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Effect of Culture on Differences in Conceptions of Education

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2603 words Published: 10th Apr 2018

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I chose the following articles which examined the effects of culture on the differences in conceptions of education. Human thought and behavior are heavily influenced by the practices and assumptions of a certain culture and education cannot escape this influence (Brislin, Bochner, & Lonner, 1975; Cole, 1996). As the course (AH103) sought to examine educational outcomes in cross cultural settings, I personally believe that a deeper and more critical understanding of how education is perceived, valued and conceptualized across cultures is important. The only opportunity we had to discuss such a topic in class was the short article, “Mind or Virtue” by Jin Li (2005) and I felt that it was quite limited.

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In addition, I believe that understanding the ideas of influential thinkers from different cultures such as Confucius, Socrates and Dewey can shed light on how different cultures have perceived education historically and how they continue to be influenced by them. Finally, these articles demonstrate that we can borrow best practices from different cultures to better prepare our students for the globalized world and I feel that it would be helpful for us being future teachers to understand that.

Article 1: Cultural Perspectives on Teaching and Learning: A collaborative self-study of two professors’ first year teaching experiences. (Hu & Smith, 2011)

The first article (Hu and Smith, 2011) documents the reflective experiences of Hu and Smith, assistant professors of Chinese and American nationality respectively. Throughout their first year at the same university, they utilized the self-study approach to explore their views of teaching and learning and how their different cultural backgrounds could have influenced their perspectives. The approach which included conversations and writing and sharing reflections about their teaching practices helped them clarify their education philosophies. Hu and Smith (2011) shared that their educational philosophies were mainly influenced by Chinese Confucianism and Deweyan pragmatism respectively. The article went on to provide more information about both philosophies but this will not be discussed in this paper owing to the length constraint. Upon reflection, they realized that their educational philosophies heavily influenced their teaching practices. For example, Hu believed that it was more important to be a strict teacher: “I have been influenced since I was young in China that a strict teacher prepares better students. I thought that I should be a strict teacher, and be responsible for my students; however, it seems that my students really did not appreciate that. (Hu, 10 February 2009)” On the other hand, Smith believed that being an understanding teacher was more important: “Teaching is making connections with students, inspiring them, showing them many strategies to use in teaching, allowing them time to practice the strategies, make mistakes, revise, and plan again. My duty as an instructor is to do all in my power to assist in the students’ learning. Yet I found that some of my students lacked the desired dispositions to become excellent teachers. (Smith, 23 June 2009)”.

There were also other differences in their teaching beliefs (e.g. Smith believed that students should learn to be assertive while Hu believed in the importance of modesty). These differences were mutually exclusive and reflected the different conceptualizations of education in the two countries. However, Hu and Smith (2011) believed that the collaborative self-study experience helped them to understand the teaching values of their own and another culture more profoundly. After scrutinizing the philosophies of education in both eastern and western cultures and comparing and contrasting their own views of teaching and learning, they managed to gain insights that went beyond recognizing the differences between the two. In fact, they recognized the strengths of each philosophy and sought to integrate both philosophies to provide more effective instruction (Hu & Smith, 2011).

For example, Smith helped Hu to obtain a deeper understanding of American classroom culture. As the use of role models in education is prevalent in Chinese culture (Reed, 1995), Hu praised students who had performed well in class with the intention to encourage them and hoped that other students would be encouraged to emulate them. To Hu’s surprise, some students felt that their efforts were not affirmed in the process of being compared to others. Smith helped Hu understand that US students value individualism and working at their own academic level and pace. Consequently, teachers believe in differentiated instruction and praise.

In addition, Hu helped Smith to embrace the eastern views of learning: that students should be diligent, respectful, and virtuous. Smith made a conscious effort to share these values with her students and help them appreciate and foster those values. For example, she modeled a strong work ethic and enforced strict grading policies and deadlines. She also requested students to assess themselves on punctuality, participation, completion of assignments and staying focused at the end of each class. Many of her students provided feedback that they were inspired by Smith sharing about and fostering Eastern views of education and felt that it has given them new perspectives towards education.

Therefore, Hu and Smith (2011) believed that integrating their cultural views of teaching and learning helped them to achieve the best of both worlds. However, they believed that it is only possible if the teacher is interested to achieve such a balance. However, despite having great interest in achieving the balance, Hu and Smith (2011) realized that their own views of teaching and learning were greatly influenced by their cultural backgrounds and were not easily altered. As such, they worked hard to integrate both cultural beliefs of teaching and learning within their teaching practices. Lastly, Hu and Smith (2011) argued that understanding different educational philosophies can help teachers better serve their students in the increasingly globalized world.

I chose this article because I appreciated the authors deeply reflecting about their own educational philosophies and seeking to uncover how their cultural backgrounds have affected them. In addition, I loved the simple message that there are strengths in both the Deweyan and Confucian approaches and that integrating them in our teaching practices can better serve all our students.

Article 2: Rethinking Teacher Education: Synchronizing Eastern and Western Views of Teaching and Learning to Promote 21st Century Skills and Global Perspectives. (Smith & Hu, 2013)

The second article was written by the same authors of the first article. After four years of experience with the integrated philosophy of eastern and western perspectives and receiving positive feedback, Smith and Hu (2013) decided to follow up on their first self-study (Hu & Smith, 2011) by investigating how their integrated philosophy have influenced teaching and learning of 21st century skills in their college students (Smith & Hu, 2013). The authors firmly believed that 21st century skills such as critical thinking, creativity and problem solving must be embedded into the curriculum because research had shown that students require these skills to succeed in work and life (Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2007, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2007).

