To read a review, discussion, or appreciation of this book by…
- Marvin Hoffman, University of Chicago teacher educator and author, see immediately below
- George Renwick, China consultant and leading intercultural authority, click here
- Lois Klezmer, a retired early childhood professor at Miami-Dade College, click here
- Maureen Downey, a columnist, in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, click here
- Kathy Molloy, a business consultant and anthropologist, click here
- Desirai Labrada on her book review website, LIBRI LABRA, click here
- Jeneba “JJ” Ghatt on her website, BELLYITCH BLOG, click here
- Melissa Velazquez on her website, JUST A BX MOM, click here
- District Administration in its “Noteworthy Books” section, click here
Appreciation by Marvin Hoffman: Educator, school director, and author
[Excerpt of an email from Hoffman to Larry, also a friend of Grove] Larry, Cornelius Grove’s book that you sent me a while back finally reached the top of my pile. I’m in the final chapter, but while I have a minute I wanted to tell you how impressed I was by the book. It’s so well-researched and so clearly organized that it makes its case very compellingly. I’ve known about the Eastern vs. Western differences around the issue of inherited intelligence vs. hard work, but his work goes beyond that. I just wanted to send a thank you. The book has made me think a lot about the extent to which American children are raised in the absence of an ethic of hard work.Dr. Marvin Hoffman is an author, teacher, teacher educator, and school director most recently at the University of Chicago.
Appreciation by George Renwick: China consultant and leading intercultural authority
[Email from Renwick to Grove] Hello, Cornelius. Last weekend, finally, I had time to read your book. I read it all very carefully, of course, and appreciate your sending me a copy. What you describe is certainly consistent with my experience in the U.S. and China.
You have created a very fine piece of work here, Cornelius. A few observations:
Dr. George Renwick is a China authority and business consultant, a leading interculturalist, and the principal of Renwick and Associates
- Your research has been remarkably thorough.
- The structure of the book is unique and engaging.
- The cultural contrasts are meticulously drawn.
- You consistently involve the reader in unusual and very effective ways.
- The photo on the cover, of course, is perfect. It is well worth all your extra effort.
Appreciation by Lois Klezmer: Early childhood professor (retired)
I wish I had known the information in this book when I was an early childhood professor. I make that statement as a huge compliment to Dr. Grove! I had very little knowledge of East Asian culture. Of course, I was aware of the success of Chinese students when compared to American students, but I never heard a satisfactory explanation of why these students were so academically successful. The extensive knowledge of Asian cultural values in The Drive to Learn provides the answer to this question.Lois Wygoda Klezmer was a professor and early childhood coordinator at Miami-Dade College
Discussion by Maureen Downey, educational columnist, in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
With schools starting back this week, parents fret about whether their child’s teacher will be engaging, how much homework to expect, and if their child will be able to balance classes with soccer or band. In East Asian countries, parents voice a singular worry: Will their child learn? Academics eclipse all other activities, and the children’s success depends not only on their own dogged effort, but that of the parents as well.
The difference may explain the performance gap between East Asian countries and the United States. For example, Georgia released exam results earlier this month showing less than half of students, typically around 40 percent on each grade level, scored proficient or better in math and English/language arts.
According to a research scholar on East Asian education, this lagging performance, even when comparing middle-class students, will not change unless we upend two beliefs: Teachers are responsible for student achievement, and parents play a supportive rather than the primary role.
“We have been trying to fix all the things about education that adults control. Let’s step back and look at the children. They bring something to the table, too,” said Cornelius N. Grove, author of the new book, The Drive to Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Raising Students Who Excel. And what children bring — or don’t bring, in the case of U.S. students, he says — is a receptiveness to learning and a moral and cultural imperative to excel.
In his earlier book, The Aptitude Myth, Grove challenged the assumption that school performance is determined by innate aptitude. Studies show that, in fact, East Asian students in the U.S. don’t enter kindergarten with a cognitive edge. Yet they end up surpassing classmates because they believe achievement derives from effort, not genes. Students who fail an algebra test here often say, “I’m just not good at math.” East Asian students use failure to figure out what they don’t know and redirect their study plan.
