Superteachers: Education in the East vs. West

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NPR’s “Struggle for Smarts? How Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning” by Alix Spiegel was both a great read and an eye-opening overview of America’s hugely problematic education system.

This was my favorite paragraph from the article, “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” (Source).  If you don’t want to read the entire article, definitely listen to it at NPR here.

Dr. Carol Dweck puts this East versus West into a different perspective.  She talks about education and learning using the terms “fixed” mindset and “growth” mindset.  In her book, Mindset, Dweck teaches that a “fixed” mindset is much like the American view of education in Spiegel’s article.  Fixed mindset folks believe intelligence is something they are born with.  People are either smart or they aren’t… and there’s not much we can do to change that.  Growth mindset people, on the other hand, know that intelligence comes from the process of learning, and they embrace and understand that the learning happens during that process, that struggle to learn.

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In America, as a whole, we value the “A” on the test.  It doesn’t matter if the student has actually learned.  We measure success in the 4.0.  We don’t value the process of learning, which is, of course, struggling and working and re-working until you get it right.  Speigel’s article explains that in our culture, a struggle indicates a person is “dumb.”  An intelligent, smart person doesn’t have to struggle; he or she is intelligent, so there is no struggle to learn (Source).  When we think about Eastern versus Western ideas about education and learning, and when we pair that with Dweck’s idea of the mindset, we can see that Americans have a ridiculously fixed mindset.

How do we fix the American education system?  Well, the answer isn’t found in lowering standards, as you see American education systems doing all over the country here, here, here, and here… (just to name a few).  I wrote down a quote from Dweck’s book, and I keep it on my desk at work.  Dweck says, “Lowering standards just leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise.”  I see this firsthand at my job teaching college students at a nonprofit college, and the students I teach come straight from the public education system where my mom has put in approximately 35 years teaching at the high school level.  Have you been through a fixed mindset education system?  Is your child being taught the fixed mindset by his or her teachers?  How can we establish a more effective system of education that, like in Eastern cultures, promotes the struggle and the learning process by encouraging a growth mindset?

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