For the study, Smith and Hu (2013) analyzed different sources from the past four years: 1) monthly self-study meeting notes, (2) self-reflective journals, (3) student and departmental peer evaluations of teaching, and (4) faculty and student feedback on the authors’ invited presentations. Smith and Hu (2013) found that their integrated philosophy was very effective in developing 21st century skills. For example, in the area of career and life skills, the western view helps to develop self-confidence, individuality and democratic education while the eastern view help foster the virtues of hard work, responsibility, commitment, and persistence in students. The integrated philosophy thus developed both sets of skills as both authors upheld rigorous teaching standards and high expectations.

Moreover, the integrated philosophy worked well in terms of learning and innovation skills. Smith’s western perspective influenced by Dewey promote creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration through inquiry teaching and active learning. While personalized instruction is valued by the eastern perspective, the integrated philosophy valued collaboration with peers as an important part of teaching and learning.

Over the years in their classes, presentations and conferences, Smith and Hu (2013) learned that educators from a diverse range of cultures were interested in cultivating global teaching perspectives. In addition, they all value 21st century skills and believe them to be important student outcomes. Having witnessed firsthand the importance and necessity of incorporating best practices from other cultures, the authors believe that educators across all disciplines should develop a global perspective of teaching and learning and provided some recommendations. Firstly, educators must examine themselves to unearth their personal cultural philosophy of teaching and learning (possibly using self-study like the authors). In addition, professional development sessions with other colleagues can be a good way to develop cultural understanding. Next, educators should consider collaborating to integrate cultural perspectives to promote 21st century skills. Finally, teaching and learning must always respect and take into account the diverse cultures of all students and families.

I chose this article because it was a rich qualitative study which clearly articulated the benefits of utilizing an integrated philosophy in fostering 21st century skills. I think it would really encourage future and current educators to rethink their own educational philosophies and utilized the integrated one proposed by the authors.

Article 3: Learning Considered Within a Cultural Context: Confucian and Socratic Approaches (Tweed & Lehman, 2002)

The last article (Tweed & Lehman, 2002) used a Confucian–Socratic framework to analyze how academic learning is influenced by culture. At the start of the article, the authors clearly examined how different education processes are valued differently by Socrates and Confucius from the Western and Eastern cultures respectively. While Socrates encouraged students to question widely accepted knowledge privately and publicly and to create and articulate their own hypotheses, Confucius valued respectful, effortful, and pragmatic acquisition of essential knowledge so as to result in behavioral reform.

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While recognizing that examples of both Confucian and Socratic approaches can be found in both cultural contexts, Tweed and Lehman (2002) helped readers understand the impact of each approach in a different culture. Firstly, in some Western educational contexts, the Confucian approach may be advantageous- for example, in the case when students are expected to gain and utilize foundational knowledge to familiar and novel situations. However, the Confucian approach may be a disadvantage in other contexts- for example, students heavily influenced by the Confucian approach may speak up less in class and be perceived by their teachers to be less capable. In addition, it is also important to note the impact of the Socratic approach in Eastern educational contexts. The Socratic approach can potentially result in the disruption of the learning environment due to the lack of sensitivity to the social consequences of public criticism. In addition, Yang (1986) argued that the Socratic Method could lead to disorientation in Chinese classrooms because students may not be well prepared to engage in arguments, leading to poor student outcomes. However, there are also instances when a Socratic orientation has merits in Eastern educational contexts, such as when instructors yearn to be questioned (there are times when even Confucius wished that his students doubted his teachings).

After examining the impact of each approach in a different culture, Tweed and Lehman (2002) argued that students who are academically bicultural and can adapt their learning approach according to cues in the academic environment may be more successful. Therefore, Tweed and Lehman (2002) agreed with the authors of the previous two articles (Smith & Hu, 2011) that educators should encourage both inquiry (Socratic) and thoughtful acquisition (Confucian). This will help students gain knowledge and thinking skills that become useful in many domains beyond the current academic context. Although Tweed and Lehman (2002) did not refer to the above skills explicitly as 21st century skills, it is safe to assume that they would agree with Smith & Hu (2013) about their importance too.

Furthermore, Tweed and Lehman (2002) argued that students and educators alike may not entirely acknowledge the influence of culture on students’ academic role and behaviors. Wollenburg (1995) had identified the poor treatment of students of Asian descent in Western educational institutions and argued that it is partly due to a lack of understanding of different conceptions of learning. Therefore, Tweed and Lehman (2002) posited that an increased understanding of these conceptions can potentially inform changes at the institutional level that can improve education for all.

Before concluding, Tweed and Lehman (2002) suggested several additional avenues for future research. Firstly, they believed that we should explore the nature and feasibility of academic biculturalism. For example, it would be beneficial if we can answer the following question: what distinguishes students who possesses both Confucian Socratic approaches to learning? Secondly, they believed that future research could examine the utility of the Socratic-Confucian framework as an educational tool in both unicultural and cross-cultural environments. Tweed and Lehman (2002) found out through informal discussions with their students that learning about the framework has helped them understand their own approaches to learning and become more flexible learners.

I chose this article because it provided more evidence on the benefits of utilizing the integrated approach. In addition, it helped readers understand the ideas of another influential thinker in education, Socrates.


To conclude, I hope that these three articles can help students in the course develop a more nuanced appreciation of the influence of culture on the different educational philosophies, namely Confucian, Deweyan and Socratic. Rather than simply recognizing that certain educational processes are valued differently across cultures, I hope that students can go on and appreciate the strengths of each of the three educational philosophies and seek to utilize the integrated approach to better serve their students.


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