Then, there are Asian parents, made infamous by Yale professor Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she chronicled forcing her two daughters to practice their instruments for six hours and threatening to dismantle and give away one’s doll house if she didn’t nail “The Little White Donkey.” Chua’s Draconian standards, which prompted some critics to blast her methods as “abuse,” seem to have paid off, said Grove. Chua’s youngest child attends Harvard, while the older graduated from Harvard and is a U.S. Army officer working toward a law degree at Yale. Both young women contend they always knew they were loved and plan to raise their own kids with similar high expectations.
Grove said Asian parents show so much passion and involvement because they see themselves as their children’s primary educators, explaining, “In Asia, parents retain this responsibility. They see the teacher as supporting their efforts. They very much respect anyone with knowledge, so teachers get a great deal of respect.”
And that deep cultural respect permeates classrooms where East Asian students arrive with upturned faces and pencils in hand to take notes and listen to their teachers, seldom asking questions, a trait often derided as passive and, thus, as ineffectual learning. “Here, we assume that if students are talking and moving around, they are mentally engaged and learning, but that doesn’t necessarily follow,” said Grove. “East Asian students believe that a class session is their opportunity to get expert knowledge, so they don’t interrupt the teacher.” Once class is over, students often continue researching the topics on their own, frequently meeting informally with classmates for joint inquiry. It’s not uncommon for them to approach the teacher outside of class time to discuss what their further studies revealed.
It is a uniquely American idea that schools must provide sports, clubs, theaters, and pep rallies alongside academics to make school palatable to children, said Grove. Extracurricular activities are far less common in East Asia. There, children are much more receptive to classroom learning because it’s how they become their best selves and useful family and community members.
At the end of an hourlong phone discussion, I asked Grove whether American parents, many of whom want their kids to have fun at school and expect teachers to understand when students miss class or assignments due to baseball tournaments or family vacations, would ever embrace a model that increases their responsibilities?
Yes, he said, if parents have courage. “You must get out of the habit of bolstering your children’s self-esteem when they don’t do well. That doesn’t happen in East Asia,” he said. And parents have to rethink the “well-rounded child” ideal, which is widespread here but has left American children far behind their East Asian peers academically.
Grove rejects the criticism that the East Asian education model will lead to less creativity and innovation. “We are not short of entrepreneurs in this country,” he said. “We have masses of young people who aren’t able to do simple math, who have trouble reading a sentence. That is our bigger problem and the one I am trying to help solve.”Maureen Downey is the education columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The above appeared on 30 July 2017
Discussion by Kathy Molloy: Business consultant and anthropologist.
It is rare to find a book on an issue so relevant that combines a smooth read, broad-based research, and deep cultural insight. The Drive to Learn does that and more! The author, Dr. Cornelius Grove, takes a fresh look at one of the primary concerns of American education: why American children have been displaying a deepening “learning gap” compared with students from some other countries around the globe.
Grove’s “fresh look” is different in at least two ways. First, it considers the issue from the children’s point of view (rather than from that of parents, schools, and policy-makers). Second, it focuses on cultural factors affecting how young children learn in different cultures. It primarily compares children’s learning experiences in East Asia countries and the United States. This anthropological lens reveals why children are motivated to learn differently in nations scoring high on comparative learning tests such as PISA, and excel throughout their academic lives.
The finding that children learn differently in the U.S. and East Asia, in and of itself, is not new. Most people interested in this topic are familiar with the motivation to learn among children from other countries such as Japan, China, and Korea. However, it is the approach the author takes to help us understand how the drive to learn is actually embedded that is so instructive to Americans.
