Little Soldiers
In the spirit of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Bringing up Bébé, 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 American parenting and education.When American mom Lenora Chu moved to China with her little boy, she faced a tough decision. China produced some of the world’s top academic achievers, and just down the street from her home in Shanghai was THE school, as far as elite Chinese were concerned. Should Lenora entrust her rambunctious young son to the system?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, became proficient in early math, and learned to obey his teachers’ every command. Yet Lenora also noticed disturbing new behaviors: Where he used to scribble and explore, Rainey grew obsessed with staying inside the lines. He became fearful of authority figures, and also developed a habit of obeisance outside of school. “If you want me to do it, I’ll do it,” he told a stranger who’d asked whether he liked to sing. What was happening behind closed classroom doors? Driven by parental anxiety, Lenora embarked on a journalistic mission to discover: What price do the Chinese pay to produce their “smart” kids? How hard should the rest of us work to stay ahead of the global curve? And, ultimately, is China’s school system one the West should emulate?She pulls the curtain back on a military-like education system, in which even the youngest kids submit to high-stakes tests, and parents are crippled by the pressure to compete (and sometimes to pay bribes). Yet, as mother-and-son reach new milestones, Lenora uncovers surprising nuggets of wisdom, such as the upside of student shame, how competition can motivate achievement, and why a cultural belief in hard work over innate talent gives the Chinese an advantage.Lively and intimate, beautifully written and reported, Little Soldiers challenges our assumptions and asks us to reconsider the true value and purpose of education.

Little Soldiers Details

TitleLittle Soldiers
Author
ReleaseSep 19th, 2017
PublisherHarper
ISBN-139780062367877
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Education, Autobiography, Memoir, Cultural, China, Parenting, Asia

Little Soldiers Review

  • Nancy
    January 1, 1970
    I am struggling with writing this review because I have so many thoughts about the ideas presented in this book. First of all, I found the first hand account of the author's experience to be fascinating and well written. The author is first generation American of Chinese descent, educated in Texas public schools, carrying the burden of high academic standards while balancing her own American dream. She subsequently graduates from college, marries a midwesterner, and moves to China for his career I am struggling with writing this review because I have so many thoughts about the ideas presented in this book. First of all, I found the first hand account of the author's experience to be fascinating and well written. The author is first generation American of Chinese descent, educated in Texas public schools, carrying the burden of high academic standards while balancing her own American dream. She subsequently graduates from college, marries a midwesterner, and moves to China for his career opportunities with a small child in tow and faced with the choice of participating in the Chinese education system or entering a kinder pedagogical international approach. They choose the Chinese way and suffer cultural shock which leads her to further delve into educational theories, comparing and contrasting between them. There is much to be said about the educational system in Shanghai which is why this book was written. It is fascinating and multi-faceted with different results. I read the study performed in 2012 PISA results and came to a conclusion that differed from the author's. That said, I found merit in the conversation she had with the Father of the test. One sentence in the book undid all the fascination and good I got out of the book which is terribly unfair to the book. I believe it was a manner of opinion but I vehemently disagree with one part of a statement while agreeing wholeheartedly with another part; "The quality and status of American teachers have declined alongside levels of content mastery..."Ouch. As a public school guidance Counselor in her 28th year, I believe my experience merits a voice. In fact, I vehemently disagree that the quality of educators that surround me has declined. Only a few weeks ago, I was asked if I noticed any marked differences between students from the beginning of my career to now. The answer to that question was difficult to quantify because the biggest difference between the students occurred with changes of demographics. The elitist, more monied group are more entitled and parents are more invested in their students' grades and ACT or SAT scores. Some parents doing their children's homework and hiring expensive tutors for taking the exams. On the other end of the spectrum, I had immigrants whose parents spoke no English and had 2and 3 jobs, encouraging their children to work hard. That was the population I preferred, frankly. Through grit and hard work, they were improving their lives. The answer I gave the person who posed this question was completely different, however. I've seen an increase of quality of educators over the years. The status of educators has declined but the quality is exceptional in most cases. Today's American educators are expected to educate every child that is assigned to them, regardless of disability and laws of inclusion. While the Chinese laggards eventually drop out, we are expected to retain every student. Every student is expected to be successful and the teacher is expected to teach every student at their level. In the same class. The elementary school teacher is expected to be master of all academic content, maintain classroom management, deal with behaviour problems without being punitive, appease hovering parents, and keep up with legislators who are so far removed from the classroom yet feel entitled to tell teachers versed in pedagogical theory how to teach, how they will measure them yet recently allowing truancy court to be abandoned because a certain legislator needed his son to be free of such constrictions to pursue his basketball career. In secondary schools, the issues are the same except teachers must be highly qualified in their area which may mean they are still teaching physics, astronomy, chemistry and 7th grade science. They are also expected to regularly attend collaboration, professional development, be trained in spotting child abuse and know how to handle it, implement a suicide prevention program, remediate students who have been attending a charter school which has little to no oversight and did not progress in the content while they attended said charter school, and placate parents who are upset because the homework is too hard for their little nuggets. And these teachers do all these things. Tangent over. Back to the book. Neither educational system is perfect and much can be gleaned and emulated from one another. The Chinese are attempting to make changes in a culture that resists change and in a space that can not tolerate much individualism. The American system is at the mercy of legislators who don't have a clue while incredible teachers continue to teach the curriculum without public respect and against the backdrop of more constrictive laws, different student needs with IEP's and 504's and behaviour problems when really, they just want teach because they love teaching. And there are no kickbacks like expensive Coach purses. Although sometimes I get a potted plant at the end of the year or maybe a mug. I still highly recommend this book. It's an excellent read with good comparisons drawn. The problem arose when I finished the book when I was tired and my obsessiveness can. Not. Sleep. Until I've said my peace.My apologies to the author for getting hung up on that sentence.
