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Reading, writing, and arithmetic may be a part of growing up for most people, but the methods for such training are far from universal. While in Japan as visiting scholars in 1989, Gail Benjamin and her husband enrolled their two children in a public elementary school, though neither of the kids spoke Japanese. The experience resulted in an education for both parents and children, and Japanese Lessons is a look at the differences between two cultures' educational systems. What gives the book much of its life is Benjamin's approach to the subject; an anthropologist, she is as interested in the reasons behind the differences as in the differences themselves. The methods and priorities exhibited in the classrooms reflect the cultures behind the educational systems, and her children helped her make some interesting and telling observations. For instance, collectivism is encouraged by breaking the typically large classes into smaller subgroups for discussion and problem-solving, effectively rewarding combined effort and teamwork. In this way, the Japanese learn as young children to value consensus and to emphasize the good of the whole over the good of the one, a direct contrast to the emphatic individualism so treasured in the United States. Benjamin recognizes that many of the Japanese teaching practices would not work well in the U.S., but by presenting alternatives to America's current system of public education, she has offered points to consider while granting a peek into Japanese culture. [via]