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Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve Hardcover – September 19, 2017
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"Devoted" by Dean Koontz
For the first time in paperback, from Dean Koontz, the master of suspense, comes an epic thriller about a terrifying killer and the singular compassion it will take to defeat him. | Learn more
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“Chu’s narrative is told with the honesty of a journalist, allowing readers to understand the conclusions she draws from her journey but also to form their own view of Chinese education. For anyone who wishes to expand their understanding about Chinese society and its impact on education.” (Library Journal, starred review)
“This book had me at page one! Whip smart, hilariously funny, and shocking. A must-read.” (Amy Chua, author of The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and The Triple Package)
“Anyone will understand [China] better after reading this book…. Chu vividly sketches these differences [between Chinese and American school systems] in terms that will make readers ponder what they actually think about rote memorization and parents question their preferences for their own children.” (New York Times)
“This engaging narrative is personalized by Chu’s often humorous recollections of attending American schools as the daughter of immigrants. Little Soldiers offers fascinating peeks inside the world’s largest educational system and at the future intellectual “soldiers” American kids will be facing.” (Booklist)
“Undoubtedly revealing, fascinating, and filled with ‘aha’ moments.” (Christian Science Monitor)
“This is a rare look inside the gates of Chinese schools that helps demystify many traits and behaviors of the Chinese people.” (Deborah Fallows, contributing writer for The Atlantic and author of Dreaming in Chinese)
“Lenora Chu, a gifted journalist, has written a fascinating comparison of the US and Shanghai education systems. Little Soldiers offers important insights into the strengths and weaknesses of each. There is much to be learned here about the elements of a better education system for the 21st century.” (Tony Wagner, Expert in Residence, Harvard University Innovation Lab and author of The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators)
“An investigative look at the Chinese educational system and how it produces such a large number of high-performing students.” (Book Riot)
“This provocative investigation examines cultural differences between the East and West, and the benefits and shortcomings of how both approach education.” (Real Simple, “The Best New Books to Read This Month”)
From the Back Cover
When American journalist Lenora Chu moved to Shanghai with her little boy, Rainey, just down the street from the state-run school—the best, as far as elite Chinese were concerned—she faced an important decision: Should she entrust her rambunctious young son to the Chinese public schools?
It seemed like a good idea at the time, and so began Rainey’s immersion in one of the most radical school systems on the planet. Almost immediately, the three-year-old began to develop surprising powers of concentration and became proficient in early math. Yet Chu also noticed disturbing new behaviors: Whereas he used to scribble and explore, Rainey was now obsessed with staying inside the lines. He became fearful of authority figures. “If you want me to do it, I’ll do it,” he told a stranger who had asked whether he liked to sing.
Driven by parental concern, Chu embarked on an investigative mission: What price do the Chinese pay to produce their “smart” kids, and what lessons might Western parents and educators learn from this system?
In her search for answers, Chu followed Chinese students, teachers, and experts, pulling back the curtain on a military-style education system in which even the youngest kids submit to high-stakes tests and parents are crippled by the pressure to compete. Yet as Chu delved deeper, she discovered surprising upsides, such as the benefits of memorization, competition as a motivator, and the Chinese cultural belief in hard work over innate talent.
Lively and intimate, beautifully written and reported, Little Soldiers asks us to reconsider the true value and purpose of education, as China and the West compete for the political and economic dominance of a new generation.
- Item Weight : 1.2 pounds
- Hardcover : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062367854
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062367853
- Product Dimensions : 1.4 x 6.2 x 9.1 inches
- Publisher : Harper; First Edition (September 19, 2017)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #530,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The author, Ms. Chu, and her husband, are Americans living and working in Shanghai when their son, Rainey, becomes school-aged. They debate whether to send him to a “Western” private school or a Chinese public school. When they manage to get him into one of the most prestigious Chinese public schools they decided to give it a try. At the same time, Ms. Chu decides to take a close look at the Chinese system at every level. It turns out to be an eye-opening experience.
The most compelling parts of this book are Ms. Chu’s reactions to what happens with Rainey and what is required of her as the parent of a student at a Chinese school. In his first weeks in kindergarten, Rainey is “taught” to sit in his chair, back straight, feet flat on the floor, hands on his knees. He is force-fed foods he refuses to eat. He memorizes and recites. Initially, she seems repelled by this, but is impressed by how Rainey learns to self-manage his behavior and the fact that his behavior at home doesn’t seem significantly impacted by what he is able to accomplish at school for his teachers and principal. In fact, she learns that, if she doesn’t like what the school is doing, she is more than welcome to remove Rainey because there is a long list of students more than anxious to take his place. Rainey stays.
In fact, Ms. Chu learns that, in Chinese society, the school staff has far more power and expects much more respect than teachers in the United States have ever been given. As much as Rainey, she receives assignments from her son’s teachers that she is expected to complete. She becomes enmeshed in a process of procuring “presents” for the teachers at her son’s school from the United States, including (cliché) expensive handbags.
Despite the speed bumps, however, she seems to come to an accommodation with Rainey’s school and is happy with his progress. What appears more problematic is the expectations down the line. Ms. Chu becomes friends with a some high school students preparing for college. One is educated exclusives in China while another goes to the U.S. for high school (and other is a provincial with little chance of success). All (including, most obvious, the parents) are worried about the gaokao, the test that students must pass to enter prestigious colleges in China. The one educated exclusively in China takes the Party line as a matter of course. The one with American education chafed against what was required, though perfectly capable of achieving it. The story that stands out is her discussion of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. In China students read a bowdlerized version that has a specific, government-approved interpretation that students are expected to parrot back. The experience at the American high school is, obviously, different.
And here is the crux of the battles between the two styles of education: should students be forced through a discipline-driven, strict curriculum which seems to stifle free-thinking and invention, or should students be allowed a freer experience that encourages innovation and ingenuity at the expense of management and self-control? The answer, not surprisingly, seems to be some balance between the two, though the passionate on both sides of the Pacific are unwilling to come to an accommodation. Maybe if more people lived the differences, like Ms. Chu, something could be achieved. In any case, this book is an excellent read.
Now I have finished reading the book. After chapters that made me laugh, the following two chapters provide a very sad and cruel portrait of the education in small towns and rural areas. I emailed a young friend in a small town in Sichuan, telling him what I read. He answered me that what Chu's book told were entirely true. The young friend says that in small cities and villages, many schools are closed and teachers are not willing to come to the rural areas. Furthermore there are no students. In small towns and villages there are only old people and young kids, those in the middle (teens and secondary school aged) are all looking for jobs in the cities. Since their "Hukou" (registered birth place) are in rural areas or small towns, they can never get into schools where they are working. It is more difficult to get into a school due to the "hukou" problem than to apply for an immigration status to the U.S..
The most thoughtful and important part of the book is the author's comparison of the educational idea, views and practices between the U.S. and China. For this, I do wish readers to give more careful reading and thoughts to these pages. Education will not only determine the success and failure of our future generations, it will affect the future of our nation as well.
I've talked with Chinese university professor parents who've done the opposite of what the author did- pulled their children out of Chinese schools to send them to international schools because of the emotional dangers and out of hands pressure and angry teaching that occurs there. Interestingly, it was after 6th grade, similar to what the author said she planned for her on son.
I can't help thinking that there is definitely some happy medium that both can protect the kids emotionally and creatively while giving them firm educational foundations.
Top reviews from other countries
Super interesting read! Highly recommend!
The story of the author and her child is also lighthearted and enjoyable.