About the Book

About the Book


If you’re familiar with Cornelius Grove’s 2017 book, The Drive to Learn, you’ll know that it has nothing to say about teachers or classrooms. It’s about children. More precisely, it’s about how children are raised.

Grove contended that educational outcomes are affected by the ways children respond to classroom instruction. So he posed this question: In comparison with the children of East Asia, to what extent do American children arrive at the schoolhouse door feeling an inner “drive to learn” in classrooms? Not much! But why?

The answer lies in their parenting, explains The Drive to Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Raising Students Who Excel.

The mountain of research findings that enabled Grove to explore differences in the raising of East Asian and American children has similarly enabled him to reveal differences in the teaching of East Asian and American children in preschools and primary schools.

A “mountain” of research findings? Yes. Since 1970, over a thousand books and journal articles have been published in which researchers uncover the reasons for the academic prowess of East Asian youth. Their findings enable comparisons to be drawn between East Asian and American ways of both raising and teaching children. This is the body of research on which Grove relied to write not only The Drive to Learn but also his new book, A Mirror for Americans, which examines preschool and primary school classrooms in East Asia.

The full title is A Mirror for Americans: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Teaching Students Who Excel. Only 126 pages long, it focuses on the values that shape the ways teachers interact with their young learners. By revealing the nature of teacher-pupil relationships in East Asia, Grove enables readers to step back and reassess our American ways of thinking about teachers, pupils, and classroom learning.

Why has Cornelius Grove selected A Mirror for Americans as the title of his new book?

Mirrors enable us “to see ourselves as others see us.” By examining the assumptions and values that teachers in East Asia apply to a challenge that both they and we face – the teaching of the youngest pupils – we become better able to see ourselves, as it were, from the outside. Thus, it becomes easier to consciously recognize our American values and assumptions, to re-evaluate their effectiveness at guiding us toward desired outcomes, and to begin imagining more effective teacher-pupil interactions that fit well into American culture.

Beginning with Chapter One, each chapter ends with a short section entitled “A Mirror for Americans.” In it, Grove reflects on selected facts discussed in that chapter, commenting on the extent (if any) to which the assumptions, values, and practices of East Asian peoples…

  • help to explain why schoolchildren there learn more, and learn it faster, than their American peers; and
  • enable Americans to re-evaluate the values that shape the classroom practices we use to educate our youngsters.

Example: Here’s an excerpt from the “A Mirror for Americans” section that ends chapter 2.

Chapter Two is the first of two chapters about preschool practices in Japan. Looking back on that chapter, Grove reflects as follows:

Extent of freedom allowed: During their lengthy free play periods, Japanese preschoolers are routinely allowed the run of the entire school and its grounds with virtually no supervision, and are often left to deal with disagreements on their own. Words such as “freedom” and “self-reliance” seem applicable to these practices. By whatever name, there’s plenty of it!

Therein lies a paradox: 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?

Here are two ways to quickly learn more about A Mirror for Americans

  • Immediately below is a bullet-pointed list of the book’s features in addition to those discussed above
  • Below that list, you’ll find short summaries of each of A Mirror for Americans‘s nine chapters.

Additional distinguishing features of A Mirror for Americans:

  • Corrects mistaken beliefs about East Asian teaching held by many Americans
  • Reveals the cultures of learning, and of teaching, in East Asian primary schools
  • Includes accounts of actual lessons being taught in East Asian primary classroom
  • Suggests YouTube videos depicting lessons and other activities in East Asian schools
  • Analyzes East Asian textbooks, constructivism, and whole-class interactive learning
  • Identifies features of math teaching that give East Asian pupils a competitive advantage
  • Concludes that East Asia lessons more thoroughly immerse pupils in the subject matter
  • Encourages Americans to reconsider the values that shape our primary school teaching
  • Suggests that individualistic values are undermining our schools’ educational effectiveness.

