Chapter IV Process and Expedient of Common Education
Section 1 Learning in the context of common education
Through the perspective of educational methods studies have recognized children as the main figure to learn about educational contents. In this case, the educational contents were “selected from culture (science, art, technology) to suit children’s learning following educational purposes and set them up as learning assignments.” The accumulated culture throughout history is mounted behind educational content. Children are viewed as beings only to learn about such cultures and/or educational contents.
In this context, there are no pictures of children, what kind of beings they were before they are presented with educational contents. Children already have a number of things learnt even before cultures and educational contents were presented to them, and they are the main learners with full curiosity.
Rousseau had in mind small children during infancy and stated “from this crying, regarded as so little worthy of attention, arises the first relation of man to all that surrounds him; just here is forged the first link of that long chain which constitutes social order.” The world of learning is like a unique “link” each in its own right, and it is forming in such a complex and multifaceted way, which changes and developments are beyond our control. Rousseau described it as “it is clear that you know nothing about them [your scholars],” and “there is no one to become a good enough philosopher who can imagine yourself being a child.” It is not easy to understand in what state as a person is one child situated, even if this child may be someone one often communicates with daily.
Children all have such a world of learning within themselves. They alter this world subconsciously at times and without rules, through experiences in various social relations, reaching out to other children’s world of learning, experiencing conflicts, communicating with others and going back to the structure of their own world of learning. They may protest at times against overwhelming reprimand and alter their world of learning in a direction against society. On the contrary, they may be complimented by people and encouraged so much to alter the direction for fulfilling their world of learning.
Through the course of widening the learning relations and developing the learning contents to a certain degree, children would become reasonably aware of their desire, motivation and demand to learn.
Common education has the premise of such a world of learning, which children have as a main learning figure, and it is to be realized by observing that world. It is not the practice to press the learning contents in any way upon children from outside or above, without giving consideration to their world of learning.
Under the various learning environments inclusive of education, children would grow to be aware of the right to learn. At the same time, they would have an awareness of not wanting to learn certain things. It is therefore also a responsibility of common education to understand what kind of learning children want and to provide the learning that children are truly seeking.
Children’s demands to learn also vary quite reasonably. They are children who make the effort to study to realize their wishes, such as to become a soccer player or a ballet dancer. Would common education be able to take responsibility of all of their desires? Less likely.
Yet, whatever their wishes may be, children need to be equipped with proper consideration abilities to think of something about what kind of path they should take and what kind of efforts they need to make, when they make a wish, in order to realize their wish, etc. Common education can play a role here quite reasonably.
Section 2 Ways of class from common education perspectives
The style of Japanese classes is generally called the mass-type class and has been practiced in Japan in the past. This style was basically institutionalized for political and economic needs. Such classes have the national curriculum, such as seen in the curriculum guidelines, as the base and tend to carry out competitive and meritocratic classes prioritizing children who can adapt to what is sought by the curriculum. The following is a description of the typical mass-type class seen today.
“After the commencement greetings of the class, they reflect the previous class and proceed to the day’s learning content.
The teacher explains the content with references of a text or other materials, sometimes children are asked about some questions and students with their hands up are appointed to present their opinions. The class is progressed by the initiatives of the teacher. If this teacher can hold a coherent talk, he/she will be regarded as a good teacher. Yet, it is questionable how much his/her students understand his/her talk while listening. Some students with higher academic achievements follow him/her, but it is quite possible that majority of others just pretend or think they understand.
During the class, some teachers make efforts to facilitate many occasions for students to say their opinions by asking them a number of questions. It seems that the bigger the number of questions, the class is regarded better practiced. In reality, in many cases, only one portion of students is the ones to say anything. At the same time, those students seem satisfied for the recognition given by the teacher for stating their opinions. What kind of feelings would those students have whose hands are never put up, while looking at that in the class?”
