Endorsements, reviews, and critiques of A Mirror for Americans.

Review in the June 2021 issue of Choice, a publication of the American Library Association

In A Mirror for Americans, Grove, who has written extensively on pedagogy across cultures, accessibly discusses the reasons why students in East Asia have long outperformed Americans. Following the title, his goal is for this volume to serve as “a mirror for Americans” and enable readers to examine the values that drive educational principles and thinking in the US. The author questions whether the focus on individualism is a detriment to American schooling, making it less effective, and encourages readers to reconsider the beliefs that shape their own understandings of learning and teaching. Throughout the book, Grove works to cultivate awareness of East Asian schooling practices to inspire new ideas about shifting the focus of American schools away from the students to instead focus on the knowledge to be learned. He challenges readers to imagine the possibilities for improving the academic performance of American children by reflecting on these East Asian approaches to teaching. Overall, this clear, readable, and slim volume is excellent for anyone interested in global perspectives on education that examine how cultural values influence schooling practices.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers through faculty; professionals.

Choice magazine is published by the Association of College and Research Libraries, a unit of the A.L.A.


Critique on the website of Midwest Book Review

Critique: Exceptionally informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, “A Mirror for Americans: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Teaching Students Who Excel” is exceptionally well written, organized, and presented — making it an ideal curriculum textbook, as well as an unreservedly recommended addition to school district, college and university library Contemporary Teacher Education collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of education students, academia, classroom teachers, education administrators, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that “A Mirror for Americans” is readily available….

Posted on 10 Nov 2020 at Midwest Book Review


Endorsement by James W. Stigler, co-author of The Teaching Gap and The Learning Gap

In A Mirror for Americans, Cornelius Grove again shows his chops as scholar, carefully reading, digesting, and explaining, in a compelling way, what we know about teaching and learning in Asian cultures, and how what we know about other cultures can impact our understanding of our own education system. As one of the researchers whose work is included, I can say that Grove gets it right. I urge anyone with an interest in schools, teaching, and learning to read this book.

James W. Stigler, Ph.D., psychologist, University of California, Los Angeles


Review on the website Motherhood Moment

I’ve had a chance to review two books that encourage us to reassess, from a fresh standpoint, how we ensure our children are educated.
In The Drive to Learn, Dr. Cornelius Grove addresses the mindset with which our youngsters arrive at school. Are they receptive to learning from teachers? East Asian children tend to be well disposed to classroom learning. What’s going on in their homes to yield this openness?

In A Mirror for Americans, Dr. Grove asks us to revisit the value proposition animating U.S. pre- and primary school teaching. The mirror that offers us a contrasting perspective is East Asian teaching, varying from ours in details, substantially different from ours in its basic goals.

Children who arrive at school with an emotional commitment to learn are ideally equipped to excel academically. A second factor in their learning success is the set of values that guides the lessons they’re taught during their most impressionable years (preschool–grade 5). These are among the insights of Dr. Cornelius Grove, who has spent decades exploring the cultural factors that affect children’s performance in classrooms.

I previously reviewed A Mirror for Americans: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Teaching Students Who Excel. Dr. Grove examines the school side of the learning equation. East Asian lower-grade lessons gain the advantage because of their tenacious, narrow, yet multifaceted focus on the day’s topic. He addresses, among other things, how East Asians regard teaching and the reasons for pupils’ math superiority.

I just finished reading The Drive to Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Raising Students Who Excel. Here he explores the ways in which East Asian parents instill in their children respect for academic knowledge and receptiveness to the formal learning process. After a seven-chapter explanation of cultural values underlying East Asian parents’ mindset, he offers three chapters revealing their specific supportive practices. It’s an outline for action for American parents who deeply value academic learning.

This book, like the other one, definitely has an academic style of writing to it, so it’s a little dry and straightforward, but that makes it perfectly matter-of-fact for the subject matter. The tone is clear and factual, but still easy for parents to understand. There are specific examples and general statements, and action steps at the end of the book that can be taken by parents to improve their kids’ drive to learn.

“People who’ve had experience in unfamiliar cultures often remark that they now see their own culture with fresh eyes,” Dr. Grove explains. “It’s as though they’ve looked into a mirror and seen alternative possibilities for themselves. They realize that their usual ways of doing things are not etched in stone; instead, they’re choices. Different choices could be made.”

Although each book stands alone, The Drive to Learn and A Mirror for Americans combine to encourage complementary reassessments by parents and lower-grade teachers about the more impactful roles they could be playing in upgrading the academic performance and the eventual college readiness of the youngest Americans.

Posted on 7 June 2021 in the Book Nook section of Motherhood Moment; review by Bekah Jorgensen


Endorsement by Natalie Wexler, author of The Knowledge Gap

In this clearly written and engaging book, Grove deftly navigates the voluminous research on differences between East Asian and American schools, extracting valuable insights into why students in the former consistently outperform those in the latter on international tests. While Grove realistically concedes that the East Asian model can’t simply be transplanted to the United States, he uses the research to highlight assumptions about learning that Americans need to re-examine if they want to provide all students with a meaningful education.

Natalie Wexler, journalist and author


Overview on the website

Dr. Cornelius Grove has a distinctive perspective on school reform: “Values account for the choices people make,” he says. “In our typical debates about reform, everyone’s point of view is driven, largely or entirely, by America’s foundational value, individualism. That underlying similarity ensures that transformational change will never occur.”