Overviews of all nine chapters of A Mirror for Americans

Chapter 1. Common Beliefs about Learning in East Asian Classrooms

Chapter One reviews common American beliefs about schooling in East Asia. We begin here because many people “know” certain “facts” about schools in East Asia, facts that actually are false stereotypes. A few of those stereotypes are presented in Chapter One, as well as two other widely believed facts that are reasonably accurate. This chapter ends with a review of key findings about schoolchildren in East Asia that were revealed in The Drive to Learn.

Chapter 2. Preschools: Where Children Learn How to Live

Chapter Two begins a two-chapter unit that explores preschools in East Asia. The focus of both chapters is preschools in Japan because far more preschool research has occurred in Japan than in any of the Chinese culture-based societies. This chapter reveals Japanese preschools as being where children learn how to live as members of Japanese society. Highlighted is the “pedagogy of feeling” that characterizes many of these institutions.

Chapter 3. Preschools: Where Children Learn How to Learn

Chapter Three presents Japanese preschools as being where children learn how to learn, i.e., where they learn and practice ways of directly supporting teachers’ efficient delivery of lessons. Also discussed at length is the nature of the teachers’ relationship with their pupils. This chapter ends with a brief overview of preschools in China. (This ends the unit on preschooling.)

Chapter 4. Foundations: How Children’s Learning Is Regarded

Chapter Four begins another two-chapter unit that overviews the foundations of primary schooling across East Asia. In this chapter, the ways in which the peoples of East Asia think about learning are examined, in particular their assumptions regarding learning-related attitudes and behaviors, and their value constellation that links learning with moral virtue.

Chapter 5. Foundations: How Classroom Teaching Is Regarded

Chapter Five discloses a second foundation of primary schooling in East Asia, the ways in which classroom teaching is regarded. Surveyed are five analogies often applied to the teacher’s role as well as their wide-ranging non-academic involvement with their pupils. Teachers’ long collaborations to improve lessons (“Lesson Study”) are noted, too. (This ends the unit on foundations.)

Chapter 6. Primary Schools: How Classroom Lessons Are Delivered

Chapter Six begins a three-chapter unit revealing the characteristics of academic lessons and learning in the primary schools of East Asia, which is the principal focus of A Mirror for Americans. This chapter is devoted to “whole-class interactive learning,” the main lesson-delivery mode, and to the roles played by the teacher, the pupils, and the knowledge to be learned. Four non-mathematics lessons are described in detail.

Chapter 7. Primary Schools: How Mathematics Lessons Are Delivered

Chapter Seven narrows our focus to mathematics lessons, the most heavily researched of all lesson topics. Two lessons are discussed in detail, both of which are accessible on YouTube. General features of math teaching in East Asia are explored, as are specific strategies that teachers use to insure, via whole-class interactive learning, that their pupils make steady progress toward gaining high-level thinking skills.

Chapter 8. Primary Schools: Other Performance-Related Topics

Chapter Eight presents additional topics that complete the portrait of classrooms lessons and learning in the primary schools of East Asia. Included are East Asian textbooks (very different from ours), the key role of “The Basics” of any subject, various patterns of classroom processes, and contrasts in how educators in the U.S. and East Asia think of and apply constructivism. (This ends the unit on classroom lessons.)

Chapter 9. Conclusions: Knowledge-Centered Lessons

Chapter Nine benefits from our new awareness of classroom practices in East Asia, enabling us to step back and think knowingly about the meanings of student-centered and teacher-centered. Both terms reflect our own American concerns; they are not useful for describing lessons in East Asia. For that use, a new term is needed: knowledge-centered. That lessons are knowledge-centered in East Asia is a fundamental educational reason why students there habitually outstrip their American peers on measures of academic knowledge and skill and their applications in daily life.

A UNIQUE FEATURE OF A MIRROR FOR AMERICANS

All non-fiction books include a bibliography – a list of the books, articles, and other sources that were consulted by the author. A Mirror for Americans has two bibliographies:

  • A standard bibliography, which appears in the book itself.
  • An annotated bibliography, which appears here on this website.