As a way of changing such a class, the “learn with/from each other” based approach, the peer to peer approach, is also practiced in ways of group learning, cooperative learning, communicable learning, etc. from the perspective of emphasizing dialogue and communication among children. There was a time when the criticism “wasting time and lowering academic achievements” was used in the past, so some practiced a combination of the two class approaches: mass-type and learning from/with each other type. This is the reason for some to say “majority of classes introduced “learning from/with each other” approaches, as trials of improving recent class across Japan.” The classes, based on the “learning from/with each other” approach, are also different from one another.
The following are some case studies worthy of note from an common education perspective.
The board of education in Inuyama City has made some achievements at municipal elementary and junior high schools, as they have made efforts on the education reform based on “learning from/with each other” approaches starting one decade ago. The city scored higher than the national average for the “confidence toward study;” moreover, the score was so high almost to reach to the international average (IEA 2003).
“Through the respect toward each other in the class and the learning from/with each other approaches, the number of cooperative activities to grow together has been increasing. These practices, when repeated, will lead to the development and maturity of the collective class. By knowing that friends accept the growth of and encourage each other, students are more motivated to learn and experiencing what contributes to their humane development. It has become more and more possible to fulfill the school life.” This is how the concept is expressed: the concept of peer too peer class approach which Inuyama city aimed for.
Mr. Masaki Takiguchi, a junior high school teacher of social studies, has made achievements, carrying out classes in a way that he describes: “I have intended to create a class atmosphere (a space to learn from/with each other) where children are able to communicate their opinions (true feelings). Especially more recently, I see a proactive participatory attitude in children towards communicative classes and began to think that it is for a social study teachers’ role (or even junior high school education) to ensure the “space” for growth and development of junior high school students.” In his writing, Mr. Takiguchi states that “even if the reason (of these practices) may be sought fundamentally in children’s wills (their being itself), from my perspective as an advocate of an education based on the Japanese Constitution as well as the Basic Act on Education of 1947 and the Convention on Rights of the Child, it is inevitable to seek especially the reality (conceptual meaning) of the Article 26 (common education) of the Constitution.” (Made italics by the author)
Having taught at elementary school for 14 years, Mr. Koichi Kato faced extreme “violence” when he became a junior high school teacher and asked himself to continue his profession or not. What caught Mr. Kato’s attention then was an award certificate (Shojo) for the school sports competition, hung on the wall of his class. The background paper was full of graffiti of bad handwritings, but he noticed that the certificate itself was left clean. Mr. Kato found the uniqueness of sensibility of junior high school students there, and had an intuition that “if he can find ways to fit to their sensibility, their energy can be directed out in some way.” Mr. Kato said as follows:
“Not merely been swayed by negative statements and behaviors of students, we should discover possibilities and actions to overcome them within their imaginary negativities. That is what “observation” is. Perhaps, teachers overcome the crisis of class-failure by rediscovering students from such an angle and develop themselves further.”
With a belief of “(students) would value learning with/from each other even in classes, if they are motivated appropriately,” Mr. Kato has been issuing a few books, which he had compiled his experiences of his classes that are based on learnings with/from each other.
At night high school, Mr. Susumu Kaneko, who was in charge of social studies, made some achievement by “collaborative learning” based classes, through struggles with students, who have a series of reasons why they do not like to study, such as “too much to remember, boring, do not understand, cannot find the reason to study, what they learn would not be any good in society, an pencil is too heavy to hold, do not want to look at numbers, etc.” One of his students made a comment regarding his class like this.
“I was dissatisfied at the beginning for he made us move our desks to face each other or take notes on what other people said. I thought it was too much work and it did not mean anything. Now, I have become accustomed to this class style.
What I really thought in the class was only “difficult.” I thought a lot every time but class ended without getting any satisfactory answers. But sometimes the teacher thought about something with me and other times class mates delivered their opinions. The class was fun.
I also found out about the different opinions, ways of thinking and points of view of my classmates through taking his class. I always thought “there is only one answer” before, but I found out that there are many answers.
