Headagogy 7 - Mirror for Americans
Thu, Oct 20, 2022 8:55AM • 51:48
students, east asia, educators, learning, teacher, education, people, classrooms, american, chinese, book, americans, east asian, learn, home, differences, individual, critical thinking, teaching, important
Cornelius Grove, Steve Pearlman
Steve Pearlman 00:00
I'm very excited today to be talking to Cornelius N. Grove, I first encountered Dr. Groves writings probably around five years ago. His first book, which was actually released in 2013, is the aptitude myth, which as the title suggests, delves into the myths and realities between what's inborn ability versus what can be learned through proper educational techniques. His next book, the drive to learn dealt into the differences in culture between American children and their East Asian peers. And his most recent book, a mirror for Americans, which is the subject of this podcast today continues that journey by confronting us in the West with myths and realities of teaching practices in the East. And the reason these are so important for us to understand, it's not only that we have a lot of mythology and misconception about education in East Asia, but I think it's very important that we are willing to look at ourselves through a different lens, and try to have a perspective on what it is we're doing here and the assumptions we have about education here through the contrast of a different educational construct. So what I think we accomplished in this podcast and in this interview that you're going to hear is not necessarily lauding the value of East Asian teaching, though, that too, in certain respects, but more importantly, affording all of our western listeners, and we have ones in East Asia as well. But affording all of our western listeners a new way to reflect on and perhaps, therefore reconsider some of the inherent assumptions that we have about education that are embedded in our practice, things that we might not even be cognizant of in our daily practice, but things that if nothing else, it's helpful to step back and reflect upon in considering how we can best serve our students as educators. So here's my interview with Cornelius Grove about his book a mirror for Americans. So Cornelius Welcome to Hedegaard Gee, thanks so much for joining me here today.
Cornelius Grove 02:06
It's my pleasure, I'm looking forward to this thank you for inviting me,
Steve Pearlman 02:09
I think your text is an important one, because there are not only a lot of misconceptions that your book exposes about teaching and education in East Asia. But I think as Americans and the American educational system, we are in many ways, and I don't think I'm letting any big cat out of the bag. Here we are, in many ways, struggling collectively to figure out how to have an educational system that's most profitable and rewarding. And I don't mean profitable in the financial sense, but profitable in the educational sense and rewarding for our populace. And what's so important about your text, even though all of the cognates will not transfer from Asia to here is nevertheless that we can learn something from it as educators here in America, about how we might conceptualize education, some of the inherent and implicit and subconscious assumptions we have about education here in the West. And therefore what we might be able to go and do differently. So maybe as a preface to all of this, you can simply talk a little bit about the generic thesis of your book. What's the broad scope here?
Cornelius Grove 03:20
Well, let me let me say this in answer to that, maybe it's a little more of an answer than then you were looking for. I was animated originally by the question. Why do East Asian students always I underscore always there has never been an exception. Why do East Asian students always outperform American students on the international comparative tests, East Asian students and students from some other cultures Finland comes to mind, East Asian students always are at or near the top, by the way, East Asia would be China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, ideally, Korea but not a great deal of not very much research has been done in Korea, so I don't get to deal with it very much. The East Asian students are almost always at or well, I shouldn't say almost always, they are always at or near the top of all these tests, fourth grade, eighth grade, 12th grade, whatever you want to look at, an American students have never been close to the top, they're usually in the middle someplace a little higher, sometimes lower. And you know, I think of it sometimes like a football scout. football teams are find themselves up against a very able team and they send out scouts and say, Well, how are they doing it? What can we learn from that? How do we how do we match that? How do we defend blood, so forth and so on? So you might see it that way, in terms of this question was asked over 50 years ago by some people in Hong Kong at the Hong Kong University educators, comparative educators and they Right after the very first international comparative tests were given, they saw that the Chinese students were right at the top and the Americans were languishing somewhere in the middle. And they say this can't be our schools are better than theirs. Why? How in the world has this come about? I mean, we'd throw money at our schools, we have beautiful buildings and swimming pools, and we have libraries, and everything is spacious and light and on and on and on. So it just can't be because Chinese schools in those days were, you know, really a mess physically, and the students were crammed in. So, you know, when scholars encounter a question, they do research. And these people call the problem the paradox of the Chinese learner. And that soon got expanded to the paradox of the Asian learner, how come these people are better than us? Because we know damn well that we're better than that when it comes to education. So they started looking at well, now more than 50 years later, we've got somewhere around 1000 publicly available research reports on this issue, believe it or not 1000. And the really interesting thing is that some of these looked at schools, of course, and primarily at the lower grades, and preschools, kindergartens, and so forth. But some of the research looked at homes, what is going on in homes in East Asia. And I actually ended up thinking, and I still believe that very likely, the most important reason why East Asian students do better is because what's going on in the home? Believe me, there are big differences in the school. And I know, that's why you primarily got me on. But I must say that I think the homes are even more important.