In A Mirror for Americans: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Teaching Students Who Excel, Grove offers insights into Americans’ typical ways of teaching and their underlying values by using East Asian primary education as a mirror “to see ourselves as others see us.”

East Asian students have always gained higher scores on the international comparative tests than American students. Grove explains this by distilling 50 years of anthropological research into East Asian primary schools. He then offers insights into East Asian teaching approaches and, more significantly, into the societal values shaping how East Asians teach young pupils.

But A Mirror for Americans, about teaching, provides only half of the explanation. The other half is about East Asian families and parenting, revealed by Grove in his 2017 book, The Drive to Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Raising Students Who Excel.

“The purpose of my books,” explains Grove, “is to convey to the general reader the research findings from East Asia, where societal values unlike ours shape child-rearing and primary school teaching. There’s an ‘Aha!’ moment: If only we could think differently about children and their classroom learning, we could raise the level of our own youngsters’ performance.”

A Mirror for Americans concerns itself with preschool through grade 5, contrasting East Asian and American classroom cultures. Among the research-generated facts revealed are these:

  • In preschool and grade 1, East Asian children are taught, and they practice, individual and group behaviors that promote their own learning and their teacher’s efficient lesson delivery.
  • Teachers design lessons based on the internal logic of the content they are teaching, not on factors such as a need to motivate, to have fun learning, or to draw out pupil creativity. But they do present content so that all their pupils – slower and more advanced – will benefit.
  • Whether a lesson is student-centered or teacher-centered doesn’t concern East Asians. East Asian lessons are knowledge-centered. This is Grove’s key explanation for why East Asian students have always outperformed their American peers on those international tests.

Explains Grove, “East Asian youngsters are molded into superior pupils by attitudes toward learning brought from home plus assumptions about teaching encountered at school. These facts serve as a mirror for Americans, enabling us to re-evaluate our opinions about how kids learn best – and about the values that drive our opinions – from an invigorating perspective.”

Posted on 15 Oct 2020 at Boove, a book-themed British website


Endorsement by Jin Li, author of Cultural Foundations of Learning: East and West

Reviewing decades of research, Grove provides a clear reflection in A Mirror for Americans that compels us to honestly look at how education has been done in the U.S. He asks us to question whether American education can benefit from East Asian values, which apparently serve many children well. Readers may be surprised by how this book breaks many myths of American education and points to ways for us to reimagine a better education for all.

Jin Li, Ed.D., cultural and developmental psychologist, Brown University


Review on the website

When Cornelius N. Grove’s new book came along, I was particularly intrigued. A Mirror for Americans: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Teaching Students Who Excel is, as its name implies, an effort to explain why, when compared to our neighbors on the other side of the world, our education system is seriously flawed.

Grove has a master’s degree in teaching from Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate in education from Columbia. Among his previous books are The Aptitude Myth (2013) and The Drive to Learn (2017). He is a tenacious researcher, having consulted more than 175 other books and many authoritative international studies for this latest work. To be certain, his new book is quite a commanding endeavor on its own merits.

Case in point: there are 20 pages of preface and introduction alone, and 15 pages of postscript and bibliography. These sections bookend 120 pages of text that is divided into nine chapters with at least 35 subheadings. Rarely does a general interest book get more serious than that. As such, one might never call it a fun read—but neither was it intended to be.

Being well and lucidly written is certainly a plus. Still, its gravity may prompt some readers to merely skim through to absorb the basic tenets and ideas. But skimmers may be shortchanged because here and there can be found little intriguing factual nuggets, some having to do with how various teaching methods in East Asia and America came to be, or which educational methods have been borrowed from one part of the world and adapted for another.

“If improving the academic performance of American children ever becomes extremely important to us,” the author writes, “then 1) parents will find new ways to instill in their children a drive to learn that emphasizes receptiveness to learning in classroom settings; and 2) teachers at the primary level will find new ways to plan and present knowledge-centered lessons that constantly and interactively immerse all of their pupils in reasoning and analysis about the knowledge to be learned, directively facilitated by the teacher.” This deduction is stated at the end of the book; what comes before are specific studies and examples to help illustrate Grove’s thesis, most having to do with the relationships between teachers and students, the differences in the culture of learning in East Asia and America, and the ways in which lessons are delivered to groups and individuals.

On the whole, A Mirror for Americans may not trigger the changes that some feel can vastly improve the quality and effectiveness of education in the United States. But it can certainly give individual superintendents, principals, teachers and, perhaps most importantly, parents a few good ideas on how to initiate some of the changes. We may have to settle for that, and Grove gets an A+ for allowing us to get that far. After all, for someone as concerned and well-intentioned as he, being able to say ‘I did what I could’ is much more morally sound than being able to say ‘I told you so.’

Posted on 20 October 2020 on; review by Joel Samberg


Review on the website El Cañero, based in the Dominican Republic

Brooklyn.- Desde 1970, los estudiantes de Asia oriental han superado a sus homólogos estadounidenses en todas las pruebas comparativas de estudiantes internacionales. Cada prueba durante 50 años; sin excepciones. “¿Por qué esto es siempre cierto?” preguntó el Dr. Cornelius Grove. Ahora tiene respuestas.