If I am matured, I say I became able to have my own opinions with reasons behind them on my own. I grew to wish for others to listen to my opinions. What I first thought boring became fun in the end.
And I also did not sympathize with other people’s opinions before and I did not listen to them carefully. But now I can listen to other people’s opinions, and sometimes I am impressed by someone else’s opinions that I did not think of and use them as references. I can also sympathize with people with similar opinions. I think I can talk to almost everyone in the class now, since class works are done in groups, which allowed me to communicate with someone whom I really did not have anything to do with before.
What surprises me the most now is, it is a basic thing but, I can now express my opinions in front of a teacher or my group members. My report was good since my junior high school years, but I just could not say a word in front of people. I usually had to hold back my opinions. Thanks to his class style, it was an easy atmosphere for me to speak up, I became able to speak up for the first time. That is what I truly feel.”
Mr. Kaneko answered to the question, whether or not students would obtain “academic capabilities” through this kind of collaborative learnings, as “certainly [academic capabilities] has been expanded” even if for the case of prep schools.
These class practices are based on different local government or individual teachers’ strong educational awareness, but they are not necessarily associated with the concept of common education.
Also in the sector of the education for handicapped students (special needs education), the relation between that and common education has been questioned. As for the schools for blind and children with hearing and speaking impairment, that were publicly announced in 1923, the purpose was set to “provide common education and to equip the students with special skills required for them to carry out their everyday life.” After the war, the School Education Act under the Japanese Constitution stipulated for children with handicaps to be offered the “kindergarten, elementary school, junior high or senior high school, or equivalent education.” Meanwhile, to attend schools for handicapped children was made compulsory. In 2007, by the School Education Act, the “special education” is changed as “special needs education.” There are somethings to say about the entire process for this. Although this paper shall not discuss that in detail, this paper would introduce an essay written by one autistic junior high school student (born in 1992), in order to touch upon the relation between education for handicapped children and common education as well as detailed classes.
This student, who “has wished to be normal,” wrote the following.
“Even if a new medicine is found to cure the autism disorders today, I may choose to remain how I am. I wonder why I became to think this way. To make it short, that is because I came to realize that people have to make efforts with or without handicaps and become happy as a result. For us, it is normal to be autistic, so we do not know in a real sense how is it to be normal. If I can stay liking myself, it does not matter whether I am normal or autistic.”
This paper does not have the knowledge of life, learnings and educational environment of this child up to that point. But it is evident that he completely understood that he makes the effort for he is a person and he can be happy because of the efforts he made.
It is difficult to build one’s own self-awareness like this all by him/her self. His words indicate that there were learning efforts in a deeper sense made around him.
Regardless the types of handicaps, because of the handicap, the concept of the common education of “bringing people as people in the universal sense” must be kept explicitly throughout the education for handicapped children. That is also what the Japanese Constitution has been requesting. It is necessary to have a fundamental review and reform the education system for children with handicaps.
By definition, common education with the concept of “bringing up people as people in the universal sense” regards the opportunities to learn with/and from each other as essential.
Common education aims to cultivate human judgement (rational judgement). This is to be developed through communications with friends. Children may try what they have learnt, simple knowledge and judgement skills, on each other and teachers can supervise them. This is what we call “Manabiai” the learning from/with each other, and this is where the sense of a more reasonable and a more human judgement is fostered. This kind of education and this kind of class as the core will realize the Constitution’s aims. The mass-type class and the learning contents based on individualism and the principle of competition would not be able to foster such human judgement.
When classes with the learning from/with each other approaches across Japan are associated with the concept of common education held by the Constitution, the education of this country would see a dramatic result.
For instance, let’s take water as a learning theme.