Grove walks the reader through nine “discovery steps.” These nine steps unfold seamlessly and logically, moving through questions such as “Why do American students learn less than East Asian students?” to “Why is the determination to learn of East Asian students so exceptionally strong?” to “What are East Asian parents’ approaches to coaching and training their young children?” Finally, he asks, “To what extent could – should – this new information change the way we do things?”
The voluminous research on which the author relies indicates that the drive to learn is deeply embedded in East Asian culture and crystallized in the concept of mastering academic subjects. East Asian children seek mastery due to deeply embedded cultural values and group norms. In the U.S., cultural norms are largely individualistic, idealizing an American brand of creativity and individualistic expression that leads, ultimately, to a student whose success is judged by his or her well-roundedness. The author notes that academic mastery (the goal in East Asia) and proficiency (the goal in the U.S.) have different meanings, with proficiency falling significantly short of mastery.
Each step incorporates factual data, historical context, interviews with parents and researchers, and insights from the children themselves. Grove masterfully weaves this information to tell a story – to “unwrap” the phenomenon of how culture affects children’s learning in a way that is understandable to American parents. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that American parents who are seeking to develop a drive for academic mastery in their young children can adapt practices from East Asian cultures into their own parenting style.
Grove describes seven “commitments” that American parents can make to their children in order to support a mastery-focused approach to childhood learning. These commitments reflect a Chinese approach known as “gŭan,” which instill a drive toward academic excellence in children. Some of the values that underlay gŭan include “children take responsibility for their own learning” (vs. expecting the school system to take that responsibility), and that “their achievements impact others in their family, not just themselves.” Parents play the role of coach, partnering actively, indeed daily, with their children on their path to mastery.
By illuminating the evolution and outcomes of East Asian and American values, norms, policies, and practices related to early childhood education, The Drive to Learn provides American parents with informed alternatives for creating an academic learning culture at home that fosters an intrinsic drive to learn in their children, regardless of the methods and styles of their local school system.Kathy Molloy, M.B.A., M.A. (social-cultural anthropology) is the principal of ChangeWorks International and a senior associate of GROVEWELL LLC
Book review by Desirai Labrada on her website, LIBRI LABRA
Around this time last year I was teaching my first college course on campus. We’d been getting an influx of international students, but this was the first time I had so many East Asians in my class. They sat next to each other and behaved similarly in class — quiet but attentive. I found myself questioning the clear differences between them and my American students. Were they self-conscious about speaking English? Did I not interest them as a teacher? How come they never raised their hands to answer questions? It was because of questions like these that I jumped at the chance to review The Drive To Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Raising Students Who Excel by Cornelius N. Grove.
Grove’s mission has been to explain to Americans the historical and cultural reasons for their children’s comparatively mediocre performance in schools. In The Aptitude Myth (2013), he revealed the deep historical origins of Americans’ belief that a child’s inborn ability, rather than his effort, determines his level of school performance. And now in The Drive to Learn, Dr. Grove is revealing the deep cultural reasons why our children’s learning in school is consistently below world-class standards. The Drive To Learn includes 9 discovery steps that each begin with a question such as: “Why do American Students Learn Less Than East Asian Students?” or “What Can We Gain from Western Reports about Student Learning in East Asia?” Grove discovers each answer by consulting anthropological research findings, with each answer raising a fresh question. The new question is then asked at the beginning of the next chapter, and so forth.
After examining the different ways East Asians approach learning, he explains how we can begin Parenting with Gŭan (to be in charge of, to manage, to control) and the seven commitments we can make to our children.
This book was short, interesting, and very easy to read. Grove supports his answers with 100+ references. He also provides an annotated bibliography on the book’s website, where he further highlights 15 annotations as highly recommended. The Drive To Learn helped answer the questions I had about my East Asian students and then some.Desirai Labrada is a book reviewer. This review and a recorded spoken review appear on her website LIBRI LABRA
Book review by Jeneba “JJ” Ghatt on her website, BELLYITCH BLOG
Because America focuses on the individual and lays the burden to educate its school children squarely on shoulders of school systems and teachers may be the cause for pervasive mediocrity among its students compared to other industrialized nations.