Steve Pearlman 06:52
Let's touch on it. Actually, let's touch on that for a moment right now. Because I do think it's essential. I think it feeds into a lot of the other things that you talk about in a mirror for Americans. And yeah, certainly you referenced that issue a number of times. Yes. One of the striking things about the points that you make regarding the home and the culture are that learning is not seen as something that is just about the individual student, but rather about a family enterprise, honoring the family with respect to learning and work ethic, and also honoring the culture and being part of that larger culture in terms of a valued member of society, and not about just our individual gains as an individual student. But there's this more collective effort around that. Could you speak more to that?
Cornelius Grove 07:41
Yes. Well, first of all, let me say in response, that the most important single difference between the United States and East Asia when it comes to the things that we're talking about, is the fundamental cultural value that drives so much that goes on in this society, America here in America, we are a highly individualistic society. It's not that we are unaware that there are families and groups and you know, neighborhoods and various conglomerations of individuals that need to be taken into account. We see that but there's no question that where we put our emphasis is on what the individual wants the individual doing his own thing, making his own way, trying to be successful. And you know, all of that. On the other side of the world, the emphasis is on the group, not just the family, but the extended family. And on the on the school class on the work group on the job. It's a very group oriented society, sometimes you used I believe, you use the word collectivist. Another word that I, I tend to like better is communitarian people think in terms of groups, they do not think in terms of individuals. What really happens in the home is that the way Asians think about education is actually a group oriented way they see education as enabling the individual to be a better human being so that he or she can better serve and be useful to the family, the community, the work group, whatever the group is, and people in East Asia and this is really one thing that I really try to spell out very carefully in the drive to learn their reaction to education is that it is virtuous to the educated, they know that it's a practical matter. They know that you need to be educated to get a job and so forth. But that's not really their focus. Their focus is on being a better human being somebody who I was fortunate enough to meet a Chinese scholar who's here in the United States now really looked into this what what do people think what comes to people's minds in East Asia and the United States? When they talk about learning? What does that mean to learn? So she was only looking at the Chinese, she is Chinese, she was born and actually was sent down to the country as part of the cultural revolution. But she ended up at Harvard. So here are just some little snippets from her research to so what are the Chinese what come to the Chinese mind when they think about warning here for things that came out of her research, they think, keep on learning, as long as you live, make a firm resolution to study, study, as if thirsting or hungry, take great pains to study went after Americans to ask them the very same thing. What Americans came up with were single words, what are they? What are they what does learning, bring them on, study, teach discovery, library, think, read, understand brain, very non passionate, non emotional, the Chinese get emotion, then the Japanese and Taiwanese and so forth, they get emotional about learning, it's really important to them to their families, to their extended families, their communities. And this, this attitude, this feeling, this value is inculcated in the home, from the earliest childhood
Steve Pearlman 11:42
by can build on that, in fact, one of the things that you write in your book is about the different conceptions of learning by American students and Chinese students. Right. And I'll read it out in a second. But I think I'd like to try to characterize it or synopsize it in a way that we have the Americans, as people will hear, I think being more materially oriented, or extrinsically oriented, whereas we have the Chinese students voicing things that are more about character and intrinsic drive, and connectedness. So you say, for Americans, it's one process, study thinking and reading discovery, to places and things, school library books, brain is what's brought up. And three, they talk about concepts such as understand knowledge and motivation. When they asked the Chinese students, it was one strong desire and passion for knowing yes to hard work, perseverance and discipline, three learning challenges that must be overcome, and for constantly learning throughout one's entire life. Exactly. So we see very different perspectives. I wonder if you could speak to the idea of grit, because for me, this resonated quite a lot with Carol Dweck 's work and so forth about grit, about growth mindsets, and the difference that that's starting to make in western education circles seems like it was sort of embedded already and naturally within Asian circles, is that sort of a fair way to characterize this?
