Introduction to Annotated Bibliography
It is very common for a non-fiction book to include, on its final pages, a bibliography of books, articles, and other sources that were consulted by the author during his preparation of the text. But it’s rare for any type of book to include an annotated bibliography. The Drive to Learn has an annotated bibliography. Why?
Familiarity with the anthropological research on which this book is grounded can be a useful aid to your full comprehension of the story told in the text. Anthropological research has a human quality that most other types of research lack because it almost always involves an individual or a small team entering a culture for the purpose of understanding it from an insider’s perspective. The researchers build relationships with local people and in many cases live among them for months, even years. Even if the visit is relatively short, they ground their understanding of the culture on their observations of, and extensive discussions with, local people. Their research reports often include not merely the findings but also stories about typical occurrences in the culture.
These characteristics and qualities of the research help to elucidate the text’s meaning, but it’s not a good idea to convey them within the text because doing so interrupts the text’s storyline. So in this book, the two are kept separate: the main story is contained in the text in the front of the book, while the annotations – overviews, summaries – of the key research reports are here on the website.
Since the early 1970s, there have been over five hundred research efforts in China, Japan, or Korea, and/or the United States, that attempted to understand early childhood, approaches to parenting, approaches to teaching, and/or children’s learning within those cultures. Some studies focused on East Asian immigrants in the United States. Each research report was an outcome of an effort to gain an insider’s perspective on children, parenting, learning, or classroom practices in the culture in question.
Anyone who gains an enduring interest in any field of inquiry soon becomes aware that some researchers have been highly productive and are respected by their peers. In this field, among the names that keep reappearing are Hiroshi Azuma, John Biggs, Ruth Chao, Martin Cortazzi, Robert Hess, Lixian Jin, Jin Li, Ference Marton, Farideh Salili, Harold Stevenson, James Stigler, and David Watkins. So I made sure to study their publications and, equally important, to peruse their footnotes and (often lengthy) bibliographies to discover whose research they were reading.
During my preparation I collected the published abstracts – author-prepared short summaries – of roughly 300 reports that seemed related to my focus. I decided to write my own annotations of some 125 of those articles. As I continued doing this, I became more discriminating and began discarding annotations of less on-target articles. In the end, 100 annotations were retained.
Research into the educational and parenting differences between East Asia and the United States has been diverse and varied. I had originally intended to discuss not only students and parents but also what goes on in school classrooms (especially in Japanese preschools). In the end I decided to keep the text focused on students – especially the youngest ones – and the manner in which their parents raise them. But I knew it would be useful for me to retain in this Annotated Bibliography reports of classroom practices that I had found insightful and useful.
If you’re interested in Chinese classroom practices, you’ll benefit from having a look at my annotations of the works of Che, Cortazzi & Jin, Gardner, Grove, Ho, Hu, Jin & Cortazzi, Mok, Ouyang, Paine, Pratt, Salzman, Stigler & Stevenson, and Watkins.
If you’re interested in Japanese classroom practices, you’ll benefit from having a look at my annotations of the works of Becker, Che, Damrow, Kawanaka, Lewis, Peak, Sato & McLaughlin, Shimahara & Sakai, Stigler & Stevenson, and Tsuchida & Lewis.
No, that isn’t necessary. What I’m hoping for, and preparing for, is the possibility that you will encounter in the text certain discussions that you find sufficiently interesting, or sufficiently questionable, that you’ll want to learn more about their basis in the research findings. When that happens, you can turn at once to this Annotated Bibliography to learn more about the characteristics, qualities, and findings of the research.
Another possibility is that you’ll find this whole topic so interesting, or so applicable to your own parenting or teaching, that you’d like to learn more about this field of inquiry. If that’s the case, I have designated as “highly recommended” fifteen of the annotations, each indicated by an asterisk (*) at the beginning of the annotation. If you read them all, these fifteen will give you a good overview of the general nature of this research, and of many key findings. Below is a list of the fifteen. Note: “et al.” [et alia] refers to three or more additional authors.
- *Biggs, John (1996b). Western misperceptions of the Confucian heritage learning culture. [book chapter]
- *Chao, Ruth, & Vivian Tseng (2002). Parenting in Asia. [book chapter]
- *Cortazzi, Martin, & Lixian Jin (1996). Cultures of learning: Language classrooms in China. [book chapter]
- *Damrow, Amy (2014). Navigating the structures of elementary school in the United States and Japan: An ethnography of the particular. [journal article]
- *Heine, Steven J., et al. (2001). Divergent consequences of success and failure in Japan and North America. [journal article]
- *Hess, Robert, & Hiroshi Azuma (1991). Cultural support for schooling: Contrasts between Japan and the United States. [journal article]
- *Iyengar, Sheena, & Mark Lepper (1999). Rethinking the value of choice: A cultural perspective on intrinsic motivation. [journal article]
- *Lebra, Takie Sugiyama (1994). Mother and child in Japanese socialization: A Japan-U.S. comparison. [book chapter]
- *Lewis, Catherine C. (1995). Educating Hearts and Minds: Reflections on Japanese Preschool and Elementary Education. [book]
- *Li, Jin (2003). U.S. and Chinese cultural beliefs about learning. [journal article]
- *Miller, Peggy J., et al. (2002). Self-esteem as folk theory: A comparison of European American and Taiwanese mothers’ beliefs. [journal article]
- *Ng, Florrie Fei-Yin, et al. (2007). European American and Chinese parents’ responses to children’s success and failure. [journal article]
- *Stevenson, Harold, & Shin-Ying Lee (1990). Contexts for achievement: The study of American, Chinese, and Japanese children. [monograph]
- *Stevenson, Harold, & James Stigler (1992). The Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn from Japanese and Chinese Education. [book]
- *Tweed, Roger B., & Darrin R. Lehman (2002). Learning considered within a cultural context: Confucian and Socratic approaches. [journal article]
Yes. If it’s a book, you can acquire it through your local bookseller, or via any of the several online book-ordering services. Even if the book is relatively old, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll be able to acquire a copy.
If the research report is a chapter within a book, one of your options is to acquire the book, which might have other chapters of interest to you. Otherwise, your remaining option is to visit http://books.google.com, type in the full title of the book, enter, and determine if it’s available as an e-book. If it is, you might be able to read the chapter online (but not to save or print it).
If the research report is a journal article or a monograph – and most of the research reports annotated in this bibliography are of those types – then here is what you need to know and do:
First, you need to know that, within the past decade or so, it’s become amazingly easy to acquire virtually any journal article or monograph because they are maintained in ready-to-download format by several online publishing services. Among the services I used are JSTOR, ReadCube, ScienceDirect, Springer Link, SAGE Journals, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley Online. The first time you visit any of these websites, you’ll need to establish a user ID and password.
The steps you will take to acquire a journal article or monograph are these:
- Go to http://scholar.google.com (an extremely useful and free service for researchers).
- Type in the full title of the article or monograph that you’d like to acquire; enter.
- The desired article will either be the only item displayed, or the top item displayed. Click on its title.
- You’ll be taken to your desired article as maintained by one of the online publishing services. In most cases, you’ll be able to freely read, save, and print the abstract, but if you want to acquire the full article, you’ll need to purchase it first. Have your credit card ready (charges range between $12 and $48), then follow the site’s step-by-step directions.
- As soon as your purchase is confirmed, you may download the full article. This doesn’t always happen automatically. On some sites, it’s not clear how to download the article. My experience is that, if I can find the title of the article configured as a link, clicking on its title will give me the full article (usually as a PDF), after which I can both download it and print it.
The 100 Annotations
Abboud & Kim (2006)
Abboud, Soo Kim, & Jane Kim (2006). Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers – and How You Can Too. Berkley Books, 209 pages.
Written by sisters Soo and Jane Kim, a surgeon and an attorney, this straightforward how-to book is dedicated to their Korean immigrant parents: “Thank you for everything.” The title of each of the 17 chapters is an imperative statement, e.g., 3. Instill a Respect and Desire for Delayed Gratification and Sacrifice; 4. Clearly Define Your Child’s Role as a Student; 8. Set Clearly Defined Short-Term and Long-Term Goals; and 13. Limit Extracurricular Activities That Interfere with Schoolwork. The advice in each chapter is illustrated by vignettes from the life of the sisters’ natal family, and from the lives of other families they know.
Top of the Class counsels an “Asian” (rather than “Korean”) perspective on child-rearing, and does so to an extent that will seem reasonable to many, whereas the perspective of Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother (2011) won’t. The difference is that the Kims approve of trying to make learning enjoyable and suggest setting time aside each day for family recreation. The Kims view parents as educators who daily take their children academically beyond whatever is being taught in school while also respecting and supporting the efforts of the school’s professionals. [See also Schneider & Lee, 1990; and Huang, 2014.]
Bao & Lam (2008)
Bao, Xue-hua, & Shui-fong Lam (2008). Who makes the choice? Rethinking the role of autonomy and relatedness in Chinese children’s motivation. Child Development, 79 (2), 269-283.
This article provides insight into the mindset of Chinese children while also addressing an issue within self-determination theory, which holds that individual autonomy is a universal human need. Previous research (for example, Iyengar & Lepper, 1999) contradicted that. It found that Asian-American children were more motivated to complete a task when the choice was made by another with whom they had a close relationship (e.g., mother), not when they themselves had chosen it. This suggested that autonomy, evidenced by freedom of choice, is not a universal need. In previous literature, they found autonomy defined as the extent to which one accepts, endorses, or stands behind one’s actions – a definition that says nothing about who chose the actions.
To investigate the roles of freedom of choice, autonomy, and relatedness in Chinese children’s motivation to perform tasks, Bao & Lam completed four studies of Hong Kong elementary schoolchildren. Their findings showed that autonomy is important to Chinese children’s motivation. In an interdependent “collectivist” culture, the tight bond of relatedness within an ingroup (e.g., a family) means that members’ identities are so thoroughly intertwined that a choice made by an ingroup member is experienced as one’s own. In short, when relatedness is high, individual choice doesn’t matter; the child feels autonomous and is motivated to perform the task. [For findings from neuroimaging techniques that appear to confirm this conclusion, see Zhu et al., 2007.]
Becker et al. (1999)
Becker, Jerry P., Toshio Sawada, & Yoshinori Shimizu (1999). Some findings of the US-Japan cross-cultural research on students’ problem-solving behaviors. International Comparisons in Mathematics Education, Gabriele Kaiser et al., eds. Falmer Press, 121-139.
The research described in this article aims to discover why, in comparison with American students, Japanese students routinely exhibit greater sophistication in applying mathematical concepts. The findings point primarily to the methods used in Japanese math teaching.
The first problem, given to 4th graders in America and Japan, used a diagram with a pattern of black dots and asked students to determine the number of dots “in as many ways as you can,” and to describe or illustrate each approach. The second, given to 8th and 11th graders, involved three- and four-sided arithmagons (see activityvillage.co.uk/arithmagons). Again, students were instructed to find the answer “in as many different ways as you can” and show all their work. (Suggested approaches ranged from trial and error all the way up to sophisticated algebraic equations with three unknowns). At the 8th and 11th grade levels, one difference was that the Japanese students used all the approaches listed; but the Americans very predominantly used trial and error – which yielded incorrect answers for 40% of the 11th graders – while not even attempting some of the more sophisticated approaches.
To account for Japanese superiority in thinking in a variety of ways about any math problem, the researchers point to the way math is taught in Japan: “Japanese classroom lessons [are] carefully crafted, organized, and teacher-managed, and… focus on one main idea. Drawing on students’ thinking is part of the pedagogy along with a lot of teacher-student and student-student interaction. Very frequently, lessons begin with [one] carefully developed problem situation and the teacher, far from being a dispenser of knowledge, acts as a guide…using student input. [The teacher] knows…that the problem lends itself to multiple approaches…and can therefore draw upon students’ solutions for discussion” (p. 137). [See also Marton, 2000; and Kawanaka et al., 1999.]
Biggs, John B. (1996a). Learning, schooling, and socialization: A Chinese solution to a Western problem. Growing Up the Chinese Way: Chinese Child and Adolescent Development, Sing Lau, ed. The Chinese University Press, 147-167.
In this seminal article, Biggs not only poses the question that animates The Drive to Learn; he also arrives at the same answer. The question: If Asian classroom contexts and methods are deeply flawed, then why do Asian students achieve so well? The answer: The reason they achieve so well lies not in Asian classrooms but rather in Asian students. The answer lies in the cultural values by which Asian students are socialized outside of school.
On his way to this noteworthy conclusion, Biggs discusses approaches to learning – principally, “surface” and “deep” (see Biggs, 2001) – emphasizing that research has repeatedly shown that Asian students use deep strategies including “repetitive learning,” a type of memorization, demonized in the West as rote (see Marton et al., 1996; and Kember, 2016). Very insightful is Biggs’s brief discussion of the influence on Asians of learning to write Chinese characters, a process that is completely different from learning an alphabet system.
Biggs also discusses motivation: The intrinsic-extrinsic dichotomy is applicable in the West but not in Asia, where children are raised to feel diligence and receptiveness towards learning. Western children are raised to be assertive and self-reliant, to explore on their own terms, and to resist collectivist (group-focused) tendencies, which poorly prepare them for classroom realities – thus obliging their teachers to devote huge effort to harnessing intrinsic motivation and imposing negative reinforcements.
*Biggs, John (1996b). Western misperceptions of the Confucian heritage learning culture. The Chinese Learner: Cultural, Psychological, and Contextual Influences, David A. Watkins & John B. Biggs, eds. Comparative Education Research Centre [Hong Kong] and Australian Council for Educational Research, 45-67.
In this insightful, often-cited article, Biggs addresses the principal ways in which Western commentators denigrate East Asians’ learning processes. Among Western allegations and Biggs’s explanations:
Rote learning: In East Asia and the West, “surface” and “deep” learners alike (see Biggs, 2001) employ a rehearsal strategy – repetition – because it helps to ensure accurate recall. For surface learners, its purpose is merely to facilitate mechanical replication. For deep learners, repetition is the initial step in a lengthy process of fully comprehending meaning.
Imitative learning: The fundamental difference concerns the sequence of learning activities. In Western education, young children are primarily encouraged to explore and create, which are viewed as more important than the imitative mastery of pre-established skills. In Asia, imitative skill-mastery is taught first (and involves repetition), after which learners have the tools to be creative in culturally acceptable ways.
Authoritarian teaching: Although researchers in Asian classrooms say that teachers have an authoritarian tone, they often employ the word “constructivist” in describing the teaching approach (see Tsuchida & Lewis, 1998; and Stevenson & Stigler, 1991). Biggs also notes the tradition of informal teacher-student interactions outside of class, which far exceed anything observable in the West.
Non-responsive students: Asian students are quietly attentive in class because their cultures inculcate obedience, conformity, and persistence – qualities that prepare them for academic excellence better than do Western expectations of independence and assertiveness.
Biggs, John B. (2001). Teaching across cultures. Student Motivation: The Culture and Context of Learning, Farideh Salili et al., eds. Kluwer Academic/Plenum, 293-308.
Biggs uses the emic/etic distinction to organize this chapter, which is confusing. So begin on page 295. Biggs is on a mission to demonstrate that naïve Western observers of Asian classrooms are at odds with known facts when they write things such as, “Students in Hong Kong expect lecturers to teach them everything they are expected to know.”
With determination, Biggs addresses “The paradox of the Asian learner,” a rubric he coined a decade earlier. Here’s the paradox: Classroom conditions associated by Western research with poor learning outcomes can be said to characterize Asian education – yet Asian students consistently outperform their Western counterparts, and not merely on achievement tests. Measures have consistently found Asian students higher on “deep” learning and lower on “surface” learning than Western students. (The deep-surface distinction, first described in 1976 by Marton & Säljö [not annotated], focuses on what a learner intends in the moment. “Deep learning” occurs if she intends to grasp the themes, meanings, and implications of the material. “Surface learning” occurs if she intends to gain some facts from the material, such as those needed to avoid failing a test.)
Biggs is not the first to conclude, after many observations of Asian learners, that a useful term to describe their learning is “constructivist.” (Constructivism holds that only knowledge that one works through oneself is truly integrated and understood; its methods include exploration, self-pacing, hands-on experience, etc.; see Tsuchida & Lewis, 1998.) Biggs also notes that the goal of Asian education is reduction of individual differences.
Boe et al. (2002)
Boe, Erling E., Henry May, & Robert F. Boruch (2002). Student task persistence in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study: A major source of achievement differences at the national, classroom, and student levels. Center for Research and Evaluation of Social Policy, University of Pennsylvania. ERIC document ED478493. 34 pages.
The authors wanted to learn whether national differences in math and science achievement scores on the 1996 TIMSS exam could be determined by factors other than differences in knowledge of math and science. They believed that “motivation to work hard at the TIMSS task might include motivation to follow the instructions, to stay focused on the task, and to try to identify the best answer” (p. 1). The TIMSS exam attempted to measure achievement only, so the researchers looked at separate questionnaires that all TIMSS exam-takers had filled out on the day of the exam (its multiple-choice items sought background and personal information, and reactions to the exam). The researchers found that these questionnaires had been completed with a wide range of thoroughness, enabling them to invent a new variable, “Student Task Persistence” (STP), a measure of each exam-taker’s engagement.
Boe and his colleagues discovered that the extent to which exam-takers, considered in national groups, thoroughly completed this questionnaire (yielding national STP scores) was a very strong predictor of national differences in math and science achievement. At the 8th grade level – the largest in terms of students tested (146,883) and nations represented (41) – national STP scores accounted for well over half of the national variation in math and science scores, with very high significance levels (p < .001). At the other four TIMSS grade levels, national STP scores similarly predicted national differences in achievement. “In seeking to understand why nations differ in average student achievement,” the authors concluded, “it is necessary to recognize non-academic factors…as major sources of cross-national variability” (p. v). [See also Hsin & Xie, 2014.]
Chao, Ruth K. (1995). Chinese and European American cultural models of the self, reflected in mothers’ childrearing beliefs. Ethos, 31 (3), 328-354.
Chao investigated whether the childrearing perspectives of European-heritage Americans vs. immigrant Chinese (both in Los Angeles) resonated with the cultural distinctions in the meaning of “self” reported by Markus & Kitayama, 1991. Their article investigated the differences between independent and interdependent notions of “self.” Using an open-ended interview procedure – “What do you think is important for raising children?” – Chao collected and analyzed responses from 48 Chinese mothers, mostly from Taiwan, and 50 American mothers. All 98 mothers had been educated to the bachelor level or beyond.
Chao found several differences that echoed Markus & Kitayama’s framework. Most prominent was the strong emphasis by the Americans on being unfailingly positive and supportive in order to build their child’s self-esteem as an individual, which was viewed as the foundation for life success. (See Miller et al., 2002.) In contrast, the Chinese put strong emphasis on love, sacrifice, and laying a foundation for good lifelong relations with their child within a harmonious family; they viewed an outstanding education as the foundation for life success and deeply committed themselves to that end.
Pointing to her American respondents’ eagerness to help children “get in touch with” their feelings, Chao posits that Americans’ childrearing perspectives have been significantly influenced by various psychology and psychotherapy “movements.”
Chao, Ruth K. (2001). Extending research on the consequences of parenting style for Chinese Americans and European Americans. Child Development, 72 (6), 1832-1843.