According to the curriculum guidelines revised in 2008, the 3rd and 4th graders are to have “drinking water” as an optional topic, along with “electricity and gas.” Likewise, the topic of “wind and water disasters” is also optional along with “fire disaster and earthquake.” In other words, there are classes which do not teach students about the drinking water and the wind and water disasters. As for the 5th grade, there are descriptions about ocean, marine industry, water pollution, etc. In 4th grade science, characters of water are described. The liquid solutions are involved in 6th grade science. The overall learning in regard to water is incoherent and not necessarily designed to cultivate a sense of rational judgement which leads to higher science in junior and senior high school. And such classes are carried out under the mass-type class system as well as exam-oriented class environment.
Common education has its way to teach about water and cultivates certain abilities regarding water.
For children, before water becomes a natural phenomenon, it is life and a social phenomenon. It is sometimes something to play with, and it is a necessary thing to wash, bath, and discharge. Water is something important for meals and health, deeply related to exercise and sports, related to birth, life and death, inevitable thing for religious rituals and festivals as well as events of tradition. Water has also been used as a tool or way to make people happy and unhappy.
Children learn those things in their lives in different ways. Children may bring forward and share the knowledge that they practiced, experienced or heard from their family members or from reading books, and they may learn others’ understanding. Common education regards even these exchanges as significant to broaden their understanding about the world of water along with their own curiosity. If these experiences are converted into items or themes, a great number of classes are required to cover them.
During such occasions of the learning from/with each other approaches, even without any particular guidance, children can gain a large volume of knowledge and awareness regarding what water is for people in order for them to sustain their lives, and what is so significant about the substance.
If there is appropriate guidance added to it, some questions can open a new arena on the theme: how have people protected and developed water, what are the water-related issues today, etc. In this way, children would regard the people’s relation with water as their own issues. Then, their curiosity and interests would be provoked reasonably to know more about how natural science has treated water and the different characters of water as physical and chemical phenomenon.
The knowledge that is obtained through this type of learning experiences would not be a dead knowledge only to be memorized, but would become a motivation where children would attempt to understand themselves as a whole through understanding the relations between nature/society and human society with the knowledge of water as its core figure. At the same time, this type of learning experience would also cultivate the values of observation, experiment, and analysis skill in the field, and would furthermore, cultivate linguistic ability, ethical and moral judgement skills (use water carefully), etc. This learning from/with each other about water can be characterized as common education of “bringing up people as people in the universal sense.
Section 3 Guidance is inevitable
Rousseau said that “the real education is not to give lessons but to train.” or “guidance (snip) that is the only technology to bring success.” Certainly, the lesson and guidance he meant has nothing to do with mental training, drill, or mechanical training.
Children are constantly learning in their everyday life. In order to select something for the recognition of academic achievements and to further develop that, there has to be some trainings and guidance in a fundamental sense. This could be a reason to think about the expertise of teachers.
Teachers need to understand what children are learning when they are learning together, and teachers must be able to realize the educational issues involved in their learning and instruct them appropriately.
In the previous section, the concept of the common education of “bringing up people as people in the universal sense” seeks classes based on learning from/with each other. However, it is not at all easy to identify how they are learning from each other regarding what issues. It is indeed extremely difficult.
The experts become experts when they overcome a type of difficulty that is to get as close as possible to the target of their expertise. It is a job with such difficulty, to get close to the world of children in order to identify precisely what children are trying to learn. This difficulty becomes the reason for teachers’ expertise.
As children get older, they keep on learning through experiences of various educational environments. Some of them may have lost hope and motivation towards learning and education. It is a challenge to accept such a difficult situation as reality, not blaming the reasons of educational difficulty on previous education and learning in general. The question is what kind of educational issues are identified here. The learning from/with each other approach becomes important in these cases.
By getting so close to children’s learning from /with each other, teachers’ get more specialized. Teachers cannot improve their teaching skills only by obtaining new knowledge about educational policy, if they are away from children.
Mr. Tsutomu Kuboshima criticizes the education policy of MEXT the government to replace the concept of “guidance” with “assistance” by saying that “children today (snip) requires a high degree of guidance.”
