"How to Develop International Understanding", the Research Project by Makoto Kageto published in the R&R cafe section, was wonderful to read. I've known Makoto for a number of years and have always been in great admiration not only of the scope of his projects, but also the depth. I find him to be a very rare combination of a teacher with good ideas who is able to carry them out with both enthusiasm and dedicated concentration. His project shows this combination of thoroughness and excitedness, and it is always inspiring to talk with him or read his work. Although Kageto-san, writes well in English himself, this article has been translated from his original Japanese version, and I think much credit should be given to the translator and editor of Child Research Net because they managed to capture his style and sense in English very well.
This research project covers a lot of territory, so I'd like to divide my response into two parts: the first, will be some general, rather personal comments about and reactions to the project, and the second part, to be published July 23, will be more specific reactions to various aspects of his philosophy and research.
Part I: General and Personal Comments about the Research of Makoto Kageto
There are a number of general aspects in this research that I think are worth calling attention to. For example, we can sense Makoto's great enthusiasm for his work and the fact that he respects the rights and feelings of young people very much. While enthusiasm and respect may naturally be assumed to be qualities of people working in schools, we all know that this is not the case. Anyone hoping to become a teacher or develop as a teacher should begin to think deeply about these two qualities. As I read this research, it became clear to me that much of what was being developed was done through the eyes and hearts of a learner, rather than a teacher. This vital difference means for example, that Makoto was not focusing on issues such as control, "correctness", pre-planned curriculum, but rather things like students' involvement, interaction, enjoyment and curiosity.
As I was reading this paper, I made a connection between something I'm doing in my own classes and something Makoto wrote about. Then I made a further connection to a trend in Japanese education and other countries as well, which I think needs to be questioned. In my school, I've been trying to teach my students how to become effective public speakers for the past ten years. I've developed a pattern for writing our speeches and practicing them in class, in ways that I thought were very supportive and effective, because they ended with the students giving these speeches quite well in front of an audience of 800 people. The one aspect of this work that I've always been dissatisfied with is that I could never get the students to stop reading from the notes and look up and speak directly to the audience. They never were able to relax enough or feel enough confidence to just "talk" from notes. But this year I began to team teach with a new teacher in my school, Sarah Wittenbrink Ogawa, and luckily I was smart enough not to try to impose my own old style on our class but rather work together with her and be ready to try something new.
What we did was focus on something quite different from what I've done in the past. What I usually did was begin to "prepare" directly for our big speeches - think about topics, write introductions, talk about effective techniques. No, we didn't do that - we just starting doing things that captured the students' attention and interest. We started with introductory speeches, just telling our students to tell a story about themselves that they thought was important. Amazingly enough none (not ONE!) of the students read anything. They just got up and talked about themselves. It was more like an interesting conversation than a "speech".
The second activity was something we called "Show and Tell", which is familiar to anyone who went to elementary school in the United States. It's a time when kids have to bring something from home to show to their classmates and tell about it! Because our students have also been writing memoirs (We're reading the marvelous memoir called "The Dream of Water" by Kyoko Mori) and talking about evocative objects - something that brings out the deep feelings of ourselves and others. Sarah and I were surprised again! Everyone brought in some wonderful toy or picture or game or book - all things from their past which had strong memories attached to them. NOT one student read anything.
What does this have to do with Makoto's research? Or trends of modern education? Everything! What I found out (again) is that if you give kids something interesting to do, they learn, not only the skill that you thought was important for them to know, but they do it indirectly and while they're learning much more important things about themselves and their world. You know that everyone is talking about computer literacy and media literacy and keyboarding literacy and cultural literacy. These things are ridiculous. We don't have courses in fax literacy or portable phone literacy, do we? Everyone knows everything they need to know about these things - why? Because they are an important part of their lives. Why should we focus on keyboarding? Or Computers? They're just tools to use to make ourselves and our world a more humane livable place. Students will learn how to use tools wisely if they're given meaningful activities to do - just as Sarah's and my students learn to speak directly without notes by being engaged totally in real, engaging activities.
This is what I can sense in Mr. Kageto's research! He is interested in meaningful learning, not some sort of managed teaching on something he wants to impose on young people. Kids are smart enough to learn many things if we just create the right kind of discovery, supportive, interactive, cross-cultural environments for them to play in!
Great work and play, Makoto!
Part II: What is Meaningful Change?
The first part of my response was some general, rather personal comments about and reactions to the project. For this second part I'd like to just react to the some of the underlying cultural and educational aspects of Makoto's philosophy and research.
The first sentence of Mr. Kageto's paper says, "The Internet has become a significant tool in the effort to reform educational methods in Japan, as well as in other countries." Later he says, "The Internet enables students to get in touch with people who live in many different parts of the world in real-time and helps them to better understand what other countries are like geography, people, culture, etc." And later, "the answers or knowledge they [students] get on the Internet may remain with them longer, resulting in better learning."
