About the Book

About the Book


If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re disturbed by the inability of the American educational system to prepare our children thoroughly for the skill and knowledge demands of adult life. Believe me, you’re not alone.

Back in 1970 was the first time anyone had a data-driven reason to suspect that American schools were attaining mediocre results. And that concern was voiced in Hong Kong, not here.

During the 1960s, international comparative tests were developed to evaluate the academic learning of students from different nations. When the results of the first tests were announced, Hong Kong-based Western scholars were stunned to see that the American students’ scores were far below those of their Chinese and Japanese peers. How could this be? (In those days, everyone assumed that U.S. schools were the best!) This startling result was termed a “paradox” by the scholars.

When scholars confront a paradox, what do they do? They do research! So these scholars began research in East Asia to figure out why this paradox had occurred. As the decades went by, other scholars from around the world travelled to East Asia to join the growing research effort.

And as those same decades went by, there was never an international comparative test on which American students scored at or near the top of the international rankings.

For a summary of recent test scores, click here. For insight into the nature and difficulty of the tests, see A Mirror for Americans page xxx.

Fast Forward to 2020

The findings of that 50-year research effort are now publicly-available in over 1,000 books and journal articles. Collectively, they reveal two principal reasons for the consistent academic superiority of East Asian youth:

  • The upbringing they receive at home from their parents, and
  • The instruction they receive in school from their teachers.

Cornelius Grove decided to write two short books to share these insightful findings with the American public. Each book addresses one of the two major findings:

  • East Asian children’s upbringing at home is overviewed in The Drive to Learn (2017, 116 text pages); learn more at TheDriveToLearn.info
  • Their instruction in preschools and primary schools is discussed in A Mirror for Americans (2020, 126 text pages), the subject of this website.

It’s Mainly about Values

A Mirror for Americans: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Teaching Students Who Excel discusses not only what happens in East Asian schools and classrooms but also, and more significantly, the values that shape how teachers there instruct and interact with their pupils. 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, academic learning, and classroom processes.

Why did Grove entitle this book A Mirror for Americans? People who’ve had experience in an unfamiliar culture often remark that they now see their own culture with fresh eyes. It’s as though they’ve looked into a mirror and seen alternative possibilities for their lives. They realize their home culture has features that aren’t “givens” but instead are choices. Different choices could be made.

The mirror provided by A Mirror for Americans enables readers to see that East Asian teachers’ methods actually are not vastly different from American teacher’s methods. The big difference that yields those superior students is the underlying values that drive East Asians’ approach to children and their classroom learning.

The most basic value-difference is that individualism is exceptionally strong here in the U.S., whereas in East Asia, family- and community-focused values have prevailed across centuries.

In turn, that basic value-difference leads to a consequential contrast between how classroom lessons are designed and delivered in the U.S. and East Asia:

  • American teachers attempt to make their lessons student-centered.
  • East Asian teachers attempt to make their lessons knowledge-centered.

Knowledge-Centered Lessons

What does knowledge-centered look like? Grove discovered that there are 12 ways in which East Asian educators ensure that, during lessons, children will pervasively immerse themselves in the skills and knowledge to be learned. Here are three:

  1. Early pupil training. In preschool and first grade, pupils are trained to contribute to a lesson’s efficient delivery: how to focus attention, ask to speak, respond when called on, etc., and especially how to rearrange the furniture quickly to suit any teacher’s intention (e.g., discussion groups). During lessons from then on through high school, the time teachers spend on classroom management becomes vanishingly small, allowing actual instruction to fill the entire period.
  2. Inviolable lesson time. In East Asia, lessons are never interrupted. School-wide announcements on the PA system do not occur. No pupil is ever pulled out to join another activity, not even special tutoring. And when a pupil doesn’t “get” something the teacher said, he doesn’t jump in with a question (he’ll get individual help afterwards). Lesson-time is solely the teacher’s time for unobstructed delivery of her meticulously crafted plan for learning.
  3. Thoughtful questioning and answering. Teachers ask probing questions. Questions usually are open-ended; they seek thoughtful answers, not memorized factoids. Many questions begin with Why… or How…, or Can you think of another way… Few begin with What… In math classes, pupils often are asked to present their unique solutions to a problem. Also, wrong answers get attention from teachers; they use the opportunity to help the pupil and his classmates distinguish flawed from accurate reasoning.

