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How are Developments in Neurobiology Changing our View of Children? 1 A Biological Basis for Kodomogaku

Dialogue between Noboru Kobayashi and Toshiyuki Sawaguchi

1 A Biological Basis for Kodomogaku

Kobayashi: Let me begin our discussion with some background on how CRN came to be established. I was invited to "Children at Risk," an international conference on children's issues held in Bergen, Norway, in 1992. It was sponsored by the Norwegian Center for Child Research, Norway's national research institute for interdisciplinary research on children's issues. Kodomogaku is a term that I used to translate the term "child research" that is used in name of this institute.

I have long advocated that we should take a interdisciplinary approach to children and created the term "Kodomogaku" in Japanese as a way of clarifying this new position. When we think about children's issues today, we find that one discipline alone cannot solve the problems but that an interdisciplinary approach is necessary. Kodomogaku or "child science" in English brings together these perspectives and serves as the basis for dialogue.

Kodomogaku is an academic framework that allows us to understand children who are born as biological beings and become social beings as they grow up. Medicine and the health sciences are disciplines that have traditionally studied children as biological beings. The field of child ecology that focuses on the interaction between children and society will be the basis for the considering children as social beings.

When I retired from the National Children's Hospital five years ago, I wanted to find a place where Kodomogaku could be established as a field of study. Mr. Soichiro Fukutake, President of Benesse Corporation, supported the idea and we decided to set up a cyber-institute that would address children's issues on the Internet. Why the Internet? Because the international conference at Bergen ended with a commitment to make the 21st century the century of children. We had talked about how this could be better achieved by bringing people interested in children together on the Internet rather than by creating a new institute, and I was in agreement with this idea.

Sawaguchi: What a great idea! I have never thought in terms of the field of Kodomogaku before, but I agree, in particular, with your stance of thinking about children from a basis in biology. In biological terms, the environment of children today has changed dramatically. It is no longer possible to raise children in an "ordinary environment." The environment necessary for children's growth that has existed for several million years since the birth of humankind has been lost, and I imagine that many children's problems today stem from this. Unless we can know what kind of environment children, as primates and biological beings, should grow up in, the situation will get worse.

What are children? Why is infancy such a long stage in human development? What are the roles of the mother and father? What is the human mind? Theories of education should be based on an idea of these fundamental human characteristics. But, unfortunately, this sort of research is non-existent. I was so surprised when I read your book Sodatsu sodateru fureai no kosodate (Reciprocal Development Through Child-raising; Futo-sha Publishing Co.), because it dealt with these questions.

In general, books on child-raising still seem to adopt a behaviorist approach. They assume that human children will grow up if they are provided with external stimulation, just like pigeons or rats. Of course, children show that they are capable of adapting to a wide variety of conditions. But, that is only a superficial capability, and children do not grow up properly and fully by only reacting to external conditions so in my view, child-raising needs to be based on biological perspective.

This might sound a little abstract, but I think we need to establish an educational environment and a theory of education that takes into account human evolution.


Pediatrician and Director, CRN
Born in Tokyo in 1927. Doctor of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Tokyo, 1954. Books include Human Science, Kodomo wa mirai de aru (Children are Our Future), Kodomogaku, Sodatsu sodateru fureai no kosodate (Reciprocal Development Through Child-raising).

Toshiyuki SAWAGUCHI, Ph.D.
Professor of Neurobiology, Hokkaido University School of Medicine
Born in Tokyo in 1959. Majored in biology, Faculty of Science, Hokkaido University. Doctor of Science, Kyoto University. Specializes in cognitive neuroscience and primatology. Research interests include mechanisms within the brain related to thought and self and evolution of the brain and cognitive function. Publications include Wagamama na no (The Selfish Brain), Watakushi wa no no doko ni iru no ka? (Where is the Self in the Brain?), and Yoji kyoiku to no (Early Childhood Education and the Brain)."
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