western influences on the east, eastern influences on the west

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WESTERN INFLUENCES ON THE EAST, EASTERN INFLUENCES ON THE WEST

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Lessons for the East and West

J. G. ELLIOTJulian AND N. G.PHUONG-MAI Elliot and Nguyen Phuong-Mai

INTERNATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE

Recent international test results, Program for International Student Assessment (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2007) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Mullis, Martin, Kennedy, & Foy, 2007) have highlighted the strength of educational attainment in several Eastern (both Asian and European) countries. These were unsurprising as under the auspices of the International Association for the Study of Educational Achievement (IEA) and a rival group, Educational Testing Services’ International Assessment of Educational Progress (IAEP), international studies have consistently pointed to comparatively

What the West Can Learn From the East: Asian Perspectives on the Psychology of Learning and Motivation, pp. 31–58 Copyright © 2008 by Information Age Publishing All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.

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higher levels of educational performance in the Pacific Rim and Eastern Europe. Concern that educational performance in the United Kingdom might be declining had earlier led the Office for Standards in Education (the English national inspectorate) to commission a Review of International Surveys Involving England Between 1964 and 1990 (Reynolds & Farrell, 1996). The review confirmed that the performance of English children, in mathematics and science was not only poor but also had deteriorated relative to other countries since the 1960s. Shortly afterward, the first results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) were made available. Comparative assessments, undertaken in 1995, involving 500,000 students in 41 countries, confirmed the strength of many Eastern (European and Asian) countries and resulted in dismay in both the United Kingdom and the United States. In the United Kingdom, Barber (1996), a key policymaker in the British government, concluded that, despite the methodological weaknesses of individual studies, the results were so consistent that we, “would be living in a fool’s paradise if we chose to ignore the results” (p. 24). Arguing that it was improbable that children in successful countries were innately more able, he concluded that there were things about the British education system and/or the culture that needed to be changed. Concern in the United States at this time centered on the comparative decline in performance of American children as they progressed through school. In TIMSS, U.S. students were above the international average in both science and mathematics in fourth grade but, 4 years later, performance had declined. By 12th grade, they were among the lowest in both subjects with only Cyprus and South Africa scoring significantly poorer. Examination of the most able 10-20% of students in mathematics and physics proved particularly unsettling as, in both subjects, the U.S. students were outperformed by every other country. A further round of tests, “TIMSS-Repeat,” released at the end of 2000 (Martin et al., 2000; Mullis et al., 2000) did little to alleviate the despondency in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Commenting on these findings, the U.S. Secretary of Education at the time, Richard Riley noted that while, “American children continue to learn … their peers in other countries are learning at a faster rate.… We need to work harder and better” (New York Times, Au: This source 2000). is incorrectly A number of small-scale Asian-American studies also increased percep- cited. The first few words of the tions that U.S. children were being left behind. Song and Ginsburg article must (1987), for example, showed that while there were few differences appear here, but only if there is no between American and Korean children at age 6; within 2 years the Asian author. Add the children had moved ahead. Of much greater influence, however, were the source to the reference list. studies undertaken by Harold Stevenson and his colleagues (e.g., Stevenson & Lee, 1990; Stevenson & Stigler, 1992) which highlighted significant

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differences in levels of attainment and contrasting attitudes to the education and upbringing of children on the part of teachers and parents in the United States, Taiwan, Japan and China. Reynolds and Farrell’s (1996) report, written for a U.K. audience, provided a wide range of possible explanations for the differences between England and Pacific Rim countries. These were clustered under four headings: cultural, systemic, school and classroom factors. Cultural factors included the high status and academic quality of teachers, the emphasis on hard work, high parental aspirations, and high levels of student commitment. Systemic factors included the higher proportion of time in school, with more and longer school days, a prevalent belief that all children can succeed, and concentration on a small number of attainment goals, most of which were academic in content. School factors included a strong emphasis upon whole class collaborative and supportive group processes, the use of specialist teachers, free time for planning and teacher collaboration, and close monitoring by means of frequent testing, and monitoring by the school principal. Key classroom factors included whole class interactive teaching which sought to ensure that everyone was keeping up with the material together and that the range of achievement was narrow. There was widespread use of textbooks to minimize the need for teachers to produce their own teaching materials, and tight lesson sequences to ensure that attention was maximally focused.

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PEDAGOGICAL SOLUTIONS?

It was in the immediate reactions to Reynolds and Farrell’s report that we can see the apparent failure to grasp the subtleties that lay behind the achievements of the successful countries in the East. Commentators in the United Kingdom tended to overlook the differences in attitudes and dispositions and emphasize pedagogical factors. The result was a series of high profile attacks on child-centered teaching approaches that were considered to be place in British schools (although, in actuality, these were Au: Is a word often less radical than were imagined). In particular, critics seized on missing? “considered to Reynolds and Farrell’s suggestion that the English tradition of individualbe place in ization and differentiation might result in underachievement. The new British schools” orthodoxy was that philosophies and practices that emphasized differendoes not read tiation, that is, providing each child with material, and at a pace, deemed correctly. appropriate to their own level, served to increase differences and resulted in a large tail of underachievers. Instead, it was argued that there should be more whole-school teaching, not:

34 J. G. ELLIOT and N. PHUONG-MAI simply of the “lecture to the class” variety, but high quality interactive teaching in which the teacher starts with a problem and develops solutions and concepts through a series of graded questions addressed to the whole class. (Reynolds & Farrell, 1996, p. 56, emphasis in original) Au: Op. cit. not allowed in APA formatted books.