In this research, Chao’s mission was to learn more about “authoritative” parenting and its effect on the school performance of Asian American and European American students. (The terms “authoritative” and “authoritarian” are explained by Chao & Tseng, 2002.) Chao focused on parental-adolescent closeness, which authoritative parents typically foster, and which she hypothesized would play a beneficial role in European American student performance. Compared were three student groups: European Americans, and first- and second-generation Chinese immigrants, all from high schools in the Los Angeles area.
Chao’s principle finding was that for the European American students, “authoritative” parenting had beneficial effects; between a third and half of those effects was statistically explained by parental-adolescent closeness. But first-generation Chinese students from similarly “authoritative” families did not exhibit school performance superior to that of first-generation Chinese students from “authoritarian” [strict, not close] families. The second-generation Chinese students were similar to the first-generation ones. Chao’s point is that, for some cultural groups (in this research, the Chinese), a parenting style that fosters parent-child closeness – such as the style called “authoritative” – does not have the same beneficial consequences for school performance as it does for European American youth.
Chao & Sue (1996)
Chao, Ruth K., & Stanley Sue (1996). Chinese parental influence on their children’s school success: A paradox in the literature on parenting styles. Growing Up the Chinese Way: Chinese Child and Adolescent Development, Sing Lau, ed. The Chinese University Press, 93-120.
Chao & Sue address this paradox: Asians and Asian-Americans have a parenting style that, allegedly, is both “authoritarian” (high parental control without either warmth or an openness to rational give-and-take) and positively associated with school success. Among Caucasian-American parents, the authoritarian style is negatively associated with school success. Underpinning this article are (a) the tripartite parenting model – authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive – developed by Baumrind during the 1970s (explained in Chao & Tseng, 2002); and (b) the research of Steinberg et al., 1992 [not annotated] that agrees on the “authoritarian” label for Asian parenting but claims that Asian-American parents are relatively uninvolved in their children’s schooling, and argues that strong Asian peer support explains Asian’s school success.
Chao & Sue investigate both the paradox and the curious conclusions of Steinberg et al.; in the process, they revisit some two dozen pre-1996 research findings about Asian (especially Chinese) parenting. They conclude that Baumrind’s model is an American way of viewing parenting that is not applicable to Chinese parent-child relations. They advise that whenever Chinese parenting is discussed, “child training” should replace “child rearing,” and references to “control” should explain that it’s not about dominating children but rather organizing for them. [See also Kao, 1995; and Fu & Markus, 2014.]
A 1994 article by Chao (in Child Development, 65) clarifies her use of “training”: She is seeking an English expression for chiao shun (in pinyin, jiāo xùn), which has positive associations among Chinese people, and which signifies a level of maternal caretaking and involvement that is beyond what most American mothers would think wise – or have the patience to provide for their own children.
*Chao & Tseng (2002)
*Chao, Ruth, & Vivian Tseng (2002). Parenting in Asia. Handbook of Parenting, 2nd Edition, Volume 4 (Social Conditions and Applied Parenting), Marc H. Bornstein, ed. Lawrence Erlbaum, 59-93.
This article reviews research literature on Asian parenting, with “Asia” defined far more expansively than China, Japan, and Korea. It opens with consideration of Asian historical, religious, and philosophical perspectives on childhood, and a brief overview of classic research findings (Benedict, Mead, F.L.K. Hsu, etc.). The first main section addresses the interdependence of Asian families. The second discusses parental control including the instilling of shame (awareness of potential judgment by others), the unique Chinese term gŭan (“to care for” and “to govern”), and the limited applicability to Asian parenting of the distinction between “authoritative” and “authoritarian.” (Introduced by Diana Baumrind during the 1970s, “authoritative” signifies high parental control tempered by warmth and rational give-and-take, while “authoritarian” signifies high parental control without warmth and with the expectation of respectful obedience.)
Of most interest for our present purposes, the third main section addresses educational achievement, offering insights into why Asian students, on average, consistently outperform their Western counterparts. Among the research-generated facts discussed are these:
- Asian parents directly instruct their pre-schoolers in school-readiness skills (with no resulting social adjustment problems), and strenuously promote academic learning during their children’s early elementary years.
- Asian students devote significantly more time to study than Western ones and tolerate fewer distractions (e.g., part-time jobs; dating).
- Asians generally assume that inner self-cultivation is a moral imperative, and that human beings remain malleable – adaptable and capable of change – throughout their lifetimes. [See also Ng et al., 2007.]
Che et al. (2007)
Che, Yi, Akiko Hayashi, & Joseph Tobin (2007). Lessons from China and Japan for preschool practice in the United States. Educational Perspectives, 40 (1), 7-12.
The third co-author has been the force behind a study of preschools in China, Japan, and the U.S., the first phase of which occurred in the mid-1980s. The second phase occurred in the mid-2000s, yielding Tobin et al. (2009), Preschool in Three Cultures Revisited. Both studies proceeded by videotaping a day in a preschool classroom, editing the tape to 20 minutes, then showing it to the teachers where it was made and asking them to explain the thinking behind their practices. The videos also are commented on by teachers in the other two nations. This article relates six incidents from Chinese and Japanese classrooms in the belief that “understanding how educators in other cultures handle familiar…situations in different ways can improve [American] practice by challenging assumptions…” (p. 7).
One Japanese incident concerns teachers’ non-intervention in children’s disputes, and another relates teachers’ deliberate reduction of classroom resources (e.g., sandbox shovels) so that disputes will occur. Teachers explained that by not intervening, they give children “space to work issues out on their own. If teachers intervene too readily…, children lose the chance to experience social complexity…, to experience a range of emotions, to empathize, and to learn to function as a member of a group” (p. 10).
A Chinese incident concerns teachers’ encouraging the children to give each other both positive and critical feedback, in this case about how a classmate, Ziyu, told a story. American teachers worried about Ziyu’s self-esteem, saying they themselves don’t correct mistakes made during self-expressive activities. Chinese teachers said peer criticism was accurate and helped children improve performance. The authors add that “true self-esteem” develops “by accomplishing things and improving” (p. 8). [See also Lewis, 1991 & 1995; Heine et al., 2001; and Miller et al., 2002.]
Chen & Uttal (1988)
Chen, Chuansheng, & David H. Uttal (1988). Cultural values, parents’ beliefs, and children’s achievement in the United States and China. Human Development, 31, 351-358.
This is one of the early reports of original research that offers explanations for the superior performance of Chinese students. The research was conducted in Chicago and Beijing with elementary school students and parents. The authors first address the cultural context of education in China, highlighting the assumption of human malleability and the belief that all improvements, even at the societal level, begin with self-improvement resulting from effort. Ability is viewed as an accumulation of knowledge and skills, attainable by all; those with less ability simply require longer to attain similar achievements.
The findings about parents are revealing. On several measures, Chinese parents were found to be less satisfied than Americans with their children’s performance. For example, American parents were satisfied with a math score seven points lower than what they expected; Chinese parents were satisfied with a score ten points higher than what they expected. No evidence suggested that the Chinese children disliked school. In fact, they were found to be far more impatient than American children for vacations to end! The authors conclude that Western concepts are not well suited for analyzing and explaining Chinese values related to children’s learning.
Chen et al. (1996)
Chen, Chuansheng, Shinying Lee, & Harold W. Stevenson (1996). Academic achievement and motivation of Chinese students: A cross-national perspective. Growing Up the Chinese Way: Chinese Child and Adolescent Development, Sing Lau, ed. The Chinese University Press, 69-91.
Noting that Chinese students’ “remarkable attainments” need explanation, the authors report on studies carried out between 1980 and 1992 that contrast the performance and motivation of Chinese children with that of their U.S. and Japanese peers. The U.S. studies occurred in Minneapolis and Chicago, cities in which students were top performers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Charts reveal the extent to which the American students were outperformed by the Chinese and Japanese, especially in mathematics. Various explanations are discussed.
It soon becomes clear that the explanation does not lie in any innate superiority of the Asians in terms of aptitude: Ten different intelligence tests revealed no significant differences among the three groups (except on ability to recall a series of numbers, on which the Chinese outperformed both Americans and Japanese). On the other hand, differences clearly emerged in the higher value placed by the Asians on education, and in the Asians’ stronger emphasis on hard work, complemented by their belief in human malleability [adaptability, capability of being shaped] – again, by both parents and students. Other possible factors are discussed but, for this reviewer, they are less convincing. [See also Kao, 1995; and Fu & Markus, 2014.]
Cheng, K. (1998)
Cheng, Kai-ming (1998). Can education values be borrowed? Looking into cultural differences. Peabody Journal of Education, 73 (2), 11-30.
In this insightful article, Cheng overviews the origins of East Asian educational values and practices. He takes as his starting point Stevenson & Stigler’s 1992 book, The Learning Gap, especially its finding that Asians focus on a learner’s effort. Cheng places the Asian emphasis on effort within its cultural context, expanding on observations such as these five:
- Student learning in Asia is driven by (what Western psychologists would call) “extrinsic” motivation, i.e., by the expectations of family and community.
- The pervasive Asian emphasis on conformity helps to explain the weakness of creativity there, i.e., creativity as conceived of in the West.
- Applying the concept of Howard Gardner (1984) that the world has three basic realms – natural physical, human-made artifacts, and social/relational – Western societies attend more to the natural physical, while Asian societies emphasize the social/relational.
- In Asia, parenting and preschool education both focus on developing children’s awareness of, and adaptation to, their interdependence with family, community, and school class.
- In the West, discipline in classrooms is viewed as a practical necessity to foster learning by groups of students. In Asia, discipline is viewed as a fundamental objective of education – specifically, of moral education.
Cheng, R., et al. (2016)
Cheng, Rebecca Wing-yi, Tse-Mei Shu, Ning Zhou, & Shui-fong Lam (2016). Motivation of Chinese learners: An integration of etic and emic approaches. The Psychology of Asian Learners: A Festschrift in Honor of David Watkins, Ronnel B. King & Alan B.I. Bernardo, eds. Springer Singapore, 355-368.
The authors review academic literature and their own research findings to learn more about the role that “social goals” play in Chinese learners’ motivation. Western research has focused on performance and mastery goals. Performance goals are about demonstrating one’s innate ability to self and others; they emphasize avoiding failure and are associated with maladaptive learning behaviors (e.g., not being persistent). Mastery goals are about deepening one’s knowledge and are associated with adaptive learning behaviors.
Those two goals can be found in China, but they overlook social goals, believed to be the principal driver of student behavior there. Social goals are about attaining a good outcome for the collective (one’s family), not solely for oneself. Social goals are associated with adaptive learning behaviors. Chinese students do not perceive social goals as being externally imposed on them. (See Iyengar & Lepper, 1999; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; and Zhu et al., 2007.)
The four authors also address the role that “teacher controlling behavior” plays in Chinese learners’ motivation. Western research has concluded that controlling behavior diminishes students’ motivation and leads to poor learning outcomes. Chinese teachers have been described as “controlling,” yet their students have good learning outcomes. (Another paradox!) The authors’ research with fifth graders in China and the U.S. showed that the two groups had different emotional reactions to the same controlling behavior by a teacher. It revealed that whether or not a teacher is “controlling” is in the eye of the (culturally conditioned) beholder. In both cultures students were less likely to feel controlled by a teacher with whom they had a good relationship.
Chua, Amy (2011). Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Penguin Press, 235 pages.
Of all the publications annotated herein, this is the best-known, ushering “tiger mom” into the English language. Tiger Mother portrays a dichotomy: relentlessly demanding Chinese tiger moms versus self-esteem-building American moms. It’s the autobiography of Chua and her family, focusing on her raising of two daughters, who became musical phenomena while also winning most of their school’s academic prizes. Among the take-aways are these:
- The stellar accomplishments of Chinese youth result from unrelenting effort, including “grueling drudge-drilling” of basics for multiple hours every day including, for Chua’s daughters, every vacation day.
- When relentlessly persevering effort is expected by a parent, children might rebel. Much of Tiger Mother recounts shouting matches between Chua and her younger daughter; eventually, Chua resorted to bribery: a dog.
- Neither in this book, nor in its media coverage, is there evidence that the daughters suffered mental illness due to this upbringing. (Chua’s methods elicited strong reactions from some Americans; one returned the book to Chua – shredded [New York Times, 31 January 2015, C4]).
An acerbic observer, Chua remarks that “The Chinese [prepare children] for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence” (p. 63). “Western parents… worry about how their children will feel if they fail…and constantly try to reassure [them] how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility…” (pp. 51-2). Touché!
In 2014, Chua co-authored The Triple Package, which examines three values that explain the rise and fall of cultural groups, including the Chinese, in America. It also generated heated controversy, much of it from people who assume that discussing a group’s values is evidence of racism.
*Cortazzi & Jin (1996)
*Cortazzi, Martin, & Lixian Jin (1996). Cultures of learning: Language classrooms in China. Society and the Language Classroom, Hywel Coleman, ed. Cambridge University Press, 169-206.
The widely respected research collaborators Cortazzi & Jin provide a perceptive, balanced overview of the Chinese culture of learning, their motive being to thoroughly understand the culture clash between it and the “communicative approach” to classroom teaching (which calls for frequent verbal interactions by the students with the teacher and each other) used by Western English teachers in China. Extensive discussions are provided about practices in Chinese lower-grade classrooms and upper-grade “intensive reading” English courses; and about Western teachers’ views of Chinese students, Chinese students’ views of Western teachers, and the general expectations of the Chinese about good teachers and good students. Among the valuable insights are these:
- The Chinese assume that thorough understanding comes not intuitively but only after a topic has been mastered.
- Western teachers’ observation that Chinese students resist working in groups is inaccurate; they resist in-class group work because it wastes time during which the teacher could be teaching.
- The perception of Westerners that Chinese students don’t ask questions is inaccurate; they resist in-class questioning for the same reason, preferring to ask (thoughtfully prepared) questions at other times and places.
Most valuable is Cortazzi and Jin’s inquiry into the accuracy of complaints by Western teachers that Chinese students are “passive.” What does “active participation” during class mean? In the West it means being verbally and sometimes even physically engaged; in China it means being mentally engaged and receptive, which is made more likely by students’ remaining quiet, still, and alert.
Cortazzi & Jin (2001)
Cortazzi, Martin, & Lixian Jin (2001). Large classes in China: ‘Good’ teachers and interaction. Teaching the Chinese Learner: Psychological and Pedagogical Perspectives, David A. Watkins & John B. Biggs, eds. Comparative Education Research Centre [Hong Kong] and Australian Council for Educational Research, 115-134.
Prolific research partners Cortazzi and Jin use the fact that classes in China are enormous to explore the roles of teachers and students in China. Students have a strong expectation that good teachers will have “deep subject knowledge” (“deep” means thorough knowledge), while simultaneously having a weak expectation that good teachers will explain things clearly. The authors’ clarification is this: Chinese students assume that good students make a strong effort to learn both in- and outside of class. This also helps to explain why huge classes seem not to matter.
Inside classrooms, students know how to learn because they were taught this early on. The authors cite the type of behavioral training Asian pupils receive during their first year in school (documented in the case of Japan by Peak , 1991; Lewis, 1991, 1995; and Tsuchida & Lewis, 1998). Cortazzi & Jin write that, “While to a Western visitor this [trained behavior] may seem either dutifully disciplined or rather robotic…, [it] is immensely effective in classroom organization because it cuts down on transition time between…different activities. It helps to ensure a basic aim of the teacher: to use lesson time to maximum effect for quality teaching” (p. 124).
Also discussed are Chinese students’ reactions to being branded as “passive,” and Chinese teachers’ sense of delivering virtuoso performances in classrooms, thanks to focused preparations and collaboration with colleagues [see Payne, 1990]. Included is a step-by-step outline of a 20-minute lesson for 9- and 10-year-olds plus other descriptions of classroom processes, which reveal far more student interaction than many readers will have imagined.
*Damrow, Amy (2014). Navigating the structures of elementary school in the United States and Japan: An ethnography of the particular. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 45 (1), 87-104.
This ethnographic study focuses on one Japanese boy, “Seiji.” Following preschool in Japan, he spent 5½ years in Michigan attending elementary school (plus a full-day Saturday Japanese school), then returned to Japan.
Comparisons: In Michigan, much talk of “choice” and “choosing” occurred within lessons and especially in relation to children’s behavior, e.g., “If you choose misbehavior, you choose punishment.” Damrow notes that although “choosing implies freedom,” in Michigan “the word was…related to control and restraint” because the teachers’ message was “that there were good choices (following the rules) and bad choices (not following the rules)” (p. 98). Damrow also observes that students in Michigan had more choices during lessons (e.g., a choice about with whom and where within the classroom they worked), while in Japan students had more choices during their frequent recreation periods between lessons, when they were not monitored or scheduled in any way. (This in itself is a momentous contrast; see also Lewis, 1995.)
Another comparison concerns the learning of responsibility, espoused by educators in both locations. In Japan, students carried out responsibilities on a regular basis, including serving lunch, tending animals, and cleaning the entire school. In Michigan, “responsibility” was an oft-stated learning objective, but Damrow couldn’t determine “how responsibility was woven into children’s daily experiences” because “students had tasks, but the school day did not depend on their successful execution” (p. 99).
Significantly, Damrow quotes Seiji’s own comparison of the contrasting expectations regarding effort at his schools in Michigan and Japan: “[At] Lakeview, if you…not really do a good job you will be fine; and at Kaichi you have to do really well even if you didn’t like or you weren’t good at that subject” (p. 100).
Fogel et al. (1992)
Fogel, Alan, Marguerite Barratt Stevenson, & Daniel Messinger (1992). A comparison of the parent-child relationship in Japan and the United States. Parent-Child Socialization in Diverse Cultures, Jaipaul Roopnarine & D. Bruce Carter, eds. Ablex, 35-52.
The authors begin by reviewing the findings of a large number of pre-1990 Japan-U.S. comparative research studies, only two of which are annotated within this bibliography. None of the studies reviewed contradicts the conclusions that others have reached: In Japan, an intensely close relationship is formed between mothers and their infants, and a major focus of the mothers is on helping their child to know how to complete certain tasks, often via modeling. In the U.S., a major focus of mothers is to encourage their child to know about the principles for completing certain tasks, often via verbalizing.
For this reviewer, one study seemed noteworthy: The third co-author completed research in which Japanese and American middle-class mothers and their 2-year-olds were given ten minutes to work on a shape-sorting task. The American toddlers showed considerably more autonomy in several ways, and were encouraged in this by their mothers; most strikingly, they went off-task ten times longer than the Japanese toddlers. The Japanese mother-toddler dyads sorted many more shapes correctly, largely because the mothers physically assisted their child almost twice as often. The mothers “seemed to slip easily into an intensive helping role that continues…throughout childhood. Japanese toddlers seemed to have internalized a desire to do the [sorting] task in the way that the mother considered appropriate” (p. 48).
Fong & Yuen (2016)
Fong, Ricci W., & Man Tak Yuen (2016). The role of self-efficacy and connectedness in the academic success of Chinese learners. The Psychology of Asian Learners: A Festschrift in Honor of David Watkins, Ronnel B. King & Alan B.I. Bernardo, eds. Springer Singapore, 355-368.