Cornelius Grove 13:16
It is a way that I have characterized it, actually, you know, I think certainly in the drive to learn, and I think this might have gotten mentioned also in the mirror for Americans, I talked about the similarity of the Chinese value system with respect to education really comes quite close to resembling Carol Dweck growth mindset, where, in general, the American approach is closer to the fixed mindset. Now, I don't want to paint this as a big sharp dichotomy, but you can't be familiar with Carol Dweck and then read the research as I you know, and read and study the research that's been carried out in East Asia without saying, oh, bingo, that sounds like Carol Dweck. Now, we're dealing and I'm sure you realize, we are dealing in huge generalizations and all generalizations have problems because not everybody in the group being referenced is exactly that way, obviously. And some, some people are quite different. You know, let's say some American students have a growth mindset without any training or pluck, prodding. Maybe they get it I would imagine that get it at home. You know, that's where these things are inculcated. Some Chinese and Japanese students have what Carol Dweck would call a fixed mindset. This happens, but we're dealing in generalizations and the generalization is that this just sounds a lot like Carol Dweck, and there are many other differences that go along with this. A question I like to ask and I think it's useful to ask is Who is responsible for child's learning who's responsible? Well, in the United States, the the wave people usually respond to that question, even though the question might be not asked quite that boldly, is that it's really it's the responsibility of the teachers in the school. Now, not so much at a very early age, when middle class parents will try to get their kids into into programs to learn to be a young Einstein or, you know, that kind of thing. But once the kids get into first grade, a research shows that the American parents draw back, they want to be supportive. They, you know, kids should do their homework and so forth. But that, you know, it's really up to the teacher at that point. And East Asia know, who is responsible, the child is responsible, and the child's family is responsible. It's well documented that the parents and some Chinese and Japanese homes will actually buy the same textbooks. As the children or the their workbooks, they actually buy workbooks and work with their children at home. Ahead of the class, I have a little story to tell about this, because when I was doing a drive to learn, I was looking for a cover photo. So when I, when I go into the websites of the big companies that stockpile photos, I think they're called stock companies, if I remember correctly, and there's several of them. And they have millions of photos under old catalog and every which way, right? So I'm looking for a photograph of parents and young children at home involved with schoolwork homework, and you can find them believe me, there are a lot of them. And they all have the same characteristic. People are having fun, they are laughing, they are smiling, they are entertained by something. And it's remarkable, it's almost impossible to find a photograph in a stock house of parents and children with a serious attitude about learning. So in order to get this photograph that you see on the cover of the drive to learn, and I'm sorry, I guess your your listeners can't see this. I'm holding it up here. But for our
Steve Pearlman 17:25
listeners that depicts an Asian mother and child being very focused collectively on some kind of work that they're doing on the desk.
Cornelius Grove 17:34
They have a mathematics workbook in front of them. They both have pencils in their hand. They are side by side, and they are both engaged together, not smiling, not laughing. They are busy, they are working, they're doing something important. You know how I finally got that photo, I hired a photographer, I hired models, and we set up the photo shoot, that's the only way I could get
Steve Pearlman 18:01
it. So I think that's very important because certainly we want as educators to think about the clients that we have coming into our classes and how American students have these attitudes that might be more towards a fixed mindset, which is something that clearly we're seeing and clearly this movement towards inculcating growth mindsets into classes and grit into classes is something that the West is now realizing has been very absent with respect to its learning. I would also hope you could speak to the distinction that I found very interesting between equity and equality. And I'll read from your book about that. For listeners who haven't heard it. Asian cultures as you contend focus more on equity as as follows. It's accepted in East Asia that most students work hard, and that some work harder to compensate for their lesser intelligence. The role of the school is to provide similar instruction for all students, each student accepts much of the responsibility for his or her own learning outcomes. Whereas for Americans now you write about the value of equality in learning, which is different than equity. And you right, it's believed that learning should never be genuinely hard for any student, which would be discouraging. Rather, students should find lessons engaging and dispensed in easy to understand increments. So the role of a school is to provide instruction that is differentiated in response to each student's characteristics. So we have very different approaches between equity and equality with respect to how we are conceptualizing the learner. In America, its learners who need these easily dispense lessons, they, they're going to shrink to an extent against exceptionally hard challenges or be discouraged by them, something that we hear very often from educators here in the US, whereas in Asia, again, as a way to reinforce things that you said earlier, it's much more about this Student realizing their need to take responsibility for things in terms of their own learning.
