今天上網時偶然看到這位老兄，是Ruby on Rails的Creator（不知道Ruby on Rails是啥的話…只要知道是個電腦程式方面的就行啦）。丹麥人，今年26歲，去年11月搬到芝加哥，目前跟另外一個美國人一起組了一個公司叫做37Signals。

我看了關於他的簡介，心中真的很震撼。丹麥人一向電腦程式方面很出名。當初15歲就破解DVD鎖碼，綽號DVD Jon的hacker就是丹麥人。David Heinemeier Hansson不僅寫了Ruby on Rails，2005年的時候還獲得Google的Best Hacker獎。人長的帥，女朋友超辣，而且還聰明過人，這種組合，真是不知道丹麥到底是那裡不一樣，能夠培養出這樣的人才？

讀著讀著，忽然開始反省，我自己呢？22歲，我有甚麼特別厲害的地方？好像沒有耶…其實想想以前上學，從來都是只要考試有A就好了，回家唸完書之後也不知道在幹甚麼。來實習之後，才開始醒悟，我真的得加把勁加油了！這4個多月，慢慢發現自己思考比較快，寫程式不像以前那麼模糊。但同時也發現我其實還是有太多太多不懂得地方，想起來還真是挺慚愧的~

呼～得開始認真了….

# Part 2: The Asian Philosophy

So what about the Asian philosophy? As I mentioned before, the most defining characteristic of the Asian education is practice, practice, practice. To be great in any profession, be it sports, music, computer science, physics, medicine, whatever, constant practice is absolutely required. Do you mean to tell me that Yo Yo Ma doesn’t practice his music every single day? Do you mean to tell me that Roger Federer doesn’t practice his tennis every single day? It is these hard work that has enabled these great men to become great. Just by constantly saying how you should play the music, how you should play tennis, renders no concrete result. To become great, you must work hard everyday, practice, practice, practice.

Many nay-sayers call this form of education 填鴨式教育 – Duck stuffing. They say that the Asian philosophy destroys creativity, brews a stiff mind, and puts extraordinary pressure on children. I say to these people, you are right! Now you might think, Jon doesn’t make sense at all, first he spends paragraphs after paragraphs praising how Asians schools force constant practice that is the formula for success. Then all of a sudden he turns around and say it destroys creativity?Here is where we arrive at the first major exception of the Asian education system. Let me give the example of math. In Taiwan, math teachers possess the following attitude: If the answer is not right, then you are wrong! The teacher does not care how you got your answer, he does not care why you got that answer, and most importantly he only cares about the answer. It HAS to correct. This is the biggest flaw in Math education in Taiwan (at least when I was in school, it was). If I miscalculated in my last step, and everything else before it was correct, but due to my mistake in the last step, my answer is wrong. In Taiwan, I get 0 points. ZERO! For what? Not for missing the last step, but for getting the wrong answer.

Not giving partial credit is the foremost major flaw in Taiwan. In fact, there is no notion of partial credit. On the contrary, students have learned to accept it. This is why students are so anal about getting the right answer everytime. To the point that they begin to memorize the answers just so they can save themselves the trouble that they possibly might miscalculate. I remember when I was in school, by 9th grade in Taiwan I had absolutely no idea why I was performing ANY math calculation. I just knew that IF I DID IT THIS WAY, I WOULD GET POINTS. I could calculate everything quickly, but I had no idea why I was doing it. On the contrary of American schools who teach you WHY and not HOW, Taiwan’s school teach you the HOW and not the WHY.

This major flaw is the reason why many students begin to give up in math early in the stages of school. The most compelling reason by those who give up is this: I spent so much time studying, doing every single calculation by hand, I understand why, but if I even miss one number, I get ZERO points for my effort! So here you have a student that understands everything and just accidentally misplaced a negative sign. Instead of getting 98 out of 100 for his test, he gets ZERO POINTS! Repeat this process a million times from the beginning of grade school through high school, and you can see why people start to give up on math. Even when they are perfectly talented!

This is the reason why you see Asian students worrying about the test, being paranoiac, even if they thought they got every question. Why? Because even a single miscalculation will drop you from 100 points to 0 points. This is also the reason why American students are never that worried about the test if they found themselves being able to answer every single question, because even if he misses something, he’ll still get the majority of the points if his thought process was correct. This area is where American education is superior than Asian education.