“Me acerqué a esto como interculturalista y educadora. Quería descubrir los factores históricos y culturales detrás de los repetidos éxitos de los estudiantes de Asia Oriental,” explica el Dr. Grove.

Al sumergirse en cientos de informes de investigación sobre las ventajas de aprendizaje de los niños de Asia oriental, el Dr. Grove resurgió con dos razones principales de su destreza académica. La primera es que son criados en casa en tal manera que llegan a la escuela con una unidad de learn académicamente. La segunda es que durante sus años más impresionables (preescolar-quinto grado), se les enseña mediante lecciones que se centran en el conocimiento, no en el maestro.

Dr. Grove’s 138-page book for parents, The Drive to Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us About Raising Students Who Excel, explores the ways East Asian parents instill in their children a receptiveness to the formal learning process. After seven chapters explaining the values underlying the parents’ mindset, he offers three chapters revealing their supportive practices. It’s an outline for action for American parents who deeply value academic learning.

Un espejo para los estadounidenses: lo que nos dice la experiencia de Asia oriental sobre la enseñanza a los estudiantes que sobresalen es el volume complementario de 148 páginas en el que el Dr. Grove examina el lado de la escuela de la ecuación del aprendizaje. Las lecciones de grado inferior de Asia oriental obtienen la ventaja debido a su atención enfocada y tenaz al tema del día. Entre otras cosas, se refiere a cómo los asiáticos orientales consideran la enseñanza, el aprendizaje y por qué su enseñanza de las matemáticas ha sido tan eficaz. La revista Choice (edición de junio) “recomienda encarecidamente” este libro para “lectores generales a través de la facultad.”

Aunque cada libro se destaca sin esfuerzo, The Drive to Learn y A Mirror for Americans se combinan para fomentar reevaluaciones complementarias por parte de padres y maestros de grado inferior sobre los roles más impactantes que podrían desempeñar para mejorar el rendimiento académico y la preparación universitaria final de nuestros estadounidenses más jóvenes. Para obtener descripciones más detalladas, visite y

Posted on 10 June 2021 on; review by Miguel Rone


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1. What Do Anthropologists of Childhood Actually Do?

Anthropology for Beginners, by Micah J. Fleck (For Beginners, 2020): 132 text pages.

How Other Children Learn addresses only a fraction of one of anthropology’s four subfields. That’s because the study of child socialization occupies a small corner of the subfield variously known as “cultural,” “social,” or “sociocultural” anthropology. (The other three subfields are archeology, linguistics, and biological anthropology). So if reading my book has sparked your interest in anthropology, you should consider reading Anthropology for Beginners next because it offers a well-informed, easily readable, moderately detailed overview of the entire field.

Among the topics covered are the history of anthropology, the characteristics of ethnographic fieldwork (i.e., participant observation), the nature of archeology, the evolution of early human beings, and emerging insights into family and kinship, sex and gender, social order, language, and even money. Also welcome are capsule biographies of Franz Boas, Bronislaw Malinowski, Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, Claude Levi-Strauss, Emile Durkheim, and Zora Neale Hurston, among others. (Was Margaret Mead not included she’s the most famous anthropologist of all?) At the end are a glossary of anthropological terms and a two-page list of further readings. The many illustrations only distract, unfortunately, but don’t let that dissuade you from getting this informative book.


“Ethnographic Studies of Childhood: A Historical Overview,” by Robert A. LeVine. American Anthropologist, 109 (2), 2007: 247–260, 9 text pages.

Only one or two others would be as qualified as Robert LeVine to write a short history of the anthropology of childhood. His overview reveals that although there have been hundreds of fieldwork expeditions, dozens of ethnographers, and several competing academic trends, the bottom line is that the nature of childhood in any society is reflective of the background and context in which it is occurring.

One highlight of this overview is the clash between developmental psychologists and anthropologists of childhood. Psychologists often devise hypotheses about child development for which they claim universal validity. Anthropologists “veto” these hypotheses by discovering contrary cases, which they have done again and again since the 1920s. Other highlights include the insights of Franz Boas and his students; the impact on the field of Freud’s hypothesis about psychosexual development; the seminal contributions of the Six Cultures Study of the 1960s and ‘70s; and researchers’ increasing focus on the learning and socialization of very young children, which is the focus of How Other Children Learn.

Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century, by Charles King (Doubleday, 2019): 345 text pages.

If you become really interested in cultural anthropology, then at some point you’ll want to learn about its origins, which are revealed in this fascinating book. The central figures are Columbia professor Franz Boas (who looked like a veritable mad scientist); his graduate students Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and others; and two of Mead’s husbands, Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson. From here on, it’s best that I paraphrase portions of Charles King’s first chapter:

This book is about women and men who found themselves on the front lines of the greatest moral battle of our time: the struggle to prove that – despite differences of skin color, gender, ability, or custom – humanity is one undivided thing. It is a prehistory of the seismic social changes of the last hundred years, from women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement to the sexual revolution and marriage equality. Yet this is a story about science and scientists.

The seismic social changes were the result of discoveries made by these anthropologists, who believed that evidence-driven analysis would overturn a heretofore deeply held prejudice: that science tells us which human groups are naturally smarter, abler, more upstanding, and fitter to rule. The anthropologists’ response: Science points in precisely the opposite direction.


