Seasons Greetings, Little Soldiers by Lenora Chu (Review), Education in China vs. the U.S.

Seasons Greetings, Everyone. After the lack of updates over the last year or so, I probably have three readers left. So I hope my three readers will enjoy this post.

One thing in my life that I had always taken for granted was my love of reading. Reading has been with me for all my life, and I’ve always loved reading and writing. You can see it in my past posts: I used to write long book reviews, and I used to grill commenters who would comment but never sought to read more about the subjects on which they were commenting. But last year, my love for reading and writing stopped. Maybe it was due to the fact that the non-reading Far Left won the cultural war, while the non-reading Far Right won the political war. Maybe it was my realization that all our arguments mean nothing in an era where emotion seems to be the guiding force of Leftist culture and Right-wing politicians. Maybe it’s because I realize that hanging out with my kids is more fun than creating content in a world where moderates get no love. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of losing every fight I step into. We lost the fight for common sense in politics, common sense in education, and common sense in culture. The Republicans have beaten us in politics and have now waged war on the environment, Black Lives Matter has successfully fought to eliminate and destroy expectations of personal responsibility from underrepresented minorities, and crazy Leftists have overrun the universities. Hell, even the Celebrity Club has won. I think sometime this year I threw in the towel, at least for now.

In any case, I’m finding it really hard to read and write anything these days, so it was with great effort that I pushed through Lenora Chu’s book Little Soldiers: An American Boy, A Chinese School, and a Global Race to Achieve. It’s with great effort that I’m writing this review. The book is about a Chinese American (Taiwanese American?) woman who moves to China to raise her two sons. The focus of the book is her cultural adjustments to the rigid educational system in China and how she copes as a parent who is putting her son through the system.

I thought this was an incredibly honest book. Chu doesn’t try to sugarcoat anything. For example, her son gets into an elite school because his father is White, and the author doesn’t hide this fact. Chu talks at length about her own upbringing with a strict father, and how she herself dealt with some of the vestiges of a Chinese cultural upbringing. She talks about the corruption, abuses, and bribery that goes on in Chinese schools, and she has interviews with students who are studying for the gaokao. Having dealt with some of the Chinese parents at my school, I can now see why they see education the way they do. Chu doesn’t deny the existence of culture (as some liberals do these days), and instead focuses on the pros and cons of both the American and Chinese systems. When she talks about the role of memorization and testing, she comes to many of the same conclusions that we here have reached. This book garnered recommendations from both Amy Chua and Michelle Rhee. These recommendations were well-deserved, and anyone serious about their children’s education would benefit from this book.

While reading the book, I was a bit surprised by Chu’s remarks about the “American system” of education. I didn’t think her remarks had anything to do with how public education is actually conducted in America, although I think the American education probably differs greatly depending on where you live. I appreciated her conclusion that both systems have something to offer. I’ve found that different cultures see the world differently, and there’s no way we could ever copy another culture’s system of education completely. One’s national education has to suit the national character and culture (and yes, culture does exist). For example, there is no reason to be teaching Japanese kids in Japan to speak out and argue if Japanese adults don’t do that. At the same time, there is always something to learn. Math instruction in this country, for example, is woefully inefficient. It’s inefficient not because of how our culture deals with math, but rather it’s inefficient because Americans don’t like memorizing and would rather waste time than demand results from lazy kids. As Chu mentions, we have no problem ranking athletes, but we would never rank kids by academic performance because of how we view self-esteem. We could learn from the countries who are kicking our asses in math.

Anyway, check out this book.

15 thoughts on “Seasons Greetings, Little Soldiers by Lenora Chu (Review), Education in China vs. the U.S.

  1. Of course American education varies by region. Massachusetts and West Virginia are polar opposites, for example. Personally, I see Confucianism’s tradition of passive learning and rote memorization as a problem that stifles creativity. An American English teacher had a South Korean class write an original short story and the students asked what to write about. It was that bad.

