Book Review

Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization

by Yong Zhao, ASCD, Alexandria, Va., 2009, 230 pp., $26.95 softcover

Yong Zhao’s unique perspective in Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization is that of a student educated in China who now works as a professor at Michigan State University. His text is rich with personal anecdotes as the father of two children in the Michigan public schools.

His stories illuminate the differences between the Chinese system in which he was educated and the American system of which he is an observer. To standardize progress measurements in this country, the federal government has moved toward state-mandated curriculum standards. At the same time, Zhao says China is moving away from test-oriented education, prompting him to ask, “Why does America want to adopt practices that China and many other countries have been so eager to give up?”

As the United States becomes more centralized in its schooling, Asian countries are focusing more on the individual. Zhao uses his daughter’s American school talent show as a metaphor in praise of a system that rewards child-centered, interest-driven activity. This example highlights what he believes is correct in the American education system: Children perform best when intrinsically motivated, and the system needs to promote this through self-directed study and by recognizing and valuing diversity.

Zhao also points to the stress caused by too sharp a focus on test scores, resulting in less time for physical activity, less creativity and, most alarming, a higher prevalence of youth suicide.

In addition to describing the challenges, Zhao offers strategies on how to improve our education system.

Reviewed by Jennifer Graham, learning enhancement coordinator, Arlington Heights School District 25, Arlington Heights, Ill.