This literature review offers a “Chinese lens” on how Chinese students succeed. Discussed first are pedagogical factors: The methods of Chinese teachers are part of the reason for their students’ high achievement. An example is the frequency of intensive practice (pejoratively called “drilling” in the West). But the authors state their belief that, actually, the recurrent successes of Chinese students are at least as much about the students as they are about the schools, teachers, methods, etc., which is the key contention of The Drive to Learn. Two factors in the students’ early lives are viewed as formative.
Self-efficacy: Children are raised to believe that, through their own effort and perseverance, they can succeed in life, so they believe in their own capabilities. (This reviewer, although basically agreeing, faults the authors for not distinguishing among self-efficacy, self-esteem, and hào-xué-xīn, the concept introduced in Li, 2003). They cite studies showing that Chinese students’ sense of self-efficacy is relatively low, and speculate that this could be due either to the cultural value of modesty, or to the students’ feeling that they ought to be performing even better than they already are.
Connectedness to family: A key difference between collective and individualistic cultures is the strength of children’s connectedness with their families. Chinese children’s determination to meet their parents’ expectations is a key driver of their academic success. Parental control/criticism appears harsh to Western observers, but it is buffered by the parents’ emotional support. This parenting style often nurtures what some researchers have termed “healthy perfectionists.” [See also Wang & Leichtman, 2000; and Zhu et al., 2007.]
Fryer & Fryer-Bolingbroke (2011)
Fryer, Marilyn, & Caroline Fryer-Bolingbroke (2011). Cross-cultural differences in creativity. Encyclopedia of Creativity. United Kingdom: Elsevier, Inc.
The authors, leaders of the Creativity Centre in Devon, U.K., note that the meanings of creativity differ across cultures, and that “a white Western approach” to defining and assessing creativity is inadequate to understand creativity worldwide. This entry for the Encyclopedia of Creativity offers numerous examples of the range of differences including: the words used to reference creativity; whether it is viewed as product or process; and the perspectives of various religions and philosophies.
One of this article’s goals is to cast doubt on the opinion that Asians are less creative than Westerners. So, for example, the authors point out that in some Asian cultures, what is admired as creative is a fresh elaboration of an existing theme instead of, as in the West and especially the United States, the production of a unique theme or perspective. Of particular interest in the context of The Drive to Learn is the authors’ contention that, across a wide variety of cultures, the preference of many classroom teachers for deferential students discourages the blossoming of student creativity. [For other discussions of how creativity is viewed in Asia, see Morris & Leung, 2010; and Niu & Sternberg, 2006.]
Fu & Markus (2014)
Fu, Alyssa S., & Hazel Rose Markus (2014). My mother and me: Why tiger mothers motivate Asian Americans but not European Americans. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (6), 739-749.
This article responds to the controversy ignited by Chua’s 2011 Tiger Mother book. Some critics argued that tiger-mother practices would yield only resentment in children; others contended that intensely involved mothering would be better for children. These two views are rooted in different cultural assumptions – Asian and American – about the role of important others in one’s self-concept. Citing Ruth Chao [four annotations], Fu & Markus note that parenting practices viewed as harsh by Americans are, by Asians, appreciated as loving care. To clarify this difference, they carried out four experiments in which the subjects were either Asian American (AA) or European American (EA) high school students; the AAs had been born in the U.S. or had lived here for a decade or more.
Experiment 1 showed that, while both groups perceived their mothers positively, the AAs were more conscious of their close relationship with her. Experiment 2 revealed that the AAs perceived greater pressure from their mothers but felt that it was supportive; the EAs perceived pressure from their mothers as absence of support and understanding.
Experiments 3a and 3b explored to what extent children, after failure, are motivated by their mothers. The first showed that merely thinking about their mothers after a failure increased the AAs’ motivation to try hard again; for the EAs, merely thinking about their mothers reduced motivation and subsequent performance. The second – with only AAs as subjects – explored the type of pressure that motivated the AAs. Interdependent pressure, in which a mother pressured and actively participated with her child to surmount a failure, was more motivating than independent pressure, in which the mother pressured but did not participate. [See also Kao, 1995. And for insights from the new neuroimaging techniques, see Zhu et al., 2007.]
Fung, Heidi (1999). Becoming a moral child: The socialization of shame among young Chinese children. Ethos, 27 (2), 180-209.
Shame is a central emotion among the Chinese, being closely related to the “face” concept. Fung avoids the term “shame culture,” preferring another scholar’s observation that the Chinese have a “shame-socialized culture” in which individuals “are strongly socialized to be aware of what others think of them…so as to maximize the positive esteem they are granted from others…” [Schoenhals, 1993, p. 192; not annotated].
During 18 months of ethnographic observations (including videotaping) and interviews with parents and aunts in the homes of nine middle-class families in Taipei, Fung explored how Chinese children become socially competent adults who “know shame.” Although her study did not directly address the children’s learning of school-relevant knowledge, it is applicable to The Drive to Learn because sensitivity to how one’s behavior is evaluated by others, especially family members, figures prominently in East Asian children’s drive to attain academic mastery. This article includes descriptions of interactions in Chinese homes during which adults obliged young children to internalize shame.
Fung concludes that “parents engaged in shaming [in order to teach their] children how to be part of society,” and to protect their children “from being condemned by people outside the family…” (p. 203). She references Chao’s conclusion that “training” is the best term to describe Chinese child-rearing (see Chao & Sue, 1996).
Gardner, Howard (1989). To Open Minds: Chinese Clues to the Dilemma of Contemporary Education. Basic Books, 325 pages (with photo illustrations).
During the 1980s, Gardner visited Chinese classrooms on four occasions to seek “clues to the resolution of…the clash between progressive and traditional forces” in the United States (p. x). Interested in arts education and the development of creativity, Gardner reveals that his initial bias was in favor of the progressive approach, in which teachers foster children’s exploration and discovery. He went to China knowing that, while there, he would be an eye-witness to something completely different.
Part I of To Open Minds reviews Gardner’s pre-China professional development; Part II details his day-to-day China experiences; Part III comprises his “reflections.” This annotation reflects the final chapter of Part II and Gardner’s “professional” reflections in Part III. Memorable insights:
- In Chinese classrooms, the emphasis is on performance, both process and product, in a way that exceeds the mere molding of children into expected social roles and behavior. Sensing the link between performance and “face” (incompletely, in this reviewer’s opinion), Gardner compares the Chinese focus on performance with our American focus on inquiry-generated analytical understanding.
- The Chinese view of the arts, including both their mimetic production [via imitation or mimicry] and their moral value for individual and society, is differentiated from American views highlighting unique visions.
- The Chinese resolve to insure early mastery of basic skills is contrasted with Americans’ resolve to encourage early creativity. Gardner probes the meanings of creativity in the two cultures and their contrasting valuations of skill and discipline.
Gardner is astonished by classroom after classroom of Chinese children who, “from an early age [are] deeply involved in and excited by activities of learning” (p. 292).
Gross-Loh, Christine (2015). High pressure? What Asian learning looks like. Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us. Penguin Group, 167-91.
The child of Korean immigrants, Gross-Loh has written a book for American parents that considers several facets of child-raising in cross-cultural perspective. Chapter 7 draws on her inquiries in Korea and China, and among academic researchers. Whereas parental control in the U.S. has its roots in Puritan “break-the-child’s-will” strictures, parental control in Asia is rooted in Confucianism and “is centered on harmony and care, teaching and inculcating” so that the “Chinese child can feel his parents’ deep care for him expressed through their attentiveness to his education” (p. 172).
Like others, Gross-Loh takes a dubious view of South Korean parenting; she notes that, to avoid the infamous academic pressures centered around Seoul, some parents move their children either to a provincial city or another nation. Regarding American parents’ tendency to loosen the apron strings so that children develop independence, Gross-Loh writes that the Asian example suggests that “when a young adolescent feels close to his parents and knows how important school is to them, this is likely to increase his engagement and ultimately his achievement” (p. 187), and she references research by Pomerantz (2011) that supports this conclusion.
Grove, Cornelius (1984). U.S. schooling through Chinese eyes. Phi Delta Kappan, 65 (7), 481-2.
During the 1980s, Grove was employed by AFS, an international student and teacher exchange organization. One program brought English teachers from China to serve as teaching interns in U.S. schools for seven months. Just before a group of Chinese teachers returned home, Grove asked them questions that he believed U.S. educators would be likely to ask. He learned that the teachers would not return home to China singing the praises of the discovery approach. Nothing they observed in the U.S. had shaken their view that the function of teachers is to teach, and the obligation of students is to learn. They recounted the ways in which Chinese students fulfill that obligation outside the classroom, not only by studying hard on their own but also by spontaneously forming study groups (see Tang, 1996).
After seven months here, the Chinese teachers concluded that relations between American students and teachers are friendly, informal…and lacking serious educational purpose. In China, by contrast, student/teacher interactions emphasize formality, mutual respect, and attention to the business of learning. They did not agree that, in China, student/teacher relations are cool and distant. Their conclusion was that Chinese teachers approach their students with more genuine care than what they had observed here. They viewed Chinese teachers as mentors, concerned about not only their protégés’ academic progress but also their overall human development (for an example, see Salzman, 1986).
Grove, Cornelius N. (2006). Understanding the two instructional style prototypes: Pathways to success in internationally diverse classrooms. International Communication Competencies in Higher Education and Management, Siow-Heng Ong et al., eds. Marshall Cavendish Academic (Singapore), 165-202.
In this conference paper, the author’s purpose is to provide teachers anywhere, especially those at the high school and college levels, with understanding of one of the key reasons for the challenges they encounter when students from abroad appear in their classrooms. Students expect teacher behavior that is consistent with deep assumptions about children and learning that are shared within the students’ home societies. Grove reveals the societal assumptions that underlie two instructional styles: Knowledge-focused and Learner-focused. (Knowledge-focused aligns with East Asia; Learner-focused aligns with the U.S.)
Aided by six charts, Grove explores the patterned contrasts between these two sets of assumptions. Central to these contrasts are the differences in mindsets and values between agrarian (or communitarian) societies on the one hand, and post-agrarian (or individualistic) societies on the other. Agrarian people are driven by within-group “ligatures” (enduring deep connections) and demonstrations of virtue; post-agrarian people are driven by individuals’ quests for “options” and uniqueness. (For this analysis, Grove was guided by Robert LeVine & Merry White (1986), Human Conditions: The Cultural Basis of Educational Developments.) These agrarian/post-agrarian differences are the basis for contrasts in behavior associated with the two instructional styles, which Grove discusses in terms of learners’ motivations, instructors’ responsibilities, ways of responding to success and failure, evaluation practices, student question-asking, the role of memorization, the sequence of learning activities, and more. (Available to read in full by searching the web for pub-instructional-styles.)
*Heine et al. (2001)
*Heine, Steven J., Shinobu Kitayama, Darrin R. Lehman, Toshitake Takata, Eugene Ide, Cecilia Leung, & Hisaya Matsumoto (2001). Divergent consequences of success and failure in Japan and North America: An investigation of self-improving motivations and malleable selves. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81 (4), 599-615.
This article reports on research that explored a difference in the behavior of Japanese and Americans following successful and failing performance on a challenging task. Given an opportunity to continue perfecting task-related skills, do people persist or lose interest? Earlier research had observed that, following success, Asians lose interest; Americans persist. But following failure, Asians persist; Americans lose interest. The studies described herein confirmed those earlier observations and offered explanations:
Americans assume that each individual is autonomous and characterized by unique attributes that remain stable and behavior-shaping across situations. Each individual prefers to view his personal attributes positively. Task success enables him to do that, so persisting adds to his self-esteem. Task failure leads to negative self-views, so persisting is not attractive. Because he assumes that his attributes are fixed, little improvement is possible; why persist?
Asians assume that each person is immersed in interdependent relationships in which she has role obligations. To fulfill her situationally changing obligations, she must adapt to the expectations and standards of others; accomplishing that is facilitated by the assumption that her attributes are fluid. Adapting also is facilitated by responsiveness to feedback. Task failure is feedback because it draws attention to aspects of oneself that can be changed to match others’ expectations. To persist in improving enhances her self-esteem.
In sum: Americans are motivated to self-enhance, i.e., to emphasize their attractive inborn attributes. Asians are motivated to self-improve, i.e., to correct their shortcomings. [For a study with Chinese subjects, see Ng et al., 2007.]
Helmke & Vo (1999)
Helmke, Andreas, & Thi Anh Tuyet Vo (1999). Do Asian and Western students learn in a different way? An empirical study on motivation, study time, and learning strategies of German and Vietnamese university students. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 19 (2), 30-44.
The authors carried out a survey of matched student samples within Germany and Vietnam. Revealed were critical differences in the study habits of the Germans and Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese devoted far more time to studying, and they valued studying more (and pursuing leisure time less) than the Germans. More significantly, the findings throw light on the “repetitive strategies” of the Vietnamese. Naïve Western commentators have long branded these strategies as evidence of “surface learning” (see Biggs, 2001). But Helmke & Vo’s findings confirm those of other anthropological researchers: For Asians, repetition during study actually is an essential element in their deep learning. For instance, one finding reveals that the Vietnamese engaged in “critical reflection” – searching for counterarguments, identifying errors, looking for further information – far more than the Germans.
The authors conclude that the Western perception of Asians as mechanical, rote, “surface” learners is contrary to fact. The accurate fact is that there is an especially high level of critical thinking among Vietnamese learners, although this doesn’t necessarily translate into “critical performance in public” (by which the authors probably are referring to Asian students’ reluctance to make verbal contributions during classroom time).
Hendry, Joy (1986). Becoming Japanese: The World of the Pre-school Child. University of Hawaii Press, 194 pages.
Hendry begins by noting that late 19th century visitors to Japan often used “indulgence” to summarize how adults there dealt with small children. Her mission is to show that, despite the indulgence, “adults in Japan take very seriously the matter of child care” (p. 1). As a participant observer, she had an advantage: Her older son attended kindergarten there and she was included in all activities expected of parents. Thus, Becoming Japanese offers the reader a comprehensive look at how the Japanese view children, the ways in which children are socialized, and how children are trained in the home, neighborhood, and pre-schools.
A word that appears often is shitsuke. Like other Japanese (and Chinese) words related to children’s upbringing, it lacks a precise English equivalent. Shitsuke indicates a take-charge approach to the young, one actively delivering “training” and “molding.” It’s also about the high importance of constantly being sympathetic towards others, of exercising self-control. But, as Hendry is quick to add, it’s not about denying individual personality or self-reliance.
When discussing pre-schools, Hendry emphasizes that the children are shown precisely how to carry out virtually every significant activity, and trained repeatedly until these acts start occurring automatically. The classroom environment thus becomes orderly and highly efficient. But for insights into how the teachers develop the desired attitudes and mindsets in their young charges, this reviewer suggests this bibliography’s entries for Catherine Lewis and Lois Peak.
*Hess & Azuma (1991)
*Hess, Robert D., & Hiroshi Azuma (1991). Cultural support for schooling: Contrasts between Japan and the United States. Educational Researcher, 20 (9), 2-8, 12.
In this often-cited research article, the authors note that when children first attend school, they encounter an environment requiring unfamiliar behavior. To bring about the needed behavioral adaptations, parents and teachers in different cultures apply a variety of strategies.
In Japan, parents encourage pre-schoolers to be diligent, compliant, and adaptive. Assuming that the causes of performance are within the child’s control, parents respond to their child’s failures by citing lack of effort. In the U.S., parents encourage pre-schoolers to gain verbal skills and demonstrate independence. They respond to failures by citing, primarily, factors over which the child has no control, e.g., inadequacies of the school and/or of the child’s inborn aptitude; only secondarily do they cite the child’s lack of effort.
In terms of problem-solving, Japanese mothers encourage pre-schoolers to be thoughtful and deliberate, in contrast to American mothers’ emphasis on quick solutions. Discussed at length are the ways in which Japanese mothers bring about these dispositions in their children. Japanese pre-school teachers foster attentive dispositions; American pre-school teachers lavish creative effort into making learning fun and generating motivation to learn.
For this reviewer, the “ah-ha!” in this article is that in the U.S., youngsters bring from their homes into their classrooms relatively low dispositions towards adaptiveness, curiosity, and sustained engagement. So those qualities must be encouraged by the teacher, who feels obliged to constantly deliver attention-grabbing, entertaining stimuli – not a characteristic of Japanese classrooms. The allegedly intrinsic motivation of many American pupils actually is induced by performances and entertainments devised by teachers solely for a motivational purpose.
Hess et al. (1986))
Hess, Robert D., Hiroshi Azuma, Keiko Kashiwagi, W. Patrick Dickson, Shigefumi Nagano, Susan Holloway, Kazuo Miyake, Gary Price, Giyoo Hatano, & Teresa McDevitt (1986). Family influences on school readiness and achievement in Japan and the United States: An overview of a longitudinal study. Child Development and Education in Japan, Harold Stevenson et al., eds. W. H. Freeman, 147-166.
This article reports on a longitudinal study conducted in Japan and the United States. The initial phase occurred when the children were age four and five; the final phase occurred when they were in fifth and sixth grades. The goal was to learn how mothers in the two cultures socialize their children for school readiness and achievement. Data-collection included interviewing, videotaping of mother-child interactions, and assessment of school-relevant skills. Findings:
When a young child was given a task (e.g., block sorting) with his mother by his side, American mothers encouraged the child to verbalize the principles governing the task, while Japanese mothers focused on the procedures for completing the task, seeming to accept that a correct solution evinced understanding of the principles. If the child carried out a task erroneously, American mothers repeated the task instructions and pressed the child for a correct response; Japanese mothers gave more elaborate information about the task.
In cases of misbehavior, American mothers showed a strong tendency to regain control by appealing to their own authority (“I told you not to do that!”); Japanese mothers tended to appeal to their own feelings (“How will I feel if you don’t eat what I cooked for you?”).
A dramatic contrast emerged in the final phase: American mothers attributed poor achievement to problems with effort, ability, and school instruction (two of which are not under their child’s control); Japanese mothers attributed it very largely to their child’s lack of effort (which is under their child’s control). The children agreed. [See also Kao, 1995.]
Ho, Irene T. (2001). Are Chinese teachers authoritarian? Teaching the Chinese Learner: Psychological and Pedagogical Perspectives, David A. Watkins & John B. Biggs, eds. Comparative Education Research Centre [Hong Kong] and Australian Council for Educational Research, 99-114.
Ho takes issue with the Western perception that Chinese teachers are highly and uniformly authoritarian in their dealings with students. Her research among secondary school teachers in Hong Kong and Australia yields significant comparisons between teachers’ approaches in the two cultures.
Ho’s most useful revelation (supporting similar conclusions by others) is that, in China, a teacher’s being authoritarian and directive towards students is understood by all as caring for, nurturing, and supporting them. The context for the teacher’s actions is the Asian assumption that not merely parents, but also teachers, are actively responsible for students’ all-around development into exemplary adults whose behavior reflects the group’s norms and moral precepts. Only one feature of all-around development is academic prowess; this is addressed in the classroom using authoritarian and directive approaches, expected because the teacher is viewed as the one who knows (the person possessing knowledge).
What Westerners fail to notice are the interactions among teachers and students outside the classroom. These begin when the teacher leaves the classroom and usually continue in other social contexts, during which teacher-student relationships are more informal. Ho offers evidence to support the view that, in comparison with Australian teachers, Chinese teachers’ outside-of-class dealings with students have “student-centered” qualities.