One chapter of Makoto-san's paper is entitled, "The Internet will change the Japanese Educational System." In Section 3 of this chapter "School Reform and the Internet", he writes: "The Internet is about to be introduced as a teaching tool. By 2002, every school in Japan will have access to the world via the Internet. Installing computers will change classes. Every student will face the world." "Installing computers will change classes . . . I really hope that the Internet realizes a students-centered class and becomes an excellent opportunity for students."
I think that these quotes show Mr. Kageto's deep understanding and instinct about the Internet and its potential in being an agent of change in Japanese schools and Japanese education. But they also show a confusion that exists in all of us about how meaningful change takes place within complex social environments. Basically we understand very little about this aspect of sociology and psychology.
As a person who values confusion for the opportunity it gives us to explore our thinking and create new boundaries for our knowledge, I would like to propose a few ideas to you (the readers of both Mr. Kageto's paper and my comments) and hope that you will respond, so that we can have a dialog and move beyond this confusion in some ways, or at least move to new levels of confusion. Here are some ideas I'd like to provoke you with:
|1)||Change occurs constantly; no matter what we do or don't do, it will happen.|
|2)||Introducing ANYthing in our classroom causes some change. However, powerful items of the popular culture, particularly anything hi-tech, seem to have a big influence/affect on the kinds of changes that occur.|
|3)||We probably have little idea of the deep affect of what we do, but everything we do does have some effect; probably we'd be VERY surprised if we knew about many effects of what we do.|
|4)||Local change is one thing; wider effects are another! Outer effects are one thing, inner effects are another.|
|5)||Media magnifies change; that's what media does. When we use mass media to talk about change, we unconsciously fall into the trap of magnifying our work or the effect of it.|
|6)||Technology is a very tricky thing. I'm having a lot of trouble expressing my idea about this. First I wrote this sentence: "Technology makes us feel that the changes around us are bigger than they really are". Actually I don't like to use the expression "technology makes us feel" I don't like putting the causal agent outside of ourselves. In one way of looking at things, of course the introduction of the Internet or computers into an environment does have big effect, but I think it isn't the item itself that has the effect, but rather the way it is used. If I buy a computer and put it in a big box in the closet of my classroom, we would certainly say the effect is very minimal on the members of that environment.|
|7)||The effect of doing something in one environment is very small if the larger culture doesn't support what is being done. (For example, what we do in one classroom will have very little effect if the school - other teachers and class styles - doesn't support our learning philosophy; or even, what we do in one school will have little effect if the university culture, local town culture and working place culture don't support that philosophy.)|
A few nights ago I was watching TV about life in the future, particularly the home of the future. The key words were benri (convenient) and joho (information). The kitchen was wonderful because the refrigerator could keep track of how much milk and eggs were in it, and this data could be checked from the local grocery store. The toilet could become a device to measure our weight by simply pressing a few buttons and lifting our legs off the floor. And the Internet - it was everywhere! The program showed how the children could be in touch with their teachers at night, asking questions, checking quizzes, and talking about club activities (so much for the teachers' home lives)! Computers would be ubiquitous. Wearable. We need never be without them. (Hmmm.) Contact with everyone in the world (really? everyone)? Students will be able to study together with students in foreign countries using foreign languages; and Japanese students living outside of Japan will be able to study in Japanese through contact with schools and programs in their homeland.
The people who made this program (and these hi-tech items) wanted us to think, "Wow!" and perhaps many people did think so. But there didn't seem to be much discussion about the quality of contact or how the culture in which this contact would take place would support various kinds of new ways of living our lives.
So where will this all lead us, I wonder? And where am I going with this? Well, it seems to me that we're being mediatized into the exaggerated belief that uses of technology by itself can have positive effect on our lives. More computers everywhere, Internet movies, downloadable music, information everywhere, contact with everyone. I was reminded of a book I read a few years ago called, The Age of Missing Information by Bill McKibben, which talks about the different kinds of information we get from technical media (TV in this case) and by interacting directly with objects in nature. I recommend this book highly. (It's available to order on-line or in most bookstores.)
I think that Mr. Kageto is aiming to change the culture of learning and he constantly expresses that it is HOW we use the internet that is important. But I am very concerned that the larger culture both in Japan and the so-called developed world emphasizes very different kinds of things and won't lead to increased interest and motivation to learn, toward self-discovery, toward international understanding. Essentially then, Kageto-san and others like him, need to be kinds of anti-technology, in order to put technology in its proper place, which is not in the center of life.
By now you must be rather confused by the rambling nature of this piece. That's okay. I'm thinking outloud - this is not a finished piece but a piece in progress. My main thought is relating to a recognition that media and technology are messages, but that culture itself is a more powerful message, and that we need to be careful about giving too much of our attention or energy to the technology alone. How the media - in this case, computers and the Internet - affects people within a culture (classroom, local, national) very much depends on the way we design that culture and how our design relates to the larger cultures around us.
I don't mean to imply we should give up trying to move in positive directions in the larger culture (say nation or even inter-nation-al), but at the same time, I think we should also be developing our own view of the struggle to make meaningful change.
Since writing this paper, I've heard from Sakura Suzuki, an editor of this website, that this article below touches on some of the issues I have raised here, so I'd like to include it as additional material for us to think with.
Japanese Culture Meets Online Education by Steve McCarty