In a great article, Spronk (2004) gives what I think is a great summary of what implicit assumptions are often found in Western academia.

These are the kinds of things we need to be more aware of and learn how to either make more obvious to people from other cultural backgrounds so that they can adjust, or learn to adjust ourselves.

It is true that “many features of the academic culture familiar to most learners whose first language is English may strike learners from other linguistic and cultural traditions as alien.” A few of the assumptions Spronk lists which are often embedded in Western education which learners in other cultures might not be used to include:

1. Linear logic, thinking in straight lines, rather than more lateral or spiral logics of other traditions.
2. An analytical approach that emphasizes dividing reality into its component parts, rather than more synthetic approaches that emphasize the whole over the parts.
3. An expository, declarative and deductive rhetorical style that works from the ‘big picture’ or thesis statement down through the supporting details or arguments, rather than an inductive style that requires learners to be more tentative, stating rationales and arguments before attempting a more generalized statement.
4. Encouraging debate, discussion and original thinking, compared with academic traditions such as that which Robinson [22] describes for Chinese learners, for whom three key rules are ‘memorize the lesson, practice the skill, and respect superiors’.
5. Privileging the written over the spoken word. Despite the continuing dominance of the lecture as teaching mode, learners in the West are assessed primarily on their ability to express themselves in written form. In contrast, most of the world’s languages have only recently been written down, in the context of conquest and colonization, hence the cultures associated with these languages are based on the spoken word and oral traditions and histories that continue to inform daily existence. The impact of the written word on oral cultures has been powerfully described by Ong [21]…(p. 172)

Spronk, B. (2004). Addressing Cultural Diversity through Learner Support.” In Brindley, J., Walti, C., & Zawacki-Richter, O. (Eds.), Learner Support in Open, Distance and Online Learning Environments. Oldenburg, Germany: Bibliothecks-und Informationssystem der Universität Oldenburg, 2004, pp. 169-178.


by Kelly on 10/22/06 Although I’m not from western culture, my characteristics are very much aligned with 1,2, and 3. Maybe that’s why i felt more comfortable in the classroom in the U.S. than in Korea.
Many Asian culture didn’t encourage debate or discussion in K-12. At least 10 years ago when I was in school. Therefore, assumption #4 can be dangerous. For #5, I also thought about gestures. Every culture has different body languages and from my observations, westerners use more than asians.