"Preschool in Three Cultures" by Joseph J.              Tobin

Preschool in Three Cultures Japan, China and the United States Joseph J. Tobin, David Y.H. Wu, Dana H. Davidson

Publication date:
23 Jan 1991
Yale University Press
248 pages: 235 x 156mm

“This book should be required reading for professionals in early education and makes thought-provoking reading for anyone aware of his or her own cultural blinkers.”—Penelope Leach, New York Times Book Review

"[An] important study of the way preschools both reflect and affect social change. . . .  A must read for those who take social issues seriously."—Carole C. Kemmerer, Los Angeles Times

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.

"A vivid and persuasive picture of cultural variation in attitudes toward young children."?William Kessen, author of Childhood in China



"This book informs the reader that the behavioral and attitudinal traits educators and parents hope to develop in the next generation can be observed in the way children are treated in preschool. While this is hardly a revolutionary idea, the evidence presented to support this proposition make this book extremely valuable. By videotaping typical events in Chinese, U.S. and Japanese preschools the authors were able to get the reactions of educators and parents to what they saw on the tapes. Their reactions show that while Americans value individuality, Japanese value the ability to get along with others. The Chinese, on the other hand, value discipline and selflessness. The differences in class size and pedagogical methods of the teachers are rendered understandable given the differences in values among the three societies. Tobin, Wu,. and Davidson make a convincing case for their argument that schools reflect the ideology and beliefs of the society in which they are located. All those who criticize American schools for their shortcomings should read this book. According to these authors, American schools are what they are because they reflect our society's values."?Yoshimitsu Takei, Associate Professor of Education and Sociology, Pennsylvania State University


"[An] important study of the way preschools both reflect and affect social change. . . . An enticing journey. . . . Tobin et al have some strong and thought-provoking evidence that demonstrates that preschools may be at the frontline of conserving social structures and values. . . . A must read for those who take social issues seriously."?Carole C. Kemmerer, Los Angeles Times

"This book should be required reading for professionals in early education and makes thought-provoking reading for anyone aware of his or her own cultural blinkers."?Penelope Leach, New York Times Book Review


"These videotapes offer detailed perspectives of the rich and varied interactions of the children and adults, the way time and space are utilized, and the ways the teachers enact their roles. Such specific examples of a day in the life of each school for all observers to respond to is a particular strength of the study. There are no generalities here; the material for observation is specific and made available in the same form for all to see. . . . These chapters are interesting, informative, and provocative as each presents the first voices' rationale for their practices, the second voices' agreements and disagreements with the first voices, and the third voices' comments and evaluation. . . . A sense of time, place, and social class is interwoven throughout this well-documented book. . . . This entire volume lifts our cultural blinders and raises questions about our own child-rearing practices and teaching methods. It provides a perspective on all three cultures and an impetus to seek answers about our own culture through reflection and further research. Those interested in child development, cultural anthropology, and family studies will find much of value in this excellent book."?June Patterson, Journal of Asian Studies


"The task of preschool education, according to the authors, is to help  preserve the society, not transform it. Their argument is convincing. The book is readable, informative, and provocative. The photographs scattered throughout are well selected and effectively support the text. Highly recommended for graduate and undergraduate students, but particularly for preschool educators and parents."?Choice


"Preschool in Three Cultures is a beautifully layered book in which the authors, beginning with 20-minute video tapes of three preschools, create an intricate set of commentaries. As we react ourselves to the preschools the authors describe, and as we read the reactions of Chinese, Japanese, and U.S. educators, the familiar become strange. Self-evident principles in American schools?for example the importance of close adult supervision?become less self-evident, less 'natural.'  We come to see our preschools less as 'child-centered' havens and more as institutions that clearly reflect ou0r culture's image of childhood."?Thomas Newkirk, University of New Hampshire


"A profound and totally unique comparative culture book. We hope that it is widely read; the video is a must too. Tobin et al, have proposed a new strategy for the American preschool constituency, one which will enable us to create a new synthesis of Old World and New World values."?Emily Firlik, Director of YWCA's Children Center, and Russell Firlik, Sacred Heart University


"It is an excellent teaching tool, providing students with opportunities not only to learn about other cultures but to reflect on their own."?Kathleen Hulbert, University of Lowell

 "This is the first truly comparative ethnography on early education that brings the three cultures into lively contrast. Specialists and beginners alike will be fascinated, as my students were, by the book's brilliant creativity in integrating the audiovisual and written information. The one-hour videotape, just right for class use, will surely spur students to read the whole book."?Takie Sugiyama Lebra, University of Hawaii


"Preschool in Three Cultures is a book of innovative methodology and subtle insight. Because it is deeply rather than superficially a comparative and inter-cultural study, no single way of doing things and no single voice is privileged. As a result, it has a provocative and unsettling capacity to force us to reexamine our deeply held assumptions about our own culture; and what we mean to achieve when we place young children in preschools. It also forces us to think about what we are doing when we evaluate (whether covertly or overtly) the actions and attitudes of others."?Margaret Nelson, Middlebury College


"This is an excellent book. Its unique qualitative approach to the comparison and understanding of child-rearing values across cultures is particularly thought-provoking. The accompanying video has been outstanding in stimulating my students of child language development to (re-) consider their own values about child rearing and to look at those of the other two cultures in new ways. It is one of the high points of my class."?Ann M. Peters, University of Hawaii at Manoa


"A fascinating look at the cultural contexts of preschool as seen through the eyes of parents, educators, and child development experts both from within and outside the societies compared. The research offers a dramatic demonstration