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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
Overview on the website Boove.co.uk
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.”
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.
Review on the website Bookpleasures.com
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.’