Holloway, Susan D. (1988). Concepts of ability and effort in Japan and the United States. Review of Educational Research, 58 (3), 327-345.
Holloway reviews the state of late-1980s knowledge regarding U.S./Japan differences in how effort and ability are conceived. Her focus is on effort. Johnny is asked to “do his best,” but Taroo is exhorted to “keep on struggling” – even though Taroo might have just turned in his best performance. In Japan, “effort” doesn’t merely refer to hard work; it also references the moral value of perseverance. Japanese ways of being and communicating encourage children’s “task-involvement,” which means that the child focuses on the learning task, valuing its potential outcome and the process of learning. Three factors are believed to encourage task-involvement:
First, tasks in Japan are organized cooperatively and rewarded on a group basis. In the U.S., tasks tend to be organized competitively and rewarded on an individual basis, which fosters “ego-involvement” – a focus on comparing oneself with others, which leads to the development of classroom hierarchies with ability as the main criterion for stratification. Some research shows that U.S. teachers’ exhortations to greater effort are undermined by the pupils’ assumption that a need for greater effort is a sign of lesser ability!
Second, Japanese children’s working groups in the lower grades are purposefully composed of children at varying skill levels; the teachers make constant attempts to keep all group members working at the same pace. In the U.S., ability-based groups are common, which further encourages children to make cross-group ability-based comparisons.
Finally, caregivers in Japan – mothers, teachers, etc. – avoid authoritarian control strategies in order to maintain the intense bonds they develop with children, thereby fostering in each child an understanding of, and emotional commitment to, the adult’s goals. In the U.S., caregivers are far more likely to call attention to their own power and authority.
Hsin & Xie (2014)
Hsin, Amy, & Yu Xie (2014). Explaining Asian Americans’ academic advantage over whites. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (23), 8416-8421.
This is one of two annotations (see Lee & Zhou, 2015) that relates to a controversy among sociologists about how to explain the high educational achievement of Asian Americans. Structuralists emphasize the role of social structure, i.e., the benefit or constraint to a group of its network of social relationships. Culturalists focus on the beneficial or constraining impact of group members’ cultural traits, values, and behavior patterns.
Sociologists Hsin & Xie advance this debate with an analysis of longitudinal data from a national study that began in 1998 and followed pupils from kindergarten through eighth grade, and from another national study of high school sophomores during 2002-04. The Asian Americans who were tracked included not only East Asians but also Southeast Asians (e.g., Vietnamese), South Asians (e.g., Indians), and Filipinos. This article is “researchy” in a way that will appeal mainly to practicing sociologists, but its findings are clearly stated:
Socio-demographic factors (the structuralists’ view) have very limited power to explain the Asian-white achievement gap. Two factors that do have explanatory power are cultural orientation (the culturalists’ view), and simply being an immigrant – because regardless of ethnicity, immigrants are self-selected in terms of their motivation to succeed.
A major component of cultural orientation was that Asian-American pupils exert more effort in their academic work than white pupils, a difference apparent in kindergarten that increased over time. Their high effort cannot be attributed to Confucian values because the Philippines and South Asia are not Confucian cultures. In sum, Asian American academic superiority is very largely a result of superior non-cognitive skills. [See also Boe et al., 2002; and Kao, 1995.]
Hsu, Francis L. K. (1981). Americans & Chinese: Passage to Differences, 3rd Ed. University Press of Hawaii, 534 pages.
Originally published in 1953, this book was the first to systematically explore the cultural differences between Americans and Chinese. One chapter is pertinent to The Drive to Learn: “The Beginnings of Contrast,” which compares patterns of parenting and home life.
Raised in China, Hsu tries to retain proper anthropological objectivity but, occasionally, lets slip his astonishment at American ways, which unfortunately draws him into overstating his case. Nevertheless, he expresses key contrasts with unmistakable clarity, e.g., “The important thing for Americans is what parents should do for their children; to Chinese, what children should do for their parents” (p. 80). This chapter makes valuable background reading because Hsu focuses on crucial differences in how children in the U.S. and China are raised. In China, infants grow up deeply enveloped within a family life characterized by:
- frequent face-to-face contact with, and parent-like control by, a wide range of relatives and in-laws;
- little or no adult concern about children’s personalities, supposed needs, or inborn strengths or preferences;
- an obligation to unquestioningly obey and unfailingly support their parents throughout their lifetimes;
- an almost total absence of the privacy concept within home and family, complemented by a strong distinction between home/family and the outside world; and
- frequent sharing with family members of an almost unrestrictedly wide range of real-life, real-time adult activities and relationships (in other words, baby-sitting is extremely rare).
In Hsu’s opinion, the contrast between this pattern and that experienced by most children growing up in the U.S. is enormous. [For contemporary perspectives on Chinese home life and childrearing, see Way et al., 2013, and Kuan, 2015.]
Hu, Guangwei (2002). Potential cultural resistance to pedagogical imports: The case of communicative language teaching in China. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 15 (2), 93-105.
Beginning in the 1980s, there was a forceful top-down effort in China to reform the teaching of English as a foreign language, primarily by introducing a method that had originated in Europe: communicative language teaching (CLT). [The communicative method calls for frequent verbal interactions by the students with the teacher and each other.] By the time Hu wrote this paper, it was known that resistance to imported methods – by Chinese teachers as well as their students – had undermined CLT’s adoption.
Hu explains CLT’s failure by comparing the assumptions that underlie the Chinese culture of learning with those that animate CLT. He summarizes the Chinese culture of learning from the students’ perspective by positing both “the four R’s” – reception, repetition, review, and reproduction – and “the four M’s” – meticulosity (attention to details), memorization (not identical to “rote”), mental activeness (not identical to verbal activeness), and mastery (not mere proficiency).
Among other observations, Hu notes that “it is difficult for Chinese teachers and students to accept any pedagogical practice that tends to put teachers on a par with their students and detracts from teacher authority…, [and that] may put teachers at risk of losing face” (p. 99). [For another account of Chinese resistance to CLT, see Ouyang, 2003.]
Huang, Quanyu (2014). The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-American Kids. Prometheus Books, 264 pages.
Huang gained fame in China by returning from the U.S. to write two books about American education that shook the faith of many Chinese in their traditional ways of parenting. He then settled in Ohio and wrote this book. It argues that Chinese-American children routinely are high performing students in U.S. elementary and secondary schools, just as they are in China, but also beyond secondary school, which is not true of children in China. Why?
The answer, Huang claims, is that Chinese-American children have the huge advantage of Chinese-style parenting, which values mastery learning in school, plus American-style school education and social experiences, which promote independent thinking, creativity, etc. Huang calls Chinese education “the single strongest factor in holding back all of China back from progress” (p. 23), and launches a scathing attack on Amy Chua’s “tiger mothering” (pp. 29-35). [See Chua, 2011.]
In the remaining 200 pages, Huang offers a rambling, highly self-referencing discussion of differences between Chinese and American parenting, and of how American parents can help their children succeed. His advice is similar to Chua’s in kind, though not in degree. [For similar perspectives, see Abboud & Kim, 2006; Kao, 1995; and Schneider & Lee, 1990.]
This reviewer finds Huang’s basic claim to be persuasive and admires his discussion of the Chinese view of “self” and analysis of the word wŏ, for “I” (pp. 176-8). Curious, though, is how Huang could write a book on the differences in Chinese and American parenting and children’s learning with, apparently, virtually no awareness of the research on those topics completed by anthropologists and others since the 1970s. Huang mentions exactly one of those research reports, otherwise relying totally on his own experience and that of his son.
Immordino-Yang, Mary Helen (2016). Emotions, Learning, and the Brain: Exploring the Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience. W.W. Norton, 206 pages.
Dr. Immordino-Yang, who began professional life as a middle-school science teacher, is now a leading researcher in the interdisciplinary field Mind-Brain-Education. She wants the rest of us to know that emotions are indispensable to learning, which also is a key conclusion of The Drive to Learn. The research of Jin Li (2003 & 2012; discussed in Discovery Step 4) shows that a central fact about East Asians is that their learning is infused with, and sustained by, deeply felt emotional drive. Immordino-Yang’s book enables us to grasp the link between learning and emotional drive.
The traditional Western view was that rational thought, including the gaining and using of knowledge, was something different from the body’s emotional and instinctual processes. In fact, it had been assumed that those “base” processes interfered with rational thought. Not true, says Immordino-Yang. She studied people with damage to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which plays a key role in regulating emotions. Damage to this region of the brain disrupted patients’ lives: They were unaware of the consequences of their behavior, insensitive to others’ emotional reactions, unable to learn from mistakes, and thus prone to making disastrous real-life decisions. Yet their intellectual abilities were completely intact!
Conclusion: Emotion plays an indispensable guiding role in reasoning and decision-making. Emotions evolved because they are essential to managing life, including humans’ social and intellectual lives. The reason why one works to learn something, the importance he assigns to the learning, and the extent to which he masters it, are driven by neurological systems that link “self,” social relationships, and emotion. Summing up, Immordino-Yang writes that “Emotion forms the rudder that steers learners’ thinking…” (p. 86).
*Iyengar & Lepper (1999)
*Iyengar, Sheena, & Mark Lepper (1999). Rethinking the value of choice: A cultural perspective on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76 (3), 349-366.
In this often-cited research effort, Iyengar & Lepper set out to learn whether a key assumption of American psychologists is universally valid: that individual choice increases one’s intrinsic motivation to perform. In the San Francisco area, they studied Anglo-American and Asian-American pupils under three conditions: (a) choice made by oneself; (b) choice made by “ingroup” others who were well-known and trusted, e.g., one’s own mother or classmates; and (c) choice made by “outgroup” others who were not well known, e.g., the researchers.
In Study 1, with 7- to 9-year-olds, the choice was about which set of word puzzles the pupil would attempt. Performance was measured by time spent on puzzle-solving and number of puzzles solved correctly. In Study 2, with 9- to 11-year-olds, the choice concerned non-essential features of a math-skills-related computer game. Performance was measured in several ways including (a) degree of wanting to play the game again, (b) number of games attempted, (c) level of challenge – easy, moderate, or difficult – voluntarily attempted during game-playing, and (d) test of relevant math skills given pre-game and a week later. (These studies are extensively discussed in Discovery Step 5.)
Findings all pointed in the same direction: In the self-choice condition, the Anglo-American pupils excelled. In the ingroup-choice condition, the Asian-American pupils excelled (and were, in fact, far better than the American pupils). For this reviewer, a finding from Study 2 stands out: In the ingroup-choice condition, the Asian pupils attempted the “difficult” level of computer-game challenge vastly more often than the Americans. The authors conclude that, for Asian interdependent selves, “the act of choosing may represent opportunities for conformity” (p. 364) instead of opportunities to express internal traits. [See also Zhu et al., 2007; and Markus & Kitayama, 1991.]
Jin & Cortazzi (2006)
Jin, Lixian, & Martin Cortazzi (2006). Changing practices in Chinese cultures of learning. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 19 (1), 5-20.
Prolific co-authors Jin & Cortazzi deliver an outstanding overview of the Chinese culture of learning within the context of learning English as a second language. Their most applicable insights concern: (a) the effect of mastering Chinese character-writing on students’ expectations about all learning; (b) the activity sequence typically followed when new material is introduced to students; (c) the roles and responsibilities of teachers vis-à-vis their students; and (d) the wide variety of effortful processes that Chinese students use to master material.
The authors then discuss in some detail the changes to classroom practice mandated by the Chinese Ministry of Education in the early 2000s. Known collectively as “quality education” [sùzhì jiàoyù], the changes are trying to make classrooms more “student-centered” and participatory by “reforming and simplifying the curriculum, lessening the burden of homework and examinations, …and generally developing a more rounded education. [Teachers] should be less of a ‘performer’ and more of a ‘conductor,’ so that one-third of class time includes active participation by learners. Students are also asked to develop ‘a creative spirit’” (pp. 14-15). [For recent insights into the progress of “quality education” in China, see Law et al., 2006; Way et al., 2013; and Kuan, 2015.]
Kao, Grace (1995). Asian Americans as model minorities? A look at their academic performance. American Journal of Education, 103 (2), 121-59.
Kao acquired data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88) – in which 24,599 eighth-grade students in the U.S. participated along with their parents and teachers – and subjected it to statistical analyses. Immigrant Asian participants numbered 1,527. Kao supplemented those data with focus group interviews of undergraduates (not former NELS:88 subjects), including Asians, which she conducted during 1992.
Many of Kao’s data-driven comparisons of Asians and “whites,” together with findings from her interviews, are relevant for us. For example, in their homes more white eighth-graders had their own bedroom; more Asians had their own place dedicated to study. More white parents restricted the types of TV programs watched and how late the child could stay up; more Asian parents restricted the number of hours watched. And Asian parents spent less time assisting with homework and interacted less with their children regarding school experiences, and yet four of the Asian subgroups (Chinese, Koreans, Southeast Asians, and South Asians) earned higher grades than the white group.
For readers of The Drive to Learn, two of Kao’s conclusions are memorable: “[Asian] immigrant minorities are best positioned to achieve academically because they have not yet adopted American peer norms” (p. 142). And, “having an [Asian] immigrant mother is associated with higher grades. This result supports the hypothesis that cultural differences between immigrant and native-born parents play an important role in determining educational achievement” (p. 149). [See also Fu & Markus, 2014; and Chao & Sue, 1996.]
Kawanaka et al. (1999)
Kawanaka, Takako, James W. Stigler, & James Hiebert (1999). Studying mathematics classrooms in Germany, Japan, and the United States: Lessons from the TIMSS videotape study. International Comparisons in Mathematics Education, Gabriele Kaiser et al., eds. Falmer Press, 86-103.
Part of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) was the Videotape Study, which recorded events inside American, German, and Japanese eighth-grade mathematics classrooms. Half of this article describes the challenges of measuring and comparing classroom processes across cultures. The other half reports these findings:
- Mathematical concepts and procedures can be “stated” by the teacher, or “developed” through examples, demonstrations, and discussions. In Japan, topics were developed in 83% of cases, stated in 17%. In the U.S., topics were developed in 22% of cases, stated in 78%.
- Tasks assigned by teachers for seatwork were of three types: “practice routine procedures,” “apply concepts in new situations,” and “invent new solutions/think.” In Japan, the plurality of seatwork time was devoted to inventing/thinking. In the U.S., almost no time was devoted to inventing/thinking; practicing routine procedures occupied 95% of time.
- To determine how advanced the lessons were, the researchers counted “proofs” – an assumption is presented, a proof is demonstrated, and the assumption is confirmed. In Japan, 53% of lessons included proofs; in the U.S., none did.
- Teachers’ questioning of students was of three types depending on expected responses: “yes/no,” “name/state,” or “describe/explain.” Japanese teachers asked significantly more describe/explain questions; U.S. teachers asked significantly more yes/no questions.
The authors condense their findings into this comparison: “The Japanese case is more student centered, the German case is more collaborative, and the U.S. case is more teacher guided” (p. 93). [See also Marton, 2000; and Becker et al., 1999.]
Keller, Heidi (2003). Socialization for competence: Cultural models of infancy. Human Development, 46, 288-311.
Although this article does not compare the U.S. with East Asia, it raised an intriguing question for this reviewer. Keller began by wondering how competence is conceived of, and taught to infants, within different societies. To find answers, she contrasted the socialization practices of urban Germans with the practices of farmers in Cameroon. Confirming the findings of prior studies, Keller’s research revealed two approaches to competence.
The Apprentice Model is associated with traditional (communitarian) societies. It portrays the parent-infant relationship as similar to that of expert-novice, and emphasizes development of the infant’s social and motor skills for contributing to in-group survival and success within one’s natal family. This socialization process features a deliberate teaching mode that conditions the infant to listen attentively to an authority figure, and includes learning activities to achieve specific developmental goals. The Apprentice Model resonates with East Asian parenting.
The Equality Model is associated with urban technological (individualized) societies. It portrays the parent-infant relationship as one of quasi equals, and highlights the infant’s distinguishing characteristics, which are expected to remain stable. Encouraged are cognitive skills to think abstractly, self-regulate at an early age, and succeed away from one’s natal family. Caregivers support cognitive development by means of frequent verbal dialogue, with talk occurring as though it were between equals. Adults value young people who show initiative, discovery, and creativity. The Equality Model resonates with American parenting. (Apprentice-Equality differences are a major focus of Discovery Step 6.)
Here’s this reviewer’s intriguing question: Is it possible that youth raised in traditional societies are better equipped, because of their habituation to expert-novice teacher-learner relationships – which emphasize receptivity – to learn how to master the complex skills and knowledge that must be passed down within technological societies?
Kember, David (2016). Understanding and teaching the Chinese learner: Resolving the paradox of the Chinese learner. The Psychology of Asian Learners: A Festschrift in Honor of David Watkins, Ronnel B. King & Alan B.I. Bernardo, eds. Springer Singapore, 173-187.
As one of the original Hong Kong-based scholars who addressed the paradox of the Chinese learner (see Biggs, 2001, and Watkins, 2000), Kember looks back across 25 years to focus on what has been gained. His focus is on surface vs. deep learning. The most troubling aspect of the paradox had been that Chinese students appeared to be rote-memorizing, long castigated as a “surface” approach that could never yield “deep” comprehension – yet these same students were routinely obtaining the highest scores on the international comparative tests. Further study yielded this explanation:
Only rarely were the students exclusively rote-memorizing. Rather, they were striving towards deep comprehension using “intermediate” learning approaches combining surface and deep learning. In other words, memorization was not an end, but a means to an end. Chinese students in Hong Kong, where many of the studies occurred, were learning in a second language (English). But their formative learning experiences had occurred when they learned Chinese characters, mastered through constant repetition.
Research showed that, as older students, they sometimes used repetition as a pathway to comprehension; at other times, they sought comprehension first, then used repetition that led to memorization. Occasionally, Chinese students did use a surface approach. This happened when contextual factors in their environment – e.g., the all-or-nothing exams for university entry in a culture where success is a family affair – make this their most adaptive strategy. [See also Biggs, 1996a & 2001; and Marton et al., 1996.]
Kim & Choi (1994)
Kim, Uichol, & Soo-Hyang Choi (1994). Individualism, collectivism, and child development: A Korean perspective. Cross-Cultural Roots of Minority Child Development, Classic Edition (2014), Patricia M. Greenfield & Rodney R. Cocking, eds. Routledge, 227-58.
After reviewing the relationship between child development and culture, the authors discuss the parent-child relationship in Korean culture, then compare it with the same relationship in Canadian and American cultures. Emphasized are Korean mothers’ roles and responsibilities.
The first is t’aekyo, a traditional form of prenatal care. T’aekyo is the obligation of the mother to adopt the perspective of the child in her womb. She “must become a part of the unborn child if she is to successfully adhere to the prescriptive guidelines” regarding her own behavior (p. 238). The guidelines include dos such as routinely experiencing pleasant events and noble sights, and don’ts such as not swearing, resenting, or feeling angry.