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2. Growing Up Among the Aka Hunter-Gatherers of Africa

“Hunter-gatherer childhoods in the Congo Basin,” by Barry S. Hewlett. Hunter-Gatherers of the Congo Basin: Cultures, Histories, and Biology of the African Pygmies, Barry S. Hewlett, ed. (Transaction, 2014): 245–275, 23 text pages.

This article was intentionally written as a moderate-length overview of the lives of Aka children by the anthropologist who, far more than any other, has lived with and studied the Aka – four decades! You can acquire this article right now, and it will cost you nothing.

Hewlett discusses nine specific features of Aka childhood that distinguishes it from the childhood of Ngandu (farmer) children, and which distinguish Aka childhood from that of the children of every other human group – except other hunter-gatherers. As part of this discussion, the reader learns more about the Aka male and female initiation ceremonies (Ejengi for boys, Waya for girls). Near the end, Hewlett reviews some of the differences between the Aka and three other Central African hunter-gatherer (or forager) groups: the Efe, the Mbuti, and the Baka.

To acquire Hewlett’s article, go to and search for “Hunter-gatherer childhoods in the Congo Basin.” The search will yield a free article, ready to be downloaded in full and printed.


Listen, Here Is a Story: Ethnographic Life Narratives from Aka and Ngandu Women of the Congo Basin, by Bonnie L. Hewlett (Oxford University Press, 2013): 230 text pages.

This is a humane and empathetic appreciation of the lives of two Aka and two Ngandu women, as conveyed in each one’s own words. Each in turn discusses her memories from childhood and youth, the arrival of her menarche and of love and marriage, her experiences of childbirth and child loss, the nature of her relations with men, and more.

Equally useful is that Bonnie Hewlett also uses this book to record her own experiences as a fledgling anthropologist, being separated from her own children and becoming accustomed to the rhythms of daily life in Africa. She shares many revealing memories, such as this:

The first time I was in the field, I found myself eating a dinner that looked like spinach topped by several large caterpillars. Anthropologists are open-minded! So I put a spoonful of the spinach and a caterpillar into my mouth as everyone waited to see my reaction. I tried to pretend it was yummy! But my body was not fooled…

Does Bonnie get the caterpillar down? The answer is on page 7 of Listen, Here Is a Story.


Intimate Fathers: The Nature and Context of Aka Pygmy Paternal Infant Care, by Barry S. Hewlett (University of Michigan Press, 1991): 175 text pages.

Barry Hewlett has amassed more than 40 years of researching the Aka hunter-gatherers. His Intimate Fathers is the reason why anthropologists often state that Aka males are the best fathers in the world.

Chapter 2 is an overview of the Aka people and their ways of life, including their background, context, and relations with the Ngandu farmers. Chapter 3 concerns Hewlett’s research methods; if you skip it, don’t miss the fascinating list of 50 Aka skills beginning on page 73. Chapter 4 is more “researchy” than most anthropological reports, explained by the fact that Hewlett was gathering quantitative data to demonstrate that Aka fathers really are more caring of their youngsters than other society’s fathers.

Beginning with Chapter 5, Hewlett shifts toward a broader discussion of the role of fathers in intercultural and global perspective. If you have even a modest degree of interest in fathers and fatherhood, this accessible book should be on your reading list.


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3. Growing Up Among the Quechua of Highland Peru

Growing Up in a Culture of Respect: Child Rearing in Highland Peru, by Inge Bolin (University of Texas Press, 2006): 160 text pages.

As much as any other source I consulted, I am enthusiastic about this one. Inge Bolin’s Growing Up in a Culture of Respect is a warm, appreciative – and lengthy! – sojourn with the Quechua while also being a work of scholarship. Her photographs reveal a group of people who seem dignified, open-hearted, and content with their lot in life. One of her photos graces the cover of this book.

Bolin knew of the negative stereotypes that outsiders held about the Quechua. But her first encounter with them in a lowland market led her to realize that “the stereotype had been imposed out of ignorance. I was struck by the elegant and respectful demeanor of these highland herders.” She lived with the Quechua of one ayllu during 13 fieldwork sojourns.

Bolin’s chapters advance through the stages of childhood, from the cradle through adolescence. Special attention is given to the ways in which these children learn, to the rituals and ceremonies that are their principal social outlet, and to probing questions such as:

How is it possible that in an egalitarian society, where the competitive attitude is minimal, children excel at work and play within their society and beyond its borders? What child-rearing strategies produce adolescents who are gentle and non-aggressive, yet self-confident and courageous even in the face of great danger?


“Respect and autonomy in children’s observation and participation in adults’ activities,” by Fernando A. García. Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 49, 2015: 137–151, 14 text pages.

This article offers a thoughtful look at key qualities of the Quechua way of life by an author who himself is a native Quechua. Of particular interest to García is the Quechua understanding of autonomy and respect, and the impact on children of formal schooling.

García portrays autonomy as the result of a family’s development in the child of capacities for agency and initiative, which is made possible by the child’s constant participation in the family’s activities. Autonomy is not self-promoting. Instead, García says, it’s about the child’s agency on behalf of the family, and about taking responsibility for respecting all human and non-human beings. Respect is portrayed as behaving modestly, quietly, and politely in the presence of adults. Adults respect children by “minding” them in the sense of listening to them and putting themselves in the children’s shoes. To respect means to show mindful consideration toward others.

