How Other Cultures Can Inform Education in North America

A Mirror For Americans: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Teaching Students Who Excel by Cornelius N. Grove

Many of us think that school needs to be a certain way. But the way schools operate in different parts of the world is vastly different from the way they do here in Canada and the United States of America. We can learn a lot from looking at these differences while looking inward at the same time. Dr. Groves uses a mirror metaphor to illustrate this concept.

He writes, ” It is possible and useful to contemplate the values, principles, and practices of a distant culture as a ‘mirror.’”

The problem is that while it is possible to take things from various cultures and adopt them, education is a very complex structure and can’t be as easily transferred as foods, games, and other attractive features are.

“We’re talking about the teaching of young children, which is one of any modern culture’s most multifaceted features, steeped in historical traditions, shared values, professional research, government regulations, collegial sharing, and laypeople’s expectations.”

That being said, let’s look at a few things that are happening in East Asian schools.

Unregimented Free Play

“Free play is an unregimented, largely unsupervised, exuberant, and very noisy time during which young children have the run of the school—classrooms, corridors, stairwells, gym, playground—for a total of approximately two hours a day.

  • Small children do not need to be protected from every imaginable danger that might lurk in their social and physical environment
  • Children’s spontaneity and high-spirited energy are age-appropriate and attractive; there’s no sense in trying to curtain or channel it.
  • Children are innately good, that is, they never intentionally do bad things, Of course , they do need to learn their community’s values and ways of life.”

We don’t even let this kind of thing happen at recess in our schools. There is value to letting students choose what they want to do and letting them have freedom. It’s something we need to look at further.

“We Americans wax passionate about inculcating in our children self-reliance, self-control, self-confidence, and other attributes of ‘freedom.’ But when we consider our ways while looking into the mirror of Japanese preschool practices, we become conscious that we’re monitoring and restricting our youngsters’ movements, protecting them from every possible risk, rushing to intervene in their childish disputes, and insisting that they choose from among a handful of adult-devised activity centers during free play. Do these practices instill self-reliance, self-control, and self-confidence?”

Students Help Clean the School

“Every day during the afternoon, fifteen to twenty minutes are set aside for cleaning the classroom, and other areas. Every pupil is actively involved.”

I love this idea. It teaches students that they have a responsibility to keeping the school clean. it isn’t just someone else’s job. It reminds me of a phrase we learned in Scouts, “Leave it cleaner than you found it.” Just imagine what life would be like if we all did that.

Teachers are Experts

“In my view, the superior subject-matter preparation of teachers in East Asia is a critically important factor that give students there a competitive edge and helps to account for their superior performances on the international tests.”

Primary teachers in Canada are expected to teach all subjects and get very little preparation time. I think we could improve the way things are done by having teachers only teaching subjects they are in good command of. For me, that would mean someone else teaches my class science. I know teachers who probably shouldn’t be teaching math. Imagine allowing teachers that freedom and giving our students teachers passionate about each subject.

We Need Fresh Ideas

Those are a few of the takeaways I got from this book. Want to find out more. Explore the website – A Mirror For Americans and listen to the podcast below.