Japanese American Learning Styles

9 September 2016

As educators began to realize that the growing diversity of the country would eventually mean that the dominant white culture would itself become a minority, perhaps by as soon as the generation after the next, the conclusions of studies comparing the academic performance of various ethnic groups with one another would create all manner of controversy and conflict, as various interests competed to define the strategies and course of action to be undertaken to improve the American educational system.

In determining some of these strategies, certain ethnic groups were assigned the label “at risk,” as the evidence used to measure their educational success showed that they lagged behind other ethnic groups in terms of measurements of their cognitive and intellectual abilities, with the various explanations as to why these deficits existed generating the most intense conflict and disagreement.

Japanese American Learning Styles Essay Example

The most insidious explanations came from social scientists who proposed that the condition of these at-risk groups was actually hereditary, and that their lower intelligence was “no fault of their own,” being “due to inherent shortcomings about which little can be done. ” Interestingly enough, when certain ethnic groups scored higher on IQ testing than the dominant Euro-American class, these same sociologists did not credit hereditary advantage for their success, but rather chalked these results up to differences in cultural backgrounds and child-rearing practices.

From this school of thought emerged the term “model minority,” used to describe Asian-American students who outperformed white students in measures of educational achievement. The term “model minority” was first deployed in an article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine in 1966, entitled “A Success Story, Japanese-American Style. The article begins by praising the subject family for having risen above “color prejudice,” and in so doing avoiding the characteristics of those groups that the article refers to as “problem minorit(ies)”, a label used to categorize the experience of other ethnic groups at this point in history, notable primarily for the emergence of the Civil Rights movement.

The political implications of such a label are described by writer Malcolm Yeung, “Asians were being used as a tool to quiet the cries of the enraged minorities (specifically African-Americans) and, on a much more subtle level, used to assuage the guilt of a white America whose system was…clearly not working for non-whites…” Nonetheless, the term “model minority” would grab hold of the country’s collective consciousness, and as any ethnic stereotype is bound to do, inflict damage on both its subjects (Asian-Americans, among them Japanese-Americans) and those who would view them through this narrow prism.

Growing out of and emerging alongside the theories of multicultural education changing the American academic system in the second half of the twentieth century, educators would also focus their efforts to improve student performance on research which would yield more promising inventories of ways to understand and educate the growing diversity of ethnic groups comprising American classrooms, the development of learning style theories, or what educator Rita Dunn calls “instructional delivery systems responsive to how diverse students learn. In the case of “at-risk” populations, a certain urgency helped guide the development of such strategies to improve their academic performance, as the successful and effective application of an approach predicated on tailoring learning styles to address the needs of various ethnic groups could help put to rest the notion that their deficits were hereditary. In the case of Asian-Americans, who outperformed even the dominant white culture in America’s schools, however, there was little if any urgency involved in efforts to uncover the reasons behind these statistical outcomes.

What interest and attention that was devoted to the phenomenon of Asian-American success in the American educational system at this time only served to reinforce the myth of the model minority, now a prevalent stereotype, and a deeper exploration of the “mechanisms” behind their superior performance collided with the notion that, as Grace Kao put it, “the success of Asian(-Americans) was not a problem in need of a solution. This does not and should not mean that exploring ways to improve the American educational experience for students of Japanese-American descent should be given less priority or consideration than studying, applying, and improving learning styles for students of any other ethnicity or cultural background. Indeed, given their success in the current form of that educational system, investigating and understanding more fully the role that their ethnicity plays in determining the learning style most conducive to their own academic success may be of benefit to other students.

Studying the learning styles of Japanese-Americans will not only help us to understand their unique ethnic identities as students in our own American educational system, but could help to answer the many questions that arise when studying any of the diverse ethnic populations that make up our classrooms. One such question was posed in a study done by researcher Heather Tehani Fuchigami, who asked, “Do Japanese immigrants and the learning styles representative of their cultural attributes assimilate to the prevalent ‘American’ cultural learning style by continuation in the country through second, third, and subsequent generations? Many of the assumptions and beliefs that inform American educators’ understanding of Japanese-American learning styles have most likely been designed for first-generation American immigrants or their children and may not be applicable to the generations after them, whose lives have undergone various degrees of transformation and may bear little if any resemblance to the immigrant experiences that informed their acclimation to a new country. Her study of multigenerational Japanese-Americans is of particular interest, for it is one of the very few to have examined the evolution of learning styles over many generations.

Indeed, as Nellie Tran and Dina Birman tell us, “Because so many of the studies reviewed…have compared predominantly immigrant Asian-American subsamples to predominantly third-generation or beyond subsamples of Whites, they have confounded immigrant status with ethnicity and perhaps even overemphasized Asian immigrant experiences. ” Tran and Birman warn that, “This large body of work may have created an undifferentiated and often erroneous impression that Asian Americans outperform Whites. In addition to generational status, it is important to distinguish studies of specifically Japanese-American learning styles and educational outcomes from studies of “Asian-Americans,” a category which Tran and Birman note “consist(s) of at least 30 different ethnic groups. ” They warn that, “not examining the specific ethnicity of those in the Asian-American group can mask important heterogeneity among them. In particular, the lower performance of some groups (e. g. , Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders) may be concealed when they are grouped with higher-performing groups (e. . , South Asians, Japanese, Chinese). ” There is some consensus in the studies about the traits which characterize the learning styles of first-generation Japanese immigrants in America, and the available literature describes it as a methodical way of learning that includes a precision-oriented preference for repetition, sequential learning, routines, and accuracy. In Heather Fuchigami’s study, she compares the cultural characteristics of Japanese immigrants to America to the traditional traits that are used to describe the American cultural learning style in the following table:

JapaneseAmerican InterdependentIndependent ReservedOutspoken CautiousImpulsive ReflectiveActive HolisticSegmented ConcreteAbstract CircuitousDirect SensitiveIndifferent PreciseInterpretive This table provides some insight into the assumptions and even stereotypes by which educators often categorize Japanese-Americans, and Fuchigami notes that school systems made brochures and literature available to teachers that described their Japanese-American students in these terms.