For many British educationalists, the iconic image of this period was contained in a BBC documentary featuring Professor Reynolds, sitting in the back of a Taiwanese classroom, observing a lesson in which highly alert and responsive students related to the teacher’s ministrations in exemplary fashion. In sotto voce, Reynolds intoned to the camera that such practice might be the way forward for Britain. His call was taken up enthusiastically by the high profile chief inspector of schools in England and Wales (Woodhead, 1996) who proclaimed that 50% of primary school lesson time (60% in the case of mathematics) should take the form of whole class teaching. Such calls were further strengthened by Burghes (1996) who advocated the introduction of similar approaches based upon his examination of mathematics teaching in Hungary. The debate over teaching approaches in Britain tended to rage most strongly in primary education where the shift from individualized and small group work towards whole class interactive teaching in was a feature of the late 1990s. Such an approach came to underpin both the subsequent National Literacy Strategy (Department of Education and Employment, 1998) and the National Numeracy Strategy (Department of Education and Employment, 1999) involving hour long, tightly prescribed, daily sessions that were taken up in most primary school classrooms. Of course, in practice, teachers’ actual practices did not change to the degree anticipated (Smith, Hardman, Wall, & Mroz, 2004). As in the United Kingdom, the United States has also periodically experienced crises of confidence in its educational standards. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 resulted in anxiety about Soviet education. The publication in 1983 of the U.S. Government Report, A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education), was a consequence of mounting concern about declining standards (and, paradoxically, rising grades) in U.S. schools. The report stated that the educational foundations of the United States were being:

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eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our future as a Nation and a people.… If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. (p. 5)

In the 1990s, concerns were prompted by the superior performance of children in the East once more, but this time it was competition from the Southern hemisphere that was most keenly felt: poor U.S. test scores

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became closely associated with the increasing economic challenge posed by the Tiger economies of South East Asia. In parallel with British developments, a number of high profile U.S. studies examining differing teaching practices in the East and West (e.g. Stevenson & Stigler, 1992; Stigler & Hiebert, 1999; Linn, Lewis, Tsuchida, & Butler Songer, 2000) resulted in calls for Eastern pedagogic approaches to be adopted. In light of their analysis of videotape recordings of eighth-grade mathematics lessons in the United States, Germany, and Japan, for example, Stigler and Hiebert (1999) provided a series of recommendations that involved adopting aspects of Japanese teaching practices. A key emphasis was placed on the interactive nature of classroom dialogue:

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Whole-class instruction in the United States has gotten a somewhat bad reputation. It has become associated with too much teacher talk and too many passive, tuned-out students. But … whole-class instruction in Japanese and Chinese classrooms is a very lively, engaging enterprise. Asian teachers do not spend large amounts of time lecturing. They present interesting problems; they pose provocative questions; they probe and guide. The students work hard, generating multiple approaches to a solution, explaining the rationale behind their methods, and making good use of wrong answers. (Stevenson & Stigler, 1992, pp. 146-147)

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Such analyses and recommendations, however, are seen by many as overly simplistic and highly problematic. There are two major criticisms that follow from the suggestion that countries should attempt to import the pedagogic practices of high scoring nations. First, it needs to be shown that such practices are indeed the causes of educational success. In respect of whole-class teaching practices, it should be noted that these are evidenced throughout the world, and thus it is rather disingenuous to relate these only to high scoring countries (Alexander, 1999): those advocating such approaches need to explain why such practices have not proven successful in countries that have scored poorly. Second, the folly of attempting to import pedagogies directly from other, culturally very different, societies has become increasingly recognized during the past two decades (Hopmann, 2000; Phuong-Mai Nguyen, Elliott, Terlouw, & Pilot, in press). It seems that even those who were most enthusiastic about pedagogic “cherry-picking” are increasingly accepting that culture and education cannot be considered as separate and independent factors, and thus are becoming more guarded about providing universal solutions. LOOKING TO THE EAST: THE CASE OF RUSSIA As noted above, high educational standards in the East have also been regularly found in European countries such as the former Soviet Union, Finland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. In particular, the Soviet Union

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has long held a strong reputation for its high educational standards (Canning, Moock & Heleniak, 1999; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1998). Anecdotal accounts of visits to Soviet/Russian classrooms, and testaments about the performance of Russian emigres to Western schools frequently describe performance in science and mathematics 2 to 4 years ahead of their new peers (Bucur & Eklof, 1999). In a series of studies during the second half of the 1990s, our research team (Elliott, Hufton, Illushin, & Lauchlan, 1999, 2001a, 2001b, Elliott, Hufton, Willis, & Illushin, 2005; Hufton, Elliott, & Illushin, 2002, 2003) sought to highlight a number of important factors that helped to explain the superior educational performance of Russian children in comparison with their peers in England and the United States. Many of these echoed those that Stevenson and colleagues had reported in respect of Asian and U.S. differences. Key elements of the English/U.S. context included excessive and unrealistic self-perceptions about academic performance, poor levels of classroom behavior, negative peer influences, and a lower emphasis on the value of education as an important end in itself.

