Papers & Essays

Just Enough

Three pieces of media that I saw recently came together in some interesting ways for me, and I would like to share some of my thoughts in this TOPICS article.

The first was a BBC TV series called "Visions of the Future," hosted by Michio Kaku, a well-known science professor, writer and science documentary host. The opening show in the series was called "The Intelligence Revolution" and the second "The Biotech Revolution". They discussed some of the possibilities of how the fields of artificial intelligence and genetic research might shape the future for us, as well as showing some of the ways it was already shaping the present. (Further information about these shows can be gotten by googling "Visions of the Future." Full episodes are available to be seen on both "youtube" and "video Google" at the time of this CRN publication.)

One of the discussions centered around the use of mental and/or physical enhancers that were already available and how this would affect families raising children and wanting to have the best future for them. Another scientist who was interviewed said that he expected parents would want their child to be competitive in school and be able to keep up with the other children and thus take advantage of the already possible ways to improve memory and brain function.

The second was another tv documentary called "The Music Instinct: Science & Song." This was a look at what we have been able to learn about humans and their relationship with music through scientific investigation. While watching this program, it occurred to me that one of the most important things parents could do for their child would be to encourage the child to interact with music in as many ways as possible, depending on the child's interests, abilities, and proclivities.

The third piece of media was a short article in The Japan Times (Friday, Sept. 3, 2010 TOKYO FOOD FILE Artisan ice cream on the Shonan coast By ROBBIE SWINNERTON http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fg20100903sr.html ) This article described a man who makes ice cream that is so popular that he usually sells out in a few hours everyday. People must wonder why he doesn't make more? Or open a franchise to take advantage of his popularity. Perhaps he could have stores selling his ice cream all over Japan. But he seems satisfied, rather choosing to live as though what he does and what he has is enough.

So how did these three stories come together in my mind? It was around the concept of "enough" and how this connects to our raising and teaching children, which is, after all, the focus of Child Research Net.

In this new world which already on its way, where there are so many options available to us, I wonder how parents will decide what is enough for their children. And, as their children grow older, how they will decide for themselves. I remember that some years ago while teaching high school in Japan I asked my students to take part in a "memolene" experiment to test if a pill could improve their memories. In my many years of doing this experiment only one student refused to take part in it, even though I told them that the safety of it wasn't proven. These students felt so much pressure to be able to remember more than they could naturally, that they were willing to put their health at risk. ("Memolene" was just an invention by me, and the experiment was really a fake with the students only eating little candy pills, but I only told them about it afterwards. Many were quite angry at me for not really having a pill which could "help" them. This experiement became a point of discussion for our class about issues of trust, authority and responsibility, and had much more power as a learning experience than if I had just told them, "Don't trust authority too much!" or "Take responsibility for yourselves!")

According to the BBC TV series, now these kind of chemical enhancers are available and more will be coming - chemical ways of improving memory and other cognitive skills are no longer science fiction. Genetically making choices about the kind and amount of talents we want our children to have is already a reality. Of course it is unlikely that these choices will be available to all people. One of Professor Kaku's big worries was that we would create a kind of genetic elite; that those who could afford it would have healthier (well, no one really knows the long term affect of these modifications), stronger, more capable children.

What really is enough? If we choose to live competitively, enough will be defined by what others do and have, and we will never have enough. Schools are generally pretty competitive places, and homes as well - brother and sister are often pitted against each other by parents trying to urge them on. And of course workplaces are usually quite competitive. When I watched the documentary about music I thought that putting children in touch with their artistic self could be such a powerful way to do something just satisfying to themelves. But even in the music and art world elements of competition are everywhere. Teachers/parents/children themselves get all twisted about being "successful", rather than just finding satisfaction.

I read another piece in the New Scientist on line journal at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20827801.300-mental-muscle-six-ways-to-boost-your-brain.html?full=true&print=true about the importance of music in increasing brain power of people. If a competitive parent reads this, playing the piano may not be enough for their child to enjoy or even to develop themselves, but rather an opportunity to become "smarter" than other children.

So what's the answer to this conundrum: of course there's no single one. But it does seem to me that we must help children develop their own values and find their own satisfaction, not depending on winning or beating others. It always comes down to this - if there's something we value as human beings, how else can our society change except through educating children and exposing them to a variety of beliefs and the lives that people live with these different beliefs? Do young people know about the ice cream maker who is satisfied with his present life? How can they find out about such people if not through their parents and teachers?

So I would like to encourage educators: while teaching math or science or language or music or physical education, may I encourage you to also teach your own ethics and help children to discover what is enough for them.
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