In America, people like Frank Bruni attack the Tiger Mom and Chinese educational methods because they believe that children who do too much schoolwork and perform too many rote exercises will suffer severe emotional disturbances, even to the point of committing suicide.
We Americans may not know how to teach our children or even how to bring them up to become good citizens of the Republic, but we are aiming at a higher good: their mental health.
When British educators saw that their own schoolchildren were falling behind Chinese students in all measures of academic performance, they sent a delegation to teachers to China to find out why.
Business Insider reports their conclusion:
Given China’s success in international tests such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, it seems we have been misguided in abandoning the traditional, teacher-directed method of learning where the teacher spends more time standing at the front of the class, directing learning and controlling classroom activities.
Great Britain and America adopted “a more collaborative approach to learning where students had greater control.”
The advent of the new pedagogical techniques dates to the time of the Vietnam counterculture.
Business Insider describes what happened:
Traditionally, classrooms have been organised with children sitting in rows with the teacher at the front of the room, directing learning and ensuring a disciplined classroom environment. This is known as direct instruction.
Beginning in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, teachers began to experiment with more innovative and experimental styles of teaching. These included basing learning on children’s interests, giving them more control over what happened in the classroom and getting rid of memorising times tables and doing mental arithmetic. This approach is known as inquiry or discovery learning.
Influenced by the self-esteem movement, teachers started handing out large dollops of praise, regardless of whether or not it had been earned.
Based on this recent study of classrooms in the UK and China and a recent UK report titled What makes great teaching?, there is increasing evidence that these new-age education techniques, where teachers facilitate instead of teach and praise students on the basis that all must be winners, in open classrooms where what children learn is based on their immediate interests, lead to under-performance.
Studies in Australia, where the new age techniques were also implemented, drew a similar conclusion:
Many in Australian education believe children are only really learning when they are active. As a result, teachers are told it is wrong to sit children at their desks and ask them to listen to what is being taught.
Again, the evidence proves otherwise. The UK report suggests that even when sitting and listening children are internalising what is being taught. Learning can occur whether they are “active” or “passive”.
Often derided as “drill and kill” or making children “parrot” what is being taught, the UK report and other research suggests that memorisation and rote learning are important classroom strategies, which all teachers should be familiar with.
The UK report states that teachers need to “encourage re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas”, while research in how children best learn concludes that some things, such as times tables and reciting rhymes, ballads and poems, must be memorised until they can be recalled automatically.
Ah yes, automatic recall of multiplication tables, classroom discipline, teachers who exercise authority… these are the basis of education.
Business Insider concludes that there is a place for more individualized instruction, but that the foundation for good education resides in rote memorization:
In the early years of primary school, children need to memorise things like times tables and poems and ballads so that they can be recalled easily and automatically. Education is also about curiosity and innovation and there will be other times when rote learning will be unsuitable – for example, when students explore a topic that excites them and where they undertake their own research and analysis.
Depending on what is being taught, what has gone before and what is yet to come, whether students are well versed in a particular area of learning or are novices, and even the time of day, teachers must adapt their teaching to the situation and be flexible.
The problem arises when teachers and teacher education academics privilege one particular approach to the detriment of all others.
But, how many American educators are capable of admitting that they got it wrong? When they denounce techniques that are producing better results—on the grounds that these techniques are fomenting mental illness-- they are defending themselves and refusing to change their ways.
We will see what effects this study has in Great Britain and Australia. As for America… American educators’ skill at critical thinking vanishes when it is directed at them.