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In attempting to explain the comparatively poor academic performance of U.S. children in international studies, a constant theme in the U.S. literature has concerned American children’s overestimations of their performance (Rosenberg, 1979; Wylie, 1979). While positive levels of efficacy would appear to be desirable, it should also be recognized that inappropriate levels of high confidence may result in complacency and reduce students’ awareness of the need to work hard (Lundeberg, Fox, Brown, & Elbedour, 2000). This, in their comparative studies, Stevenson and colleagues (Stevenson, Chen, & Uttal, 1990; Stevenson & Stigler, 1992), for example, concluded that unduly positive estimations of children’s abilities and low expectations on the part of students, parents and teachers, negatively impacted upon American children’s academic performance. In the light of this argument, we were in interested to ascertain whether such a distinction similarly pertained for our Eastern and Western groups. Findings indicated that this was indeed the case. Thus, the U.S. and English children in our samples tended to have comparatively high academic self perceptions and confidence. In comparison with their Russian peers, they were more likely to believe that their teachers and parents perceived them highly, and were more satisfied with their school achievements. They were more likely to think that they worked as hard as

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they could and were less assured that they could improve their performance a lot. Further parallels with the findings of Stevenson and his team concerned the views of parents and teachers. Parents of the Western groups were more satisfied with their children’s workrate, behavior in class, and academic achievements. Russian parents (like those in Asia reported by Stevenson) placed more emphasis on the importance of the home to promote scholarship. U.S./English parents tended to believe that increased performance required more work by teachers and students at school, and they placed much less stress upon the home context. Russian parents saw the home situation as far more important for raising academic performance. We also found that U.S./English teachers were similarly more positive about their students but here, a further important distinction emerged. When we compared actual teacher perceptions to those that their students thought they had of them, we discovered that the English and American children over-estimated their teachers’ perceptions. In contrast, Russian children underestimated the ratings of their performance that their teachers provided to us. In trying to explain this rather puzzling phenomenon it appears likely that such differences reflect the messages that the children in these different contexts receive from their teachers. Observational studies (Alexander, 2000; Muckle, 1990) note that Russian teachers tend to be more critical and challenging than English or American teachers who may often be rather undiscriminating in their praise. In a comparative study of children in the United States and Japan (Ban & Cummings, 1999), for example, it was noted that American teachers tended to award much higher grades to students (“A” grades were the most frequently obtained) and offer praise far more frequently. In similar vein, Alexander (2000) points out that he had earlier found teachers in English primary schools to be so eager to be positive and reinforcing that, on occasions, they had become undiscriminating and thus, “ended up devaluing the evaluation to the point where its function was merely phatic” (p. 369). In contrast, Asian teachers tend to rarely encourage students with positive appraisals of their performance. Chinese teachers seem to use praise very sparingly and only when performance is exceptional (Hau, 1992, cited in Watkins & Biggs, 1996; Jin & Cortazzi, 1998). Parents also share this tendency (Hess, 1992, cited in Watkins & Biggs 1996; Yan & Chow, 2002). This is partly because being modest is an essential cultural value that is meant to be cultivated in each individual. The best way to nurture self-development is hence not by having a child surrounded by compliments and praises but by criticism and higher expectation. The Vietnamese proverb, “If you love your children, use a rod! If you hate your children, use sweet words!” is an apposite illustration.

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It is likely that the excessive emphasis on the positive in the United States and United Kingdom is, in part, the result of the exhortations of self-theorists and behaviorists that the inculcation of high student selfesteem and the reinforcement of desirable behavior are of crucial importance for promoting student motivation (Damon, 1995; Stigler & Hiebert, 1999). While positive conceptions of self are, of course, desirable, these should be contingent on actual performance. Unfortunately, studies have repeatedly demonstrated that the self-perceptions of students (and their parents) in the United States and United Kingdom often bear little relationship to their actual performance. Although A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) had expressed concern that student grades had risen as average achievement had declined, and recommended that grades should be seen as indicators of academic achievement, little actual progress was made and many commentators have argued that the problem has continued to increase. Various studies of entrants to U.S. colleges (Sykes, 1995; Sax, Astin, Korn & Mahoney, 2000; Ziomek & Svec, 1997), for example, have pointed to rising grades that were not mirrored by students’ actual performance. For Sykes, grades no longer accurately reflected academic performance and the high proportion of, “content-free A’s have become tools of affirmation, therapy and public relations” (p. 31). In an analysis of the performance of a subsample of eleven countries taken from TIMSS, Keys, Harris, and Fernandes (1997a, 1997b) found that English, Scottish, and U.S. students had higher self-perceptions than any other country for both mathematics and science. Perhaps most striking was the finding that 93% of the English and 86% of the U.S. students agreed, or strongly agreed, that they were doing well in mathematics compared with 44% of children from Japan and 57% of children from Singapore, two of the highest performing countries in the TIMSS study. On a standardised mathematics examination undertaken by 13-year-olds in six countries (Krauthammer, 1990), U.S. students obtained the lowest score yet had the highest proportion (68%) agreeing with the statement, “I am good at mathematics.” In contrast, Korean students, who obtained the highest scores, were least positive with only 23% answering “yes.” In other studies, Kwok and Lytton (1996) found that Canadian 10-year-olds had higher perceptions of their scholastic/mathematical abilities than Chinese peers; Oettingen (1995) found higher levels of self-efficacy in children from Los Angeles than in groups from Moscow and the former East and West Berlin. Of course, it is possible that there may be cultural factors which require an expression of modesty from Asian children which belies their true perceptions. However, would these play out similarly in Russia? Furthermore,

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it is interesting to note that when comparing the performance of American, Japanese, and German students on TIMSS mathematics, Japanese students who were working, and scoring, at a higher level were less likely to think that mathematics was easy. Americans scored in the opposite direction, suggesting that lower academic demands may be related to higher self-perceptions (Shen & Pedulla, 2000). It is also important to compare differences in self-perception between U.S. and U.K. students and the more modest reports of those in other Western countries such as France, Germany, and Denmark despite he latter group’s generally higher performance (Beaton et al., 1996; Osborn, 1999).