The second major flaw of the Asian education system is the tests. In Taiwan, many teachers do not come up with their own tests. Instead, they employ pre-written tests by several companies to test the students. This displays extreme laziness by the teachers in my opinion. The pre-written tests have no resemblance in what the teacher expects and often times the wording of the question is less than ideal. As I will explain later, how the test is worded reflects the focus of what you want your students to learn. All teachers, if they plan to be responsible and do their jobs correctly, should write their own tests and not be lazy.

The third major shortcoming of the Asian education system, is the intolerance of any answers other than the “absolute text book" answer. Take math for example (it seems math is always my go-to subject), in the case that I get a correct answer, the teacher will then check if I solved the problem the “correct" way to make sure I did not just randomly put numbers together and got lucky. This intention is wonderful, except the “correct" way means the “textbook" way. If your thought process was correct, and used a different route to solve the problem to arrive at the correct answer, the teacher would take some points off because you did not use the “textbook" way. This is one of the most ridiculous philosophies I’ve ever encountered in my life. Yet this is often the rationale teachers employ in Taiwan.

In geography class I remember once I was asked how many Municipal Cities 直轄市 mainland China had. I answered 4. My answer was marked wrong by the teacher. Why (for those of you who don’t know, the correct answer is indeed 4)? In 1997 China approved Chongqing 重慶 to become the fourth Municipal City to join the ranks of Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai. Yet, the textbook was written pre 1997 and stated the Municipal Cities to be a total of 3. The textbook would have been right, BEFORE 1997. However, I took the test in 1998, and I was knowledgeable and informed enough to know that China now has 4 instead of 3 Municipal Cities. When I asked why my answer was wrong, the teacher’s explanation was that the textbook did not include Chongqing as a Municipal City, hence I was not to include it as well. In other words, I was penalized for being “correct" and informed. It was the teacher’s way of saying “stick to the textbook, you smart ass!"

# Foreword

Now some of you might say, this guy is completely crazy. And probably many other of you would say, here’s Jon’s long winded rant again, being his usual “extreme" and “radical" self. To those people who have doubts, I agree with you. What I have to say just may seem way too radical for some. I am sure if I did not have the same experiences, I would be the first one here to accuse such rhetoric as blasphemy against the conventional wisdom that the Asian education system is in shambles.

But hear me out (or you could not, just close the blog and leave, it’s my blog!). Perhaps you won’t completely agree with what I have to say, but hopefully it will get you thinking about questions you have never asked yourself before. What I am about to say and explain to you, many of my other friends have had the same experiences. Particularly my Chinese friends who have gone through college here. They mostly agree what I have a strong opinion on, that the Asian Education system is a technical-friendly system that as a whole, with some major exceptions that I will later explain, is superior than the American Education system.

# Part 1: The American Philosophy

We are all familiar with the age old saying that Asians have better math skills than Americans. Ever wonder why? Here’s why, at second grade or possibly even earlier, Asians are memorizing the multiplication table. By fifth grade they already have the knowledge of division. Here’s what American kids are doing at second grade – NOTHING. By fifth grade they still don’t have a strong grasp of multiplication and have no knowledge of division. In a test my brother took while he was fifth grade in America, the test consisted of 30 multiplication problems such as what is 7 times 8, etc. My brother was done in a minute, while the other Americans complained it was so hard and wanted to use a calculator. Enough said.

In any technical field, the most important thing is to know your basics. If you are spending half your time wondering what 7 times 8 is, then you can forget about ever understanding higher level math such as trigonometry and algebra. In sixth grade in Taiwan, I was dong algebra problems every morning as required by the teacher. 10 problems every morning, every school day. Did I hated it? Of course I did. But what was the result? Algebra is perhaps the only skill I have in math which I can almost see the answer without doing any calculations on paper. Numbers literally fly in my head as I rearrange equations in my head. I had a instinctive “feeling" for algebra equations. Am I a smart guy? Hell no (just ask my mom the number of times she had to teach me the difference between a dime and a nickel. A nickel is bigger, but it’s only 5 cents! A dime is smaller, but it’s 10 cents! “But why? Mommy?"). All this came from the constant practicing every morning in sixth grade. Most of my classmates can do the exact same thing. It is the result of doing problems, over and over again. This is perhaps the most defining characteristic of the Asian Education philosophy, practice, practice, practice.

So, you might ask, if Americans have trouble even doing 7 times 8, how do they do Algebra? Here’s how, they use calculators. This is the biggest flaw in American math education: using a calculator. Yet, it is this limitation that has freed American students from detailed calculations. It is this limitation that has enabled American students to only care about the concepts. As long as you understand why you are doing certain manipulations, you don’t have to care how to get there, just “plug it in" the calculator and you will get your answers. American students spend most of their time learning why I should put in 7 times 8 in the calculator for this problem, instead of how to get 7 times 8. This continues from middle school throughout college. American Education philosophy as I have experienced it, is to know WHY, and not care HOW.