So says social scientist and researcher Cornelius Grove in his latest book The Drive to Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Raising Students Who Excel, which I received this Summer complimentary in exchange for an honest review.
It took me quite some time to get through it because of life’s interruptions but also because it is tremendously densely packed with information, data, anecdotes and references that I wanted to make sure I took a comprehensive approach to digesting all of its contents before writing this review. Also, I am very interested in education and the process of raising quality children. The Sociology of child-raising is a fascinating topic to me.
Admittedly, from reading the front and back cover, I expected the book to a “bashfest” of the American education system and American children interwoven through passages levying laudatory praise of East Asian schools and kids.
It was not that really. Moreso, Grove examines various aspects of learning in the two cultures in an attempt to dissect what makes them so different.
America is an individualized society while China and Japan are Communitarian. While America focuses on the build up of the individual and self, East Asian cultures strive to develop a sense of being part of a larger community.
The long and short of it is that the fundamental differences between American and Asian parents and education is that Americans aim to create “well-rounded” students. As such, schools offer a wide range of courses and extracurricular activities, including a variety of sports.
That’s not the goal of East Asian parents whose top priorities is mastery of the subjects taught in school as compared to American-style parenting that puts the top priority on growing children that are independent, creative, mentally sharp, popular among peers, physically robust, involved in their community and academic proficient.
The East Asian parent puts his/her focus on making sure their child masters topics, and grows children to be community focused and driven to fit inside the realm of expectations in the family unit and much of that effort is spent from early childhood through high school.
American parents pull back during primary years, leaving the educating up to teachers and schools. US middle class parents expect their schools to do their thing to help their child learn, whereas Asian parents are very active during this time, not relying on the school to educate their child alone. Because they are so involved in their child’s early years, by the time their children get to high school, they have developed the study habits to succeed and East Asian parents feel comfortable loosening their reigns and confident their child will do well.
Meanwhile, around this time is when American parents step back into active parenting, mainly because they see the impact of peer pressure and want to get ahead of the social stresses of adolescence. This is when American parents are hounding their kids to study more or better, to cut off the distractions of music, video games, peers, and TV, and to try to instill good work ethic in their children.
It’s kinda too late by then, Grove seemingly suggests through his writing.
East Asian parents, Grove’s research shows, pay more attention to their children’s education, sacrifice more and involve themselves in their children’s studying early on. This sometimes would involve reading the same book their child is reading to make sure they understand.
The book also emphasizes the fact that Asian parents set very high expectations for their child’s academic performance and maintain those standards throughout their school years. They coach, they allow a child’s self-esteem to grow without using verbal flattery to extrinsically inflate or maintain this self esteem. In other words, there is little room for “participation” prizes.
Because the high standards are set so high, Grove’s data states, the East Asian child realizes that s/he is responsible for learning and expected to learn. The family and child have the burden not so much the school, teachers or school systems as it is in America. Because the family bears the duty, they must explore different options, tutors, online learning, and finding any other tools necessary to ensure the child master’s the subject. They do what is necessary and do not blame the schools or school system for a child failing to learn.
This book got me thinking of criticism that is levied on East Asian parenting by some Americans who may believe it is too strict, while perhaps pointing to over-stressed children and teens from that part of the world who fight hard to meet up to their parents’ high expectations, only to later have emotional and other physical reactions to failure. It’s not healthy and not something parents here really aspire to.
Grove’s suggestion by the end of the book: if this is the conclusion, then we as Americans must not espouse the opinion that East Asian children are smarter than American kids. Instead, we need to accept what makes kids from that culture different is that the approach to learning, the role of the family in ensuring learning and the classroom models in East Asia are created and set up to mold children that perform better academically, not because they are smarter per se.