    My opinion is that Jewish culture’s tradition of Talmudic debate instilled a mindset that encourages critical and analytical thinking. Questions are open-ended and inspire innovative arguments and reasoning. Everyone could learn from Jews. Israel is the world’s most successful economy when measured by tech, finance, and controlled for population size.

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
    -Albert Einstein (Jew)

    “In the areas of math and science, and indeed, in all subjects, they excel. They excel and are so far beyond the standards of a typical American student that there is no comparison. What they don’t excel at is imagination, questioning the status quo, innovation and thinking things through for themselves. This is not encouraged. In fact it is stifled brutally under the vicious tongues of their teachers.”
    -American expat in Taiwan (Confucian)

  2. Kiwi,

    I agree with learning from the Jews.

    Regarding rote memorization, Chu takes a different approach that I agree with. I probably wrote about it in the comments here, but rote memorization allows faster recall and greater mastery of material. Chu tells the story of a high schooler who has her favorite Chinese poem memorized because memorization was required in school. Most Americans, she remarks, don’t have that kind of appreciation for literature because they haven’t memorized poems and therefore haven’t internalized them to the same degree.

    It’s the same deal with math. Too many American kids do math without memorizing their times tables. What this means is that they’re a lot slower on tests, and they waste mental energy when trying to solve higher-level problems without mastering lower level skills.

  3. I noticed that a lot of what I had to memorize in school I forgot.

    It is a bit like there is a storage limit where if I am to learn a new thing, something else must be forgotten.

    I am very glad I memorized the time tables; as I multiply every day.

  4. @ bigWOWO

    I agree that rote memorization is a valuable skill. I may have implied wrongly that critical thinking and rote memorization are mutually exclusive. In fact, they are synergistic. However, I still believe the former is far more important than the latter. According to the Merton thesis, Protestantism fostered a spirit of individual inquiry that gave rise to modern science and technology. The Industrial Revolution might not have been possible without it. Whereas Protestantism inspired critical thinking and innovation, Confucianism encouraged rote memorization and accumulation of knowledge. Judaism, on the other hand, seems to integrate both. Jews beat out all other cultures at winning Nobel Prizes and score highly on tests of verbal and mathematical intelligence.

    If I had to rank the three cultures by their achievement levels:
    Jews > Protestants > Confucians

    Obviously, this isn’t set in stone. Japan has a fair number of Nobel Prize winners but when you compare it to Nobel Prize winners from countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, and especially the United States, it’s obvious that there’s a lot of talent being wasted, especially for a behemoth like China. Western countries stand to gain marginally from more rote memorization but the real potential lies in educational reform that can introduce critical thinking to East Asian countries. That would usher in a new golden age of progress but I’m not sure their leadership is aware of how important it is.

  5. We could learn from the countries who are kicking our asses in math.

    While this is true, I want to elaborate further. When you exclude Blacks and Hispanics (30% of the US population) from math and science PISA scores, Americans rival and even outperform many of the countries that are supposedly “kicking our asses”, scoring in the top ten. For example, Whites and Asians in the US together outdo South Koreans in science testing.

    Given the current state of race relations, it is next to impossible to bring attention to this issue without being accused of racism. I think a better approach is to emphasize cultural differences within the same race, such as Massachusite Whites vs. West Virginian Whites, before talking about cultural differences between races.

  6. Kiwi the racist once again pulls out statements from wherever he hides it without any DATA. *YAWN*

  7. If it’s true, it’s worth examining, no matter what people say. But Kiwi, when you make an inflammatory statement like,

    “When you exclude Blacks and Hispanics (30% of the US population) from math and science PISA scores, Americans rival and even outperform many of the countries that are supposedly “kicking our asses”, scoring in the top ten. For example, Whites and Asians in the US together outdo South Koreans in science testing.

    I think you should provide some sort of data. I’m not saying that it’s not true–in her book, Chu talks about how it’s mostly Shanghai, not so much China in general, that kicks our asses on the PISA test. Some schools in China are hurting so badly that they don’t even have permanent homeroom teachers. It’s possible that not all Korea has the same kind of cutthroat emphasis that we see in Seoul. Whether or not the rest of Korea would be unable to compete with, say, Appalachia, is an interesting question. But when you make a statement like that, you should provide evidence.