Now, many of you may say, it seems to me that knowing the WHY is much important than HOW, isn’t it? Why should I waste my time practicing so I can know the answer of 7 times 8 without thinking, and not focus on WHY I am using 7 times 8 for this problem? I used to think the same way. I thought American system is what made sense, knowing the HOW was a waste of my time, knowing the WHY should be the main focus.

That is, until I went to college. In calculus, no calculator in the world can help you. Why? There aren’t any numbers anymore! Everything is letters, x, y, etc. Want to solve an equation? Do it by hand! That’s the only way. Again, the American philosophy took over, and professors focused on teaching the WHY, and all the problems we did for homework was quite simply a joke. At the end of the basic calculus sequence, I knew the WHY, but now like the fifth grade students learning multiplication, I could not visualize any calculations. Make me do any integration related problem, and you will be staring at a blank face. I learned why I should write down this equation, but this time, it was me that had no “feeling" for any calculus equations. I did not know the HOW.

The time came when I had to take differential equations. My professor was a Russian who was old school about teaching math. NO CALCULATORS, he said at the beginning of the class. I saw one girl raise her hand and asked, “Are you saying absolutely no calculators? Not for exams, at all?", when the answer was reconfirmed, I never saw the girl in class again. We started out with 60 students, by the first midterm exam, we had 30. This professor was possibly the worst math teacher I have ever encountered, performing mathematical simplification in one step that took me eight steps to arrive to, and he never cared enough to explain how. In his mind, calculus equations literally fly in his head, he had a “feel" for the equation, visualizing equation manipulations. Wait a second, didn’t I say the same thing about myself, ABOUT ALGEBRA?! Since I learned calculus here, with no rigorous “practice 10 problems every morning", I was now the “dumb American" who couldn’t do any math whatsoever without a calculator.

I remember that class well, as I tried to understand what the professor was doing and relearning calculus, I was doing so many practice problems just to make sure I could even possibly pass the class. It was hell. My brain hurt every single day, I had strains of white hair growing and I was still very certain I probably would fail the class. Towards the end of the same quarter, my other electrical engineering class began to use differential equations. To my surprise, the minute the professor wrote down the equation, I already knew the answer. Next to me, sat an American classmate who was also taking that Russian prof’s class with me. I turned my head and looked at him, discovering that he was doing the same, with a smile in his face (we are NOT gay…). He said to me, I already know the answer! I said, yeah, same here! As the professor asked us what the answer to the equation was, my friend and I immediately said the answer. As I looked around my other classmates, the blank faces staring at us, most of which actually already took differential equations before, I’ve never felt more like a genius…The EE professor was teaching the WHY to use the differential equation, but most of my classmates was stuck at the HOW. Never getting past to even understand WHY.

This is math, but I am a Computer Engineering major, and the exact same thing applies! Our computer science department had the “wisdom" to not teach us pure C++. No pointer manipulation practice, which is essential if you ever want to find a job in software engineering. The professors continuously stress that pointers are “dangerous" and the causes of many software bugs. That is true, and I completely agree, but that does not mean you should not teach us about pointer manipulations! I remember when I first had to handle C++ in my internship, that blank face staring at the computer monitor, thinking to myself, Oh my god I am so screwed. I was drawing diagrams just to keep my mind straight, while my mentor did it with ease in his head. I knew exactly what I had to do to get the program working, but I just didn’t know how I could do this. I couldn’t get past the pointers. I knew the WHY, not the HOW. I think I need not repeat myself with examples after examples why the American philosophy of knowing the WHY and not care about the HOW is a deceptive and dangerous teaching philosophy.

I liken this phenomenon to sports. What the American schools are doing, is teaching you the strategies of the game. Why you should hit left, why you should hit back, WHY, WHY, WHY. What they don’t teach you, or rather, make you do, is to practice, practice, practice. I dare you to find me any sport champion who have won the game yet not gone out there every day to practice, practice, practice. Sure, he needs to know what the strategy is, but more importantly he needs to be able to hit the ball to the correct place. Give me a guy who has never hit a ball but knows everything about the strategy of the game, and I will guarantee you he will lose every single game he plays. Although he “knows where to hit", he just “can’t do it".