Cornelius Grove 20:04
Yes. And again, they bring this attitude, they bring this value with them from home, they are more responsive for reasons that I spell out in the drive to learn that go beyond what we've mentioned here. They're more responsive to teaching. And this is not something that's confined to the classroom. So yes, we have come to believe in this country, I don't think this was true 100 years ago, it has something that I believe has come in for various reasons, that tends to be associated with the progressive thinking. And that is that we need to have the whole school environment be attractive to be inviting, which therefore is taken to mean that we have to make things easy, and you know, do things in small incremental steps. And don't throw in things that kids might not like, I have an example here. And this one does come from a mirror for Americans in East Asian math classes. And keep in mind, we're talking about the lower grades now, not the upper grades, which is a very different scene in East Asia, in the lower grades when math is being teaching. And you know, beyond math, and we're getting now into algebra, and so forth. Part of formal mathematics, the kind that actual mathematics mathematicians perform is that they, I guess, what you might call rules or laws about how things work. These are formal statements. And in East Asia, students, when they discuss how to solve a problem, teachers generally expect them to relate the problem to the formal rule or law governing that type of problem, and not to just reference it. But to state the whole rule or law, we're talking about things that might be 10 or 15 words long. To state it absolutely correctly, I got to get that down American teachers, I bet there's not one in 1000, American Teachers of Mathematics who does this because this is thought to be unpalatable. And to scare people off of mathematics, that they have to quote these rules or laws and do it correctly. just doesn't happen. And there's many, many other differences in the teaching of mathematics. We want kids to get out of school. And we I mean, to graduate. That's, that's important. But it's a very individualistic culture. So we want to sort of stay with their interest and their capabilities. And unfortunately, there's this idea that we really shouldn't push them too much, because that would discourage them and put them off of education. So this is part of being student centered. In the United States, Student Centered Care has many implications. And one is that we put so much effort into trying to do things the way students presumably like them to be done. Whereas in East Asia, teaching is knowledge centered. It's centered on the knowledge the students and teachers together focus on the knowledge. And if that's difficult, well, yes, some of these things are difficult. And so you need to struggle to get them. You know, some people, it's easier, and some people, it's harder. And if it's harder, so work harder. That's, you know, the great equalizer is you. Even even Confucius had this attitude. He said, Are you having trouble understanding this? Well, you know, work hard.
Steve Pearlman 23:35
There's something you write in the book that makes me think about that right now, you give an example of topics covered during math lessons in the first grade, and the number of different topics covered during a math lesson in the first grade. And in the United States, it was it was an average of 4.17 topics. In Taiwan, it was a average of 3.55 topics. And in Japan, it was an average of 2.35 topics. So Japan's borderline half of the topics covered in the United States and you write that, quote, American teachers believe a teacher should subdivide a lesson into small steps so that most students will quickly grasp each one, after which the teacher moves to the next one. This strategy is called quick and snappy. In Japan, pupils are expected to linger over the issues introduced by the question, teachers pose thought provoking questions and expect inquiring pupil to pupil exchanges that lead to long answer resolutions. This strategy has been termed sticky probing, and I love that term sticky probing. I'm going to steal that and use it but I think
it's not my original thing. By the way. There's another I know you
Steve Pearlman 24:45
referenced it, I'll have to go back and find that original reference. But this also makes me think of something that I talked about and I just want to try to draw a parallel for our educators here in the US about how to start to think about ways to bring some of the wisdom of of the east into our classrooms in the West. And I think growth mindset is an example of that example. Yes. But this is also something else. This to me talks a lot about things like mastery learning and problem based learning. The idea of confronting students with what are very hard problems, challenging problems, authentic problems, that they can't easily get their heads around. Let
Cornelius Grove 25:22
me just jump in and say that I think it's a mistake had a
Steve Pearlman 25:26
go G will resume in just a moment. But first, if you're a high school, college or graduate school educator, then I'd like to offer you a full free preview of my online level one critical thinking program for students. I actually developed this program because so many educators have asked me for a way to jumpstart their students critical thinking skills. This program, which is approximately a three hour student experience does the following. It teaches your students three essential mindsets for thinking critically, it teaches them a copyrighted neurobiological process for thinking critically about any subject in any discipline. And then it does something particularly distinct, it prompts students through a step by step process in which they actually compose a very short essay entirely driven by their own critical thinking. Students can complete this program outside of class with no impact on your class time, and you can see the final product when they're done. I think you'll find this to be an exceptional program for your students. But whether you assign it or not, I'm confident that it will be an asset to you in terms of infusing critical thinking in your own approach to teaching. So provided you're an educator, I'd be excited to grant you a free preview of this program, please just come to the critical thinking initiative.org/podcasts Sign up with a.edu email address. Or if you don't have a.edu email address, just email info at the critical thinking initiative.org. With confirmation that you're an educator, again, please just come to the critical thinking initiative.org/podcasts and sign up for a free preview of the entire program. Please make sure you either sign up with a.edu email address, or email me at info at the critical thinking initiative.org with other confirmation that you're an educator and I'd be excited to grant you free access to reprogram preview. And for everyone who's listening. Please remember to like and share pedagogy. Find the critical thinking initiative on Facebook and LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter at at Steve J. Perlman. That's at Steve J. Perlman. Now back to heading oh, gee,
Cornelius Grove 27:43
let me just jump in and say that I think it's a mistake. And again, we're touring big generalizations. And what I'm about to say may not be true for all students. But I think it's a big mistake to think that young people, even elementary school people don't enjoy being challenged, and working through and trying to figure out something for themselves. And when they do it you that makes you feel good. That's That's good.