García notes that when children start school, they lose opportunities to learn their culture by observing and pitching in. Quechua parents know this but demand schooling because it is essential preparation for life beyond their ayllu.


“Places are kin: Food, cohabitation, and sociality in the southern Peruvian Andes,” by Guillermo Salas Carreño. Anthropological Quarterly, 89 (3), 2016: 813–840, 22 text pages.

In this article, Salas Carreño discusses the unusual relationship between the highland Quechua and their surrounding geographical locations. Although mountains, valleys, and meadows might be beautiful, we assume they are inert and lifeless. The Quechua have a completely different view – and it is not that geographical features are imbued with spirits of some sort. Rather, places are “living, sentient, social individuals that have the thoughts, capacities of action, emotions, and intentions of all social beings, including the ability to continue a relationship or to spurn it, and the ability to nurture or destroy.”

Within this Quechua world, “humans are ultimately dependent on places, the original sources of all food. Food offerings are how humans construct positive relationships with places, without the generosity of which human labor becomes useless and life impossible.” It is within his explanation of this dynamic people–places relationship that Salas Carreño integrates a comprehensive understanding of the Quechua etiquette of chewing coca leaves.


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4. Growing Up Among the Navajos of the U.S. Southwest

Children of the People, by Dorothea Leighton & Clyde Kluckhohn (Cambridge University Press, 1947); Part I only: 112 text pages.

This is one of two books resulting from the Indian Education Research Project, a major scholarly effort during the early 1940s to understand the Navajo. One book, The Navaho, by Kluckhohn & Leighton, is an excellent general overview, but includes no chapter about children. This book, by Leighton & Kluckhohn, is solely about children. I recommend Part I only (chapters 1–4) because it was written by Clyde Kluckhohn, a leading anthropologist of the day, whereas Part II is by Leighton, a psychiatrist, who subjected the children to projective mental tests.

Kluckhohn’s four chapters provide the reader with solid grounding in the daily lives of Navajo children from birth into early adulthood, probing the laissez faire child-minding of their parents and the many others who are major players in the children’s experience. Included are explorations of children-related values, taboos, superstitions, ceremonies (e.g., Kinaaldá), and understandings of the supernatural; Kluckhohn even shares selected Navajo prayers and chants. Chapter 4 discusses the nature of relationships between parents–children, siblings–siblings, uncles/aunts–nieces/nephews, and grandparents–grandchildren; it then moves on to consider personality characteristics such as curiosity, shyness–shame, realism–unrealism, and imagination.


Navajo Infancy: An Ethological Study of Child Development, by James S. Chisholm (AldineTransaction, 1983): 249 text pages.

The product of Ph.D. dissertation fieldwork, Chisholm’s book is a broad introduction to the lives of children, parents, extended family members, and others in Cottonwood Springs, a Navajo camp, and to the background and context within which their mid-1970s living occurs.

Chisholm’s doctoral research was planned during an era in which interest in the attachment hypothesis was high (details in Chapter 1 of How Other Children Learn). The main question his research addressed was whether cradleboard use undermined the attachment felt between Navajo mothers and their infants. (The answer: If anything, their attachment is strengthened.)

Navajo Infancy is also quite thoughtful on matters such as the attributes of a Navajo child’s universe, characteristics of Navajo behavior, the goals of Navajo life, and the nature and impact of their norms, values, and temperament. On a prosaic note, Chisholm takes an interest in the Navajo’s pickup trucks.


“Cultural differences in child development: Navajo adolescents in middle schools,” by Donna Deyhle & Margaret LeCompte. Theory into Practice, 33 (3), 1994: 156–166, 10 text pages.

This is one of the most informative short articles anywhere that explores cultural differences between an ethnic population on the one hand – in this case, the Navajos – and U.S. school personnel on the other. Deyhle & LeCompte attain their insights by examining the contrasting assumptions made by Navajos and “Anglos” about children aged 9–15 and their parents.

The underlying culture clash is this: Navajos assume that, roughly around age 15, children attain sexual and social maturity simultaneously, after which they are accepted as responsible adults who have egalitarian relations with other adults. Anglos assume the arrival of sexual maturity does not interrupt the long period of dependence during which adolescents are regarded as persons in need of adult supervision, leading school personnel to view Navajo parents as dangerously “permissive.” Particularly useful are two tables that contrast Navajo and Anglo differences. Table 1 portrays differences in the role expectations of adults and older children. Table 2 compares differences in the two groups’ goals for middle school children.


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5. Growing Up Among the Village Arabs of the Levant

Within the Circle: Parents and Children in an Arab Village, by Andrea B. Rugh (Columbia University Press, 1997): 245 text pages.

As much as any other source I consulted, I am enthusiastic about this one. Andrea Rugh is an independent scholar (i.e., an academic with no university base) with extensive Middle East experience. Accompanying her diplomat husband, she found herself living in Damascus. Needing a quiet place to finish a book, she rented a room in a family’s home in a Syrian village. The family, including the mother’s sister’s family next door, warmly welcomed their guest and gradually drew her into their lives. Rugh was perplexed about many of their ways of life, but soon found that family members were unresponsive to her direct questioning.

Rather than irritate them, I began to search on my own for tangible clues that would help me understand how they and their children conceptualized the world. I assumed there were logical reasons for their behavior. I assumed also that I would have to understand the larger context in which they lived in order to discover what restricted and what motivated their behavior.

