Who Does It Better? Eastern vs Western Learners

Is the culture around learning in the Eastern world better than Western, and if so, is it possible to change how a culture learns to one that’s more effective?

Those are the questions proposed in a recent encore NPR story. Jin Li, professor at Brown University has spent the last decade studying conversations that American mothers and their children have about learning versus the conversations between Taiwanese mothers and their children. Two sound bites give great insight into how the two cultures have distinct views.

In the first clip, an American child tells his mother that he and his friends like to talk about books at recess. She responds, “Do you know that that’s what smart people do – smart grown-ups?…that’s a pretty smart thing to do, to talk about a book.” Professor Li explains the mother is reinforcing the idea that because her son is smart he is successful in school.

Compare that to the conversation recorded between a Taiwanese mother and her child who just won first place at a piano competition. She tells her son, “You practiced and practiced with lots of energy. It really got hard, but you made great effort. You insisted on practicing yourself.” In  Eastern cultures, success is thought to come from persistence when faced with a challenge, not necessarily inner intelligence.

Reporter Alix Spiegel makes the disclaimer that these comparisons don’t prove that one culture’s take on learning is superior to the other. In fact, professor Li makes the point that though Eastern students are scoring higher than their Western counterparts in STEM areas, Westerners are typically more creative because of how their culture nurtures individuality.

As a teacher or parent, how do you talk to your kids about the reasons behind their successes or failures? How did your parents or teachers talk to you about your success in school?



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