This “assistance” was introduced because of the “new view of academic achievements” associated with “the principle of emphasis on individuality,” promoted by the central education council.
The “assistance” is explained as “the assistance to avoid the one-way guidance from teachers but to assist children to realize what they wish by accepting positively what they think, wish, the way they think and imagine” (Kyoiku Shuppan, “School Education Dictionary” 2003).
Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to interpret the concept of guidance in education one-sidedly, as “the one-way guidance from teachers,” as if this one sided interpretation represents the entire concept. It is also inappropriate to counterpose it to “assistance.”
The concept of “guidance” in the context of education contains a number of factors in actual practice, and it is certainly not to ignore “thoughts,” “wish,” or “ideas.”
On the contrary, “the principle of emphasis on individuality” or the “assistance” of the “new view of academic achievements” divides children’s characters into small categories so that the national society can detect particular characters among them necessary for society and to utilize them. There is no need for guidance. It is good enough for children to have only “assistance” in order to become able to “learn themselves.” Moreover, there is no need for guidance for children to develop their characters to a higher level where they can practice human judgement skills. Regardless to say, two words “guidance” and “assistance” do not contradict in a fundamental sense. The question is which is to have as the core essence: assistance to subordinate the guidance or guidance to subordinate the assistance.
A number of children today blame themselves for not being able to learn well. They think that they are not intelligent enough, even if they want to learn many things. Some children unfortunately dislike to study. Is there any significance to accept their negative feelings toward studying positively and “assist” to realize their thoughts like that? It is rather important to believe that children definitely have learning motivation somewhere in them and encourage them to start from there, keep encouraging them as if you understand, studying turns out to be a fun.
Section 4 Empiricism cannot bring up people
Today, the word “practice” (Taiken) has been broadly used at school in Japan, being led by the educational policy, etc. What is the intention of emphasizing “practices?” Why aren’t “experiences” used instead? How are practices and experiences related to each other? *
It can be said that “practice-oriented” or empiricism intends to encourage a self-centered or irrationalism-based mind set within children’s minds.
Today’s the “practice-” oriented approach first appeared when the “life environmental studies” was introduced to the earlier years of elementary school at the time of the elementary school curriculum revision of 1989. This movement was a follow-up of the “emphasis on individuality” directed by the report of the provisional council for education in 1985.
The aim of the “life environmental studies” is to “cultivate the values of self-reliance,” and four constrains were set for “self-reliance.” This aim setting has not been changed ever after revision in 2008.
The reason why there is a restraint like “through detailed activities and practices” is because the “self-reliance” in the “life environmental studies” does not mean the independence as human but the independence as a Japanese person or a citizen of this country. Essentially, the independence in the context of being a human is to form gradually based on dialogues with the world as a whole, including natural and social environments as well as experiences of their own. Yet, here, the learning contents of children are limited within the world of “practice.”
The revision of the curriculum guidelines in 1998 introduced the “period for integrated studies” from 3rd year of elementary school to the last year of senior high school. The guidelines then contained words “practical learning” apart from “practice in nature” and “practice in society.” The word “experience” is nowhere to be found.
One Article was added to the School Education Act at the revision of 2001, and its title was “hands-on activities,” resulting in elevating the word “hands-on activities” as a legal term. The revision of the School Education Act in 2007 influenced by the “amendment” of the Basic Act on Education, added another phrase “hands-on activities in nature.” Again, there is no “experience.” An extremely biased empiricism-based policy has been promoted.
Here is the Article 31 “Hands-on Experience” of the School Education Act revised in 2007.
“Teachers of elementary school shall try to have children’s practice-based learning activities when practicing their teaching guidance under the stipulation of the paragraph 1 of the previous article, such as socially contributive hands-on activities like volunteer activities in particular, hands-on activities in nature, etc. When doing so, teachers shall give a careful consideration to cooperate with social education institutions as well as related institutions.” (Made italics by the author)
The “life environmental studies” of 1989, the “period for integrated studies” of 1998, and added into the clause of School Education Act in 2001 has led to the further review of clause of School Education Act in 2007 after the “amendment” of the Basic Act on Education. Evidently, the practice-oriented system has seen a dramatic reinforcement.
