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Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School and the Global Race to Achieve Paperback – 2 Feb 2017
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Lenora Chu is a nimble storyteller with excellent comic timing . . . Little Soldiers is an argument for creative, for personality. And on those topics, it wins every time (Jamie Fisher Times Literary Supplement)
China is such a vast, contradictory land that the most illuminating books often explore it through in intense focus on a single topic . . . Education is a particularly transparent window, as demonstrated by the perceptive Little Soldiers, which turns over cultural rocks from bribery to the urban-divide while delving into the nation's school system. . . . Anyone will understand the country better after reading this book, the heart of which is Chu's experience of enrolling her 3-year-old son in an elite Shanghai pre-school (New York Times Book Review)
I couldn't put this book down. Whip smart, hilariously funny and shocking. A must-read (Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother)
Riveting, provocative and unflinchingly candid, Little Soldiers is a must-read for parents, educators, and global citizens alike. (Gish Jen, Author of The Girl at the Baggage Claim)
Little Soldiers is the best book I've read about education in China. Lenora Chu's . . . tells this personal story with great insight and humor, and it's combined with first-rate research into the current state of education in China. (Peter Hessler, New Yorker staff writer and author of River Town and Country Driving)
I couldn't put this book down. It's a game changer that challenges our tendency to see education practices in black and white. (Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well)
Little Soldiers is a book that will endure. With honesty and a terrific sense of humor, Lenora Chu has produced not only an intimate portrait of raising a family far from home but also the most lucid and grounded account of modern Chinese education that I've ever seen. She brilliantly tests our notions of success and creativity, grit and talent, and never shrinks from her conclusions. (Evan Osnos, New Yorker staff writer, National Book Award-winning author of Age of Ambition)
Through this combination of personal stories and investigative reporting, Chu opens a window on to the complex world of communist China and its competitive methodology, which helps raise highly efficient, obedient, intelligent children but also squelches individualism and spontaneous creativity from the beginning. It's a sometimes-chilling portrait of how hundreds of millions of children are being taught to obey as well as an interesting glimpse into the mindset of one couple who let their child stay in the system despite their misgivings. An informative, personal view of the Chinese and their educational system that will have many American readers cringing at the techniques used by the Chinese to create perfect students (Kirkus)
Little Soldiers is written passion and an unparalleled commitment to telling stories... from inside the schooling juggernaut of the world. Little Soldiers also details the heartbreaking tales of junior high school dropouts and their subsequent life of desperation. A must read-a book you not be able to put down. (Scott Rozelle, Helen C. Farnsworth Professor at Standford University, and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research)
"Do the ends justify the means?" "Is a child's life for a parent or government to dictate, or is it their own?" "Should education be a rigid, hierarchical zero-sum game?" These questions and more lie at the heart of Chu's important book, which is necessary reading for educators, parents, and anyone interested in shaping the character and capabilities of the next generation of Americans. (Julie Lythchott-Haims, author of the New York Times bestseller How to Raise an Adult, and Stanford's former dean of freshman)
In the spirit of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, French Kids Don't Throw Food, and The Smartest Kids in the World, a hard-hitting exploration of China's widely acclaimed yet insular education system - held up as a model of academic and behavioral excellence - that raises important questions for the future of Western parenting and educationSee all Product description
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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.
I must say that anyone ever curious about just what it's like read this book. First and foremost, Ms. Chu is extremely readable, a friendly, personable and yet still polished view that perfectly balances the perspective between mommy and neutral reporter. The results she gives? Nuanced, presenting a system that isn't as good as some make it out to be, yet not as bad as others say, and ultimately a system that would take thousands of years of culture to truly comprehend.
Ms. Chu as mommy chooses to expose her American child to the Chinese culture of her youth (since the family is presently living in China) though finds so much at fault with her American ways and values. Truly, a woman of two worlds is the ideal writer for this. Is the Chinese system too harsh? Is it a product of Chinese culture? And what is happening as the government fights that culture and tradition in an effort to westernize the system?
I personally found the account fascination, both as an American examination and the saga of a family and their preschooler--would they pull their son out for a more western school or not? Here is a fair examination of Chinese schools, the good, the bad, the ugly, and not so ugly.
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.