.

The Drive to Learn says nothing about adult educators and policy-makers. Author Cornelius Grove contends that, although adult-focused reforms can bring some improvements, transformational change won’t occur until the children change. The children are part of the problem, so they must be part of the solution.

The Drive to Learn is concerned with the way American children approach classroom learning. To what extent do they feel a compelling inner drive to learn? If many don’t, why not?

To gain perspective on how our children approach classroom learning, we need to compare them with another group of children whose classroom learning has better outcomes. Fortunately, another group of children already has been studied: the children of East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea. Over 500 studies of how they learn and how their parents raised them have been completed.

That massive collection of research findings provided the raw material for the conclusions of The Drive to Learn. The most important conclusion that emerged as Dr. Grove patiently combed through those studies was this:

When compared with East Asian children, American
children are less receptive to school learning.

“Receptive to school learning” means that a child

  • feels deeply committed to learning in school – is ready;
  • expects to work persistently in order to learn well – is willing;
  • knows how to participate in the process of learning in school – is able.

The Drive to Learn places you beside Dr. Grove as he asks questions about East Asian children and their parents, finds answers within the 40+ years of research studies, reaches the conclusion above, and explores what it all means for Americans, especially American parents.


The Introduction explains what to expect: This book is Dr. Grove’s step-by-step process of discovering

  • why East Asian children are more receptive to learning, and
  • how their parents went about raising students who excel.

Each chapter begins when Dr. Grove poses a question. He then discovers the answer by consulting the anthropological research findings. That answer raises a fresh question in his mind. That new question is the one he asks at the beginning of the next chapter…and so forth. This is why the first nine chapters are called “Discovery Steps.”

Discovery Step 1: “Daring to Seek Answers”

The process begins when Dr. Grove poses the book’s basic question: Why do American students learn less than East Asian students? He reviews opinions about East Asian education that often are voiced by Western visitors who observed in classrooms there. For example, they commonly brand East Asian students as “passive.” Yet it’s known that East Asians learn more. So to what extent do these observers’ reports accurately advance our grasp of East Asian students’ learning?

Discovery Step 2: “Evaluating Eyewitness Reports”

Dr. Grove asks What can we gain from Western reports about student learning in East Asia? The accuracy of two typical visitors’ reports is compared with the findings of painstaking anthropological research. We see that the visitors’ opinions (such as, “the students are passive”) are deeply flawed. But this initial dip into research findings also reveals something important: East Asian students expect to learn in school by devoting a huge amount of time and effort to their studies. Why do they?

Discovery Step 3: “Exploring Motivations”

What motivates students in East Asia to persevere in studying? The concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are explored; do they apply in East Asia? Attention focuses on how children in East Asia and America deal with failure. That leads us to explore the insights of psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck and recognize that her term “growth mindset” applies to East Asian children. Equally important, we increasingly recognize that East Asian students have a strong inner determination to learn. Again, why do they?

Discovery Step 4: “Analyzing Determination”

Why is the determination to learn of East Asian students exceptionally strong? We meet Dr. Jin Li, whose research analyzed and compared how Chinese and American students think about learning. Her findings reveal that, unlike American students, Chinese students are emotionally driven to learn because they associate learning with personal morality and virtue. This intriguing discovery definitely needs further investigation!

Discovery Step 5: “Assessing Emotional Drive”

Why do East Asian students infuse learning with emotional drive? We examine the role of the East Asian family, including the role of a child within his or her family. We discover that a millennia-old trait of East Asian families is an emotion-infused drive to learn, especially to learn in school. To understand this fully, we need to inquire further from the perspectives of sociology and history.

Discovery Step 6: “Thinking Like a Sociologist”

Do sociological factors help to explain East Asians’ fervent drive to learn? We consider two types of society, investigating how infants are raised in each. One type, the “communitarian,” insures that a key outcome of child-rearing is that young children learn how to be diligently receptive to anyone – parent, sibling, teacher, friend – who already has mastered whatever must be learned (how to tend a garden, how to subtract – whatever). Despite modernization, East Asian societies strongly tend to be communitarian. This is a key piece of the puzzle!

Discovery Step 7: “Thinking Like a Historian”

Do historical factors help to explain East Asians’ fervent drive to learn? We probe the origins of the ways of life of families in America and East Asia: one is rooted in ancient Greece, the other in ancient China. In their contrasting life-style patterns lies the answer to this book’s basic question: “Why are East Asian students more receptive to school learning?” Everything we’ve been discovering points to the commanding influence of the family. Time to turn our attention to East Asian parents!

Discovery Step 8: “Revealing How Parents Think”

What are East Asian parents’ assumptions about how to raise children? An East Asian family is keenly aware of its standing, reputation, or virtue in the eyes of its community. So it is imperative that each child learns how to maintain the family’s good standing. Knowing that a child is malleable, her parents authoritatively shape her values, abilities, and social skills. Their role is similar to that of a coach and trainer.