Attributions

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A frequent observation in relation to differences between U.S., U.K., and Asian education contexts concerns attributions for success and failure (Reynolds & Farrell, 1996; Stevenson & Stigler, 1992). Such attributions are considered to have an important effect on motivation, for, if academic success and failure are considered to be a function of fixed ability, working harder would not be expected to result in significant gains. In contrast, if the amount of effort expended is perceived to be the key factor, the individual should be more likely to be willing to try harder. Stevenson’s work argued that the high educational performance of Asian countries was, in part, a consequence of their emphasis upon effort as key to success. In contrast, those in American and other Western countries, were portrayed as being more influenced by notions of ability as fixed and thus less able to be modified by hard work. In a review of the broader literature and discussion of our general findings (Elliott et al., 2005) we have argued that the attributional distinction may be oversimplistic and, in some cases, misleading (see Bempechat & Drago-Severson, 2000, for a detailed discussion). Given the longstanding reputation of Russian children for exhibiting high levels of academic endeavor we were surprised to discover less emphasis on the importance of effort in attaining academic success than was the case for our English and American samples. This finding was consistent for both elementary and high school students and was manifested in both our large scale surveys (Elliott et al., 1999; Elliott et al., 2001a) and in individual interviews (Hufton et al., 2002). However, in undertaking observations of educational practice in the three locations at this time, we were also struck by the fact that there appeared to be little relationship between students’ attributions and their corresponding education-related behaviors. A number of possible reasons for this phenomenon can be offered; first, children may fail to have the same understandings about

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what constitutes ‘effort’; second, social goals may be more influential than academic goals (Wentzel, 2005), and third, attributions are likely only to be influential if they relate to areas of activity that are considered important by the individual. It is clear that what constitutes “hard work” for one individual may be an “easy passage” for another. Our studies indicated significant differences of understanding across cultures. Thus, the English and American children appeared to emphasize the importance of effort and seemed to think that they were working to the best of their ability even though this appeared to be at a level far less demanding than that of the Russian children. As we note above, there appears to be a tendency in U.S. and U.K. classrooms for teachers to be very affirming and this may result in unrealistic student understandings. In contrast, the nature of the Russian classroom is that hard work is expected (Alexander, 2000). Thus, irrespective of natural ability, one is unlikely to achieve highly unless one works hard. Students recognized, however, that given the level of intellectual demand that typically operates in the Russian classroom, working hard was unlikely to result in high achievement unless one also had a certain level of natural ability. In contrast, in the less academically demanding American contexts, high grades could be achieved if a significant degree of effort were sustained. Given these different contexts, the apparent paradox of harder workers emphasizing ability, and less committed students emphasizing effort, becomes more comprehensible. A second possible reason for the attribution/behavior discrepancy was that students in England and the United States were hindered in their studies by a strong desire for peer approval which may be at risk if the individual shows excessive academic enthusiasm (Howley, Howley, & Pendarvis, 1995; Steinberg, 1996).Thus, while a student may believe that hard work is important to succeed academically, social pressure not to be seen to be trying too hard may constrain their efforts (see the upcoming section on peer influences). Finally, attributions may only be influential if they concern aspects of life that are important to the individual. One may, for example, believe that practicing the violin for long periods will result in higher levels of mastery, yet unless this outcome is seen as a goal worthy of many hours of endeavor, the individual is unlikely to expend significant effort. Similarly, students may believe that working hard in school will result in educational success but this is of little importance if other activities and outcomes are seen as being of greater importance. Thus, the perceived value of educational outcomes is of crucial importance. As can be seen from the next section, the perceived value of education does not appear to be sufficient to motivate a significant proportion of young people in the United States and England.

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The Value of Education and of Being Educated For many of our informants in the English and American contexts, the importance of education was highly instrumental, in that it should help them succeed economically in adult life, yet, at the same time, there was little evidence that a significant number were investing heavily in academic success. An apparent discrepancy between the stated opinions of student informants and actual behaviors is not surprising given the gap that often exists between reported attitudes and behavior. Grant and Sleeter (1996), for example, show in their ethnographic account of life in a high school the limited academic demands made by teachers, the students’ sense of boredom, their low interest in scholarship and the seeming irrelevance of the school curriculum to their daily lives. In interview, the students stated that they believed in school and valued education, seeing it as a means of fulfilling their aspirations, yet, “on a day to day basis, they invested minimal effort in it” (p. 222). It should be recognized that the primary purpose of attending school for many children is not to achieve a high educational standard. In U.S. high schools, social and sporting success have long represented the pinnacle of achievement for many students (Coleman, 1961). Coleman’s work led him to conclude that attitudes about the value of schooling appeared to originate not from within adolescent subculture but rather, from students’ socializing experiences within the wider community. Thus, students were influenced by the local community’s greater commitment to nonintellectual high school activities, in particular team sports. In our own researches, for example, we found U.S. teachers more likely to emphasize the importance of these activities, even to the extent of reducing academic demands to accommodate students’ sports schedules (Elliott et al., 2005). For example, speaking of her final year at middle school, one informant told us:

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Usually, we didn’t have any homework unless it was a project or a paper, because we had a 45 minute study period. And it was at the end of the day, and we had 45 minutes and it was to do all your homework … for the kids who played sports and stuff. Like, well, everybody got it, but it was a big help to those who played sports because that way, you wouldn’t have to worry, like if you had practice or you had a game or something, you wouldn’t have to worry about it. We basically got all our homework done during that time. (Elliott et al., 2005, p. 112)

When we asked a 15-year-old high school student how he could spend every night playing or watching sports (and during the basketball season rise at 4.30 a.m. for early morning practices) or dating, get by on only 5-6 hours sleep, yet still get a high number of A grades, he replied:

42 J. G. ELLIOT and N. PHUONG-MAI The teachers take it easy on us, with the sports. They don’t give us a lot. Like game days, we don’t have any homework. Or, like this school’s really big on football, and they’re really big on the key players, so they kinda take it easy on us, really. (Elliott et al., 2005, p. 112).

Sedlak, Wheeler, Pullin, and Cusick (1986), looking back as far as the 1920s argue that there was no golden age in the United States when the achievement of high academic standards was preeminent.

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Few of the adolescents who swelled high school enrollment figures after 1915 were conspicuously committed to the academic opportunities that the experience provided. They attended principally because graduating improved sharply their opportunities for employment or higher education and, increasingly, because their friends attended and they welcomed the opportunity to enhance their stature among their peers by participating in extracurricular and social activities. (Sedlak et al., 1986, p. 16)

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In their critical analysis of anti-intellectualism in U.S. schools, Howley et al. (1995) argued that the instrumental worth of education is not, as in Asian countries, balanced by a recognition of its intrinsic value. This, together with strong social pressures to conform to anti-intellectual high school values may help to explain the perception of widespread underachievement in the United States. In similar vein, Tye (1985) lamented the excessive instrumentalism: The belief that the reason a person goes to school is to get a good job and earn more money as an adult has robbed our society of two important values. First of all, it deprives young people of the feeling that what they are doing now is important. All the rewards seem to be somewhere in the future. Secondly, it deprives society of the understanding that learning has value in itself and not just as a saleable commodity. This greatly reduces the range of knowledge that is considered worth having, and creates a population of narrowly-educated citizens. (pp. 337-338, emphasis in original)

Such instrumentalism seems insufficient to motivate many American students. Steinberg (1996), for example, provides a damning indictment of contemporary American attitudes to education. His research indicated large-scale parental disengagement from schooling and acceptance of poor grades, a peer culture that is often scornful of academic excellence, and student lifestyles in which a high proportion of time outside of school involves leisure pursuits, socializing, and too much time is spent engaged on part-time employment. Anti-intellectual attitudes, it would appear, are more rare in AsianAmerican children who, greatly influenced by parental demands for academic success (Siu, 1992) appear to be less prepared to embrace anti-

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intellectual high school values, and continue to outperform their peers (Hirschman & Wong, 1986; Eaton & Dembo, 1997; Steinberg, 1996) even when controlling for ability (Steinberg, Dornbusch, & Brown, 1992) and socioeconomic status (Ogbu, 1983). As Asian-Americans are exposed largely to the same classroom practices as other American children, one is drawn to the conclusion that the higher performance of Asian children stems from attitudinal and motivational differences originating in familial and (sub)cultural contexts. Unlike their peers in England and the United States, the Russian children in our studies prioritized the role of education as, first and foremost, a means of self-improvement: scholarship was widely seen as a means to become erudite and cultured. For these students, interviewed during the economic turmoil that followed the end of the Soviet Union, education should not be seen in wholly instrumental terms. As one 16-year-old informed us, “(Being educated) … is more than important [than merely making money]. It may be the aim of life” (Hufton et al., 2002, p. 279). In none of our interviews with students in the United States or the United Kingdom was any such perception voiced or reported.

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Peer Influences and Classroom Behavior

In their external actions, [Russian children] are well-mannered, attentive, and industrious. In informal conversations, they reveal a strong motivation to learn, a readiness to serve their society, and—in general—ironically enough for a culture committed to a materialistic philosophy, what can only be described as an idealistic attitude towards life. In keeping with this general orientation, relationships with parents, teachers and upbringers are those of respectful but affectionate friendship. The discipline of the collective is accepted and regarded as justified, even when severe as judged by Western standards … it is apparent that instances of aggressiveness, violation of rules, or other antisocial behavior are genuinely rare. (Extract from Research Report at the 1963 International Congress of Psychology, reproduced in Bronfenbrenner, 1970, p. 76).

Despite the many social and economic difficulties encountered in Russia during the 1990s, the positive behavior of the nation’s schoolchildren was largely maintained and compared favorably with many Western societies (Alexander, 2000; Elliott et al., 2005; Glowka, 1995). In a 2000 international study of 41 countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2003, 2004), Russian children, after those from Macao-China, were the least likely to report that there was noise and disorder in their lessons, least likely (in joint position with Japan) to state that students do not start working for a long time after the lesson com-