A Mirror at the End of Each Chapter

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?

Distinguishing Features of A Mirror for Americans

Although A Mirror for Americans is short – merely 126 text pages – its readers will find that, in an easy-to-understand way, it…

  • 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 our strong 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.

Summary of Recent Scores on Three Comparative Tests: TIMSS, PIRLS, & PISA

The following scores from recent international comparative tests were taken from the Digest of Educational Statistics, 2018, made available by the National Center for Educational Statistics at this webpage.

All data summarized below was acquired from tables – identified as “table 602.20,” “table 602.70,” etc. – for which links are conveniently provided within the online text of the Digest.

For insight into the nature and difficulty of the international comparative tests, see A Mirror for Americans page xxx.

Scores from the 2015 TIMSS: Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study

MATH Scores of Fourth Grade Students
500 – Average score of all participating nations (perfect score: 1000)
539 – Average score of 4th grade math students in the United States
Nations or territories scoring at least 10 points higher than the United States included Singapore (618), Hong Kong (615), and South Korea (608) as well as Taiwan, Japan, Russia, and Norway.

SCIENCE Scores of Fourth Grade Students
500 – Average score of all participating nations (perfect score: 1000)
546 – Average score of 4th grade science students in the United States
Nations or territories scoring at least 10 points higher than the United States included Singapore (590) and South Korea (589) as well as Japan, Russia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

MATH Scores of Eighth Grade Students
500 – Average score of all participating nations (perfect score: 1000)
518 – Average score of 8th grade math students in the United States
Nations or territories scoring at least 10 points higher than the United States included Singapore (621) and South Korea (606) as well as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, and Kazakhstan.

SCIENCE Scores of Eighth Grade Students
500 – Average score of all participating nations (perfect score: 1000)
530 – Average score of 8th grade science students in the United States
Nations or territories scoring at least 10 points higher than the United States included Singapore (597), Japan (571), and Taiwan (569) as well as Hong Kong, South Korea, Russia, and Slovenia.

Scores from the 2016 PIRLS: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study

READING Scores of Fourth Grade Students
500 – Average score of all participating nations (perfect score: 1000)
549 – Average score of 4th grade reading students in the United States
Nations or territories scoring at least 10 points higher than the United States included Russia (581) and Singapore (576) as well as Finland, Hong Kong, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Poland, Taiwan, and Norway. (South Korea and Japan did not participate.)

Scores from the 2015 PISA: Program for International Student Assessment

MATH Scores of Students Age 15
490 – Average score of all participating OECD nations (perfect score: 1000)
470 – Average score of 15-year-old math students in the United States
Nations or territories scoring at least 10 points higher than the United States included Singapore (564), Hong Kong (548), Macao (544), and Taiwan (542) as well as 30 other nations and territories.

SCIENCE Scores of Students Age 15
493 – Average score of all participating OECD nations (perfect score: 1000)
496 – Average score of 15-year-old science students in the United States
Nations or territories scoring at least 10 points higher than the United States included Singapore (556), Japan (538), Estonia (534), Taiwan (532), and Finland (531) as well as 13 other nations and territories.

READING Scores of Students Age 15
493 – Average score of all participating OECD nations (perfect score: 1000)
497 – Average score of 15-year-old reading students in the United States
Nations or territories scoring at least 10 points higher than the United States included Singapore (535), Hong Kong (527), Canada (527), and Finland (526) as well as Estonia, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Norway, and Macao.

For insight into the nature and difficulty of the international comparative tests, see A Mirror for Americans page xxx.