Steve Pearlman 28:08
I couldn't agree more. And that's something that I'm constantly preaching on the podcast, that we're wired to think we're wired to enjoy resolving problems, our brains enjoy that process and reward us through it. Yes. And the dissection by American education. And again, we're generalizing, but the frequent dissection of American education into bits of information or steps that can be so easily acquired that there is no sense of overcoming significant challenge, right? And there is no true deep cognition being involved actually undermines the greater goal. Yes, let's give people deep challenges, real hard challenges. But let's give them the tools and the support to work through those. And the end result is a genuine feeling of accomplishment. Yes. And this was time to work through these things and think critically, in the process. It mirrors much more of these things of mastery and problem based learning, though it's not put this way, and I'm sure there are distinctions, but it makes me much more think of mastery and problem based learning as they approach it and fewer harder things to deeper levels rather than quick and snappy.
Cornelius Grove 29:15
Yes, I can help think about the way math lessons are begun. Quite often in Asia, it's very common. Well, first of all in East Asia, that the kids don't move around. At the end of the periods, the kids stay together and the teachers move around. So the teacher a math teacher comes in when maybe we're talking about fourth grade or fifth grade here and what happens first, in East Asia, the first thing quite often is that the teacher gives all of the students the problem of the day. Now the problem of the day is not a quiz. It is not a homework check. It is not graded in any way. It is a problem that builds on what was previously learned but goes beyond a little bit. And the kids are given anywhere from five to even 15 minutes. They can work it by themselves. They can combine in groups, they can move around, they can talk, whatever they the idea is that can they figure out how to solve this problem. And it's a challenge. It's a deliberate challenge. And I believe that one way you learn and learn in such a way that you're learning has velcro, is to first struggle with something. And when you get it, if you've struggled with it, it tends to stick better than if you're just I don't know, you get it handed to you on the proverbial silver platter, and then you try to memorize it, or whatever you do. And there's not very much self esteem involved there. But if you figure it out, I mean, we'd like to talk about self esteem, they don't know what it is in these days. Or maybe you maybe that's something I deal with in the in the drive to learn. But you definitely there's definitely self esteem involved when you figure something out for yourself. And then the other, the next thing that happens is that the teacher says there are there are a number of different ways to solve this problem. Let's see if we can come up with some alternatives. The idea that American educators have about education in East Asia is that it's all lecture and drill.
Steve Pearlman 31:25
Yes, that's definitely a popular perception at the
Cornelius Grove 31:27
lower levels. It is not true. It's hard. As much as I've learned about all of this, it's hard for me to understand how that assumption could have taken hold when it is so wrong about what happens in primary schools, elementary schools in East Asia?
Steve Pearlman 31:47
Well, I think some of it comes from what you discuss in your book with respect to how Asian schools approach the learning of the basics, and the importance of establishing not just foundations for what's being learned. And there are some cognates to that in American education, but they're, they're a little different. But more importantly, foundations for how we are going to learn.