    That really should be the theme in all of our discussions. Controversial statements are good, only insofar as they’re backed up by fact.

    Given the current state of race relations, it is next to impossible to bring attention to this issue without being accused of racism.

    Just provide the data, and you at least have a good place to start.

  8. As far as rote memorization vs. critical thinking, you should check out Chu’s book. She says that the Chinese bureaucrats almost ALL support the “Westernization” of the Chinese education. They give speeches about how they’re trying to adopt Western practices and Western education, but when it comes to the implementation, it just doesn’t work as planned.

    I’m not sure if you were here back then, but ChineseMom and I did a podcast on Chinese vs. Western education. Most Chinese see value in Western educations, which is one reason (among others, of course) that rich Chinese send their kids to the U.S.

    One thing that I’ve learned in the past couple of years is that it’s really really really hard to judge the results of a culture’s education. Most of my neighbors, for example, are Indian. They came here because of the H1B visa program. American tech companies are often started by Americans, but these Americans prefer to hire non-Americans. I used to question why American companies didn’t want to hire Americans, but that was before I realized that some of these Indian engineers are really really really good. American tech companies are good because they hire the best of the best in the free world.

    On the other hand, there are two factors to consider. First, if you talk to my Indian neighbors, they will RAVE about the American education system. They love it. They talk about how smart some of their American coworkers are, and they attribute it to the educational system. They LOVE the fact that their kids are getting American educations. Second, we all have to realize that when we look at Indians in America, we only see the smart ones who made it through the whole college, hiring, and H1B process. If you were born Indian in India, it’s really hard to come here unless you’re very smart. It’s the same deal with the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese (ESPECIALLY Chinese who come here through tech visas).

    As for your statements about ranking cultures by achievement, I think you’re omitting the issue of organization. Western countries, almost across the board, are better organized than non-Western countries. Organization has been the one area where Western culture has dominated. You can achieve a lot more when you’re efficient, and if you’re not well-organized, you’re not efficient.

  9. As if to prove my point, aardvark kindly jumped in to make a fool of himself.

    The results of the 2009 PISA ranked the United States twenty-fifth in math and twenty-first in science, precipitating a lot of handwringing on the part of the media, government officials, and educators. However, analysis of the 2006 PISA results for science disaggregated by white and Asian, Hispanic, and black students presents a strikingly different picture.

    US white and Asian students ranked seventh, with 523 points (the OECD average was 500 points), after Finland, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and the Netherlands. But the US white and Asian students were ahead of South Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom, and several other high-income countries including Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, and the other four Nordic countries (excluding Finland).

    However, US black students were at the bottom of the list, after Greece, Turkey, and Mexico, and the increasingly numerous US Hispanic students were fourth from the bottom, behind Greece. When the three American groups were combined, the national total fell to 489 points—twenty-first of thirty.

    From: “Jews, Confucians, and Protestants.” by Lawrence E. Harrison

    This is the book I recommended to you. I realize the data is from 2006 but the data from 2015 doesn’t show any drastic changes.

    Science Literacy: Race and Ethnicity

    Chu talks about how it’s mostly Shanghai, not so much China in general, that kicks our asses on the PISA test. Some schools in China are hurting so badly that they don’t even have permanent homeroom teachers.

    This is less scientific but it’s the closest thing we’ve got:


    Shanghai comes out at about 108 IQ while even the poorest regions of China still come out at 101 IQ. I bet you can reasonably use IQ as a proxy for PISA scores, which simply measure the academic rigor instilled by people’s cultural environment. A study done by The Economist and published by Pearson Education (link in the open thread) found that culture matters more than socioeconomics when it comes to educational outcomes.

    Organization has been the one area where Western culture has dominated. You can achieve a lot more when you’re efficient, and if you’re not well-organized, you’re not efficient.