Korean mothers’ second responsibility is to provide “maternal dews” for their child [the Korean word, if any, is not given]. Kim & Choi describe dews as a “representation of the intrinsic bond between mothers and children,” obliging the mother to constantly remain physically close to the child and “indulge [him] with this essential psychological nutrient” (p. 239). Others have compared dews with Japanese amae but say that the dews concept is less about the child’s dependence on the mother, and more about the inseparable oneness of the two. (Mi Kyoung Jin et al. (2012), Maternal sensitivity and infant attachment security in Korea [not annotated].)
The authors also introduce chong, oneness or wholeness, leading to “unconditionality, sacrifice, empathy, care, sincerity, and shared experience” (p. 245). A mother’s stance toward her child is the highest example of chong. Even when a young or adult child has faults, the mother “tries to understand from the child’s perspective and empathetically relate her disappointments,” which can be “a powerful force that shapes a child’s behavior” (p. 246).
Kuan, Teresa (2015). Love’s Uncertainty: The Politics and Ethics of Child Rearing in Contemporary China. University of California, 255 pages.
Kuan explored Chinese child rearing through ethnographic fieldwork in Kunming, a medium-sized southern city. Besides developing relationships with ten well-educated, two-income families, she examined information sources – parenting classes, expert advice columns and books, television shows – being consumed by those parents as they tried to raise their child in accord with the child-rearing ethic energetically promoted by the government of China since the late 1990s: sùzhì jìaoyù, “education quality.”
Thanks to the government’s campaign, the old term sùzhì, “[human] quality,” had gained a new meaning (influenced by U.S. progressive educators): Under the guidance of a “good mother,” the new “high-quality child” would come of age self-actualized, creative, well-rounded, and ready to join in transforming China. This ethic challenged the traditional one, in which children were judged almost totally on the basis of their scores on grueling examinations.
But the critical importance of exam success did not recede, so each Kunming couple was trying to insure that their child would gain both exam triumph and well-roundedness. The outcome, as revealed in interview excerpts and case studies, was that the mothers practiced “concerted cultivation, as they elicit children’s opinions, develop interests, try to foster potential, and organize family life around scheduled activities expected to confer benefits in later life” (p. 51) – all of which took a back seat when the children got to middle school and exams became overpoweringly important.
Kuan also tells the story of Quanyu Huang, a parent who returned from graduate studies in the U.S. and wrote two books about American education that shook the faith of many Chinese in their usual ways of parenting. Huang later wrote a parenting book in the U.S. [see Huang, 2014]. Kuan’s perceptive findings remind us that middle-class parents in the U.S. and China have some concerns that are remarkably similar. [See also Way et al., 2013.]
Lancy, David F. (2015). The Anthropology of Childhood, 2nd Ed. Cambridge, 533 pages.
This mesmerizing volume reveals that its author possesses an encyclopedic command of the research in his field, as attested in part by his 105-page bibliography. Lancy examines Americans’ understanding of childhood – infused by the writings of Western psychologists – through the lens of findings by anthropologists who have studied cultures of every kind worldwide (his Society Index lists some 450). Conclusion: Americans’ understanding of childhood is narrowly culture-bound and, in pan-cultural perspective, strange!
Among much else, Lancy contrasts children’s learning in the U.S. and East Asia. He begins with the well documented fact that children, in order to become adult contributors to their communities, need only their natural inclination to observe and emulate adults. Deliberate instruction is not necessary. But when it is thought necessary, it takes two forms: apprenticeship and/or schooling. Both require children to give up natural, autonomous ways of learning and adapt to adult-controlled ways of being, which spark their resistance. Thus, successful schooling is extremely rare. Where it does occur, it rests on secure cultural foundations such as those in East Asian and Western societies.
The East Asian model “creates a moral imperative for the child to become a good student, [which includes] the child’s…respect for the teacher and the academic curriculum; hard work; sacrifice and suffering; …the mother’s deep commitment to the child’s success; …careful cultivation of shame and guilt….” The Western (upper- and middle-class) model “is that the child is a project, an opportunity to create a unique, ‘special’ individual. The focus is not exclusively (or even primarily) on academic…success but on creating a well-rounded person whose [inborn] talents have been identified and cultivated…” (p. 371).
*Lebra, Takie Sugiyama (1994). Mother and child in Japanese socialization: A Japan-U.S. comparison. Cross-Cultural Roots of Minority Child Development, Classic Edition (2014), Patricia M. Greenfield & Rodney R. Cocking, eds. Routledge, 259-74.
In this article, a distinguished Japanese anthropologist explains the Japanese mother-child relationship, which differs sharply from its American counterpart. Lebra frames the Japanese child-rearing pattern has having three sequential dimensions:
The first dimension of socialization is “naturalism,” an idealized image of childhood as unhampered by the requirements of the adult world. The mother is expected to accept childish behavior as natural (which leads to what some Western critics have labeled “indulgence”). The underlying assumption of the Japanese is that bad behavior is age-specific; the child will grow out of it.
The second dimension is omoiyari, the “ability and willingness to feel what others are feeling…and to help them satisfy their wishes” (p. 262), which is highly valued in Japan. Mothers are the finest exemplars of omoiyari, and it is expected that the child will gradually learn to imitate her. This usually occurs because of their intense interpersonal and physical relationship, plus the mother’s constant precept and example. Also implied is that the child will learn to comply voluntarily with many social expectations, leading to the third dimension.
Lebra calls this last dimension “boundary socialization,” the division of one’s experience into either personal feelings/wishes or external roles/obligations. This is the most useful element of Lebra’s analysis. The mother must “voluntarize the child’s conformity” (p. 263); that is, she must orient her child’s personal feelings/wishes to want to conform to his or her external roles/obligations. For example, the Japanese assume that, for children to excel in school, they must want to study and learn. So the mother helps the child prepare for a new identity as a pupil whose social role is to learn (along with many other new identities/roles such as train passenger). Thus, most Japanese have “a generalized readiness to assume whatever role one is assigned, regardless of one’s personal preference” (p. 265). [See also Simons, 1991.]
Lee & Zhou (2015)
Lee, Jennifer, & Min Zhou (2015). The Asian American Achievement Paradox. Russell Sage Foundation, 246 pages.
Culture is a problematical concept for sociologists because they strongly intend to avoid any “essentialist” understanding of it; i.e., any understanding that conceives of a group’s culture as a necessary and irreversible essence that determines the traits of every group member (a view that in the U.S. is politically divisive). In reference to the high achievement of Asian American students, sociologists label as a culturalist anyone who holds that Asian cultural traits and values explain that achievement (which, to many sociologists, smacks of essentialism). A structuralist view of students’ achievement holds that their success is due to the broader stratification system and the networks of social relations in which their Asian immigrant parents move.
Noting that proponents of these two points of view avoid fruitful debate, the authors try to bridge the gap by examining “the Asian American achievement paradox”: By the second generation, high academic achievement in U.S. schools is attained by the children of middle-class, well-educated immigrants from China and equally by the children of penniless, poorly educated refugees from Vietnam. Noting this “convergence,” Lee & Zhou ask what is cultural about it, and what is structural about it? Their main data-gathering technique was 82 in-depth interviews with Vietnamese and Chinese adults in the Los Angeles area.
To this reviewer, it seems as though Lee and Zhou had a stake in favoring a structuralist reading of the data whenever possible. But for culturalists (such as this reviewer), to be gained is a rich overview of factors in the immigrant experience that aren’t often revealed by intercultural research. Examples include the selectivity of U.S. immigration laws, the reinforcement provided by ethnic resources, and the beneficial impact of positive stereotypes.
Lee, Wing On (1996). The cultural context for Chinese learners: Conceptions of learning in the Confucian tradition. The Chinese Learner: Cultural, Psychological, and Contextual Influences, David A. Watkins & John B. Biggs, eds. Comparative Education Research Centre [Hong Kong] and Australian Council for Educational Research, 25-42.
To help explain Asians’ eagerness for education and willingness to persevere in studying, Lee reveals what Confucius and other Confucian philosophers have taught about learning. Quoted are Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, Zhu Xi, Su Shi, and several 20th century scholars.
What emerges first is that this tradition assumes that, regardless of differences in innate intelligence, everyone is educable. Differences in ability are recognized, but through “cumulative effort,” “everyone can become a sage.” The leveler? For those who are less intelligent, more effort is necessary. Second, what makes sagehood attainable, even by the less gifted, is willpower and “steadfastness of purpose.”
At this point, Lee offers an unusual perspective: Scholars’ constant focus on Asian collectivism has obscured recognition of the self, of individuality, in Asian cultures. In the Confucian tradition, self-perfectibility is desirable (Lee likens it to Abraham Maslow’s “self-realization”), and what makes this possible is the individual’s steadfast perseverance throughout the long hard work of learning. Otherwise, expression of the self is discouraged by Asian families’ “cult of restraint.”
Finally, Lee addresses the Confucian process of studying: a graded sequence of multiple steps (one of which is memorization) towards the final milestones of comprehension, practice, mastery, application – and even doubting – of what’s being learned. [For a study that doubts the Confucian explanation for Asian students’ achievement, see Hsin & Xie, 2014.]
Lewis, Catherine (1991). Nursery schools: The transition from home to school. Transcending Stereotypes: Discovering Japanese Culture and Education, Barbara Finkelstein et al., eds. Intercultural Press, 81-95.
Japanese nursery schools are where children transition from the indulgent child-rearing practices of Japanese homes (see Lebra, 1994) to the group-focused classrooms of schools. Lewis’s classroom observations explored teachers’ classroom management strategies, which foster internalization of group norms while applying very little coercive pressure. She discusses four strategies:
Minimizing teacher control: This isn’t merely impression management. Teachers tolerate all sorts of behavior that would be made to cease in U.S. nursery schools – and the rooms aren’t “child-proofed”! The teachers explained that the “goal was not necessarily to make children comply but, rather, to make them understand what was proper behavior” (p. 86).
Delegating control to children: When misbehavior occurred, even if it included conflict, teachers directly encouraged the other children to deal with it. In fact, in order to induce conflict and thereby provide occasions for the children to learn how to cooperate, teachers deliberately made resources (e.g., paintbrushes) scarce.
Developing good-child identities: Each day, a different child served as tōban (monitor), a visible leadership and decision-making role that is ceremoniously conferred each morning.
Avoiding the attribution that misbehavior is malicious: Instead, children were “forgetting their promises” or “didn’t understand” the correct way. Serious misbehavior elicited from the teacher a gentle, empathy-inducing discussion, not intervention. Lewis’s bottom line: “Children…receive encouragement to be their brother’s keeper” (p. 93).
*Lewis, Catherine C. (1995). Educating Hearts and Minds: Reflections on Japanese Preschool and Elementary Education. Cambridge, 249 pages.
This reviewer found Lewis’s book a provocative mirror for U.S. education and, frankly, inspiring. Based on her months of observation in 15 Japanese preschools, Lewis delivers blow-by-blow accounts of classroom activities. The teachers sit passively while disruptive or dangerous behavior occurs; delegate classroom control to rotating student monitors; arrange for conflict to occur by creating scarcity of materials; never separate children into ability groups; never directly teach reading or math (Ministry of Education guidelines forbid it); never correct mistakes; and do allow children to run throughout playground and school, often unsupervised, during free play periods that consume half the day. Now how can that yield, in later years, students whom Western observers describe as focused, rapid achievers?
The answer is that the purposes of preschool are to build a children-managed community and promote each child’s development as a member who feels responsible for it. Learning is deliberately made uetto (“wet”) – warm, personal, and human – instead of cool, rational, and dorai (“dry”). The main purposes of preschool are emotional and moral – learning how to behave in a way that focuses on, and shows caring for, the group’s welfare. Values are made explicit, not merely on banners but more importantly during daily class meetings where everyone reflects on recent incidents and how all community members were affected.
If teachers were to act in an authoritarian manner, correcting misbehavior on the spot, children would have no reason to develop group-oriented responsibility. So teachers purposefully recede into the background, becoming resource people while the preschoolers increasingly manage behavior, activities, and responsibilities – including routinely cleaning the entire school!
Said one of the Japanese teachers, “Reward children for good behavior? I think it’s demeaning” (p. 124).
*Li, Jin (2003). U.S. and Chinese cultural beliefs about learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95 (2), 258-267.
The author discusses her research, which revealed the connotations of “learning” among well-educated Americans and Chinese. Her process began with the subjects’ free associations primed by learn for English-speakers, and by xúe xí for Chinese-speakers. The American subjects generated 203 learning-related terms (including concepts such as active learning, cognitive skill, motivation, etc.). The Chinese subjects generated 225 learning-related terms (including concepts such as lifelong pursuit, contribution to society, teacher-student relationship, etc.). Striking differences emerged from these lists of connotations. (Li’s research findings are the basis for Discovery Step 4.)
The Americans’ list was oriented heavily toward the characteristics of each learner, the processes of learning, and various resources for learning; completely absent were references to effort, persistence, or desire to learn. The list generated by the Chinese was oriented strongly toward the ways and means students use to pursue knowledge on their own, and it often cited deeply positive feelings about learning, captured by the Chinese phrase hào xúe xīn, “heart and mind for wanting to learn” or, succinctly, “the drive to learn.”
Li concludes that Americans conceive of learning in emotionally neutral terms, whereas Chinese view learning passionately, as something that is indispensable because it is intimately linked with important social and moral dimensions of their lives, and with the overall betterment of their society. Knowing about the world is not the main purpose of Chinese learning; instead, they “seek learning to cultivate themselves as a whole in the moral domain toward ‘self-perfection’” (p. 265). For the Chinese, “self-perfection” is not analogous to “self-actualization” in the sense intended by Abraham Maslow; it is a group-referenced concept. [For a different perspective, see Lee, 1996; and for a different discussion of Li’s research findings, see van Egmond et al., 2013.]
Li, Jin (2004). Learning as a task or a virtue: U.S. and Chinese preschoolers explain learning. Developmental Psychology, 40 (4), 595-605.
Li set out to demonstrate that cultural influences on people’s orientations to learning can be detected in children as young as ages 4, 5, and 6. Her subjects included 95 children in New England, and 93 in China. Two short scenarios were read to each child: the first concerned Little Birdie, who tried to fly and eventually did; the other concerned Little Bear, who tried to catch a fish but eventually quit. The child was asked to finish the scenario. All of the children’s utterances were collected and coded.
Li’s findings revealed sharp cultural differences. The American youngsters viewed Birdie and Bear as faced with a task to be accomplished, and showed awareness of each animal’s ability, strategy, and attempts to complete the task. The Chinese youngsters viewed the two animals’ learning as a matter of developing virtue, and showed awareness of their diligence, persistence, and concentration (or lack of these).
Birdie was liked by the vast majority of children in both cultures. Bear yielded different findings: Of the Americans, 96% liked Bear; of the Chinese, merely 41% liked Bear. Li was puzzled by the 96%; many of the American children disapproved of Bear for giving up. But Bear’s failure did not diminish the Americans’ personal attraction to him. Li suggests a reason why: In China, “if a person is perceived as lacking learning virtues, he or she may be regarded…as socially irresponsible and, worse yet, as immoral (not wanting to strive to be good).” In America, “learning may be viewed…as a task that a person carries out by using his or her ability, skill, and strategies, [so] it may not have the same moral or social ramifications as it does in Chinese culture” (p. 602).
Li, Jin (2012). Cultural Foundations of Learning: East and West. Cambridge, 385 pages.
This masterpiece demonstrates Jin Li’s thoughtful research and voluminous knowledge of literature in this field. Li was one of millions denied higher education during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76); afterwards, she resumed her studies, taught German, then immigrated to Vermont, where she took the only job available to her: substitute German teacher. When she arrived for her first day of teaching, her assumptions about all things educational suffered a profound shock. But her curiosity was awakened, yielding this volume. (Li’s backstory is related in much more detail in Discovery Step 4.)
Li’s purpose was to answer two basic questions: First, what are the cultural learning models that produce such different students? This question is answered by Li’s research into how Chinese and Americans think about learning (see Li, 2003). Chinese students are animated by an emotion-laden drive to learn, and they expect to work hard. These features are rare among Americans of European ancestry.
Second, why are the two cultural learning models so different? The key difference is that among East Asians, persistent personal effort is worthwhile because the “self” is assumed to be malleable; Americans assume that the “self” is innately unique and stable. Light also is shed on other issues including intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, the impact of failure to learn, the processes used by learners, the roles of activity and passivity in classrooms…and more.
Li’s view about malleable vs. stable self-concepts aligns strikingly well with Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s insight about how American students with “growth mindsets” outpace those with “fixed mindsets” (see Mangels et al., 2006).
Little et al. (2003)
Little, Todd D., Takahiro Miyashita, Mayumi Karasawa, Mari Mashima, Gabriele Oettingen, Hiroshi Azuma, & Paul B. Baltes (2003). The links among action-control beliefs, intellective skill, and school performance in Japanese, U.S., and German school children. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 27 (1), 41-48.
This tri-cultural research team studied the extent to which children’s action-control beliefs contribute to their school performance. “Action-control belief” is similar to “agency”: a belief that one personally can bring about a desired outcome, e.g., getting good grades. The authors knew that one’s belief that he can get good grades isn’t always associated with his actually getting good grades. To better grasp what leads to high grades, they also considered “intellective skill,” as measured by a RAVEN assessment. Studied were 2nd through 6th grade children in lower middle-class suburbs of West Berlin, Los Angeles, and Tokyo.
Although RAVEN-type tests are nonverbal and had been viewed as culture-neutral, the Tokyo children got the highest scores, followed by those in West Berlin, followed by those in Los Angeles. Children’s intellective skill scores in Tokyo and Berlin correlated moderately strongly with actual school performance; but in Los Angeles that correlation was low.
In Tokyo and Berlin, children’s intellective skill and agency beliefs, when combined, substantially enabled prediction of their school performance – but not in Los Angeles, where children’s beliefs in their personal agency was highest. (In other words: highest self-esteem, lowest performance.) The authors speculate that this might result from the well-known tendency of American parents to bolster their children’s self-esteem (see Miller et al., 2002) by giving positive feedback for work of virtually any quality: “The child’s beliefs would not be an accurate reflection of actual performance, but rather would reflect the degree of inaccuracy in the [parents’] feedback” (p. 46).
Mangels et al. (2006)
Mangels, Jennifer A., Brady Butterfield, Justin Lamb, Catherine Good, & Carol S. Dweck (2006). Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 1 (2), 75-86.
The co-author of note is Carol S. Dweck, who has been a leader in studying how American children’s beliefs about intelligence influence their learning. The contrasting beliefs are:
Fixed: Children with a fixed mindset assume that their inborn abilities are stable quantities that cannot be expanded. Their main concern is proving their abilities to others. So they focus on attaining high grades (“performance goals”); when they don’t attain them or when they receive negative feedback, they react defensively. They avoid opportunities for learning that carry a risk of errors or failure, and thus of embarrassment.
Growth: Children who have a growth mindset assume that their inborn abilities are starting points, i.e., that their abilities can be expanded, and more acquired, through effort. These children are drawn toward intellectual challenges (“learning goals”) even though they know that, at first, errors and failure might result. They persist in the face of difficulty, and they’re receptive to negative feedback that can point them toward the path to success.