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mences, and, third behind Macao-China and Japan, in stating that teachers did not have to wait long for students to settle down. On the remaining two “disciplinary climate” measures—how much students listened to their teachers, and the extent to which they felt they could, or could not, work well—Russian students also provided very favorable responses. A similar picture from TIMSS is provided by Akiba, LeTendre, Baker, and Goesling (2002) who indicated that teachers in the United States were twice as likely as those in the Russian Federation to report that their teaching was extensively hampered by students’ disruptive behaviors. The Russian figure (21%) was the fourth lowest of the 37 countries that were examined. Similarly, videotaped studies of eighth-grade classrooms, undertaken as part of the TIMSS study, showed that, in comparison with Japanese and German classrooms, lessons in the United States were frequently interrupted and subject to distraction. In Bronfenbrenner’s comparative studies of the United States and the Soviet Union, perhaps the most compelling differences identified concerned the nature and influence of the peer group and the effect that this had u on classroom behavior. Bronfenbrenner (1967) noted that where the peer group is highly autonomous, as is the case in many Western societies, it is more likely that it would exert an influence that was unsupportive of, or even was oppositional to, prevailing adult values. In contrast, in the Soviet Union, socialization practices seemed better equipped to encourage the peer group to support existing adult values and objectives. Bronfenner argued that the role of the peer group in the Soviet Union was not, as in the United States, left mainly to chance, but rather, was the “result of explicit policy and practice” (1967, p. 206) whereby the peer group was used as an agent of socialization geared to encouraging identification with, and promoting, the values of Soviet society (see, also, Tudge, 1991). Thus, in his studies he found that the Russian peer group was typically more responsive to adult standards of behavior and appeared to exert influence supportive of the strictures of their parents and teachers:

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Not only does the peer group in the U.S.S.R. act to support behavior consistent with the values of the adult society, but it also succeeds in introducing its members to take personal initiative and responsibility for developing and retaining such behavior in others. (Bronfenbrenner, 2005, p. 228)

American peers were more likely to encourage deviance from adult norms. In a separate study, he and his colleagues (Devereux, Bronfenbrenner, & Rodgers, 1965) found that the influence of peers was even stronger in England than that of the United States, with English children

Western Influences on the East, Eastern Influences on the West 45

being even more ready to follow the promptings of peers to engage in socially disapproved activities. Several decades later, we found Russian students still reporting that their classmates exerted pressures in a prosocial fashion: that is, their peers tended to increase the likelihood that they would work hard in school and resist the temptation to misbehave (Elliott et al., 1999; Elliott et al., 2001a; Hufton et al., 2002). In line with the wider literature, we found peer influences to be far more problematic in the American and English contexts (Covington, 1992; Osborn, 1997). Here, fear of being teased for showing an interest in schoolwork was a significant inhibiting factor on our informants. In the Russian context, however, such pressures were less apparent. As long as they did not appear to be arrogant or failed to be supportive, high-achieving and highly motivated students were generally respected and admired.

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I think that how a person is studying is less important than what sort of person he is. How he treats others, what sort of relationships he has.… The most important thing is that he doesn’t become snobbish.

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I think that the pupils who have a sort of “brain,” who think well are the popular and attractive ones.… They are respected for their cleverness. If a bright student is a nice person, not a snobby one, why should we treat him badly? I respect those who work hard and do well. In our class, there is no envy, we feel positively about (hard-working) students. (Elliott et al., 2005, p. 124)

In contrast, our American students were anxious not to be seen as “nerds”—a pejorative term that opens the door to unpopularity and harassment. The key problem for the motivated student is not demonstrating high achievement but displaying excessive interest or effort. Academic success generally appeared to be acceptable, even admired, within the peer group as long as it is achieved effortlessly (Damon, 1995). Similarly, Bishop (2004) argues that the purpose of harassing high achievers in the United States is not to punish them for being “smart” but rather, to discourage study effort. To avoid such pressures, the high achiever is typically required to show not only a casual approach to academic work but also a willingness to engage in a full range of other typical teenage activities. The following observation, by one of our U.S. interviewees, typified this position: I try to do a lot of things at once. I try to be social, do well in sports, have a good home life, do well on my studies, and all that, and then there’s some kids who, they just base their whole life on making good grades. And I don’t

46 J. G. ELLIOT and N. PHUONG-MAI think it’s … good grades are important, but I don’t think it’s that important. I think you should have other things to do. And so, if the kid’s like that, then usually they’re like, nobody likes them. (Elliott et al., 2005, p. 123)

Another student emphasized to us, “I’m not a nerd. I’ve got a life outside of school” (p. 123). Able students often sought to appear to others to be uninterested in academic success. One student described such people in the following way:

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I think it’s part of their image, they’re just trying to be like they don’t care. They don’t want anybody to know that they’re like, some of them, really smart, they just don’t try; so they try to hide this image, like they’re too cool to get good grades or whatever (p. 122)

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It is important to note that such pressures are not solely found within disadvantaged communities but are a feature of student experience, irrespective of social background.

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The adolescent peer culture in [middle class] America demeans academic success and scorns students who try to do well in school.… Less than 5 percent of all students are members of a high-achieving crowd that defines itself mainly on the basis of academic excellence.… Of all the crowds, the brains were the least happy with who they are—nearly half wished they were in a different crowd. (Steinberg, 1996, pp. 145-146)

In comparison with their Russian peers, the U.S. and English students in our studies were also far more involved in an out of school youth culture. Not only did this reduce commitment to homework, but through its emphases upon fashion, youth icons, consumer activity and recreation, it also widened the gap between teachers and students. In some cases, academic success for our U.S. informants was seen as a vehicle to secure participation in other, preferred activities: [Good grades are] … very important to me … it’s not hard to get good grades, if you really try. And plus, you have to maintain good grades to be a cheerleader, or they kick you off the squad. You have to have a good grade to stay on the basketball team. (Elliot et al., 205, p. 110)

While the American—and to a lesser extent the English—schools provided a range of out of school activities, many centering on competitive sports, these appeared to have little positive bearing on academic life. Indeed, at times, the emphasis appeared to be more negative as the activities sometimes ate into the academic program and, through the student

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and adult preoccupations that resulted, subtly reduced the perceived importance of scholastic achievement.