The outcome, Within the Circle, is a detailed description and insightful cultural analysis of a Syrian village family’s ways. Rugh’s final chapter, “Lessons,” is one of the most thoughtful and revealing pieces of anthropological writing I’ve ever encountered.


Married to a Bedouin, by Marguerite van Geldermalsen (Virago Press, 2006): 276 text pages.

New Zealand native Marguerite van Geldermalsen was a nurse when she and a friend vacationed in Jordan. While in Petra, a World Heritage Site, they were befriended by a Bedouin souvenir-seller, who invited them to spend the night in his cave. It wasn’t long before Geldermalsen was married to him. She learned Arabic, converted to Islam, bore his three children, and oversaw their home in the cave, interacting daily with the many Bedouins, Arabs, and others – including Queen Elizabeth – who came to visit and chat, never more so than after the birth of each child.

Of all the suggested readings listed on this webpage, this is the only one that’s not written by an anthropologist (or a historian.) But Geldermalsen is a good observer and reporter of her daily experiences as a member of a Bedouin community. Her little book is humane, interesting, and illustrated with 25 color photos. She and the souvenir-seller make a very attractive couple!


The Bedouins and the Desert: Aspects of Nomadic Life in the Arab East, by Jibrail S. Jabbur (State University of New York Press, 1995): 537 text pages.

This thick, heavy tome, illustrated with many photographs, could have been titled, Everything You Need to Know about the Bedouin Nomads – except that, unfortunately, only a single page discusses “Boys and Girls.” No matter. There are plenty of thoughtful discussions under headings such as “The Ethnic and Social Significance of Nomadism,” “The Pillars of Bedouin Life,” “Bedouin Solidarity and Pride in Descent,” “His Ability to Interpret Physical Signs,” and “Cultural Life in the Desert.” There are whole sections on “The Camel” and “The Tent.” If you’re interested in desert ecology, there are well researched discourses about trees and plants, carnivorous and herbivorous animals, birds, reptiles, insects, and more. My guess is that non-specialist writers (like me!) who need to say something knowledgeable about the nomadic Bedouin are getting much of their information from this authoritative book.


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6. Growing Up Among the Hindu Villagers of India

The Rajputs of Khalapur, India, by Leigh Minturn & John Hitchcock (Wiley, 1966): 155 text pages.

As discussed in Chapter 1 of How Other Children Learn, the first major fieldwork study by anthropologists of childhood was the Six Cultures Study. This book is the outcome of one of those six studies. After harmonizing their research approaches, teams of anthropologists dispersed to each of six field sites; one was Khalapur, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, a village of about 25,000 showing pronounced Muslim influence. The anthropologists who made up the Khalapur team were Leigh Minturn and John Hitchcock.

Like all good anthropological fieldwork reports, this one addresses its main topic, childhood and child-rearing, only after it provides a detailed overview of Khalapur’s background and context – which requires 11 chapters. The four chapters of Part II, “Child Training,” address pregnancy and childbirth, infancy, the preschool child, and the school age child. This relatively short, straightforward, and readily understandable book helped to set a high standard for on-site observation and reporting of the behavior of humans within their naturally occurring families.


Women, Family, and Child Care in India: A World in Transition, by Susan C. Seymour (Cambridge, 1999): 291 text pages.

Anthropologist Susan Seymour had a specific research interest: the process whereby a traditional community gradually transforms into a modern one. She discovered an ideal location to pursue her interest in the eastern state of Orissa. For centuries, Bhubaneswar had been an agricultural village and temple town – until it was selected to become the new seat of Orissa’s government. On land just to the east of Bhubaneswar’s center, bulldozers and builders suddenly began erecting a “New Capital” of government buildings and housing.

Within four decades, Bhubaneswar grew from a village, where the same families in caste-based neighborhoods knew one another, to a sizeable city with many institutions of modern urban life as well as its social anonymity. In population growth, Bhubaneswar experienced dramatic change. The change, however, went far deeper than mere demographics would indicate.

Those deeper changes are what this book addresses, with special emphasis on the impact of the momentous traditional-to-modern transformation on women and family life. Seymour’s illustrated chapters reveal what it was like growing up female in the traditional Old Town; the transitions involved in being a wife, mother, and daughter in the New Capital; changes affecting females in caste, class, and gender; and the impact of education on women’s changing roles and aspirations.


Notes on Love in a Tamil Family, by Margaret Trawick (University of California Press, 1992): 258 text pages.

This unusual anthropological report has many qualities of a memoir, so it might appeal to some readers more than the two books profiled above. Here is Trawick’s nonstandard first paragraph:

More than a quarter of my life has passed since I began writing this book. Its heart has stayed constant during this time, but its features have changed and changed again as I have moved and taken it with me from one world to another to another. It is beginning to look to me now as I look to myself, like a beaten-up suitcase with a lot of stickers on it.

Trawick was welcomed into an extended family in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The reader comes to know each family member very well, thanks to the book’s memoir qualities and Trawick’s inclusion of a photographic portrait of each one. Other unusual features include numerous quotations of Tamil poetry (in the original and in translation); large, complex diagrams of Tamil kin terms, which apparently have qualities such as radial and bilateral symmetry; and a surprising amount about the relationships between Trawick and her husband and children. As Lincoln once wrote, “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”


Articles are available for a fee via Books are available in all the usual ways.

