Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning is a very interesting piece from NPR this morning.

It basically says that in Asian cultures, the feedback that is given both at home and at school to children tends to be the kind that specifically reinforces the struggle and hard work that they give to learning, while in Western cultures we tend to tell them that they are smart only when they get things right. In other words, supposedly in Asian cultures they already know and apply the research of Carol Dweck on feedback without knowing it….

I’ve taught many Asian students at our school, and clearly the importance of hard work is valued in many of their families, but I’ve never really thought about this particular kind of cultural difference. I’d be interested in hearing from other teachers here and in Asia if they agree with the analysis described in NPR.

Here’s an excerpt:

This is not to imply that the Eastern way of interpreting struggle — or anything else — is better than the Western way, or vice versa. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, which both sides know. 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. Jin Li says that 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. You hear the educators from Asian countries express that concern, a lot,'” she notes.

So, is it possible for one culture to adopt the beliefs of another culture if they see that culture producing better results?

Both Stigler and Li think that changing culture is hard, but that it’s possible to think differently in ways that can help. “Could we change our views of learning and place more emphasis on struggle?” Stigler asks. ” Yeah.”

For example, Stigler says, in the Japanese classrooms that he’s studied, teachers consciously design tasks that are slightly beyond the capabilities of the students they teach, so the students can actually experience struggling with something just outside their reach. Then, once the task is mastered, the teachers actively point out that the student was able to accomplish it through the students hard work and struggle.

“And I just think that especially in schools, we don’t create enough of those experiences, and then we don’t point them out clearly enough.”