EAST TO WEST: WHAT CAN BE LEARNED? As other chapters in this book will have repeatedly demonstrated, there is much that the West can learn from the East about learning and motivation. However, in our opinion, the emphasis in the United Kingdom on Eastern pedagogy (in both the former Soviet Bloc and in South-East Asia) that resulted from comparative studies was misplaced. Closely echoing our Russian findings, the real reasons for high educational standards in many Asian countries (Hess & Azuma, 1991; Li, Holloway, Bempechat, & Loh, in press; Stevenson & Stigler, 1992) would appear to include the following factors:

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• highly positive attitudes to learning and scholarship; • higher standards and expectations in relation to educational achievement; • influential family support (Siu, 1994), with recognition that family hardship may be a necessary price to pay to achieve the highest levels of success. Parental obligation involves ensuring that their children learn well. In turn, children feel obligation to honor their parents’ sacrifice by means of their academic achievement); • a belief in discipline and the importance of demonstrating effort. Learning virtues include diligence, endurance of hardship, humility, concentration and perseverance. These tend to persist even when relocating to Western societies; • a strong sense of group identity in which the desires of the individual are subordinated to the needs of the class group; • a supportive prolearning peer culture, and the employment of high-achieving peers as important role models; • respect for the authority and knowledge of parents and teachers; and • recognition that education is often a demanding and arduous process and does not need to always be fun or intrinsically appealing.

It would be fatuous to assume that the importance of such factors is not understood in all societies. Interestingly, the appeal to American students in the opening section of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) nicely encapsulated many of these values

48 J. G. ELLIOT and N. PHUONG-MAI To students: You forfeit your chance for life at its fullest when you withhold your best effort in learning. When you give only the minimum to learning, you receive only the minimum in return. Even with your parents’ best example and your teachers’ best efforts, in the end it is your work that determines how much and how well you learn. When you work to your full capacity, you can hope to attain the knowledge and skills that will enable you to create your future and control your destiny. If you do not, you will have your future thrust upon you by others. Take hold of your life, apply your gifts and talents, work with dedication and self-discipline. Have high expectations for yourself and convert every challenge into an opportunity. (pp. 35-36)

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The real difficulty, perhaps, is not achieving understanding but, rather, influencing behavior. For this reason, the focus of U.K. policymakers in the 1990s upon mimicking Asian pedagogy, rather than on more profound attitudinal and motivational factors, may show recognition of the limited influence that can be exerted by the executive. Thus, like the man looking for his car keys where a street light shines, rather than where he actually dropped them, reformers are likely to focus on those things that they believe can be more readily influenced. Many of the differences in educational achievement between countries are a consequence of longstanding and deep-seated values and beliefs located within each culture that are not easy to modify. In the course of our researches we asked a U.S. student what he believed would happen if a new principal came to his high school and sought to introduce greater academic demands that would reduce time for out of school activities. His response was telling, “He wouldn’t last two weeks. The parents would run him out of town” (Elliott et al., 2005, p. 240).

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EAST TO EAST: WHAT ASIA CAN LEARN FROM THE RUSSIAN EXPERIENCE

The Russian findings reported in this chapter concern data that were collected in the mid-to-late 1990s, not long after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At this time, massive socioeconomic disruption had yet to percolate through to the schools which were tending to act as enclaves from the turmoil of the broader society (Alexander, 2000; Hufton & Elliott, 2000; Glowka, 1995; O’Brien, 2000). In recent reviews (Elliott & Hufton, 2003; Elliott & Tudge, 2007) we have documented the impact of globalizing (Western) influences on Russian education, in particular, the consequence of the growth in individualism and instrumentalism. Observing the growing disparity between the new wealthy (for whom education had not been a primary factor in their

Western Influences on the East, Eastern Influences on the West 49

success) and the impoverished majority (among this group, university professors and schoolteachers), the importance of education began to be questioned by students who increasing sought to position themselves more favorably in their rapidly changing world. Although some highly educated individuals have succeeded in the new Russia, primarily those in business and law, a large proportion of the intelligentsia has become part of the newly poor (Ryvkina, 2007). As a result, the value of education as a means for individual growth became subordinated to its role as an economic commodity (Andreev, 2003; Chuprov & Zubok, 1997). Global (i.e., Western) influences emphasising the importance of individualism, personal choice and individual agency, and detachment from traditional ties and settings (Giddens, 1991; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005) have reduced the willingness of Russian students to accept unquestioningly their teachers’ authority or the strictures of their parents (Bocharova & Lerner, 2000; Iartsev, 2000; White, 2001). To observe the influence of growing instrumentality and individualism, the increasing tendency for adolescents to be critical of their teachers, the growth of powerful peer cultures and the concomitant decline of adult influence (Sergeev, 1999; Zvonovskii & Lutseva, 2004), with the concomitant reduction in children’s overall sense of security (Muckle, 1998) and the physical or intellectual withdrawal of a significant minority of students from schooling (Cherednichenko, 2000; Grigorenko, 1998), is to witness some of the problems of the Western educational world being superimposed on a very different culture with very different traditions. It would be unwise not to recognize that the values underpinning globalization can present problems for teachers in any culture. Alexander (2004), for example, writes of the tensions he found in American schools where teachers were confused by competing values that seemed to be in opposition to one another: self-fulfillment and altruism, consumerism and environmentalism, cooperation and competition, while, across broader U.S. society, a strong sense of communal commitment was at odds with rampant individualism. Such tensions were manifested not only in formal education goals but also in the everyday discourse and actions of students and teachers. In his comparative study of five cultures, Alexander (2000) found the most striking differences to be between the United States and Russia. In the former, the democratic ideal underpinning classroom relationships resulted in greater levels of disruption, negotiation and confrontation. While it is clear that the individual’s capacity to act autonomously is increasingly important for success in our contemporary world (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2005), the challenge for education systems is how to foster this in ways that do not undermine

