Brooks follows Jin Li’s book Cultural Foundations of Learning: East and West, drawing a contrast between Western (actually US) ways of thinking about learning and Chinese ones: “The simplest way to summarize her findings is that Westerners tend to define learning cognitively while Asians tend to define it morally.” He means, I think, that Westerners tend to value learning because it enables us to deal with the external world – the economy, the environment, personal and political interactions etc. Asians, if I understand Jin Li and Brooks correctly, value the discipline and hard work that goes into learning. It’s a process of cultivating virtue.
And guess who is standing behind the modern Western approach to learning? “It’s easy to see historically why this came about. Hellenic culture emphasized skeptical scientific inquiry.” But, of course, that’s a gross oversimplification (and perhaps so are other parts of this East-West contrast.) It overstates the “scientific” side of Greek civilization, an on-and-off phenomenon, and underestimates the strand in ancient thought that valued discipline and learning in the achievement of eudaimonia, “well-being.” That seems to me still a worthy approach to liberal education, not inconsistent perhaps with the "awesome motivation explosions" Brooks values so highly.