Friday, January 30, 2009

Book 6 for 2009

Book #6

Japanese Lessons : A year in a Japanese school through the eyes of an American anthropologist and her children by Gail R. Benjamin. This was a very interesting book that aimed to provide some insight into the Japanese education system from an American perspective. The author’s stated intention was to “…find out what really happens in Japanese schools that is different from what happens in American schools and how those differences in practice affect differences in outcomes…to find paths for improvement in American education.” The author combines her professional analysis of the cultural bases for Japan’s educational structure with anecdotes and observations from the daily experiences of her children, who were attending Japanese schools for the year (one in fifth grade, the other in first grade). There was a lot of thought-provoking material presented in a way that was easy to follow and enjoyable to read.

As Benjamin describes it, the American view of child development is that children begin as helpless dependents and schools need to encourage students to learn about themselves through introspection, to learn to recognize their own individual strengths, and to form personal individual values that will allow them to withstand dangerous peer group and social pressures. The Japanese view is that children begin life as isolated individuals and that it is only when they learn to function well as group members that they will be able to successfully avoid the selfish inclinations of the individual and will live a more complete life filled with the social interaction that is such an important human trait.

Overall, the Japanese system sounds like it is much more deliberate and mindful of intended educational goals, which makes for a much more cohesive and equitable system. The differences between the two national educational philosophies seem to be largely a reiteration of the “nature vs. nurture” debates. American schools assume our personal qualities are inborn; that their goal is to help children discover who they were born to be. Japanese schools assume that it is our experiences that make us who we are as adults; that ensuring that all children have similar educational experiences will ensure that all children have the same opportunities to succeed in school and in later life.

Thirty years ago many scientists were agreed that after the relatively short period of infancy Nature was a much more significant force than nurture, so our American educational assumptions seemed sensible. Recent advances in neuro-cognitive science are indicating that nurture has a much greater effect than was previously believed throughout our childhood and adult lives . Hmmmm….

4.5 out of 5 stars

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