Friday, May 21, 2010

Is the Western Way the best?

So, on one hand we have educators like Alfie Kohn telling us that discipline is the problem, not the solution.

On the other hand, Miss Snuffleupagus tells us this:

What I find interesting is that over the years, I have noticed that the number one thing to help black children get on the straight and narrow is to 'send them back to Africa'. The same happens if the parent chooses to 'send them back to the Caribbean' of course. As long as you catch them young enough. Do it before the age of 14, and a miracle is in store for you.
The most unruly, most deranged black boys, who know nothing of discipline and respect get shipped off to Ghana and within weeks, they are transformed. Suddenly they respect their teachers, do their homework, speak politely and obey every command.
... and this:
Are we, the teachers, the ones who are failing our children? Or rather, is it not a culture of pandering to the desires of 12 year olds that means that we fail them? The children in that school in China are superior to my children in every possible way: morally, academically, spiritually. And why? Because of their teachers' and their society's expectations, and the sheer national horror at the thought of ever lowering them. 
These are quite different messages. More generally, it seems that in western countries, schools and parents are producing children that are less disciplined, less hard-working and less respectful than kids in China or Nigeria (I also get this impression from personal experience). And this despite the fact that in the West, we throw much more money and brains in the direction of improving our children.

So, why do we get worse results at a higher cost? Some possible explanations
  1. Kids in China are naturally more obedient than western kids (That doesn't fit much with Miss Snuffleupagus' observation on sending kids back to Africa - nurture does seem to be playing a significant role here)
  2. Western-style education is fundamentally wrong, we've been misleaded by what's fashionable and politically correct
  3. Alfie Kohn's views are a minority - our schools would work better if they listened to his advice (for example, he agrees with Chinese parents that complimenting a kid every time he ties his goddam shoelaces is a bad idea)
  4. Western schools have the right theories, but can't implement them due to other problems - risk of lawsuits from parents, policies imposed from up high like No Child Left Behind, etc.
  5. Western-Style education is better at fostering creativity, initiative, and other skills that are more useful in a modern economy than blind obedience.
  6. Western kids are not particularly better behaved or lazier than Chinese kids, I just got a distorted impression from biased sources.
  7. Discipline isn't what the kids need - the educational system in China might be better at creating obedient and respectful eight-year-olds, but the same system is also more likely to create eighteen-year-olds that spend their time in internet cafes.
I don't know which of these explanations is the best, and am probably missing quite a few factors. Still I hope it gives a good idea for why I have quite a few reservation about "expert" advice in the West, even when that advice is backed by scientific research and doesn't seem to be under heavy academic criticism.

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