7. How Do Other Children Learn Responsibility?

“Responsibility in childhood: Three developmental trajectories,” by Elinor Ochs & Carolina Izquierdo. Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, 37 (4), 2009: 391–413, 18 text pages.

This insightful article provides examples and analysis of the contrast in how parents in two traditional societies and U.S. middle-class society (try to) instill an active sense of responsibility in their children. Summary: In the two traditional societies, most children start becoming responsible at an early age without the parents’ worrying about how it’s going to happen; in U.S. society, few children become responsible in spite of the parents’ worrying a lot about whether it’s ever going to happen. The traditional societies are the Matsigenka in the Peruvian Amazon and Upolu Island in Samoa; the U.S. society is a community in Greater Los Angeles. You can acquire this article right now, and it is free.
After providing vignettes of family interactions in each of the three societies, Ochs & Izquierdo offer seven arguments to explain the contrast. In my view, their strongest arguments are these three:

(1) The traditional parents are highly consistent in assigning tasks to children beginning at an early age, and in monitoring their execution of those tasks; the L.A. parents rarely assign tasks when the children are very young, and they’re inconsistent about task-assignments.

(2) The tasks assigned in the traditional societies visibly contribute to the family’s wellbeing and sustenance, but the tasks assigned in L.A. insignificantly contribute to that end.

(3) By expecting task-completion beginning at an early age, the traditional parents provided daily opportunities for their children to develop self-reliant independence. In L.A., the parents talked about the importance of developing independence; actually, though, they conditioned their children to dependency by doing all sorts of things for them and expecting little in return.

At, search for “Responsibility in childhood: Three developmental trajectories.” Of the two options offered, select “[PDF]” Click on that. It’s yours.


“Learning to be responsible: Young children transitions outside school,” by Patricia Ames. Learning, Culture, and Social Interaction, 2, 2013: 143–154, 11 text pages.

This paper discusses research carried out in two traditional villages in Peru. One was a Quechua community in the south at an altitude of between 10,000 and 11,500 feet; the other was a coffee-farming village in the north of Peru. Using interviews and participant observation, Ames explored the transitions that characterized the lives of traditional children between ages five and seven, which she refers to as “the transition from early to middle childhood.”

One of the attractions of this paper is that it includes lengthy descriptions of the responsible day-to-day activities of two youngsters from each of the villages. In Chapter 3 of How Other Children Learn are shortened versions of the two Quechua children’s activities (Ana and Felipe), but the most memorable description is of the activities of Gabriela, a 5-year-old in the coffee-farming village. You won’t believe that a small child could be so competent and responsible.

Ames’s findings are similar to those of other anthropologists of childhood. As traditional children approach age five, they begin being included in a range of subsistence and other activities in keeping with their burgeoning capabilities. These changes are accompanied by progressive increases of their roles and responsibilities within their families. As Ames puts it, they go “from being ‘little children’ who are taken care of, to more ‘grown up’ children who are able to take care of others.” This type of learning is facilitated in societies where children share the adults’ world, rather than being separated from it. These transitions increase each child’s overall well-being and sense of identity within their social group, and builds their self-esteem.


Articles are available for a fee via Books are available in all the usual ways.

8. How Do Other Parents Parent? And How Do Other Children Learn?

An Introduction to Childhood: Anthropological Perspectives on Children’s Lives, by Heather Montgomery (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009): 238 text pages.

If reading How Other Children Learn has aroused your interest in the anthropology of childhood, then An Introduction to Childhood is an excellent book to take your interest to the next level. A scholar with the Open University in the U.K., Montgomery gives us, in relatively few pages, an overview of childhood in cross-cultural, biological, and social perspectives. In her Introduction, she shares that her start in this field occurred before anthropologists were taking it seriously:

When I first started my doctorate in 1992, the number of people working specifically on childhood was very small. There was a sense that children were not a legitimate topic of study, and that studying children was regarded as less than serious.

Montgomery’s first chapter examines childhood as a topic of study within American and British anthropology, and her second looks at the many ways in which human beings have thought about their youngsters (equals? incompetents? investments? laborers? and others). Beginning with Chapter 3, she reviews for us what scholars have learned so far about birth and beginnings; family, friends, and peers; talking, playing, and working; discipline, punishment, and abuse; adolescence; and various aspects of sexuality. Parenting is mentioned frequently, of course. But Montgomery’s focus is on understanding the children in cross-cultural perspective.


Raising Children: Surprising Insights from Other Cultures, by David F. Lancy (Cambridge, 2017): 170 text pages.

David Lancy is the world’s most accomplished cataloguer of historical and anthropological research on childhood. His magnum opus is The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings, the 3rd edition of which was published in 2022. Besides hundreds of pages of facts about childhood around the world and through historical time, it includes an a bibliography of 126 pages plus an index that lists some 530 societies in which children have been studied – some you’ve heard of, some you probably haven’t (Kwara’ae, Iñupiaq, Pirahã, !Kung, etc.).

Lancy’s editor at Cambridge encouraged him to write a book for the general public based on his magnum opus. The result is Raising Children: Surprising Insights from Other Cultures. In it we encounter both Lancy the omniscient anthropologist and Lancy the acerbic critic of our middle-class child-rearing. On page after page, he cites examples of child-rearing in as many as eight other societies to support his contention that our ideas and ideals about children contrast sharply with those of other peoples. By historical and cross-cultural standards, we overparent and micromanage. But as a child, he was spared: That’s why he dedicates this book to “my parents…because they left me alone.”