It is important to note what happened here, that what was once placed within the “life environmental studies” and “period for integrated studies” are now regarded as having related to the educational aims of “common education in the form of compulsory education” of the School Education Act and has been pushed up to education guidance in general. This means that the law requires the educational guidance in co-operation with social education institutions, etc. for whatever the educational aims may be.
The hands-on practice itself essentially means also personal experiences in general, so it should not contradict with experiences. Whatever the experience may be, this experience has two sides: personal experience and practice. It is true that the meaning of the very specific personal experiences should not be taken into so much account here, since such experiences in the past hold a sense of regret towards the educational reality of enforcing what was already theoretically formed and certain knowledge base. But is this emphasis on practice intended for something similar?
The purpose of an activity, say “insect collecting”, becomes quite different whether this activity is a part of the “hands-on activities in nature” or a class of “science.”
If it is in fact a part of the hands-on activities in nature, the study of insects would be limited within the fact of actual experiences and it would be depending on children at an individual level to broaden their knowledge about insects further more.
If nature is the subject under observation then collecting insects would take into full account to broader learning about insects in general, their living condition, their relations to other insects, the relation between people and insects, etc. Therefore, this activity would be a part of an education to deepen common learning with all children as well as foster an awareness towards nature.
Common education also pays close attention to experiences, but different from that of the empiricist education.
Empiricist education was developed in association with pragmatism. The experiences there are regarded as the process of passive activities, in which new behaviors are initiated by the conception and learnings gained by a behavior.
Let’s have the case of insect collecting as an example. One child may want to collect more different types of insects and thus would have more experiences. Yet, let’s suppose it is prohibited to collect many insects. In this situation, what is necessary is to alter the experience of the child. Like this, the empiricist education organizes learning by directing “solutions” for rising problems and that is what the empiricist education calls education. For this type of education, teaching materials are only what are around children within their daily life experiences, or teaching materials are to be reorganized.
The empiricist education theory is sometimes criticized as “inconsistent in the aspect of forming scientific recognition.” In parallel, it must be criticized by the perspective of common education, which strives to foster a sense of human rational judgement skills as a whole.
As a consequence, practices or experiences are placed within a certain framework whether for the case of a practice-oriented principle or empiricism. The practices and experiences would be located outside of a certain framework. The education based on these restraints is fundamentally different from the common education that fosters human and rational judgement skills by building up practices and experiences.
The empiricist education of post-war Japan has caused a serious decline of academic achievements as has been criticized from time to time.
It is a puzzling issue that practice-oriented education is holding so much of the enforcing power. Being backed up by the “amended” Basic Act on Education, and the practice-oriented education is even worse than the empiricist education.
A dictionary of philosophy defines a taiken as a perceptual content or process which is found directly from the individual objectives, and it describes that compared to keiken (experience), taiken is very unique in a sense that each taiken belongs to different objectives, takes a persona, and is very detailed and affective.
Taiken may become a base to develop itself to empirical awareness or even to scientific awareness, depending on intelligence. However, under the education policy of Japan, the emphasis on practice (taiken) go ahead of experiences (keiken) and instead of taking keiken seriously but it is taken seriously rather for not to make it an experience.
The word “Erlebnis” is unique to the German language and usually translated as “experience” in European languages with an additional explanation to contain the meaning of “taiken.” It was said to have been made in Japanese possibly by being influenced by the terminology of the philosophy of life.
Kato. Koichi, “Social Studies to Learn from/with Each Other I Introduction Geography Version,” Chireki sha, 2008, p8-10.Taniguchi. Masaki, “Mind and War of Junior High School Students - Rose of Peace in the School Ground,” Chireki sha, 2004, “Social Studies to Foster Mankind,” Chireki sha, 2008.