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  • Angela
    January 1, 1970
    Many Westerners probably have a vague idea about the rigors of Chinese education, but this book sheds light on the system from a personal level, which makes the read that much more engaging. The author focuses on the system first by detailing her own (American) son's experiences in Chinese early education, and then provides a broader view through visits to other schools and interviews with other students, parents, teachers, and administrators of widely varying degrees of privilege. The result is Many Westerners probably have a vague idea about the rigors of Chinese education, but this book sheds light on the system from a personal level, which makes the read that much more engaging. The author focuses on the system first by detailing her own (American) son's experiences in Chinese early education, and then provides a broader view through visits to other schools and interviews with other students, parents, teachers, and administrators of widely varying degrees of privilege. The result is a balanced and interesting look at the relative merits and shortcomings of Chinese education, which inevitably reflects some of the broader cultural mores of Eastern vs. Western ways of life. Chu's conclusion that American education would do well to take some cues from the Chinese -- and vice versa -- is sage and well-supported. Recommended for anyone with an interest in modern China and/or childhood education.Thanks to Edelweiss for providing me with an ARC. This is my honest review.
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  • Shana
    January 1, 1970
    ***I received an ARC of this book through a GoodReads giveaway***Approaching this book from the perspective of someone with some pre-existing understandings of the educational styles in East Asia, I found Little Soldiers to be both readable and relatable. Although the Japanese schooling system is not identical in all manners, there were certainly concepts that were familiar to me and that I could easily imagine. I would bet that those unfamiliar with the Chinese educational system would still fi ***I received an ARC of this book through a GoodReads giveaway***Approaching this book from the perspective of someone with some pre-existing understandings of the educational styles in East Asia, I found Little Soldiers to be both readable and relatable. Although the Japanese schooling system is not identical in all manners, there were certainly concepts that were familiar to me and that I could easily imagine. I would bet that those unfamiliar with the Chinese educational system would still find this book readable because Chu does a thorough job breaking down cultural values into understandable tidbits. As a woman raised by strict Chinese parents, but within the American school system, Chu is in a unique position to both criticize and defend aspects of each. Likewise, as a parent sending her child to Chinese school, she has the experience from the parental perspective as well, and I liked reading about her reflections on how it feels to have gone through something versus watching her child go through it. I appreciated the fact that Chu acknowledges some of the privileges afforded to her family because they are foreigners, living in Shanghai, and were financially comfortable. She does not treat the Chinese educational system as a monolith, but explains how economically and geographically disadvantaged students and their families have distinctly different experiences. There are so many layers to it, and Chu does a wonderful job breaking it down into understandable bits. All in all, a good read and it certainly has me thinking about my own approach when it comes to educating my son!
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  • Shirley Freeman
    January 1, 1970
    Lenora Chu is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants to the United States. Her blonde haired, blue-eyed husband grew up in Minnesota. Rob and Lenora are raising their 2 boys in Shanghai. They decided to send 3-year-old Rainy to Chinese 'kindergarten.' Their initial discomfort with the Chinese approach (hierarchical, rigid, parents constantly currying favor with teachers, academically intense) led Chu to learn more about education in China. Her book is a mixture of memoir and investigative journali Lenora Chu is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants to the United States. Her blonde haired, blue-eyed husband grew up in Minnesota. Rob and Lenora are raising their 2 boys in Shanghai. They decided to send 3-year-old Rainy to Chinese 'kindergarten.' Their initial discomfort with the Chinese approach (hierarchical, rigid, parents constantly currying favor with teachers, academically intense) led Chu to learn more about education in China. Her book is a mixture of memoir and investigative journalism. She interviewed teens, parents and education officials in an effort to understand what she was experiencing and observing in Chinese schools. She covers a large range of topics - from testing to bribery to creative problem solving and math skills. One section I found particularly interesting argues that Chinese culture believes more in hard work vs. American culture which believes more in innate ability. Interesting stuff to ponder as we think about how best to educate our children.