This article discusses the authors’ use of neuroimaging techniques to watch what happens in students’ brains in the face of test failure, and when being offered feedback about their incorrect responses. Compared with students with growth mindsets, the brains of those with fixed mindsets showed a stronger emotional reaction to the feedback and processed it less. On a retest of the items each student had gotten wrong, those with fixed mindsets scored sharply lower. [Another study that made use of neuroimaging is Zhu et al., 2007.]
Dweck’s distinction between fixed and growth mindsets closely parallels the generalizations anthropologists make about American and East Asian students. (Much more detail about this parallel is found in Discovery Step 3.)
Markus & Kitayama (1991)
Markus, Hazel Rose, & Shinobu Kitayama (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98 (2), 224-53.
This often-cited article yields valuable insights into the differences in subjective experience that differentiate groups of people with interdependent (collective) construals of “self” from those (including Americans) with independent construals of “self.” The authors conclude: “Others and the surrounding social context are important for both construals, but for the interdependent self, others are included within the boundaries of the self… In the words of [Takie S.] Lebra (1976), the individual is in some respects ‘a fraction’ and becomes a whole when fitting into or occupying one’s proper place in the social unit” (p. 245-6).
Discussed are known differences and new questions. For example, depending on whether one is interdependent or independent, what is a positive self-view? Education-relevant differences are discussed to some extent; for example, Japanese students’ legendary study regimen is motivated by the glory accruing to all family members – all of whom are within the students’ “self” concept – if the student gains admittance to a top university.
This reviewer’s synthesis: In the West, each individual’s self is viewed as unique and stable; others should accommodate themselves to him across a variety of social situations. In Asia, each social situation is viewed as unique and fluidly emerging; each participant is obliged to accommodate herself to – align with – any emerging situational changes, and to do so in harmony with other participants. [See also Pratt, 1991; Iyengar & Lepper, 1999; Heine et al., 2001; and – for emerging insights from neuroimaging – Zhu et al., 2007.]
Marton, Ference (2000). Some critical features of learning environments. Invited keynote address, The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Symposium on Cognition, Education, and Communication Technology. Stockholm, March 30–April 1.
In this conference presentation, respected Swedish scholar Marton posits that a key difference between math classes in China and Japan on the one hand, and math classes in the U.S. on the other, is a “the pattern of variation.”
East Asian math classes typically are organized around one complex problem, “the problem of the day.” Students are given a problem at the beginning of the class and left to figure out how to deal with it. After a while, they come up with a variety of solutions. Then, under the teacher’s guidance, their various methods of solution are compared, enabling the teacher to draw all students’ attention to the problem’s features.
In American math classes, the teacher often introduces a certain type of problem together with a preferred method for solving problems of this type. Then students are given several problems of this type and use them to practice the preferred solution.
Result: East Asian students learn, on their own, to creatively generate and attempt to apply an assortment of approaches for solving a problem. American students learn to repeatedly apply one pre-digested approach for solving all similar problems. So East Asian students learn to grapple with a higher degree of complexity – and learn to creatively generate solutions.
This conference presentation is not available via normal channels, so this reviewer has relied on an overview in another publication: Mok et al. (2001), Solving the paradox of the Chinese Teacher? Teaching the Chinese Learner: Psychological and Pedagogical Perspectives (p. 177). Regarding Marton’s insight, Mok and her co-authors note that similar “patterns of variation” can be found in East Asian classrooms devoted to other disciplinary subjects. [See also Kawanaka et al., 1999; and Becker et al., 1999.]
Marton et al. (1996)
Marton, Ference, Gloria Dall’Alba, & Tse Lai Kun (1996). Memorizing and understanding: The keys to the paradox? The Chinese Learner: Cultural, Psychological, and Contextual Influences, David A. Watkins & John B. Biggs, eds. Comparative Education Research Centre [Hong Kong] and Australian Council for Educational Research, 69-83.
Ference Marton is a Swedish psychologist who explores what occurs in people’s minds during learning. This article reports the findings of interviews carried out with 18 Chinese educators, the goal being to grasp their experience of learning through memorization.
The Chinese distinguished two types of experience: (1) Mechanical memorization, defined as focused on the task of learning the material, the intention being to reproduce or apply it with scant attention to its meaning. (2) Memorizing with understanding, defined as actively exploring the material’s meaning and the possibility of seeing it in different ways.
Within this second type of experience was a further distinction: Memorizing what is understood refers to the fact that people more readily recall what they already understand. Understanding through memorization recognizes that, for some people, understanding is deepened by the process of memorization. Said one Chinese educator, “Each time I repeat, I…have some new idea of understanding, that is to say I can understand better” (p. 81). Said another, “Practice makes perfect… For example, if I fail to find out [the] general idea or meaning of the paragraph, I would read, read, read for one hundred times…” (p. 75).
Understanding through memorization explains repetitive learning, a typical procedure of East Asians that helps to solve “the paradox of the Asian learner.” The paradox occurs in part because in the West, memorization is equated with “rote,” which is vilified. It’s assumed – mistakenly! – that memorization simply cannot lead to understanding. [See also Biggs, 2001; Watkins, 2000; and Kember, 2016.]
*Miller et al. (2002)
*Miller, Peggy J., Su-hua Wang, Todd Sandel, & Grace E. Cho (2002). Self-esteem as folk theory: A comparison of European American and Taiwanese mothers’ beliefs. Parenting Science and Practice, 2 (3), 209-239.
This well-written article reveals how American mothers in the rural Midwest and Chinese mothers in rural Taiwan think about “self-esteem.” In each location, 16 mothers of 3-year-olds participated in long open-ended interviews. The authors discuss the sharp differences in how interviewing needed to be conducted in the two locations due to local expectations about conversations. They also explain how “self-esteem” needed to be expressed in Taiwanese; the best choice was a phrase that back-translates “self-respect-heart/mind.”
Major differences emerged in how the two sets of mothers thought about self-esteem. Almost all of the Americans spontaneously introduced “self-esteem” into the conversation and referred to it often, positively, and elaborately while answering a range of questions about child-raising. Only five of the Taiwanese spontaneously introduced the term “self-respect-heart/mind.” The researchers report that, in discussing this concept with eight of the Taiwanese mothers, they “were never able to create common ground” (p. 229).
All of the Americans viewed self-esteem as “an essential foundation for a long list of psychological strengths” (p. 230), too many to list here! They also believed that a child’s self-esteem is easily damaged and must be protected and bolstered, and that overly high self-esteem can lead to egotism. In Taiwan, the handful of mothers who were comfortable with the concept hoped for their child to have “normal self-respect-heart/mind” because higher levels lead to stubbornness, frustration in the face of failure, and unwillingness to be corrected. These mothers tended to use questions about “self-respect-heart/mind” as a pathway into discussing discipline, which they saw as promoting moral education, and which requires parents to “watch” the child so that, in devising disciplinary strategies, they could take into account his or her emerging personality.
The researchers concluded that self-esteem is a historically situated, culture-specific idea that has become a central component in Americans’ folk theory about child-raising.
Mok, Ida Ah Chee (2006). Shedding light on the East Asian learner paradox: Reconstructing student-centredness in a Shanghai classroom. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 26 (2), 131-142.
Mok participated in a major effort to understand classroom differences worldwide. The Learner’s Perspective Study was unique in that it videotaped continuous sequences of lessons rather than isolated lessons. In this paper she discusses data gathered in Shanghai from a sequence of 15 mathematics lessons taught by an experienced teacher of students aged 13-14.
On this basis of these data, Mok addresses the “paradox of the East Asian learner” (see Biggs, 2001, and Watkins, 2000) from an unusual perspective. She contends that what Westerners perceive as a “teacher-dominated” lesson can with reason be viewed as “an alternative form of student-centredness.” To make this point, she describes one of the lessons in detail, then adds the perceptions of that lesson by the teacher and two of the students.
The teacher, drawing on his understanding of how his students think, developed a framed exploratory experience for them. Everything that happened followed the teacher’s carefully devised plan, and each part of the lesson had a student-oriented rationale. The teacher valued his students’ participation, commenting that “I let the students investigate,” “I let them try,” and “I give them questions to think about” (p. 139).
From the perspective of The Drive to Learn, particularly significant is Mok’s observation that, across all 15 lessons, “the students were consistently attentive and…there were no instances of off-task behavior” (p. 134). About the two interviewed students, she writes that “although they appeared to be obediently following the teacher’s direction, they were also actively reflecting on what was happening in the lesson. This kind of mental activity is implicit, and would have been hard to see if the students…had not pointed it out” (p. 139). In short, the students were physically passive yet consistently mentally engaged.
Morris & Leung (2010)
Morris, Michael W., & Kwok Leung (2010). Creativity east and west: Perspectives and parallels. [Editors’ Forum] Management and Organization Review, 6 (3), 313-327.
The editors of this journal issue offer a thoughtful overview of Eastern and Western perspectives on creativity. They call attention to the oversimplifications that have seized pundits and policy makers (e.g., counting Nobel laureates by nation), leading to popular belief in a “creativity gap” that has spurred attempts to transform Chinese education along Western lines. But matters are far more complex than “Western invention vs. Eastern imitation.”
One variable is the effect of social norms on people’s perception of creativity. Western individualistic norms foster novel solutions and breakthrough innovations; Eastern collectivist norms foster incremental solutions and step-wise innovations that prioritize usefulness and social acceptability.
Two other matters of interest are discussed. One is that in the West, but not in the East, artistic and literary genius tends to be associated with mental illness. The other is that the Kumon method of teaching math and language, increasingly adopted by Western parents as supplementary training for their children, is an import from Japan that employs practice and perseverance – unmistakably Eastern approaches to learning mastery. [For other discussions of creativity, see Niu & Sternberg, 2006, and Fryer & Fryer-Bolingbroke, 2011.]
*Ng et al. (2007)
*Ng, Florrie Fei-Yin, Eva M. Pomerantz, & Shui-fong Lam (2007). European American and Chinese parents’ responses to children’s success and failure: Implications for children’s responses. Developmental Psychology, 43 (5), 1239-1255.
This study explored the role of parents in Chinese and U.S. children’s responses to success and failure. The researchers also hoped to better understand whether the behavior of Chinese mothers is consistent with either gŭan (to govern, care for) or “authoritarian parenting” (see Chao & Tseng, 2002). Two studies were carried out with 10- and 11-year-old children and their mothers in the U.S. and China. The second is the more useful for our purposes. (Gŭan and other East Asian child-rearing concepts are discussed in Discovery Step 8.)
In the second study, children were asked to solve either an easy or a challenging puzzle in order to induce the experience of success or failure. (Only the researchers knew which puzzles were easy or challenging.) Next, they had a 5-minute break with their mothers, after which they were given a different puzzle. During the break, mother-child interactions were videotaped; later, their responses were analyzed: (a) verbal statements, (b) involvement in the puzzle task, and (c) affect: positive affect included smiling, hugging, speaking warmly; negative affect included frowning, looking dismayed, speaking coldly.
After both success and failure, the Chinese mothers made fewer positive and more negative verbal statements to their children than did the U.S. mothers. Also, the Chinese mothers’ statements were more focused on the puzzle task. In terms of actual involvement in the puzzle task, the Chinese mothers were – significantly – three times more likely to check their child’s work, teach solution strategies, etc. In terms of affect, that of the Chinese mothers’ remained positive. After the break, the performance of the “failing” Chinese children improved more than that of the Americans. These findings about Chinese mothers are indicative of gŭan, not of authoritarian parenting. (This research is discussed at length in Discovery Step 9.) [See also Heine et al., 2001.]
Niu & Sternberg (2006)
Niu, Weihua, & Robert J. Sternberg (2006). The philosophical roots of western and eastern conceptions of creativity. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 26, 18-38.
The focus of this article is the origins and contemporary meanings of the concept of creativity in the East and West. In the West, a significant factor is the Judeo-Christian tradition of a personalized god, who caused all things to be. A parallel factor is the Greek tradition of the gods of invention, the Muses, who caused inspiration in sculptors, painters, poets, etc. In both traditions, creativity emanated from a personalized divinity. The Enlightenment, with its focus on individual powers, redirected Western beliefs about the origin of the creative spark from a divinity to a human – potentially any human – and expanded creativity’s scope into science, politics, business, even mundane daily life. The hallmarks of Western creativity became (a) novelty and usefulness; (b) the idea that creative people defy the crowd; and (c) very little concern for the moral implications of the creation.
In the East, matters are sharply different. Historically, the notion of a personalized god is weak, though in Chinese thinking there was a supernatural moral authority – tiān (heaven). But as the Taoist concept of dào gained ascendance, personalization died out. There is no Genesis-style creation story; the Book of Changes (1200-800 BCE) claims that the origin of everything, including morality, is the interaction of two opposites, yīn and yang.
Over centuries, Taoism and Confucianism combined to endow “creativity” with a fresh meaning signifying the means: the continuing self-cultivation and renovating learning by which one achieves perfection, “benevolence,” and enlightenment that benefits both the individual and society. Eastern creativity came to be characterized by (a) low expectation of novelty; (b) the idea of being guided by the crowd, not defying or leading it; (c) self-cultivation towards moral perfection and benevolence; (d) benefits for society as well as for oneself; and (e) gradual attainment via continuous effort. [For other discussions of creativity, see Morris & Leung, 2010, and Fryer & Fryer-Bolingbroke, 2011.]
Ouyang, Huhua (2003). Resistance to the communicative method of language instruction within a progressive Chinese University. Local Meanings, Global Schooling: Anthropology and World Culture Theory, Kathryn M. Anderson-Levitt, ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 122-140.
Communicative language teaching (CLT) is a progressive Western approach that, among other things, requires a high level of student-originated vocalization in classrooms. CLT became a key element of Chinese national educational reform during the 1980s. Western teachers (including this reviewer) were invited as “foreign experts” to Chinese universities, where those who taught English via CLT faced resistance from both students and Chinese colleagues. Most complaints were less about the details of CLT (compared with traditional Chinese language teaching methods), and more about the discrepancy between the foreign experts’ in-class and out-of-class demeanor as measured against Chinese standards regarding ideal teachers and teaching – which is why this article is valuable for our purposes.
Ouyang reveals seven types of Chinese complaint about the foreign teachers: (a) providing little systematic organization and linearity to lessons; (b) treating students like kindergarteners; (c) failing to correct students’ English speaking errors; (d) using materials made by, or selected by, the individual foreign teachers; (e) applying grading standards based on teachers’ subjective impressions; (f) not seeking, or not heeding, suggestions from Chinese faculty members about how to interact more appropriately with students; and – especially significant for us – (g) not caring for students, evidenced by absence of both in-class authoritarian demeanor and out-of-class availability to students for academic and moral guidance. [For another account of Chinese resistance to CLT, see Hu, 2002.]
Paine, Lynn Webster (1990). The teacher as virtuoso: A Chinese model for teaching. Teachers College Record, 92 (1), 49-81.
Based on her two years of fieldwork in Chinese secondary and college classrooms, Paine’s conclusion is that the Chinese conceive of teaching as a performance, and that the goal of teachers is to become a virtuoso performer. This conclusion is supported by what she observed – for example, no teachers’ desks are found in classrooms (teachers are viewed as presenting something) – and by what she discovered about how the Chinese think about children, learning, and teaching.
Paine also pursued an active interest in Chinese painting and music, so she appreciated that how a young adult learns to teach bears similarities to how an aspiring artist becomes a virtuoso who affects and impresses her audience. Virtuosity involves not only sweeping command of subject-matter knowledge – “technical wizardry” acquired via years of study and practice – but also, and significantly, “heart,” a human component that infuses each classroom performance with deep caring. Here are two of Paine’s insights:
Teachers above the elementary grades deliberately minimize the interactional potential of classroom experiences; what guides their exhaustive preparation is what is to be presented and how that knowledge is (believed to be) mastered by human beings.
Students seated in a classroom are similar to the audience at a performance; the teacher conceives of them as a single group (bān) instead of a collection of individuals with diverse needs and backgrounds. Having previously gained technical wizardry, the teacher’s goal becomes to deliver a classroom experience that has aesthetic and emotionally moving qualities, not merely knowledge-transmission value. (Caveat: This reviewer’s private editor, a China authority, believes that Paine’s characterization is somewhat overdrawn.)
Park & Kim (2006)
Park, Young-Shin, & Uichol Kim (2006). Family, parent-child relationship, and academic achievement in Korea: Indigenous cultural and psychological analysis. Indigenous and Cultural Psychology: Understanding People in Context, Uichol Kim et al., eds. Springer, 421-43.
In this useful but poorly edited article, Park and Kim contend that Western developmental psychology is not applicable in Korea. Instead, they use an “indigenous methodology,” which means not that they do research differently, but – refreshingly – that they don’t think with Western preconceptions when they analyze their findings.
Research partners for two decades, Park and Kim used mostly survey methods to focus on Korean students in ecological perspective, especially in relation to their families. Their theme is that Korean students’ success is due to “efficacy for self-regulated learning,” defined as a student’s capacity to apply herself with “effort, will, persistence, patience, and endurance” (p. 432). Isn’t that what we call “high intrinsic motivation”? No! That Western interpretation is not what Park and Kim conclude. Their findings point to developmental factors that are distinctly Asian, collectivist, and focused on family-centeredness: “Close parent-child relationship and social support are important factors in elevating adolescents’ self-efficacy and achievement motivation, which in turn increases their academic achievement” (p. 439).
Other factors that support achievement include feelings of indebtedness to parents, social support from friends, direct pressure from parents, and the belief that ability can be acquired through persistent effort. Park and Kim do acknowledge that exceptionally high achievement comes with social and individual costs. (These costs are amply documented in the case of Korea – including high rates of student suicide.) [See also Gross-Loh, 2015.]
Parmar et al. (2008)
Parmar, Parminder, Sara Harkness, & Charles M. Super (2008). Teacher or playmate? Asian immigrant and Euro-American parents’ participation in their young children’s daily activities. Social Behavior and Personality, 36 (2), 163-76.
This article supports a contention of The Drive to Learn: A key explanation for East Asian students’ academic superiority is found in their homes. The authors’ research occurred in northeastern Connecticut with Euro-American and immigrant Asian families in which every parent was university educated. (The immigrants were from China, Korea, Pakistan, Nepal, and India.) The children were 3 to 6 years old. Parents kept detailed logs of their children’s home activities for a week. The activities were then coded into six types: Pre-academic (computer activities, learning letters and numbers, etc.); Skill Development (art, music, sports); Chores; Television; Play; and Reading at Bedtime.
Both sets of parents spent time with their children – Asians 17.7 hours, Euro-Americans 15.5 hours – but how those hours were used differed. The Americans read to their children at bedtime somewhat more than the Asians, and they engaged their children in household chores significantly more than the Asians.
The greatest difference was in the Pre-academic category: The Asians devoted 3 hours 22 minutes to this; the Americans devoted 19 minutes. This pattern was repeated by family friends, siblings, and babysitters who spent time at home with the youngsters: 50 minutes versus ½ minute. So during that week, the Asian parents and others in their households devoted nearly 13 times more time to pre-academic activities than did the Americans!
However, be aware that some observational studies – e.g., Stevenson & Stigler (1992) – have found that Asian parents residing in Asia show little commitment to engaging in pre-academic activities with their preschool children, whom people regard as lacking in cognitive competence based on traditional cultural beliefs. [This might be especially true in Japan: see Lebra, 1994; Peak, 1991; and Hendry, 1986.]
