As the numbers of mothers in the workforce grows, the role of the extended family diminishes, and parents feel under greater pressure to give their children an educational headstart, industrialized societies are increasingly turning to preschools to nurture, educate, and socialize young children. Drawing on their backgrounds in anthropology, human development, and education, Tobin, Wu, and Davidson present a unique comparison of the practices and philosophies of Japanese, Chinese, and American preschool education and discuss how changes in childcare both reflect and affect larger social change.
The method used is innovative: the authors first videotaped a preschool in each culture, then showed the tapes to preschool staff, parents, and child development experts. Through their vivid descriptions of a day in each country's preschools, photographs made from their videotapes, and Chinese, Japanese, and American evaluations of their own and each other's schools, we are drawn into a multicultural discussion of such issues as freedom, conformity, creativity, and discipline.
In China, for example, preschools are expected to provide an antidote to the spoiling that Chinese fear is inevitable in an era of single-child families. Americans look to preschools not only to teach reading and to encourage children to be creative, expressive, and independent but also to provide a stability and richness otherwise missing from many children's lives. Japanese preschools, surprisingly for many Americans, deemphasize discipline and academics and instead stress the teaching of group interaction to a generation of overly sheltered children. In all three nations, preschools, rather than being radical or transforming, function to conserve values believed to be threatened by social change.