My Personal Take-Away
I can certainly relate to the East Asian parenting style and feel my and my husband’s parenting style is a nice mix or blend of both. When my daughter’s class was reading one of the books from the Chronicles of Narnia, I got myself a copy so I could keep up. My husband would also read what my son was reading in literature so he could keep up.
Together, we set very high expectations of excellence for our three children (ages 15, 12 and 9) and are actively involved in helping them reach those goals. We are both active participants in their learning all year round, including Summer time. I’ve done it from birth, purchasing toys that help develop their foreign language synapses in their brain, and investing in things like Baby Einstein and My Baby Can Read, which I credit with giving my kids a head start.
And it continued through their school-age years. I take the kids to the library after school to make sure they get their homework done because there are so many distractions once they get home. I sit there with them as they do their homework and am on hand to answer questions. I help my eldest come up with a study plan or a plan to complete a project. I’m that one who handles the literature and humanities.
My husband, a Patent Engineer and Patent Attorney by trade and degree, is in charge of math and sciences. He gives our kids extra problems from the internet to do and uses online platforms like IXL Mathto keep them sharp and sometimes ahead of their class or grade so they don’t ever fall behind.
As a result of this active parenting, our two youngest get all As and the eldest, who has some executive functioning issues he’s working with, also finally landed on the Honor Roll but only with our active involvement.
But we still believe whole-heartedly in the value of being a well-rounded individual and giving children choice at some point.
There doesn’t seem to be a conclusion to The Drive to Learn book. I found it a very interesting introspective look into what went into complex and thorough research on the different parenting styles.
I’m happy there was no outright conclusions stating that one parenting style is better than the other. However, I did ascertain some changes that American parents who are interested in getting their children to achieve academically may want to start doing things a little bit differently and starting from very early in a child’s life.
What to Do As an American to Draw that Drive to Learn Out Of Your Child?
Here are the 7 things I figured out you must do from reading this book:
First, instill in your child that s/he is responsible for his learning and to accept that you, the parent, will coach and train them through their learning, collaboratively, side-by-side, making sure they absorb new information and stretch their mind to master it.
Second, as a parent, step in, when appropriate to model correct actions and help shape the child’s mastery and learning. Don’t leave it up to them to figure it out.
Third, be prepared to put academics over team sports or social activity.
Fourth, abandon giving out participation praise for trying.
Fifth, be prepared to intervene when a child fails or struggles to understand a topic. Give him praise when he does well but work harder and focus more on overcoming failures.
Sixth, let your child know that you are confident they can master any topic and show them how to do it, without any hesitation of whether they will be able to master it. Drill in your child the fundamentals of how things work so s/he is fully able to absorb the other mechanics of it.
Seventh, let your child know that the goal is mastery not competency or proficiency ergo, the target is “A”.
It’s not for everyone, I agree, but the book does provide some insightful anecdotes, research, data and resources for where to go for more information. If anything, I’d say Drive to Learn is an excellent launch pad for the next step. What that is depends on who is reading and what they are searching for.Jeneba “JJ” Ghatt is a blogger and book reviewer on her website BELLYITCH BLOG
Brief Overview by Melissa Velazquez on her website, JUST A BX MOM
I’m all about finding ways to help enhance JustaBXgirl’s educational experience. Sadly, many books on education are written from an air of superiority and dryness that basically turns the average person off. Not this one. You will be turning pages and really understand where Dr. Grove is coming from. Two of the things that we are reminded early on in the book are that for our children to excel in school they must know that it is their responsibility and they must put the effort into succeeding.Melissa Velazquez is a blogger on her website JUST A BX MOM [BX = Bronx]
Brief Overview in District Administration magazine
Educators are often blamed for learning disconnects in the classroom, but children are active participants there. And they need to be part of any solution to improve learning outcomes.
Comparisons between East Asian countries and the United States — in areas such as student determination and family expectations — reveal, in general, why children in the East tend to be more attentive and engaged learners than they are in the West.
This book offers suggestions such as evaluating motives and assessing options to help transform family culture.