Learning to learn

There was very interesting piece on NPR this morning. It is well worth a read/listen. Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning : NPR.

The story basically outlines how, in Eastern cultures, children are allowed to work hard through their studies and are praised for their hard work, rather than being “smart.”

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.

Of course, no one approach will work for any child, let alone every child in every culture. Part of what we try and help our students at the college level discover is how they best learn. I know that with our own children (our eldest will be 15 *gulp* on Saturday and our youngest is nearly 9) that we try to balance recognizing their talent in certain areas and fostering that while also encouraging them to recognize that success never comes without work, practice, and patience.

We also discussed a similar topic last night with the seniors in the PLA. The question was whether being a leader was learned or innate. The majority seemed to feel that while some traits and predisposition might be innate, or at least learned at a very early age, to be truly successful one has to be committed to learning, growing, and developing the talents and skills necessary to be a strong and successful leader.

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.”

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