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50 J. G. ELLIOT and N. PHUONG-MAI

existing strengths. The danger to Asian educational systems of globalizing influence is that the shift toward more autonomous students, a reduction in the perceived legitimacy of adult authority, and a devaluing of the intrinsic value of education may result in classrooms where the work ethic is reduced. The risk is that changed relationships and priorities may result in classrooms that increasingly reflect the laissez-faire atmosphere more typically found in other cultures in which there is:

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relatively little concern for academic content, a willingness to tolerate, if not encourage, diversion from the specified knowledge to be presented or discussed; the substitution of genial banter and conversation for concentrated academic exercises; improvisational instructional adaptation to student preference for or indifference towards specific subject matter or pedagogical techniques; the “negotiation” of class content, assignments, and standards; and a high degree of teacher autonomy in managing the level of academic engagement, personal interaction, and course content. (Sedlak et al., 1986, p. 7)

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Under the influence of globalization, it is ironic to see how East Asian reformers appear to have abandoned their countries’ own strengths and rushed to adopt other pedagogic practices. Despite an excellent mathematics tradition, new math curriculum standards were released in 2001 by the Chinese Ministry of Education. These were largely modeled on the 1989 version of the mathematics standards issued in the United States by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The new math curriculum has been, “sharply criticized for betraying an excellent educational tradition, sacrificing mathematical thinking and reasoning for experiential learning.… In 10 years, … it will be too late when we find our next generation can not think logically and reason mathematically” (Zhao, 2005, p. 219). Similar “maths wars” are similarly taking place in other East Asian education systems. Over the past decade, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Singapore have all engaged in dramatic curricular reforms and are now beginning to debate the consequences of these (Cave, 2001; Ryoko, 2004). Zhao (2005) argues that: In essence, what the East Asian reformers wanted for their future was America’s past and present. In their eyes, students in the US were happy, creative, and socially responsible—products of an education system that focused on children over knowledge, pedagogy over content, and the individual over the group—all traits seen as secret to America’s economic success and dominance. (p. 220)

And ironically, some American educators have criticized learnercentered education for:

Western Influences on the East, Eastern Influences on the West 51 encouraging parents and teachers to be less assertive and to afford children greater freedom. In particular, it has encouraged lessened parents’ insistence on study and effort on school.… Today, it impedes efforts to hold schools accountable for student academic achievement. (Stone, 1996)

How likely is such a scenario to become widespread in those Asian societies that have enjoyed such high educational standards? Can the Russian experience provide any important insights that might help guide education reform in these societies? The reader might point to the reputation for academic success of Asian-Americans to illustrate how traditional Confucian values involving education and hard work can persist within the countervailing values of broader U.S. society. While this is certainly true, it is important to recognize that this success is not simply the product of background culture (Pearce, 2006). Rather, the maintenance of such perspectives is, in part, explained by the difficulties of succeeding economically in a context where, for many Asian-Americans, upward mobility is restricted (Pearce, 2006; Sue & Okazaki, 1990; Zhou & Kim, 2006).

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CONCLUDING REMARKS

This chapter opened with an account of Eastern influences on Western policymakers that resulted from concern about international rankings on test scores. We have argued that the focus on pedagogy in the United Kingdom (and to a lesser extent, the United States) was misplaced, perhaps because teaching approaches and curricula are elements that are more easily controlled by policymakers than student dispositions and attitudes. In identifying key lessons for the West from the East, we have highlighted a number of factors that help to explain differing levels of educational achievement in Russia, the United States, and England. We subsequently noted that, in various ways, the strengths observed in the Russian context also mirror those of many leading Asian nations. We have subsequently argued that Western globalizing forces appear to be undermining many of Russia’s traditional educational strengths, and recent challenges and dilemmas are increasingly mirroring some of the longstanding problems encountered in the United States and United Kingdom. Although the initial turbulence appears to be settling somewhat (Russian students appear to be increasing their belief in the power of education to help them economically; Lisauskene, 2007; Vishnevskii & Shapko, 2007), resistance and accommodation continue to be dynamic (Elliott & Tudge, 2007) and it is still too early to determine how these tensions will be reconciled in Russia in the long term. We have then suggested that similar threats appear to be emerging in some Asian societies.

52 J. G. ELLIOT and N. PHUONG-MAI

While Western societies may now be more ready to accept the real lessons why many Eastern countries are so academically successful, cultural values, traditions, and priorities are such that it seems unlikely that meaningful behavioral change will occur as a result. Similarly, while lessons can be learned from the Russian experience by Asian countries, it seems that the power of globalizing influences is such that little can be done to stem their advance. Perhaps the true nature of our learning from one another can be little more than achieving greater insight about forces over which we have little control?

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