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March 01, 2013


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Excellent post, but I'm wary of taking PISA's Chinese scores seriously, for the obvious reason that they draw upon an incredibly narrow range of high-end urban schools here, which gives a direly misleading picture of the state of actual Chinese education.

I have not read Li's work either but is there a reason you are conflating "asian" with mainland Chinese?" I would say that the thesis, as you presented it above, absolutely stands up for contemporary Japanese education versus contemporary American education in public schools. I would also imagine it holds for Korea and Taiwan where I have seen less but seems to hold true. I have been stunned by the lack of moral content and character-building in Californian Public schools. Character-building, cultivation and moral learning are major goals in Japanese pedagogy. You are right that the old British model also had a strongly moral component but for whatever reason this has totally disappeared from American education, which is now more focused on a short term performance mentality. I have a friend who is coming out with an interesting book that might e relevant to you called Fusion Parenting. I was a reader of the mss and really agreed with her take on Jpse education and she discusses Korea as well (she is the child of Korean parents). She also spent some time in mainland Chinese public high schools. I will let you know when her book comes out as it might be eye-opening if you haven't spent actual time in a Japanese, Taiwanese or Korean public school. (am thinking of primary and secondary public schools only)

Thanks for the comment. I am reacting to Brooks here, and he invokes the category "Asian," without definition (thus I really don't know what he means by it; are Indians included?) but then goes on to frame his argument in terms of the contemporary PRC. That is where I have some trouble with it.

You make a good point that at the primary and secondary level there might be something to some of what he is saying. But the crazy competition at the high school level, and the rather strange assertion about "cognitive learning" being a Western thing, undermine his distinctions. Or so it seems to me.

Also, a Buddhist friend thought this line a bit odd: "Li argues that Westerners emphasize the Aha moment of sudden insight, while Chinese are more likely to emphasize the arduous accumulation of understanding." Sudden enlightenment, anybody?

Asian really is not a helpful term, is it? East Asian would have worked maybe. In any case, I will let you know when my friend's book comes out as she is doing something similar to you and I think you would find it interesting. In the end, as I always harp, I think whenever these claims are being made about Confucian whatever, it is easier to think in terms of modern Japan and Korea--or even Taiwan an Singapore,as it seems easier to grasp and see (in contrast to Mainland China?) In my humble opinion only. xo

Peony, I agree. More tightly drawn categories make for more meaningful comparisons.

It seems that public school in the PRC do such a bad job of "moral education," at least in the eyes of some parents, that special private schools are emerging to respond to the problem.

Sam, this is Christine's book. As I mentioned, I was a reader of the mss and it really had me thinking of your work. I highly recommend it to you. She is weaker on Mainland China, but to my mind, when it comes to Confucianism, that is appropriate. As Our mutual friend says, it is Korea and Japan that are the great Confucian modern nations so start from there...? What the PRC does is not as relevant when making modern comparisons vis-a-vis ancient philosophy, in my opinion!!

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