Cornelius Grove 32:10
Yes. And in East Asia, one of those foundations is you need to do a lot of work yourself, you need to try to figure this out, the teacher is there to assist and so forth and give hints and you know, and you're working in a in a collectivist classroom, and other students are also having their ideas. By the way. Another thing that happens in math classes in East Asia is the teacher is not the arbiter of right or wrong. They're one of the researchers was a guy, I believe, from Malaysia who observed in Chinese and Japanese classrooms as well as American classrooms. And he said, you know, American classrooms is kind of like a quiz show. The teachers I was out of question, somebody comes up with the right answer. Teacher says right or good? And that's the end of it. Or if there's, if a wrong answer comes up, the teacher just says, No, what about you, Johnny? What about you, Sarah? And until she gets the right answer, and then that's the right answer. We go, this is the, you know, breaking it down into small bits. But this is not how it's done in East Asia, that it's not the teacher who decides it's right or wrong, it's thrown out to the class. And they they work on this, they try to figure up, you know, the differences are just tumbled over each other. And it's so easy to see in the teaching of math. And, you know, researchers like to look at math because, you know, to and to mix for over there. And here. It's not like learning different histories, learning different languages, there are multiple differences there. Math is math. But how is it learned? How is it approached? How are children encouraged and given opportunities to get this? And one
Steve Pearlman 33:50
of the things that you said was very interesting is that contrary to what the perception might be Asian students, I think you were particularly referencing Japan at this point. But Asian educators actually are able to spend a great deal more time on task, I think it was 50% more time within the same amount of time period. Yes, then American educators with a reason being that students have these foundations for learning they know when it's appropriate to ask a question, they know how to appropriately ask a question. They know when that's welcome. They know how to engage a moment of study. So they're these prerequisites established for how we conduct ourselves within the environment, such that when it gets time to spending time, on task or in a discussion, the educator is much more able to do so.
Cornelius Grove 34:37
Yes, you're exactly on target. The important thing is this is not brought from home. This is taught and drilled at preschool level. It's kindergarten levels, first grade. This is one of the main things that children learn they learn how to learn in a classroom situation. They learn how To support the teachers role in delivering a lesson, for example, in American classrooms, if you know we're thinking first grade, second grade, third grade, you know, that sort of level, if a teacher says, All right, now let's say we need, we're going to divide into three and four person groups now, so you can discuss, you know, whatever it is that we've got here to discuss, what happens at that point? Well, the teacher are quite often is saying, Okay, now let's see you three, why don't you move over there? Can you take the chairs over there. So she's managing the classroom takes time, a lot of noise, a lot of, you know, kids not quite knowing what to do and getting involved in something else in East Asia at the very early grades, how to do these kinds of thing is drilled, taught and drilled. I know, Americans, you don't like the word drill. But drill is necessary in education. And here, we're not talking about drilling, multiplication tables, we're talking about drilling behaviors to support the teacher. And so when the teacher in East Asia says, get into your four person groups, that's all she has to say, Done, it happens, she's ready to go with the four person groups, because the kids, they know how to do it, they've been taught and drilled to do it this way.
Steve Pearlman 36:24
And maybe you could speak a little bit as well, then about the distinction between how resistance is handled in Asian classrooms versus American classrooms. And I think a great distinction of fascinating distinction that you reference here is that in the United States, children's resistance is largely overcome is the word that you use, we're going to expect that there will be resistance, and we're going to have to figure out ways to handle that in our classes. And not to say that we are looking at how to prevent that as well. Right. But largely, we're learning about how do we deal with it, you have broken a rule, now there's going to be a consequence, this is the consequence that will happen if you continue to do X, you will meet this kind of punishment or consequence. In Asia, we say it's prevented because students are inculcated early on at having an adaptive disposition about what's going to happen in the class in the first place.
Cornelius Grove 37:18
Yes, and this is something that is brought from home this is this eagerness for learning. There's a tradition or a value of a common behavior in collectivist or communitarian cultures in which younger people tend to revere older people, anybody with expertise by older people, I don't necessarily mean seniors, I don't necessarily mean 40 years old, anybody who is ahead of them, who knows how to do something well, and has mastered it, this kind of person gets respect in East Asia from younger people who are coming up. This is the kind of value the kind of attitude that is inculcated from earliest days of life at home, this respect for expertise, but we really don't have so much of that here in the United States. So, and children come to school, they have spent the first six or seven years of their life learning to be individuals and applauded for doing their own thing and being maybe a little bit naughty sometimes. And you know, they're not supposed to be naughty. But yeah, it was kind of cute wasn't it? Was that that kind of feeling, I think. And so the whole emphasis in our individualistic culture is that kids are going to kind of do their own thing and think of new ways of doing things and try different things out and so that you, you have resistance. And one of the ways we assume that we must deal with this, and maybe we must, I'm not saying that we don't have to deal with is by making the whole environment of school as well as individual lessons, inviting and friendly, and warm, and not demanding too much, because that might reignite this existence. So this is kind of where this idea is that we got to give it to him in small bites, you know, well, that that's easy. Well, let's let's not discouraging them by giving them something that they have to struggle with. These are huge differences. And they make such a difference in the outcomes. They make differences in children's ability to learn and to remember learning and to master it. And to use it.