Peak, Lois (1991). Training learning skills and attitudes in Japanese early education settings. Transcending Stereotypes: Discovering Japanese Culture and Education, Barbara Finkelstein et al., eds. Intercultural Press, 96-108.
Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Japan, Peak describes how very young children are trained to become skillful, motivated learners. Using the Suzuki piano-teaching method as her main example, Peak discusses how each of four goals is attained over months:
To build capacity for listening attentively, novices participate in minarai kikan, attentively watching others performing the skills to be learned. Then, to instill the proper form and context for learning, novices are guided in repeatedly practicing skills such as responding to a teacher’s entrance, arranging items on one’s desktop, and sitting properly. Third, to develop concentration skills, novices are coached to precisely execute physical movements such as orienting the body, using the hands, and focusing the gaze. Finally, to instill self-monitoring of one’s own performance, novices are trained to observe a period of thoughtful evaluation after simple actions (initially, playing one note).
Concludes Peak: “Better classroom discipline…allows Japanese teachers to spend almost 50 percent more time per hour imparting information” (p. 100). “The lesson is surprisingly businesslike, with a minimum of…fun and games. The enjoyment [the children] derive is the personal satisfaction of competent execution and growing ability” (p. 106). “Although the explicit training [appears] rigid and authoritarian…, in practice it actually reduces the amount of authority and control teachers must exercise on a daily basis” (p. 104, italics added).
Pomerantz et al. (2011)
Pomerantz, Eva M., Lili Qin, Qian Wang, & Huichang Chen (2011). Changes in early adolescents’ sense of responsibility to parents in the United States and China: Implications for academic functioning. Child Development, 82 (4), 1136-51. Also available at NIH Public Access.
Pomerantz and her colleagues studied the extent to which children’s sense of responsibility to their parents changes during early adolescence, and whether those changes affect their school performance. The authors note that in China as well as the U.S., children’s interest in school typically declines during early adolescence. But could children’s performance be preserved if they maintained a sense of responsibility to their parents?
Participants included hundreds of seventh- and eighth-grade children in suburbs of Beijing and Chicago, all of whom responded to extensive questionnaires every six months (four times in all). Each student’s grades also were tracked. Much of this article is devoted to esoteric statistical discussions, but the findings come through clearly.
Over the two years, the American children’s feelings of responsibility to their parents declined, and their motivation to do well academically in order to please their parents also declined. On both of those measures, the Chinese children showed slight increases. Especially interesting are the similarities between the two groups: At the beginning of the seventh grade, both groups had equivalent feelings of responsibility toward their parents. In addition, the more children in both groups were motivated academically to please their parents, the more they valued school, used self-regulated learning strategies, and were oriented toward mastery; and the better was their actual school performance.
Pratt, Daniel D. (1991). Conceptions of self within China and the United States: Contrasting foundations for adult education. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 15 (3), 285-310.
Pratt’s article is one of several raising this question: Is “self” an appropriate word to use when discussing how Chinese view themselves? In English as spoken in the West, “self” has become inextricably associated with “ego,” i.e., a human entity viewed as separate from others. That concept undermines Westerners’ ability to understand the Chinese mindset. Pratt goes to great lengths to explain this, emphasizing the overwhelming and pervasive importance of kinship in traditional Chinese society, and revealing the value-based reasons for Chinese behavior that Westerners often experience as impersonal or inscrutable.
Pratt offers frequent comparisons between China and the West, including a discussion of the meanings of “individual uniqueness”: He contrasts the Western assumption that each individual’s uniqueness must not have uniformity imposed on it by society, with the Chinese assumption that human nature can take myriad forms, always remains malleable (pliable), and must be transformed continuously to align with society’s current expectations.
Pratt’s discussion of one’s interior life (beliefs, feelings, etc.) is equally instructive: He contrasts the Western tendency to view each situation or event through the lens of how-it-affects-me, with the Chinese tendency to view one’s interior life as lacking sufficient significance to outweigh the importance of any ongoing social situation. (Other scholars talk about the Chinese value suí hé, “blending in, obliging.”) [Other insightful studies of this critical East-West difference are Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Iyengar & Lepper, 1999; Heine et al., 2001; and – for insights from neuroimaging techniques – Zhu et al., 2007.]
Pratt et al. (1999)
Pratt, Daniel D., Mavis Kelly, & Winnie S.S. Wong (1999). Chinese conceptions of ‘effective teaching’ in Hong Kong: Towards culturally sensitive evaluation of teaching. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 18 (4), 241-58.
This article discusses a study in which Chinese university students and Western instructors responded to open-ended questions about effective instruction. Many differences emerged.
Foundational knowledge in one’s field of study: The Chinese viewed this as very important, with the instructor being a master who guides students to deeply internalize the foundational knowledge. Westerners saw this as the students’ responsibility to learn; an instructor’s job is to apply and critique it.
Student-teacher relationships: The Chinese expected these to follow their culture’s senior-junior pattern, with teachers’ being protective of and close to students, combining stern guidance with heartfelt caring, like a parent. Western instructors expected a relatively egalitarian relationship but were wary of developing warm closeness because it could undermine their objectivity.
Process of teaching: Chinese students wanted teachers to be personal guides who insure, via oft-repeated feedback, that each student’s understanding becomes flawless, and to whom they can go with personal problems. Western instructors viewed themselves as facilitators who encourage independent learning and critical thinking in classes “a-buzz with activity.”
Perception of Chinese learners: Chinese students viewed themselves as effective learners regardless of their inborn aptitude. Western instructors viewed Chinese students as needing spoon-feeding, lacking skills, and being incapable of thinking – in a word, lazy. The Western instructors’ views, say the authors, resulted from their “interpreting a wide range of student behavior such as asking for a copy of their teacher’s notes; pressing the teacher to find out what exactly should be studied; taking a quiet, receptive, deferential attitude during class; and lack of challenge or questioning of the authority of the text or teacher” (p. 250).
Ripley, Amanda (2013). The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got that Way. Simon & Schuster, 307 pages.
Smartest Kids received major media attention. It’s well deserved. Accessibly written, this book also has a “notes” section demonstrating that Ripley put thoughtful effort into her research, which she carried out by interviewing informants from teenagers to government ministers, observing in classrooms abroad, and poring over research literature.
Smartest Kids is organized around the experiences of three U.S. exchange students who departed for Korea, Finland, and Poland, where each spent a year in high school. These students were chosen by Ripley because each of their host countries is a democracy with world-class scores on the PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment).
In their schools abroad, the students encounter differences from their schools in the U.S., notably that their classrooms seem old-fashioned, having few, if any, digital enhancements; and that their peers put far more effort into studying than American students do. (Ripley concurs with other observers that the Koreans’ study ethic is excessive.) The students’ personal stories become interwoven with Ripley’s observations regarding the numerous contrasts that distinguish high schools in those three nations from high school in the U.S.
One of Ripley’s summary statements begins, “High school in Finland, Korea, and Poland had a purpose, just like high-school football practice in America” (p. 191). Another reads, “Going [to Finland and Korea] was like watching a professional soccer game when you’d been playing junior varsity all your life. It was the same game, but everything seemed more fluid, less random. Pervasive rigor had raised these systems to another level” (p. 277).
Salili, Farideh (1996). Accepting personal responsibility for learning. The Chinese Learner: Cultural, Psychological, and Contextual Influences, David A. Watkins & John B. Biggs, eds. Comparative Education Research Centre [Hong Kong] and Australian Council for Educational Research, 85-105.
This literature review emphasizes that, for Chinese people, the concept of academic success is tightly woven with the concept of family. This is expected in any group-oriented, or “collectivist,” culture that is characterized by intense feelings of mutuality among family members, and by individuals’ working hard to satisfy the goals of their families at least as much as to satisfy their own personal goals. [Later research suggests that a more accurate statement would be that the family’s goals and one’s own goals are indistinguishable; see Zhu et al., 2007.] In other words, for most Chinese people (and by extension, for most East Asians), academic success is other-directed, meaning that achievement is for the benefit of the student’s family, and the standard of achievement is defined by the student’s family.
Paradoxically, collectivist cultures strongly promote each individual’s acceptance of personal responsibility. For students, personal responsibility is demonstrated by effort and perseverance in pursuit of learning. Effort in this context has both practical value and moral value in that the students are building their character and capacity for service as well as carrying out their filial duties to their parents and ancestors. When failure to learn does occur, a student’s habit of applying redoubled effort and perseverance to his studies usually equips him to rectify the situation because this habit is under his control. Inborn ability is not.
Salzman, Mark (1986). Iron & Silk. Knopf Doubleday, 224 pages.
Iron & Silk is an entertaining memoir about the daily goings-on of a young American teaching in China for two years while simultaneously studying martial arts under one of China’s foremost masters. For this reviewer, the most memorable passage relates a conversation between Salzman and the woman under whom he was studying Chinese literature. Teacher Wei felt responsible for Salzman’s academic progress and for his development as a person. “At times I got impatient with her and explained that in America, children become adults around the time they leave for college and like to make decisions for themselves after that. She was appalled. ‘Don’t your parents and teachers care about you?’”
“Of course they do, but —”
“‘Then how can they leave you stranded when you are only a child? …And how can you possibly think you understand everything? You are only twenty-two years old! You are so far away from home, and I am your teacher; if I don’t care about you, won’t you be lonely?’”
“She seemed to get such pleasure out of trying to figure and then straighten me out that I stopped resisting and let her educate me. I learned how to dress to stay comfortable throughout the year [in buildings with no heat or air conditioning]; how to prevent and treat common illness; how to behave toward teachers, students, strangers, and bureaucrats; how to save books from mildew and worms; and never to do anything to excess.”
“‘Mark, you laugh a great deal during your lectures. Why?’”
“Because, Teacher Wei, I am having fun.”
“‘I see. Laugh less. It seems odd that a man laughs so hard at his own jokes. People think you are a bit crazy, or perhaps choking. …You will get digestive problems’” (pp. 36-7).
Sato & McLaughlin (1992)
Sato, Nancy, & Milbrey W. McLaughlin (1992). Context matters: Teaching in Japan and the United States. Phi Delta Kappan, 73 (1), 359-66.
This article reviews findings from surveys of elementary and secondary teachers in Japan and the U.S., jointly carried out by researchers at Stanford and the University of Tokyo. Assessed were teachers’ goals, use of time, roles/responsibilities, professional development, relations with students, and more. Statistical details are omitted. This is a straightforward account of the few similarities and many differences among teachers and teaching in the two nations.
In terms of time devoted and roles carried out, compared with Americans the Japanese teachers were far more involved in their profession, in their schools, and in each student’s overall development. Sato & McLaughlin ground these differences in their respective cultural contexts. For instance, consider responsibility for students’ overall development: Japanese teachers reported being actively responsible for each student’s hygiene, appearance, personal habits, use of vacation time, and behavior on and off campus. Community members concurred. If a child misbehaved outside of school, witnesses were more likely to report the misbehavior to the child’s school than to the parents.
The cultural context for teachers’ broad responsibility is that, in Japan, gaining academic prowess is merely one of many components of developing ningen (human) attributes in students. The result is a holistic view of development – aesthetic, moral, social, emotional, interpersonal, physical and, yes, cognitive – all of which are the concern of teachers. [See also Shimahara & Sakai, 1995.]
Schneider & Lee (1990)
Schneider, Barbara, & Yongsook Lee (1990). A model for academic success: The school and home environment of East Asian students. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 21 (4), 358-77.
Schneider & Lee review an ethnographic study of sixth and seventh graders in two Illinois schools: one suburban; one urban. Compared were Anglo-American and immigrant East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) students on factors such as classroom behavior, academic performance, attitudes toward education, use of time beyond school hours, and relationships with key others. Significant findings are these:
The performance of the East Asian students exceeded that of the Anglos, as measured by grades and achievement tests. Rarely were the East Asian parents tutoring their children at home; but 60% of them had tutored their children before they entered kindergarten (whereas only 16% of the Anglo parents had). When the children’s primary school teachers did not assign homework – often – the East Asian parents assigned their own homework, requiring over an hour a day, using purchased workbooks.
For their sixth and seventh graders, the majority of Asian parents mandated a specific period of time for study, and many reported requiring their children to continue studying after finishing their homework. Asian parents also set limits on time spent playing with friends or watching TV. Asian parents’ expectations became reflected in their children’s self-expectations – and in the expectations expressed about the Asian students by their teachers, their Asian peers, even their Anglo peers. [See also Abboud & Kim, 2006; and Huang, 2014.]
Shimahara & Sakai (1995)
Shimahara, Nobuo K., & Akira Sakai (1995). Learning to Teach in Two Cultures: Japan and the United States. Garland Publishing, 259 pages.
The authors used ethnographic methods to contrast the experiences of beginning first- and fifth-grade teachers in a U.S. East Coast suburban district with those of beginning teachers of the same grades in Tokyo. A wealth of detail emerges as the authors explore daily classroom activities as well as the overall contextual setting.
Reflecting the insights of Hess & Azuma (1991), the authors note that in Japan, both parents and teachers fostered effective learning by striving to enhance children’s “adaptive dispositions,” i.e., their receptivity and diligence. In the U.S., parents and teachers alike strove to enhance children’s self-assertive “independent dispositions,” which in turn necessitated efforts by teachers to simulate the children’s “intrinsic” interest in learning.
Another contrast was that the American teachers, reflecting the ethos of their educational establishment, viewed their role as focusing on the children’s cognitive development (i.e., academic learning), and conducted their relationships with the pupils in an emotionally detached and respectful manner. The two teachers in Japan, reflecting the ethos of their educational establishment, focused on developing close, trusting, nurturing relationships with each child, leading to (a) kizuna, a “touching of the hearts”; (b) attending to children’s social, physical, moral, aesthetic and, yes, cognitive development; (c) molding the children into a smoothly cooperating, largely self-governing units; and (d) academic learning.
More contrasts: In the U.S., pupils were confined to their classrooms except during lunch, had their movements controlled constantly, weren’t encouraged to build relationships with classmates, and rarely were drawn into all-school extracurricular events. In Japan, all that and more (including mutual supportiveness among the teachers) was very different. [See also Sato & McLaughlin, 1992.]
Simons, Carol (1991). The education mother (kyōiku mama). Transcending Stereotypes: Discovering Japanese Culture and Education, Barbara Finkelstein et al., eds. Intercultural Press, 58-65.
This article will come as a shock to anyone who still believes that the reason Asian students consistently (and decisively) outperform American students is that Asians are smarter. No. The reason, at least in Japan, is nurture, especially the indefatigable nurturing of one’s mother, as Simons’s descriptions make clear. For example, we learn that “mothers’ classes” train women in effective methods for drilling – note, drilling – their child, and that a good mother “knows all the teachers well [and] has researched their backgrounds and how successful their previous students have been” (p. 60).
Motherhood in Japan is a prestigious profession, with the child’s educational success as its primary objective. So widely performed is this role that it has a label, kyōiku mama (“education mother”). A 1987 U.S. Department of Education report, Japanese Education Today, observed that “The community’s perception of a woman’s success as a mother depends in large part on how well her children do in school” (pp. 59-60).
Simons also discusses the cultural underpinnings of the kyōiku mama role in the Japanese values of mutual dependency and obligation; and the sense of some Japanese people, especially returnees from expatriate assignments in the U.S., that the focus in Japan on academic prowess should be toned down. [See also Lebra, 1994.]
Singleton, John (1989). Gambaru: A Japanese cultural theory of learning. Japanese Schooling: Patterns of Socialization, Equality, and Political Control, J. J. Shields, ed. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1-8.
Singleton was a participant-observer in Japanese junior high schools as both a parent and a social scientist. The latter role enabled him to accompany teachers on their annual visits with parents, during which an intense discussion topic was invariably the child’s chances for admission to a selective high school. What most impressed Singleton was the widely shared assumption that gambaru (“to persist, to hang on”) is the path to academic success. For example, in response to the parents’ concern about what might be done to insure that their child attains a top mark on the high school entrance exam, the teachers typically responded, Mō sukoshi gambaru hō ga ii to omoimasu (“I think a little more persistence would be good”).
This reviewer has remembered, across more than two decades, this observation by Singleton: “The teachers had no problem reciting the students’ school grades, scores on their last practice entrance exams, their study habits, and other details. When I asked about their IQs, even in rough terms, however, they inevitably referred me to the student files that were kept in the school office. They know that the IQ scores were on file, but the scores themselves were not an item of teacher interest or concern. Gambaru could be measured by test scores achieved. Persistence is the secret:; effort, not IQ, is the Japanese explanation for educational achievement” (p. 121).
Stafford, Charles (1995). The Roads of Chinese Childhood: Learning and Identification in Angang. Cambridge, 213 pages.
Stafford completed nearly two years of ethnographic fieldwork in a remote fishing village of Taiwan. He directed his attention to the ways children learn to acquire self-identities. His focus was on the community’s taken-for-granted assumptions about children and childhood; he discusses 62 of these. For example: “14. Studying and being a person are inseparable,” and “17. Teachers are what students should become.”
Stafford quotes from a text read by fifth-year students: “The goal of our studies is to learn the proper way of being a person; …otherwise study is impossible. Study is not only about learning what is in books; what is more important is the use of this knowledge in our daily lives. The information in books and the reason [dàolĭ, ‘the proper way’] of teachers is only one small part of learning” (p. 57).
Stafford comments that Chinese education is inherently moral. Everyone views teachers as both transmitters and examples of morality, worthy of emulation. Stafford distinguishes between school-based and community-based morality. The former is consciously transmitted. The latter is chángshí – common sense – instilled through the community’s environment. “From the perspective of the family, school is not where children are made Chinese; it is where, with effort and with luck…, they express their Chinese values” (p. 30).
*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 also were the driving force behind a fascinating half-hour videotape made in 1st and 5th grade math classrooms in Japan and Taiwan during 1988. Its purpose was to give Westerners an opportunity to see what is behind the legendary math achievement of East Asian students. Contact the Center for Human Growth & Development at the University of Michigan by phoning 1-734-764-2443, and ask for The Polished Stones DVD. $35.00 and worth it! It’s also available in full on YouTube.
*Stevenson & Stigler (1992)
*Stevenson, Harold W., & James W. Stigler (1992). The Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn from Japanese and Chinese Education. Simon & Schuster (Touchstone), 237 pages.
Of the publications annotated herein, this is probably the second-most-read by the general public (after Chua’s Tiger Mother) – and with good reason. Writing in a style accessible to the lay reader, the authors discuss the many findings that emerged from their comparative research within elementary classrooms in Minneapolis, Beijing (China), Sendai (Japan), and Taipei (Taiwan). Their goal was to “explore ways in which the United States might improve its educational system by learning from the successes of other cultures” (p. 9).
Alternating between generalizations about national-level differences (often illustrated by simple bar charts), and moment-by-moment accounts of observed events in classrooms, their findings gradually coalesce into what, for many, will be two lasting impressions: Just about every stereotype we ever believed about primary education in Asia is wrong – often 180° wrong. And there’s no longer any mystery to why Asian children outperform ours.
Among the topics dealt with are how children relate emotionally to their schools, how children spend their time at home and in school, how parents think about childhood and support their children’s learning, how teachers relate to children and use their classroom time, how the children are socialized to behave in classrooms, how failure is dealt with, how success is accounted for, and more: curriculum, textbooks, tracking, teacher training, lesson coherence, and who bears responsibility for children’s learning. This is a respected, classic study that is worthwhile reading (or re-reading) although over a quarter century has passed.
