Great 8:00 minute report from NRR’s Alix Spiegel on the importance of struggling to learn, and differences in perception between American and Asian cultures. A few excerpts:
“I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart,” Stigler says. “It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.”
In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.
“They’ve taught them that suffering can be a good thing,”
According to Dr. Jin Li, a professor at Brown University who studies the learning beliefs of Asian and U.S. children, Americans tend to view innate intelligence as the cause of success. But in many Asian cultures academic excellence “resides in what they do, but not who they are, [not] what they’re born with.”
The report goes on to say “Westerns tend to worry that their kids won’t be able to compete against Asian kids who excel in many areas but especially in math and science….But educators from Asian countries have their own set of worries….Our children are not creative. Our children do not have individuality. They’re just robots.”
I’m not so sure. I went to graduate school with many Asians and they were very creative. I think both excellence and creativity can be achieved if there is sufficient emphasis on rote learning and then (on top of that) the encouragement to innovate and come up with new ways of doing things. Fundamentals like grammar and the multiplication tables empower us for higher levels of performance. (Not to mention that memory work makes the brain stronger.)
HT: Nancy Pearcey