When American journalist Lenora Chu moved to Shanghai with her little boy, Rainey, just down the street from the state-run school - the best, as far as elite Chinese were concerned - she faced an important decision: Should she entrust her rambunctious young son to the Chinese public schools?
It seemed like a good idea at the time, and so began Rainey’s immersion in one of the most radical school systems on the planet. Almost immediately, the three-year-old began to develop surprising powers of concentration and became proficient in early math. Yet Chu also noticed disturbing new behaviors: Whereas he used to scribble and explore, Rainey was now obsessed with staying inside the lines. He became fearful of authority figures. "If you want me to do it, I’ll do it," he told a stranger who had asked whether he liked to sing.
Driven by parental concern, Chu embarked on an investigative mission: What price do the Chinese pay to produce their "smart" kids, and what lessons might Western parents and educators learn from this system?
In her search for answers, Chu followed Chinese students, teachers, and experts, pulling back the curtain on a military-style education system in which even the youngest kids submit to high-stakes tests and parents are crippled by the pressure to compete. Yet as Chu delved deeper, she discovered surprising upsides, such as the benefits of memorization, competition as a motivator, and the Chinese cultural belief in hard work over innate talent.
Lively and intimate, beautifully written and reported, Little Soldiers asks us to reconsider the true value and purpose of education, as China and the West compete for the political and economic dominance of a new generation.