Learning Without Lessons: Pedagogy in Indigenous Communities, by David F. Lancy (2023).

Information about this book will appear after I obtain a copy and read it.


Below are hot links to the films and videos recommended at the beginning of Chapters 1 through 6.

1. What Do Anthropologists of Childhood Actually Do?

The first two films were made to introduce neophytes to the ways anthropologists think and work. If anthropology is relatively new to you, watching one or both of these will complement Chapter 1.

Why Study Anthropology? (2016) 5:17 min. Two university students and a professor overview the basics of cultural anthropology, hoping to interest new students in their field of study. Produced by the University of Ottawa Faculty of Social Sciences.

Defining Anthropology and Ethnography (2018) 7:09 min. Introduces anthropology basics such as participant observation (a.k.a. ethnography), emic vs. etic (insiders’ vs. outsiders’ perspectives), the importance of the context of behavior, and the four fields of study within the field of anthropology. Produced by MMOGology (which studies online gaming communities).

The second set of films highlight Margaret Mead, the first anthropologist to focus her fieldwork on the study of children, youth, parenting, and related topics. Dr. Mead is the central figure of Chapter 1.

Margaret Mead: Exploring the Influence of Culture (2016) 10:00 min. This documentary includes many archival photos. Made for Minnesota State History Day.

Margaret Mead (c. 1975) 27:30 min. Mead talks about her upbringing, her mentors, her fieldwork, and her perspectives on society; some archival photos. Not an interview. Collected by Footage Farm, which archives films in the public domain (# 221564-02).


2. Growing Up Among the Aka Hunter-Gatherers of Africa

These films will enable you to more accurately imagine Aka Pygmy families as you read this chapter.

A Caterpillar Moon (1995) 50:00 min. Anthropologist Barry Hewlett observes the daily lives of the members of one of the families that he has been studying for decades. Produced by BBC Bristol.; scroll to “Caterpillar Moon,” click on “watch it here.”

Pygmies of Africa (1939) 20:07 min. Describes the ways of hunter-gatherers; admires their craft and building skills. Produced by Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Pygmies of Africa” is about a group in Central Africa, but not necessarily the Aka. Note that the filmmaker required his subjects to cover their private parts, presumably to preserve the innocence of U.S. audiences.


3. Growing Up Among the Quechua of Highland Peru

These films will enable you to more accurately imagine Quechua families as you read this chapter.

The Original People of Peru: The Quechua (~1970). 49:50 min. Documentary about the daily lives of the highland Quechua. Produced by TRACKS Travel.

Peru’s Quechua Indians: Culture and Family Traditions (2019). 16:51 min. Emphasizes traditional practices and rituals. Produced by wocomoHUMANITY.

TRACKS Travel makes films about traditional peoples; more are at


4. Growing Up Among the Navajos of the U.S. Southwest

Although several of these films offer an idealized portrayal, watching some or all of them will enable you to more accurately imagine Navajo families as you read this chapter.

Navajo Indians (1939). 10:35 min. Focuses on tribal social life and courtship rituals; includes building a hogan. Produced by Encyclopedia Britannica.

The Navajo Indian (1945). 8:54 min. Focuses on how the Navajo live and sustain life, especially sheepherding. Produced by the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs.

Navajo Canyon Country (1954). 12:19 min. Overviews the practical aspects of Navajo life. Produced by filmmaker Florence Avalon Daggett.

Navajo Indian Life (1956). 11:33 min. Reviews the formidable challenges facing the Navajos. Produced by the National Council of American Indians.

These films and others are maintained by the American Indian Film Gallery at the University of Arizona.


5. Growing Up Among the Village Arabs of the Levant

These films will enable you to more accurately imagine Bedouin families as you read this chapter.

Bedouins and Early Life of Muhammad (2017) 9:22 min. Deep background regarding the values and lifestyle of the Bedouins. Origin is indeterminate.

Desert Arabs (1948). 11:00 min. A fascinating silent film depicting features of the daily lives of the Bedouins. Produced by Encyclopedia Britannica.

The Bedouins about 100 Years Ago (c. 1920). 2:12 min. Silent film about desert tent life, focusing on women and children. Produced by Pathé-Baby.

Life in a Bedouin Encampment (1922). 2:05 min. Silent film about couscous that also reveals Bedouin family life. Produced by Pathé-Baby.

A search also found films about village life in the Levant, but almost all were advancing a political perspective.


6. Growing Up Among the Hindu Villagers of India

These films will enable you to more accurately imagine Indian families as you read this chapter.

I Lived in an Indian Village (2019). 22:25 min. Karl Rock walks us through an Indian home and village, discussing ordinary daily life there. Produced by Karl Rock.

Why Dalit? (~2010). 29:51 min. In a village setting, Dalit and higher-caste people discuss their relations. Published by Nordic Anthro. Film Assn.

Desi Life in India (2021). 10:14 min. With no narration, we watch villagers’ daily work, including making cow dung patties. Real Life India series.

On YouTube, a search for “real life India” or “villages in India” will yield a large number of films made in India, mostly in villages, and mostly depicting outdoor work and cooking. Many of the films have no narration.