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  • SibylM
    January 1, 1970
    I won a free copy of this book from the publisher in a Goodreads giveaway and an honest review was requested. This book is truly fascinating and I think a must-read for anyone interested in education. The author, an American woman of Chinese descent living in China, does a terrific job of interweaving the story of her own young son's integration into the Shanghai school system with her observations and insights about educational systems from all over the world. Lenora Chu is a beautiful, effortl I won a free copy of this book from the publisher in a Goodreads giveaway and an honest review was requested. This book is truly fascinating and I think a must-read for anyone interested in education. The author, an American woman of Chinese descent living in China, does a terrific job of interweaving the story of her own young son's integration into the Shanghai school system with her observations and insights about educational systems from all over the world. Lenora Chu is a beautiful, effortless* writer and it was such a pleasure to read her book. It was occasionally frustrating to read about her efforts to make the Chinese school system and educators bend to her will and give her exactly what she wanted --sometimes it really seemed terribly obvious that she wasn't going to get her way and I really wanted to reach through the page and tell her to just stop already! And there were some parts that seemed slightly repetitive. These are minor quibbles though, and overall I loved reading it and felt like I learned a lot. *What I mean is that the writing reads effortlessly -- it just flows beautifully, utterly clear and cogent. I am sure she put a lot of effort into the writing to make it that way though!
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  • Jen Juenke
    January 1, 1970
    Little Soldiers is an insiders look at Shanghai elementary schools, through the lens of an American. The first part of the book is about the authors experience putting her son in preschool. I was enthralled with what I was reading...children threatened by the teachers, children made to sit perfectly still, and children force fed eggs. How could a mother force her child to "learn" there?The author reveals her inner struggles to blend American ideals to Chinese standards. I rooted for her and her Little Soldiers is an insiders look at Shanghai elementary schools, through the lens of an American. The first part of the book is about the authors experience putting her son in preschool. I was enthralled with what I was reading...children threatened by the teachers, children made to sit perfectly still, and children force fed eggs. How could a mother force her child to "learn" there?The author reveals her inner struggles to blend American ideals to Chinese standards. I rooted for her and her son. I wanted her to openly rebel.Yet, the author began to research. I felt compelled to listen to how good the Chinese education system is (for some, not for the rural area) compared to that of the U.S.The author neatly shone a light on what makes Chinese education better in certain areas and worse in others. I was appalled at the gift giving, but it must be taken into context...its China!Overall, I think the author is like every other parent on the planet, she just wants her son to have a good life, whatever that takes.
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  • Jocelyn Eikenburg
    January 1, 1970
    “Little Soldiers” offers a comprehensive overview of the Chinese educational system through strong reportage and also the personal experiences of Lenora Chu, who decides to place her son in a Chinese kindergarten. I really appreciated the author’s balanced perspective on Chinese schools. While she does point out issues in the school system in China, she also praises the positive aspects of education in China and ultimately concludes that American schools could definitely learn something from Chi “Little Soldiers” offers a comprehensive overview of the Chinese educational system through strong reportage and also the personal experiences of Lenora Chu, who decides to place her son in a Chinese kindergarten. I really appreciated the author’s balanced perspective on Chinese schools. While she does point out issues in the school system in China, she also praises the positive aspects of education in China and ultimately concludes that American schools could definitely learn something from China. I know a number of Westerners wondering whether their kids could benefit from schooling in China, and I would absolutely recommend this book to them. Also a great resource for Westerners who would like to know more about Chinese schooling and/or are interested in ways they might be able to enhance the education of their young children.
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  • C
    January 1, 1970
    The first half of this book was really interesting. It must be incredibly stressful as a parent when your kid might "lose at the starting gate" if you don't get your 3 year old into a good pre-school. The competition drives everyone to game the system to the max, including parents, teachers, students, and school administrators. On the bright side, kids are super disciplined which gives them good work ethic. On the not so bright side, creativity and critical thinking are stifled. For example, cla The first half of this book was really interesting. It must be incredibly stressful as a parent when your kid might "lose at the starting gate" if you don't get your 3 year old into a good pre-school. The competition drives everyone to game the system to the max, including parents, teachers, students, and school administrators. On the bright side, kids are super disciplined which gives them good work ethic. On the not so bright side, creativity and critical thinking are stifled. For example, class discussion for literature isn't a thing - teachers give the official answer/interpretation. If you want good marks, you don't deviate.
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  • Amy Morgan
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you Edelweiss for my review copy of this book. This was an intriguing look into the Chinese educational system and the differences between the chinese and American cultures. Lenora Chu was raised in America by parents who came from China and so instillee in her many Chinese ways in addition to her American upbringing. Upon finding herself and her husband in China with their small son they must decide what type of education they will choose for Rainey. Ultimately deciding to enroll her son Thank you Edelweiss for my review copy of this book. This was an intriguing look into the Chinese educational system and the differences between the chinese and American cultures. Lenora Chu was raised in America by parents who came from China and so instillee in her many Chinese ways in addition to her American upbringing. Upon finding herself and her husband in China with their small son they must decide what type of education they will choose for Rainey. Ultimately deciding to enroll her son in a Chinese school, Chu faces many struggles in adapting to the much different way of life required of Chinese students. A fascinating glimpse into a different way of life this story teaches us much about adapting into new cultures and allowing ourselves to find the advantages in a new way of life even when we struggle against such drastic changes to our own everyday existence.
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  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    Author, Lenora Chu, excellently compares Chinese and American educational systems. She shares the positive and negative from both education cultures using research, interviews and her own personal experiences.
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