Steve Pearlman 39:32
You just mentioned the cultural differences. And I guess that sort of brings me to an important place in the podcast. Although we have listeners all around the world, it's predominantly Western at this point, given that we cannot replicate the culture, we are in a different culture, our students are more individualistic, and they are looking at the world in different ways, perhaps through different paradigms than East Asian students. So it's impossible to really replicate even if we wanted to I'm not necessarily saying we should. But even if we wanted to replicate everything that was happening in the Asian schools, we couldn't. What is the advice for American educators who are receiving these students into their classes who are not coming from the same kind of home life that you're describing of Asian students? How do we tap into whatever wisdom there is from these Asian cultures and try to maximize that wisdom in our classes?
Cornelius Grove 40:31
I don't have an answer for this, that is going to be fully satisfactory to a lot of people. The gulf between an our highly individual individualistic culture and communitarian cultures, such as we find in China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and so forth, is a very, very large gap. And it is not going to be bridged, and I don't anywhere suggests that I think it can be bridged, if only we'll do this or that it's not going to happen. So the reason I call the book that we're mainly here to discuss a mirror for Americans, is that yes, there's very, very little that can just be brought over. On the other hand, by looking at how things are done over there at the values that drive those behaviors in the home and in the school, and the way they tackle different problems, and think about different aspects of classroom life. An example I always like to use is that we have this very strong opinion here that we need to have small class sizes in order for children to learn. And I believe the link there is that it said, Well, if you have a large class size, the teacher can't help everyone. Whereas in East Asia, where students at the fourth, eighth and 12th grades literally always ask our American children on the international comparative test, those children generally are taught in classrooms that are absolutely beyond anything in terms of size, in terms of population size, absolutely beyond anything that would ever be tolerated here in the United States, parents would be screaming in the streets, if there was a class of, you know, a third grade class with 55 students, people would go nuts. And yet, this is pretty common in East Asia. And, and educators don't really worry about it. They're not criticizing the government for not providing enough money or not hiring enough teachers. This is how things are done. Because the emphasis isn't on the individual. The emphasis is on a group. And if you want a group to learn how to function together, it's better to have a group where the leader, the teacher, whoever, cannot deal with all the individuals, they have to learn to get along together themselves. And I think there's no better discussion of what this looks like on the ground in the early grades where I draw on the research in Japanese preschool. That is, I think, probably the most fascinating thing about education that I've ever had to learn about, write about understand and deal with, their approach to kindergarten or preschool is so different from ours. And the emphasis is all on the group learning to function as a group, no emphasis on individuals learning to express themselves or come up with new ideas or draw their own unique pictures. No, that's that's not what it's about.
Steve Pearlman 43:37
There's a great emphasis in the Japanese schools, as you referenced in your book, and I've read through other places where the teachers are very hands off with respect to social conflict. With respect to a lot of what's happening during the day, it is about putting students in positions whereby they need to figure out how to work through the resolution together. And you offer examples of educators who will say, Well, I don't have enough of this material for everybody. I don't have enough buckets in the sandbox for everybody to play with. If I did, they wouldn't learn how to resolve conflict. That's right, another in.
Cornelius Grove 44:13
It's been documented that in some Japanese preschool classrooms, the teachers will deliberately ensure that sandbox toys and other items that the kids would use are in short supply, they'll they'll take them and put them in the drawer so there aren't enough specifically so that the kids will learn how to deal with sharing and you know, cooperating in use of a scarce resource.
