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Wonderful research on important topics in early childhood education, well presented!
on April 30, 2010
Sometimes you pick up a book that you enjoyed in an earlier phase of your life to check whether it was really that good. In the case of "Preschool in Three Cultures" the situation is even more interesting in that we get to revisit the earlier book and its subject matter. It turns out that the earlier book was definitely that good and that revisiting the same subject matter is perhaps even better.
For the general public interested in childhood education, as well as for academic specialists in comparative and early childhood education, this is not only a very informative, but also a truly enjoyable read.
The book is particularly strong in the research methods that are brought to bear on important questions regarding early childhood education. To examine differences between early education in the U.S., China, and Japan, the authors videotaped a day in two preschools in each country and then showed these videos (in edited form) to teachers at the schools where the videos were shot to get their reaction to aspects of the video. In addition, the researchers also showed these videos to other educators in all three countries to get their reactions. These screenings also included the videos that formed the basis for the original research, published as Preschool in Three Cultures: Japan, China and the United States, adding a longitudinal comparison to the international one.
By showing concrete evidence of particular pedagogical strategies, the authors tease out reactions that tell the reader about perceptions of other countries' pedagogies, but by extension also about perspectives on early childhood education more generally.
Whereas one often hears that old chestnut about Japan being a Confucian society, Tobin, Hsueh, and Kawasawa were able to point to very concrete facets of early education to compare between the three countries. By the way, it turns out that there is very little that's obviously "Confucian" about Chinese or Japanese early education.
By describing the preschools themselves, but then also discussing the reactions of educators to the videos at great length, the authors skilfully draw us into their analysis and actually let readers do a lot of the analysis themselves. Not only is this admirable in terms of the openness of the method, but it gives readers a great opportunity to engage the research materials themselves and to learn a lot about comparative early education in the process.
As icing on the cake, the videos are actually available from the author (see [...]). For my part, I will be showing the videos to students in an undergraduate class on "Sociology of Education" and then discussing them before assigning parts of the book. I know that the students will enjoy the videos as well as the readings and that they will benefit greatly from their exposure to this research.
-- Julian Dierkes
Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
Author of Postwar History Education in Japan and the Germanys: Guilty lessons (Routledge Contemporary Japan Series)