What does it mean to be educated and cultured? - Director's Blog



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What does it mean to be educated and cultured?

Japanese Chinese

I was once asked to write a short message for children on why studying was necessary. I remember writing something like "If you have knowledge, it will give you more choices in life."

Today, other ways of learning are being implemented, and these include active learning or the flipped classroom instead of conventional group learning. It seems that these new ways of learning were developed because many children were not being motivated to study.

When preschool children ask why they should study, the answer is relatively easy. In a previous blog, I summed it up with the concept of self-esteem (self-affirmation): "You will make Mommy (Daddy) happy if you study" or the "People will think you're really great if you study hard and get good grades." And most children are satisfied with this explanation.

However, as children grow older and their schoolwork becomes more difficult and homework and tests cause increasing mental stress, this method of encouraging self-esteem is no longer effective. In particular, the typical reasons that cite compulsory education or studying as the duty of children lose their persuasiveness.

The common platitude repeated at such times is "If you study hard now and become well-educated, it will certainly pay off in the future." Children who are quick-witted will confound adults by asking, "What does it mean to be 'well-educated'?" or "When is the 'future'?" I must confess that I always believed this and studied hard, too. In junior and senior high school, I seriously (?) aspired to become someone like an English gentlemen who was the epitome of being educated and cultured.

But why did gentlemen or landed gentry who did not have to work for a living come to epitomize the education and culture? I never really understood before.

Recently, however, I read the novel Mansfield Park written by Jane Austen in the early 1800s and felt that I could partly understand the reason that gentlemen and ladies had to be educated and cultured.

Austen is said to have written the dialogue based on voluminous notes that she took of real conversations, and as such, they accurately reflect real situations.

When members of the landed gentry were not occupied with honorary duties such as managing territories or serving in local politics, they paid visits to each other's estates, often staying for several months at a time. The men hunted while the women chatted and knitted, and later they enjoyed dancing and playing musical instruments together.

With so much leisure time on their hands, it was necessary for them to be equipped with abundant topics of conversation, the know-how to engage in dialogue with the other party, and the ability to perform and entertain by singing, playing musical instruments, or reciting poems. These were the essential skills to being a lady or gentleman.

In Mansfield Park, we encounter the conversations of two young sisters who are being groomed to become ladies someday. When talking to their mother, they speak of their female cousin Fanny, the heroine of the novel from the countryside, in the following way.

Dear mama, only think, my cousin cannot put the map of Europe together--or my cousin cannot tell the principal rivers in Russia--or, she never heard of Asia Minor--or she does not know the difference between water-colours and crayons! -- How strange! -- Did you ever hear anything so stupid?

Mansfield Park is a story of how cousin Fanny from the countryside grows up to be a wonderful woman.

But leaving Fanny aside for a moment, what is the episode telling us?

This may be my own interpretation, but it seems that the skills and capacities of gentlemen (and ladies) that I once longed for actually constituted required knowledge for the land-owning class at the time. As a junior- and senior-high school student, I had always thought that the bits of information that we were required to memorize (the world map, names of rivers, historical events, etc.) for the university entrance exam were not at all what "true education" consisted of. But now I see that the "education" of a British gentlemen, something that was my aspiration, was not really that different from the knowledge that I had to memorize for the entrance exam. Cultured behavior in the social world and success on the entrance exam were both necessary in real life.

What are your views on my somewhat skewed viewpoint of what it means to be educated and cultured?

sakakihara.png Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before working with Ochanomizu University.