Steve Pearlman 44:40
It makes me think, actually a lot about a cognate here in the West, which is Montessori education, where educators approach it in much the same way. They're not necessarily withholding resources, but the emphasis is on students learning how to function as a group learning how to adapt personal responsibility and resolve conflict with one another without the teacher being a constant force,
Cornelius Grove 45:03
yes, and this is this is so important in the story of Japanese preschools where it is very important that the teacher drawback and you know, increasingly play a reduced role, so that the kids learn to cooperate and do their own thing. You know, I mean, though, even in even in Japanese schools, for lunch, kids don't go to the cafeteria, the cafeteria, people bring the food to the classroom, the students organize. I mean, this is another thing that's trained, but the students organize and hand out the food. And, you know, they dish it out, they put on their chef hats, and they take terms over the course of the year and playing these different roles. People would be very shy about trying this, I think, in the United States, they say, Oh, God gets such a mess in here, this would never work. Well, it works all the time. And he's, and yet another distinction, also,
Steve Pearlman 46:03
that I think is very important for people here in the West to hear is about the value of expertise. Yes. So there's a misconception that we have in the West, about East Asian schools that it's drill and kill, and that, therefore personal expression, personal understanding, isn't valued at all. And that's not exactly the case. What is contextualized, it seems, is that they value the importance of learning what is known first of understanding how to do things, the way it's been understood to be done first, after that students are then enabled to go on and think about how that might be improved, or what else they can contribute. But there's a strong importance of being subordinated first to greater knowledge and expertise. And in my teaching, I find a similar thing, when students start in my classes, I'm a central authority, a strong authority figure about the critical thinking standard that we're going to use. And I'm very clear with them that they don't know how to apply it to a paper or use it yet. And so I'm going to be the authority and so on. After students learn that and they become fluent in it, then there's great room for them to talk about critical thinking and even challenge the standards or rethink the standards in different ways. But not at first, not. First, let's understand what's here and been established before we start to question it and interject our own thinking.
Cornelius Grove 47:30
But in in the United States, we invite children to, we invite anybody, not just children to take a pot shot, take, criticize or question things, even before they fully understand what it's all about. This is part of being an individual. We're piling example, on example, about what the differences between an individualistic culture and a communitarian or collectivist culture.
Steve Pearlman 47:54
So anything I haven't asked you about that you really feel I should touch on here?
Cornelius Grove 47:58
Well, Steve, there's just so much, that's for sure. I want to say that of all the people who've ever interviewed me, you know more about what I said in my books than anybody, thank you very much. Because I don't it's a it's a real pleasure. I mean, I you're quoting me back to me, and I think, Oh, my God, this never happened. He actually read it, he paid notes. There was somebody else once, who was who was also very familiar, but I don't think is familiar as you
Steve Pearlman 48:29
well, nobody comes on pedagogy unless I have read the book. And I also think it's a worthwhile book, I don't have anyone booking people on this podcast for me, I book them all, because no one's coming on here. Unless I feel they have something to say, I'm going to have read what anyone has said, coming on here. And I'm going to be able to talk about it. So give you the last word on all of this. What's the central message that you feel American educators need to hear out of what you're saying? And of course, the best way for them to get it is to go read your texts, a drive to learn a mirror for Americans. But what's a parting thought here for us?
Cornelius Grove 49:02
Well, one thing we haven't mentioned is certainly true of parents and true for teachers, I think in East Asia as well, and that is that in the United States, once kids get into actual school, they're not very young, and you know, where their parents really are concerned about their learning and trying to buy educational toys. But once they get into school, parents sort of let them loose and they said, Okay, it's up to the teacher. Now, they were going to be sure they do their homework, but it's really up to the teacher. And so what parents and others become at that point, and even to some extent, the teachers themselves is cheerleaders. We're trying to encourage them to do this. We're cheering them on, we're showing an interest. But we're not really involved. We're just being encouraging. Whereas in East Asia, parents and also teachers, to some extent, really have an attitude of here in the United States. To the same attitude as athletic coaches, the child has got to learn to do it, they've got to master it, just like they master throwing a football or learning to hit a fastball or whatever it is. But we work with them, we advise them, we show them where they're wrong. And we drill them if necessary, and it isn't necessary in order for them to really master what it is that they're supposed to be learning, whether it's mathematics, or history, or how to hit a baseball. And this is one of the many, many differences in how we think about how we value and how we behave in relation to children's learning. I have said, I firmly believe the all the studies I have done have this massive research between the US and East Asia is that the fundamental difference is that our emphasis here is on the individual, child centered learning. Everything's focused on what we believe is true about the student. And it's so different in East Asia where the group takes precedence. And we do things because it's good for the community. It's good for the family, the extended family. And this just plays itself out in so many ways that are dealt with for the schools and mirror for Americans and in the homes whereby the drive to learn.
Steve Pearlman 51:31
Cornelius, thank you so much for coming on today. Hope to have you back at some point in the future so we can continue this discussion, especially maybe as your next book hits the market. But thank you again for joining us on pedagogy.
Cornelius Grove 51:43
Thank you, Steve. Much. Great pleasure on my part. I appreciate it.