EDEV_507 Week 8_3

Hi José,

Yes, I’m delighted with the weekend’s conference, but I’m a bit worried about the extra work that it has brought up. Thanks for responding to my question. I’d like to comment on this proposition.

“[T]he development and use of critical skills: people who are brought up and educated in contexts adverse to critical analysis tend to face greater challenges with developing or making use of their critical skills than those from social and political contexts open to critical judgment” (Reis Jorge, 2016).

A prima facie and to many Western observers, this proposition seems accurate. It is a fascinating proposition on many levels, and it relates closely to any proposed cross-cultural study in EC. However, it contains a number of assumptions that are problematic. Most of the research and related comments and opinions about the differences between Japanese students’ abilities to think critically emanate from Western observers (Aoki, 2008). Those scholars from the Far East hold an opposing view;

“A person who learns but doesn’t think is lost \

A person who thinks but doesn’t learn is in great danger” (Confucius, cited in Aoki, 2008, p. 36)

Rohlen (Aoki, 2008) argues that the first line is representative of much of Japanese schooling, whereas the second line is appropriate to schooling in the U.S. The basic argument is that the focus on rote memorisation in Confucian Heritage cultures (CHC), of which Japan is clearly a part (Phuong-Mai, Terlouw, & Pilot, 2005), de-emphasises deep thinking. The corollary is that American students learn those critical skills but fail to master enough content on which to apply those skills. Confucius lived before the constitution of the U.S., and Rohlen’s interpretation must be bracketed as a modern creation of a false dichotomy. Confucius recognised that both types are present in the same location. The lines form within-cultural dimensions, not cross-cultural comparators. Yet, the notion that CHC fail at critical analysis where the Western ones succeed is still common.

Allied to this misconception is the (once said it becomes obvious) recognition that all governments aim to improve their educational output at the rhetorical, political and policy levels, and many include statements to the effect that critical thinking is important. Japan does this, too (Nemoto, 2009). However, Western observers of Japan have used what is a sociological natural Japan-internal discussion as evidence that Japan lacks critical thinking skills (e.g. Cutts, 1997; McVeigh, 2002).

I’m sure that it would be empirically provable to show that Japanese students are weaker at certain kinds of critical analysis than Western ones. Conversely, there are areas of cognitive activity in which Western students may be much weaker than their Japanese counterparts. The type of socialisation in Japan’s middle and high schools promotes group responsibility and appropriate action with a group (Aspinall, 2015). LeTendre (2000, cited in Aspinall, 2015) noticed that group organisation in Japan’s middle and high schools mirrored that in businesses. The individual’s sense of future self (Markus & Nurius, 1986) may be much clearer in Japan, yet the cost to a Western view of critical thinking may be the development of cognitive structures that allow the individual to flourish within the collective. Putting this simply, a silent Japanese person may be more likely to be working out how to co-ordinate their actions with the group to promote harmony and group responsibility than a loud (forgive the example) Scotsman who just wants to get things worked out (whatever that means). Tweed and Lehman (2002) compared the implications of a Socratic belief system with that of a Confucian one on education. One of their conclusions was CHC tended to value pragmatic approaches more than Socratic cultures. This is congruent with the notion of truth in CHC being more flexible.

All of the above, and much more, point to extreme difficulties in making cross-cultural claims about levels of critical engagement. The fundamental neurological structures are identical at birth, but given brain plasticity which allows individuals to develop particular neurological mechanisms within particular contexts (Carter, 2009), an ability that seems to lead to adults in different cultural contexts actually having different brain structures, how can differences be measured at maturity?


Aoki, K. (2008). Confucius vs. Socrates: The Impact of Educational Traditions of East and West in a Global Age. The International Journal of Learning, 14(11).

Aspinall, R. W. (2015). Society. In J. D. Babb (Ed.), The Sage handbook of modern Japanese studies (pp. 213–228). Sage Publications.

Carter, R. (2009). The human brain book: An illustrated guide to its structure, function, and disorders. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited (DK).

Cutts, R. L. (1997). An empire of schools: Japan’s universities and the moulding of a national power elite. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe.

Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41(9), 954–969. http://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.41.9.954

McVeigh, B. J. (2002). Japanese Higher Education as Myth. Armonk: East Gate. http://doi.org/10.1353/jjs.2004.0010

Nemoto, A. (2009). Galapagos or an isolated model of LIS educational development?: A consideration on Japanese LIS education in the international setting. In Symposium on Future Perspectives in Globalization of Library and Information Professional (pp. 1–12).

Phuong-Mai, N., Terlouw, C., & Pilot, A. (2005). Cooperative learning vs Confucian heritage culture’s collectivism: Confrontation to reveal some cultural conflicts and mismatch. Asia Europe Journal, 3(3), 403–419. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10308-005-0008-4

Reis Jorge, J. (2016, November 30). Re: Week 8 – Research planning and design: Methods and analysis. [Online discussion post]. Retrieved from from https://my.ohecampus.com/lens/home?locale=en_us#

Tweed, R. G., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Learning considered within a cultural context. Confucian and Socratic approaches. The American Psychologist, 57(2), 89–99. http://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.57.2.89

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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