When using assessment tools specifically designed to elicit and measure learning styles in their native countries, further distinctions were found between American students and Japanese students in their native countries. In the area of decision-making, American students were found to display impersonal, individualistic, and rational tendencies, while the Japanese place value on interpersonal traits and prefer group harmony. Americans place greater value on being time-efficient and getting right to the point when sorting out differences of opinion, with the focus rarely straying from the argument t issue, while the Japanese would take time to build relationships and seek a consensus before making changes, noting that trust between parties is as important to them as the specific terms of any contract. An experiment involving American and Japanese kindergartners shows these distinctions put into practice: The children were asked to draw a picture of their family. American students immediately set to work on the assignment, while the Japanese children waited until everyone had been given a sheet of paper and checked in with their neighbor before beginning to draw.

When they finished, the Japanese students would wait until everyone else finished before turning the papers in. From this picture, we see how Japanese students are more reflective, introverted, and cooperative, and Americans are more impulsive, individualistic, and competitive. Perhaps most interesting about examples like this is that even though the Japanese students take the longest amount of time to finish assigned tasks, they also produce the fewest mistakes. In Japan, the focus of the educational system is on effort, whereas Americans tend to believe more in the strength of natural ability.

Japan has had one set of standards by which all students are measured, with no special education services. There are no report cards and no retention or promotion by grade level; students are simply expected to live up to the established standards of the Ministry of Education. Many credit their perseverance and dedication to effort (known as ganbaru) for the success of their country’s educational system, in which, “Illiteracy has been almost completely eliminated,” and in which, “The average score of the lowest-scoring native Japanese classroom [is] above that of the highest-scoring American classroom. Interestingly enough, this educational system is said to be patterned upon the systems used in America and Europe in the late-1800’s. Two non-Western strategies employed in Japan are their own unique form of repetitive learning, in which students continually rewrite or recite difficult Chinese characters or passages until mastered, and “sticky probing,” which employs a form of the Socratic method of discussing an issue or problem while a teacher looks on and judges the results of the discussion.

In her study of the evolution of the learning styles of multiple generations of Japanese-American students, Heather Fuchigami posed the hypothesis that, “It is expected that while Japanese-American students will also have acclimated many of their learning traits to traditional Western practices, pieces of their cultural heritage will still be apparent…and will therefore continue to manifest in their learning style. She also posits that a propensity for intermarrying with non-Asians, as well as changing times and social pressures, will contribute to the evolution of the learning style over multiple generations. The study identified the native Japanese learning style by the term “Diverger,” and the traditional Caucasian American style as the “Converger,” and administered a series of learning style assessments to first, second, third, fourth, and fifth-generation Japanese-American students. The results of the study yielded some very interesting results. As stated by Ms.

Fuchigami, “It was surprising to see that at no time did a majority of students of Japanese descent ever pull towards [the Converger] learning style, particularly because the overlying school structure was assumed to be Anglo-American, and therefore a dominating factor in the acculturation of students into the prevalent European-American learning style. ” She notes that the Diverger learning style did manage to prevail throughout all generations studied, remaining as the preferred learning style of a quarter of the fifth-generation participants in the study.

A new predominant learning style, however, would emerge by this fifth generation, identified by over half of the study participants. As Ms. Fuchigami describes it, “Rather than acculturating to the American ways of teaching and learning…at least a fourth of the population do remain true to their native descriptors of reserved, reflective, and precise, while the majority of Japanese-American students have truly evolved into a new type of learner altogether. She identifies this learning style by the term “Accommodator,” and forecasts a future in which, “…educators will witness the evolution of a truly distinct Japanese-slash-American culture that falls somewhere between the two native factions. ” She also makes recommendations for those educators regarding how to best address this emerging population of learners, “General assumptions made about the assimilation of native cultures to the prevalent Caucasian-American culture are not true, and therefore should not be used as standard up on which to base curriculum design. ” Finally, it is important to clarify this new learning style, identified as the preferred learning style by over 55% of one sample of fifth-generation Japanese-American students. Concrete experience and active experimentation are the foundations of this learning style, with these students drawn to leadership roles in which they can use trial-and-error and hands-on methods to accomplish tasks. These learners enjoy problem-solving and are both flexible and adaptable in the face of challenges.

Being goal-oriented, they prefer to work cooperatively on assigned tasks, and prefer that new information be presented in terms of its applications in real life. Given these basic preferences, it is best to create a purposeful and organized environment for these learners, in which the educator can utilize practice and drill and demonstration strategies. A product-based emphasis should be employed, as they work with their senses and prefer that this work incorporate tangible objects rather than ideas only.

Again, real world application is important to them, for unless the practical application of the subject being taught is conveyed to them, they see little reason to learn new concepts. They rely on intuition and risk-taking to solve problems, preferring to demonstrate mastery of new skills in a competitive forum. They prefer an organized classroom in which the rules and procedures are made clear, so that they can keep busy and know what is expected of them.

This new learning style is characterized by a preference for questions with a right or wrong answer, rather than subjective answers that are open to interpretation. They value accuracy over creativity, and they prefer feedback on their work in those terms as well. Traditional school methods, such as worksheets, repetition, memorization, fact recall, and other work that can be easily scored, were designed for these kinds of learners.

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