    I agree. For example, Germany is world-famous for its Prussian virtues, a derivative of the Protestant work ethic. But Japan is famous for that, too.

    Blink and you’ll miss it: Japanese sinkhole repaired at speed – video

    It took only one week to fix the massive hole in that road, which I attribute to the Confucian work ethic.

    Japan is also famous for having so many of the world’s oldest companies. I see that as an outcome of their extreme Confucian interpretation of planning for the future.

    I think what makes the West, especially America, unique in its outlook is its individualism. Everybody is allowed to be themselves and live to their full potential.

    “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” – American proverb
    “The nail that stands out gets pounded down.” – Japanese proverb

  10. From: “Jews, Confucians, and Protestants.” by Lawrence E. Harrison

    Okay, fair enough. It’s strange that there’s nothing available on the web, but we’ll take that.

  11. Happy New Year Byron, are you still trying to avoid Identity Politics? I hope you’re aware that IP is not all about race, by avoiding racial politics you haven’t avoided IP althogether. I noticed you guys talked a lot about Cultures in the other articles, and now talking about religions. By embracing religion, cultures, and even Moderate politics, you guys are embracing Identity Politics, you guys have metamorphosed/transitioned into different forms of IP. Any association with smaller subset of political affiliation that’s not Republican rightwing or Democrat leftwing are considered IP, at least by definitions.

    politics in which groups of people having a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group

    political activity or movements based on or catering to the cultural, ethnic, gender, racial, religious, or social interests that characterize a group identity.

  12. *YAWN*

    Kiwi the racist making up lies once again: the only “reputable” link is the NCES site, but there’s NOTHING the link points to. Wherever Kiwi is pulling that link from, it’s completely BUNK with nothing there.

    WTF is a wordpress titled “the slitty eye” have any reputable links? A China based SELF-REPORTING IQ test link that can be easily cheated with those in rich areas with internet access. Not even Ramakrishnan can fake results this bad…

    Lastly, Lawrence E. Harrison quotes from racist right-wingnut websites and set political agendas isn’t even social science, but racist ideology spewed by political “scientists” manipulating data like Ramakrishnan for the SJWs.

  13. The NCES link points to PISA data gathered by the OECD. Not sure how that’s bunk.

    The IQ data varies by region in China. If it was all cheating, we’d expect all scores to be high.

    Lawrence E. Harrison is a lifelong Democrat. That unusual for a right-wingnut.

    Sad how retards like aarvark question the credibility of sources more credible than himself.

  14. The NCES site is finally back online with the numbers, and accordingly White 15 years scored the highest on the PISA – a US centric designed test. So what’s the conclusion?

    There are tons of other sociological factors which aren’t mentioned, but just going by the scores: White students score higher than other ethnicities. And…?

    IQ data website from “slitty eye” was SELF-REPORTING based on internet access. Hardly a reputable form of standardized testing like the PISA.

    Harrison as a Democrap means nothing. Tons of “Dixie-crats” and even LIEberal Republicans out there…

    The policies and means to obtain such policies are at question when it’s not publicly reviewed.

    Kiwi the numbnut cherry picks racist ideologies with BIASED numerical sampling to support said ideologies. Classic distortion and spin-doctoring of circular reasoning.

  15. So PISA ranks the US last among rich countries in math and science but that makes the test US-centric. Logic fail as retards do.

    Whites don’t score highest on standardized tests. Jews do. I guess there must be a secret Jewish conspiracy.

    Informal IQ testing in China reveals regional differences. I guess some regions cheat harder than others.

    I agree that being Democrat means nothing. Bashing one end of a political spectrum like rightists is a reflection of tribalistic, mentality that demonizes out-groups, typical of the inept.

    aardvark is full of criticisms but offers nothing of value himself. I wonder why.
    While aardvark continues to virtue signal and proclaim a phony self-righteousness, it is an open question whether he would ever move into a Black or Hispanic neighborhood. And if not, we should all hear why.

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