Discovery Step 9: “Revealing What Parents Do”

What are East Asian parents’ approaches to coaching and training their children? Anthropological research informs us about child-coaching and -training practices that are widely employed by East Asian parents. We explore six practices that are critical to insuring that East Asian children excel in school. For example, parents participate with their child, learning alongside him or her, jointly addressing challenges. This concludes our process of discovery. Still, a question remains: What does it all mean for us?

First post-discovery chapter: “So What Should We Do?”

To what extent could – should – this new information change the way we do things? The root of the problem is American culture, which emphasizes individual autonomy. It’s not realistic to imagine that an entire culture could transform. But it is realistic for a family’s culture to transform. Some parents will reasonably decide not to try this. But for those who want to try, Dr. Grove suggests “SEVEN COMMITMENTS TO YOUR CHILD.”


“I will take note of your successes, but I’ll pay far more attention to your failures. I’ll collaborate with you to figure out why you fell short. I’ll participate side by side with you to insure that you eventually master what you didn’t know how to do. Our family will celebrate your overcoming of significant failures, and your mastery of academic tasks that you found especially challenging.” © Copyright 2017, Cornelius N. Grove. All rights reserved.

Closing chapter, in two parts: “Responsibility and Creativity”

The first asks, Who is responsible for a student’s learning? The answers in East Asia and America underscore the key East-West contrasts that arose during our discovery process. The second part asks, Why are East Asians believed to be less creative than Americans? Whenever it’s noted that American students learn less than East Asians, we reply, “But American students are way more creative!” This response is shown to be way too simplistic.

Readers of The Drive to Learn will come away with a broad understanding of

  • why East Asian students are more receptive than American students to classroom learning;
  • how East Asian students become motivated to be highly receptive to classroom learning; and
  • what American parents can do so that their children become more receptive to learning in school.


All non-fiction books include a bibliography – a list of the books, articles, and other sources that were consulted by the author. The Drive to Learn has two bibliographies. One, a standard bibliography, is in the book itself. The other – an annotated bibliography – is here on this website.

Extremely rare, an annotated bibliography is one in which each book or article is not only listed, but also overviewed. The one on this website discusses 100 of the research reports that Dr. Grove found most useful as he asked questions and found answers. These annotations do not appear in the book because they would have made it much longer, increasing its price.

Within the text of the book, at the end of each chapter, is this statement:

“If you’d like more detail about the researchers’ findings, or simply wish to know what inspired the contents of [this chapter], read the following entries in the Annotated Bibliography at TheDriveToLearn.info:”

Then a number of annotated works are suggested. On this website, any suggested annotation is easy to find because a link to each is provided. For more detail, click HERE to be taken to the Introduction to the Annotated Bibliography.

Stevenson & Lee (1990)
Stevenson, Harold, & Shin-Ying Lee (1990). Contexts for achievement: A study of American, Chinese, and Japanese children. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 55 (1-2), Serial No. 221. Wiley, 119 pages.

Stevenson & Lee undertook this study of hundreds of first- and fifth-graders in Sendai (Japan), Taipei (Taiwan), and Minneapolis to determine if achievement differences were detectable during the earliest years of schooling, and to explore how out-of-school experiences affected in-school achievement. Among their findings are these:

Out-of-school variables that typically are believed to account for early elementary school performance – time spent in preschool, and how much school-relevant learning children have before they enter school – contributed little in explaining the differences among the three cultures. What did have explanatory power were the deep assumptions shared within each culture by families and teachers – and therefore by children. In Sendai and Taipei, the learning of academic skills in school is routinely treated as an imperative. The child’s drive to learn, and to excel, is taken for granted, with high expectations and endless support coming from the mother (Sendai) or the whole family (Taipei). Everyone assumes that the child can excel through perseverance and hard work.

The Asian parents were modest in their assessment of their child’s cognitive abilities but were satisfied only if she performed extremely well. The Minneapolis parents overstated their child’s abilities – and were satisfied with modest progress in school. “Two factors that work strongly against high achievement by American children are the low academic standards held by parents and the overestimations that parents make of their children’s abilities” (p. 100).

A common American belief is that Asian students “must experience great stress from studying so hard and that they lack vigor, creativity, and joy in learning.” The authors reply: “We found no grounds for these fears in our many visits” to Asian classrooms (p. 101).

Stevenson & Lee were the driving force behind a revealing half-hour videotape shot in 1st and 5th grade math classrooms in Japan and Taiwan. Contact the Center for Human Growth & Development at the University of Michigan by phoning 1-734-764-2443; ask for The Polished Stones DVD. $35.00 and worth it! The entire video also is on YouTube.