Monday, June 7, 2021

Book Nook: The Drive to Learn

I've had a chance to review two books that encourage us to reassess, from a fresh standpoint, how we ensure our children are educated.   


In The Drive to Learn, Dr. Cornelius Grove addresses the mindset with which our youngsters arrive at school. Are they receptive to learning from teachers? East Asian children tend to be well disposed to classroom learning. What’s going on in their homes to yield this openness?


In A Mirror for Americans, Dr. Grove asks us to revisit the value proposition animating U.S. pre- and primary school teaching. The mirror that offers us a contrasting perspective is East Asian teaching, varying from ours in details, substantially different from ours in its basic goals.

 You can learn more in this recent interview.


Children who arrive at school with an emotional commitment to learn are ideally equipped to excel academically. A second factor in their learning success is the set of values that guides the lessons they’re taught during their most impressionable years (preschool–grade 5). These are among the insights of Dr. Cornelius Grove, who has spent decades exploring the cultural factors that affect children’s performance in classrooms.

I previously reviewed A Mirror for Americans: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Teaching Students Who Excel. Dr. Grove examines the school side of the learning equation. East Asian lower-grade lessons gain the advantage because of their tenacious, narrow, yet multifaceted focus on the day’s topic. He addresses, among other things, how East Asians regard teaching and the reasons for pupils’ math superiority.


I just finished reading The Drive to Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Raising Students Who Excel. Here he explores the ways in which East Asian parents instill in their children respect for academic knowledge and receptiveness to the formal learning process. After a seven-chapter explanation of cultural values underlying East Asian parents’ mindset, he offers three chapters revealing their specific supportive practices. It’s an outline for action for American parents who deeply value academic learning.


This book, like the other one, definitely has an academic style of writing to it, so it's a little dry and straightforward, but that makes it perfectly matter-of-fact for the subject matter. The tone is clear and factual, but still easy for parents to understand. There are specific examples and general statements, and action steps at the end of the book that can be taken by parents to improve their kids' drive to learn.


People who’ve had experience in unfamiliar cultures often remark that they now see their own culture with fresh eyes,” Dr. Grove explains. “It’s as though they’ve looked into a mirror and seen alternative possibilities for themselves. They realize that their usual ways of doing things are not etched in stone; instead, they’re choices. Different choices could be made.”


Although each book stands alone, The Drive to Learn and A Mirror for Americans combine to encourage complementary reassessments by parents and lower-grade teachers about the more impactful roles they could be playing in upgrading the academic performance and the eventual college readiness of the youngest Americans.


For more detailed overviews, visit and


Author Cornelius N. Grove holds a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Johns Hopkins and a Doctor of Education from Columbia. He has had a decades-long fascination with the cultural factors that affect children’s ability to learn in school. At a 2005 conference in Singapore, he spoke about the two instructional styles found around the world. In 2013 he wrote The Aptitude Myth: How an Ancient Belief Came to Undermine Children's Learning Today, a historical study of why most Americans believe that inborn ability determines school performance. For two recently published encyclopedias (2015 and 2017), he wrote entries on “pedagogy across cultures.” And now with A Mirror for Americans and The Drive to Learn, he is revealing the complementary roles home and school play in strengthening children’s academic capabilities.

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