Extremely rare, an annotated bibliography is one in which each book or article is not only listed, but also overviewed. The one on this website discusses 118 of the research reports that Dr. Grove found most useful. These 300- to 600-word annotations do not appear in the book because they would have made it far longer, sharply increasing its price.

Following the “Mirror” section at the end of each chapter is this statement:

“If you’d like more detail about the researchers’ findings, or simply wish to know what inspired the contents of Chapter [Number], read these entries in the annotated bibliography at www.amirrorforamericans.info.”

Then a number of annotated works are suggested. On this website, any of the 118 suggested annotations is easy to find because a link to each is provided. For details, visit the Introduction to the Annotated Bibliography.

AN EXAMPLE OF ONE OF THE 118 ANNOTATIONS:

Stevenson, Harold, & Shin-ying Lee (1997). The East Asian version of whole-class teaching. The Challenge of Eastern Asian Education. William K. Cummings & Philip G. Altbach, eds. State University of New York Press, 33-49.

These two veteran researchers begin by citing the stereotype of East Asian classrooms: “tense, robotlike children and a stern, demanding teacher who stresses mechanical learning and rote memory [so that their students] lack creativity and problem-solving skills” (pp. 33-4). However, “Westerners whom we have accompanied to classrooms in East Asia are shocked… (p. 34):

by the frequency with which the teacher calls upon students for their opinions or explanation of a problem and then seeks the reaction of other students to what has been suggested. Visitors who understand the language are impressed by the skill with which teachers guide students through the lessons. [An East Asian teacher] does not assume the role of lecturer but acts as an informed guide who knows that teaching is most effective if students participate in the lesson and if students realize that they may be called on during the course of the hour for their opinions and reactions.

This chapter dissects the ways in which Japanese teachers carry out whole class instruction, which the authors defend as the approach that “gives the largest number of children the greatest amount of their teacher’s time” (p. 36). Whole-class instruction characterizes 95% of Japanese lessons. And this is in classrooms with 40 to 50 children who are not tracked or ability-grouped, and where slow learners and the gifted rarely receive special attention. So how do they do it?

First, lessons are exceptionally well-planned. Lessons “follow a well-organized, coherent sequence. As in a good book, the lesson consists of an introduction, development of ideas, and a final period in which all the information is brought to some kind of conclusion” (p. 37).

Math teachers typically begin a lesson by presenting a word problem and asking the students to discuss its meaning and solution. After a time, the teacher asks several students – not volunteers – to present their approaches. Other students are called on to analyze the proposed approaches. The teacher summarizes, clarifies, elaborates… Now the main body of the lesson can begin.

The main body typically consists of the presentation of new information (for which the initial word problem provided the lead-in), an opportunity to practice what was learned, and feedback about the correctness of the students’ solution efforts. Sometimes the children are put into small groups – han – to work cooperatively on problems. Han are deliberately made as diverse as possible; especially, slower and faster learners are always grouped together. Note this, too (p. 41):

In contrast to many interpretations of cooperative learning that leave children to discover the basic concepts on their own, activities of the han are organized by, and remain under, the close surveillance and guidance of, the teacher.

In Japan, seatwork is an integral part of the lesson. The problems aren’t necessarily solvable by application of what has just been learned; rather, they often require novel approaches. The most lopsided figure in this chapter (Figure 2.4) graphs the percentage of lessons in which the teacher did not provide feedback regarding seatwork. In Japanese 1st grades it was 8%; in Japanese 5th grades it was 2%. The corresponding figures for the U.S. were 37% and 49%!

American teachers tended to divide the class period into two parts, the first for delivering new information, the second to seatwork practice – and an opportunity for the teacher to rest. Why? Because, when compared with Japanese teachers, American teachers are heavily overburdened with classroom teaching responsibilities.