Stevenson, Harold (1994). Moving away from stereotypes and preconceptions: Students and their education in East Asia and the United States. Cross-Cultural Roots of Minority Child Development, Classic Edition (2014), Patricia M. Greenfield & Rodney R. Cocking, eds. Routledge, 313-19.
Stevenson – the leading American researcher into differences at the elementary school level between East Asia and America – pleads with readers to reject what they usually hear about education in East Asia. The only reliable reports are those based on formal observational studies, which employ many labor-intensive steps in their pursuit of accuracy. (Chapter 2 of The Drive to Learn – Evaluating Eyewitness Reports – has exactly this same objective.)
Most of this short article is given over to contrasts between what is believed about East Asian education versus what structured observations have discovered. Stevenson offers brief examples under the headings of Psychological Adjustment (no, East Asian primary school children are not stressed); Role of Teachers (no, East Asian teachers are not authoritarian dispensers of knowledge and judges of what is correct); and Teaching Style (no, East Asian lower-grade teachers are not lecturing to robot-like pupils – quite the reverse!). It’s unfortunate that this short article appeared only in a publication intended for scholars, rather than being made widely available to the public!
Stevenson lists six factors that, as “laymen, teachers, and educational theorists would agree,” constitute good teaching, then reveals that these are more often characteristic of East Asian primary teaching than of American. For example, research has found that “seatwork” without monitoring or feedback is far more prevalent in American classrooms. Why? For one thing, American teachers spend far more time in charge of students in classrooms than East Asian teachers, who have abundant in-school time every day to prepare their lessons.
To witness East Asian teaching in action, obtain the videotape The Polished Stones. For ordering details, consult the last paragraph of the annotation of Stevenson & Lee (1990).
Stigler & Stevenson (1991)
Stigler, James, & Harold W. Stevenson (1991). How Asian teachers polish each lesson to perfection. American Educator, 15 (1), 12-21, 43-47.
Drawn from the same research that yielded these two authors’ book The Learning Gap, this article reports findings from observations of math lessons in 120 first- and fifth-grade classrooms in urban Japan, Taiwan, and Minnesota. If you’ve ever wondered why Asian youngsters consistently and convincingly outperform American ones in mathematics, an important part of the answer is revealed in this article. It contrasts how East Asian and American teachers actually deliver math lessons. In this way, stereotypes held by Americans about Asian teaching practices are shown to be not merely inaccurate but flatly wrong.
For example, it is said that Asian teachers sternly dispense information to passive pupils who commit facts to memory by rote. Actually, what took place in those Asian classrooms was an admirable model of “constructivism” featuring high pupil involvement, which led to thorough understanding. [Constructivism, widely admired in the U.S., advocates learner inquiry and exploration, hands-on experience, self-paced learning, etc.] Subtle differences between Asian and American approaches to classroom teaching are discussed, and several revealing teacher/student interaction sequences are related in detail. [For a comparison of 8th grade mathematics teaching in Japanese, German, and American classrooms, see James W. Stigler & James Hiebert (1999), The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World’s Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom.]
Tang, Catherine (1996). Collaborative learning: The latent dimension in Chinese students’ learning. The Chinese Learner: Cultural, Psychological, and Contextual Influences, David A. Watkins & John B. Biggs, eds. Comparative Education Research Centre [Hong Kong] and Australian Council for Educational Research, 183-204.
This article summarizes research that examined the nature of Chinese-style cooperative learning. Even in collectivist China, education is individualistic in that student performance is individually assessed. Nonetheless, collaboration among students in groups is a well-known feature of Chinese life. These study groups form spontaneously, without teacher input, and meet outside of class; each group’s activities are entirely student-determined.
Tang interviewed students in a tertiary-level physiotherapy class conducted in English. Each student faced two assessments: an essay and a test. Before writing their essay, 87% of the students formed study groups; before the test, 33% joined such groups. Students who studied in groups used “deep learning” strategies such as comparing, criticizing, analyzing, applying, explaining their opinions, considering others’ views, reorganizing their thinking, etc. They benefitted from shared literature searches and from supplementing each other’s missing points. Assessments showed no evidence of parroting or plagiarism. Students studying alone used far fewer deep learning strategies.
Tsuchida & Lewis (1998)
Tsuchida, Ineko, & Catherine C. Lewis (1998). Responsibility and learning: Some preliminary hypotheses about Japanese elementary classrooms. Teaching and Learning in Japan, Thomas Rohlen & Gerald LeTendre, eds. Cambridge University Press, 191-212.
While analyzing 100 videotapes of lessons in U.S. and Japanese fourth-grade classrooms, the authors recognized differences in the degree of student responsibility for learning and classroom management. First, they discuss (as have other researchers: see Cortazzi & Jin, 2001) the fact that, in Japan, a much higher percentage of classroom time is available for focused learning because the pupils have been taught to smoothly execute all common classroom procedures. The teacher must give very few directions and disciplinary cautions. Second, they note that overt participation by Japanese pupils was very high, which they attribute to how teachers pose questions – open-ended and with any answer’s correctness being discussed by all the pupils, not being judged by the teacher – and to an expectation that, for each pupil, class participation is not a choice but a responsibility.
The authors also discuss who is responsible for the pupils’ motivation and attention. In American schools, teachers put far more time and effort into keeping the pupils on-task with “directional statements” (e.g., “Look up here,” and “Shhh!”); “accountability statements” (e.g., “Your work will be checked.”); and “time reminders” (e.g., “Five minutes left.”). External reward systems (points later exchanged for privileges) were used in some U.S. classrooms. These features appeared infrequently or not at all in Japanese classrooms, where teachers used questions to arouse pupils’ natural inquisitiveness. Japanese classroom practices “seemed to rely on intrinsic motivation to drive learning” and “seemed to reflect a more constructivist view of learning,” which “would occur naturally as long as students were exposed to subject matter in a way that piqued their curiosity” (p. 211).
*Tweed & Lehman (2002)
*Tweed, Roger B., & Darrin R. Lehman (2002). Learning considered within a cultural context: Confucian and Socratic approaches. American Psychologist, 57 (2), 89-99.
This insightful article begins by explaining that the terms “Socratic” and “Confucian” are “conceptual homes” for educational philosophies influenced by ancient Greece and China. (In other words, the two sages didn’t invent these approaches.) Socrates encouraged each individual to self-reliantly pursue knowledge by beginning with doubt, critically evaluating the ideas of others including authorities, then rationally arriving at his own conclusions. Confucius didn’t advocate the seeking of knowledge for its own sake but in pursuit of the betterment of individuals and societies, attainable by increasing one’s skill and virtue. Confucius urged his students not to merely parrot the words of authorities, but rather to fully understand those words, then become behaviorally reformed by their meaning.
Socrates: Seek truth within yourself by applying thought; doubt authorities’ views and challenge them openly. Confucius: Seek truth outside yourself in your environment and in the past; learn from authorities and use their words to acquire, then apply, virtue and skill.
Referencing the work of Carol Dweck and her colleagues (see Mangels et al., 2006), Tweed & Lehman next discuss the contemporary assumption in the West (especially in the U.S.) that success in learning is determined largely by one’s inborn aptitude, while in China (and across Asia) it’s assumed that success results from one’s tireless effort.
Finally, they address a critical difference in how learners in the two world regions interact with the material being learned. Confucian learners assume that, before they can put the material to use, they must fully understand and master it. Socratic learners assume that, even during the early stages of their learning, they must doubt and criticize the material. Thus, without having read widely or thought deeply, they often challenge points they don’t understand and end up swapping ignorance among themselves.
van Egmond et al. (2013)
van Egmond, Marieke C., Ulrich Kühnen, & Jin Li (2013). Mind and virtue: The meaning of learning, a matter of culture. Learning, Culture, and Social Organization, 2 (3), 208-216.
This article analyzes the differences in how the concept of learning is understood in East Asia and the West. Grounded in the comparative research of co-author Jin Li, the authors consider four learning domains: purposes of learning, processes for learning, motivation and emotion associated with learning, and perceptions of instructors and learners. (See Li, 2003 & 2012. Dr. Li’s findings form the basis for Discovery Step 4.)
In the West, learning is conceived almost entirely as one individual’s cognitive task (and good learning is critical thinking), termed mind-orientation. In East Asia, learning is recognized to involve individual cognition (but not critical thinking) and, as well, is conceived as closely associated with self-perfection, social relationships, and social betterment, termed virtue-orientation.
The Western concept is traced to Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, who emphasized the use of logic and analysis, thus fostering a tendency to think in polarized good-vs-bad / right-vs-wrong terms. Socrates, especially, urged that individuals should respond to others’ ideas by doubting and critical questioning, thus demonstrating that the responder is separate and unique.
East Asian learning – the essential features of which pre-dated Confucius – is viewed in group-oriented moral terms. Right-vs-wrong thinking is not respected, and critical questioning of others’ ideas contradicts the norm of harmony as well as the belief that learning is promoted not by open debate but by quiet reflection.
Western culture shapes each individual to view his personal attributes as fixed and stable, conditioning him to defend his stability by being wary of criticism. East Asian culture shapes individuals to view themselves as malleable (pliable) and open to change in alignment with shifting in-group preferences and values. This conditions Asians to be accepting of criticism and motivated by failure to intensify their efforts. [See also Heine et al., 2001; and Ng et al., 2007.]
Wang & Leichtman (2000)
Wang, Qi, & Michelle D. Leichtman (2000). Same beginnings, different stories: A comparison of American and Chinese Children’s narratives. Child Development, 71 (5), 1329-1346.
The authors completed research in Boston and Beijing on the extent to which cultural values have been internalized by the six-year-old children of educated parents. First, the children were given the beginning of a story and asked to complete it, e.g., “It is Grandpa’s birthday. Bear’s Mom and Dad take him to Grandpa’s house. Tell me what happens next.” Then the child was asked to relate a memory that reflected one of several emotions; for example, if shame was being explored: “Tell me one time when you felt really ashamed.”
In comparison with American children, Chinese children were more oriented toward awareness of situational details, social engagement, moral correctness, expression of emotions, and authority; they also evidenced less autonomy. An expected difference in feelings of aggression did not emerge. Most findings were statistically highly significant. The authors reveal a deep command of the literature and thorough knowledge of the goals and practices of parents in American and Chinese cultures. [See also Fong & Yuen, 2016.]
Watkins, David (2000). Learning and teaching: A cross-cultural perspective. School Leadership & Management, 20 (2), 161-173.
Well-respected researcher David Watkins reviews findings that solve “the paradox of the Chinese learner.” (The paradox is this: According to the beliefs of Western educators, East Asian students should perform poorly. But East Asian students consistently outperform Western students.) Watkins addresses the characteristics of Chinese learners, teachers, and classrooms, contrasting the East Asian and Western cultures of learning. Three examples:
Western students view understanding as occurring via quick insight; Chinese students assume that it results from long study. Watkins notes that this dovetails with a widely recognized cultural difference: in the West, academic success it attributed largely to inborn ability; in Asia, it’s attributed largely to effort [see Li, 2003; Holloway, 1988; and Lee, 1996].
Regarding intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, Watkins says that this bipolar construct “collapses” within the Asian context because Asian children gain “internal dispositions that create a sense of diligence and receptiveness” (which is a quote from Hess & Azuma, 1991, p. 7).
Watkins reviews a lesser known finding concerning classroom group work: Western teachers often arrange simultaneous pupil talk within small groups; Asian teachers often arrange sequential pupil talk through two-pupil public discussions and even prepared performances to be observed by all other pupils. Watkins attributes the success of the Asian approach to the culture of attentive learning in Asia.
Way et al. (2013)
Way, Niobe, Sumie Okazaki, Jing Zhao, Xinyin Chen, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Yueming Jia, & Huihua Deng (2013). Social and emotional parenting: Mothering in a changing Chinese society. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 4 (1), 61-70.
Prompted by Chua’s Tiger Mother book (2011) about “the Chinese way” of raising children, these researchers set out to discover the real-life assumptions and practices of parents in China. They knew that Chinese parents, goaded by parenting books and popular media, were worried that their children might be unprepared for an already-arriving future in which individual initiative and self-reliance will be valued. So they interviewed 24 mothers during the years when their children were progressing from 7th through 9th grades in Nanjing, a “medium-sized” (population: 6,000,000!) city viewed as “modal” because it was neither “first-tier” (e.g., Shanghai) nor rural.
Their main finding was that 22 of the 24 mothers were placing equal or more weight on social and emotional goals than on academics, seeing “their parenting approaches as a direct response to a changing society where what it means to be a child as well as a mother has changed dramatically” (p. 64). By quoting liberally from the interview transcripts, this article captures the ambivalence and confusion felt by these mothers, who at age 40 were the products of parenting practices in a very different China. (The Chinese word for “nowadays” was used repeatedly by the interviewees.)
The mothers were not convinced that giving their 12- to 14-year-olds total autonomy was effective, but most believed that “they had no choice but to allow [them] to do as they pleased” (p. 67). Like many U.S. parents, they worried that academic pressure would undermine their children’s happiness and health. Significantly absent from these parents’ descriptions of their child-rearing practices was any mention of shaming, widely applied in China of old. [For somewhat different findings from similar research, see Kuan, 2015.]
White & LeVine (1986)
White, Merry I., & Robert A. LeVine (1986). What is an ii ko (good child)? Child Development and Education in Japan, Harold Stevenson et al., eds. W.H. Freeman, 59-62.
White & LeVine advance our understanding of Japanese child-rearing by revealing what the Japanese themselves mean when they use certain terms in their own language. Children in Japan are raised to be ningen-rashii, or “human-like,” meaning able to maintain harmony in human relationships – a sharp contrast with the American view that social abilities are means instead of ends. The authors address the processes and goals of children’s growth.
Processes include gambaru (persist; see also Singleton, 1989), amaeru/amayakasu (depend/indulge), hansei suru (reflect on one’s weakness), and wakaraseru (cause the child to understand). Wakaraseru implies engaging the child in goals the mother has set but without the mother’s ever going against the child. Americans are likely to frown on this supposed manipulation as blocking development of the child’s self-will; the Japanese view it as part of a strategy to build self-motivated cooperation. White & LeVine cite other researchers who contrast “power-assertive” child-rearing methods with Japanese “love-oriented” techniques.
Growth goals include fostering a sunao disposition. In the West, sunao often is translated as “compliant, obedient.” But for the Japanese, sunao carries meanings including “authentic in intent and cooperative in spirit,” “open-minded,” and “nonresistant.” Becoming sunao does not imply giving up one’s self; it means that cooperating with others is the way to express and enhance one’s self. “In Japanese child development theory, no conflict exists between goals of self-fulfillment and goals of social integration” (p. 57). A 1987 book by Merry White, The Japanese Educational Challenge: A Commitment to Children, expands on this article’s themes.
Wu, D. (1996)
Wu, David Y. H. (1996). Parental control: Psychocultural interpretations of Chinese patterns of socialization. Growing Up the Chinese Way: Chinese Child and Adolescent Development, Sing Lau, ed. The Chinese University Press, 1-28.
This article was prompted by concern within China that the one-child policy was leading to spoiled children: “little emperors” catered to by doting parents and other caregivers. For our purposes, this article is of value because it reviews research within Chinese preschools, which apply childcare methods guided by gŭan: “to govern, control” as well as “to care for.” [See Chao & Tseng, 2002; and Ng et al., 2007.]
Teachers were determined to provide an orderly environment so that children could concentrate on learning. Fun was not their objective. They consistently appraised students and compared them with one another; a regular feature of activities was competition. Chinese parents also showed a preference for gŭan methods; thus, being an “only” child in most cases meant receiving more, not fewer, adult demands for conformity. Wu notes that the spoiling of children was a concern in China long before the one-child policy.
Wu, P., et al. (2002)
Wu, Peixia, Clyde C. Robinson, Chongming Yang, Craig H. Hart, Susanne F. Olsen, Christin L. Porter, Shenghua Jin, Jianzhong Wo, & Xinzi Wu (2002). Similarities and differences in mothers’ parenting of preschoolers in China and the United States. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 26 (6), 481-91.
Using two self-report questionnaires, this research compared and contrasted Chinese and American urban mothers’ approaches to rearing preschoolers. One questionnaire assessed parenting practices common in China (protection, directiveness, shaming with love withdrawal, maternal involvement, and encouragement of modesty). The other assessed parenting styles according to the authoritative/authoritarian dimension (see Chao & Tseng, 2002), which is often used to describe parenting in the U.S. The objective was to determine to what extent, if any, ideas and ideals about parenting drawn from China, and separately from the U.S., were recognized in the other culture. Painstaking efforts were made to ensure that the Chinese and English versions of each questionnaire were equivalent in meaning.
Much of this article is devoted to statistical matters, but it is nonetheless useful for the general reader. Its tables concisely delineate the essential features of Chinese (Table 2) and U.S. (Tables 4 and 5) childrearing. And its findings reveal significantly different scores by Chinese and American mothers on most measures. In other words, the ideas and ideals of parenting common within each culture are recognized in the other culture but emphasized less, which points to dissimilar socialization goals.
For example, Chinese mothers scored higher than American mothers on directiveness. The Americans negatively associated this with verbal hostility, nonreasoning/punitive control, and denial of opportunities to develop independence. The Chinese positively associated directiveness with warmth/acceptance, reasoning/induction, and maternal involvement in ways that develop a child’s dependence.
Zhu et al. (2007)
Zhu, Ying, Li Zhang, Jin Fan, & Shihui Han (2007). Neural basis of cultural influence on self-representation. NeuroImage, 34 (3), 1310-1316.
Several studies annotated in this bibliography report that, for East Asians but not Westerners, the concept of “self” comprises not only the individual but also others who, through long and intimate association, are close to the individual emotionally. [See Iyengar & Lepper, 1999; and Markus & Kitayama, 1991.] This study was carried out in Beijing by an all-Chinese research team. The hypothesis explored was that the cultural difference in self-construal is measurable in brain activity. The main brain area studied via neuroimaging was the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), widely thought to be engaged in self-knowledge such as reflecting on one’s own personality traits.
The subjects were Chinese and Western college students; the latter had been studying in Beijing for under one year. They were each given several judgment tasks requiring them to say whether an adjective – e.g., “brave” – was suitable to describe (a) self, (b) mother, and (c) a public figure designated “other.” (The public figure for the Westerners was Bill Clinton; for the Chinese it was former premier Zhu Rongji.) The findings revealed that in the Westerners, self-related judgments increased MPFC activity; other-related and mother-related judgments reduced MPFC activity. In the Chinese students, self- and mother-related judgments yielded virtually identical increases in MPFC activity; other-related judgments reduced it. (For an extended discussion of these findings, see Discovery Step 5.)
These findings are significant for us because they provide objectively measured data that seem to support a long-standing claim of cross-cultural researchers: that there is a qualitative difference between Western and East Asian concepts of “self,” in that the East Asians’ concept encompasses one’s in-group. This fact, in turn, is crucial to a full understanding of what motivates the effortful, persevering learning and study habits of East Asian students. [Another study that made use of neuroimaging is Mangels et al., 2006.]