kitchen table math, the sequel: Taiwan Schmaiwan

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Taiwan Schmaiwan

comment thread here


mazenko said...

A telling comment on the differences in the Taiwan system and the US came from Dr. David Ho, the researcher credited with coming up the "AIDS cocktail" which was the first and most effective treatment for lowering HIV to undetectable levels in infected people.

Dr. Ho was born and raised in Taiwan where he went to school for his formative years - elementary and middle. He then moved to the US where he did high school and college. He has noted that if he'd stayed in Taiwan his whole life, he never would have made the discovery. Likewise, he explains if he had been born in the US and always educated here, he never would have made the discovery.

It was the rigid style of the early years in a Confucian system that gave him the discipline he needed, as well as the more "open" and diverse style in the US that encouraged questioning and creativity (yes, through electives) that allowed him the solid foundation and insight necessary to make one of the 20th century's most significant medical breakthroughs.

Clearly, it's not one or the other, but a combination of both.

Catherine Johnson said...

A few years ago I met a Chinese immigrant mom at tennis lessons. She hated the Chinese system, and instantly told me that China squelched any possibility of creativity. For instance, she said that in China a doctoral student's thesis topic is chosen for him!

She and her husband both revered US higher education in math & iirc believed we had produced some of the best mathematicians (and perhaps applied mathematicians as well) in the world.

(This memory is a bit hazy now--)

At the same time, they had one child, who was enrolled in a public school here in Westchester, and they were quite unhappy with the curriculum.

It simply doesn't make sense to say that the remedy for a system in which doctoral candidates are assigned a dissertation topic is fuzzy math.

palisadesk said...

Bill Gates is on record siomewhere as saying that where once the US could lead the world because of creativity et alia, the Chinese are catching up with us. Microsoft has started the equivalent of a university there, to train the next generation of Microsoft innovation engineers. He predicts that the bulk of their innovative developments will come from China in the near future and that in fact this process is well under way.

Another difference he singled out was work ethic. The Asian countries have a very different attitude to work and personal responsibility than many younger Americans, for better or worse.

concernedCTparent said...

The World is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman (p. 351)
When I asked Bill Gates about the supposed American education advantage--an education that stresses creativity, not rote learning-- he was utterly dismissive. In his view, the people who think that the more rote-oriented learning systems of China and Japan can't turn out innovators who can compete with Americans are sadly mistaken. Said Gates, "I have never met the guy who doesn't know how to multiply who created software... Who has the most creative video games in the world? Japan! I never met these 'rote people'... Some of my best software developers are Japanese. You need to understand things in order to invent beyond them."

concernedCTparent said...

Other relevant pulls from TWIF:

"Confident that their best K-12 students will usually outperform America's on the fundamentals of math and science, China is now focusing on how to unleash more creative, innovative juices among its youth." (p. 352)

Nuturing more "creative thinking and entrepreneurship are the exact issues we are putting attention to today" - Wu Qidi, China's vice minister of education. (p. 352)

China is focused on overcoming its weaknesses-- beginning with creative thinking-- to match our strengths. (TWIF, p. 353)

"Before you create anything new you need to understand what is already there. Once you have this foundation, being creative can be trainable.China is building that foundation. So very soon, in ten or twenty years, you will see a flood of top-quality research papers from China." Harry Shum, Microsoft Research Asia, Carnegie-Mellon trained engineer. (TWIF p. 355)

rgetzel86 said...

Guess what? Merit pay is not the answer to to all the ills of the American educational system. Even more investment will barely make a dent as far as our world rankings. The United States needs a complete overhaul of education, or it is doomed to fail, our kids that is.

Spiraling curricula, constructivist programs like balanced literacy and fuzzy math, piss poor education schools, the lack of content-rich national standards, and yes, a short school year with a short school day that condenses lessons into 45 minutes. The former are what holding us back.

And yes, a cultural problem, which is not easily remedied. Some people favor an argument based on culture when they attempt to explain why minorities in the United States lag behind others in academic performance. The fact is, we have a generalized culture problem, one which does not put a premium on work ethic, parental involvement in their child's education.

We have far too many distractions, and you know what they are. As Americans, we also work more hours than any other industrialized economy, leaving less time for parents to involve themselves in their child's education, so I don't believe it's entirely our fault, but also the way our economy is arranged.

One can obviously write a dissertation on this topic, and I wish I had more time to elaborate on all my points, but these are my feelings.

Tracy W said...

I'm with Bill Gates on this one. Japan is clearly capable of producing whacky creative ideas (some of which are really really good on a number of levels, and some of which are just whacky).

Anonymous said...

I was having a wonderful conversation with one of my students yesterday. He was describing his bedroom at one point. Here's his loot.

He has a home theater with flat screen TV, a computer with high speed wireless connection, and an Xbox. No mention of a bookshelf was proffered. His sister, he tells me, has the same except she has a Play Station instead of the Xbox.

Only in America baby!

Did I mention the free breakfast and lunch?

Anonymous said...

One of the best decisions my family has ever made was to allow no video games. That was back in the Atari days, with the older kids, but even the younger ones never had any (and still don't - age range 25-35). They also never had TVs in their rooms and no computers in rooms until college. We didn't have cable TV until the youngest were freshman/junior in high school (so we could get European soccer) They did, however, have and use their filled bookshelves - as well as the MANY other bookcases in the house. They were all full-time elite athletes, will a full travel schedule, too. Lots of people said we were crazy, but we'd make the same decisions again - the kids turned out fine.

Lsquared said...

An often expressed opinion in math education papers is that one problem is that students in the US, and their parents, believe that you have to have talent to be good at math; whereas, among families from Taiwan, Japan, etc, students and their parents believe that the most important factor in being good at math is effort/practice/diligence. Now, regardless of how much effort makes a difference vs talent (it's clear to me that both have a significant effect), it is reasonably clear that a belief by students and parents that effort is the most important factor is the winning move: the thing you can change (and it helps a lot) is your effort. If you believe that effort doesn't help, then you don't put in effort, and you stay where you are. On the other hand, if you believe effort is the main thing, then you put in effort, and you improve as much as it is possible for you to improve (yay).

But at this point there is a disconnect, because these are often the same writers who go on to say how wonderful the standards-based curricula are. Now, I'm really a sitting on the fence sort of person, because I like a lot of what I read in the math standards, but I can't stand most of what I see in the standards-based textbooks. And the thing I don't like most about the standards-based textbooks is that there isn't enough practice (it's like someone said--let's do some other things besides just practice, and the textbook writer said--yeah, and let's do away with all of the practice--let's make every single problem different from anything they've ever done. OK. I'm exaggerating. Sorry.) So back the the point that I'm wandering around so loosely: if you get rid of the practice, then the opportunity to learn through effort is decreased, and you really only do learn through talent, so you're making the whole problem of not believing that effort is important worse by eliminating the drill problems.

Hmm... Good luck reading that last sentence. I have a headache, and it's not improving my writing, I can tell. Someday, if I ever have free time again, I want to write an article about why the standards based curricula don't support the standards. Hopefully I'll get my sentences under control by then.