‘Travel broadens the mind’, goes the saying, and travel also stimulates the mind to become deeper and wider, like a river flowing towards the sea.
On arrival back in England, through reflecting on recent experiences in Japan, the following thoughts occur. They were inspired mainly by visiting (for the third time over a 12 year period) Kinokuni Children’s Village in Wakayama prefecture.
In Buddhism there is a concept – which became the driving concept of Buddhism – of The Middle Way.
This is the nature of the path which the Buddha said led to liberation. The phrase ‘the middle way’ was coined in the very first teaching that he delivered after his enlightenment. The Buddha describes the middle way as a path of moderation between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. This, according to him, is the path of wisdom.
As in Buddhism, so in education. There are many form of achievement in education, including the need to develop six different but interdependent intelligences, and the way to attain them all is via the middle way. The best teachers are those that don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater when they are attracted to new (and often quite extreme) ideas, and, as an extension of this, the best teachers are those that pay attention to the baby, so to speak, and provide for all of its developmental needs.
In education the idea of “sensual indulgence” perhaps equates with the child’s wish to indulge in sensual enjoyment at the expense of developing other forms of intelligence (and not merely the use of the senses), whilst “self mortification” equates with self-denial in terms of actual enjoyment of learning, and with a deadening of the personal, spiritual, social, spontaneous, imaginative and creative self for the sake of pursuing academic knowledge and success in examinations.
Adhering to either of these extremes as clearly wrong. Just as caring about your own advancement at the expense of others is clearly wrong. Just as the belief that progress is made faster on your own and not as a member of a group is clearly wrong. Parents often worry that their child might be ‘held back’ if teachers are concerned about the wellbeing of the ‘less able’ children, and they don’t stop to consider how their own children might also benefit from their membership of a group, and of an inclusive community.
My predecessor at the school where I was a headteacher for 20 years had the ridiculous notion that children should be free to choose what they wanted to do, each and every day. Therefore in each class and on every day there was a ritual that involved all of the children in each class sitting on the floor with their teachers and one by one saying what they thought they wanted to do on that day.
Not only was this a fantastic waste of time for the children who were mere listeners to conversations about what other people were thinking of doing – it was also a waste of time for the ones who were doing the talking. If freedom was the issue, then why waste time talking about something when you can just get on and do it, and discuss things with adults as and when they (or you) see the need to do so?
But no, these were the rules and the rituals, as laid down by a certain individual, and they needed to be adhered to because they were part of her gospel. Her staff, as true believers, and as dedicated followers, internalised them and adhered to them rigidly.
In spite of the fact that time is in very short supply in schools, and in spite of the fact that class sizes in state schools are ridiculously large, teachers were not allowed (in this particular case) to make optimum use of time by offering some forms of learning to the whole class and some forms of learning to carefully selected groups.
Furthermore, if individual children didn’t want to read or write or pursue mathematics (and many clearly didn’t) then they had a ‘right’ to opt out. They would ‘catch up’ in those areas as and when they were ‘ready’.
This is clearly doctrinaire nonsense, based on a complete misapprehension of the fact that a) each of us has to make his or her own sense of the world around us, and indeed of ourselves, and b) each of us learns at our own pace.
In fact, we often make better sense of things by listening to the thoughts and ideas of others, comparing them to our own, and engaging in discussions and debates with others. 3Di will say more about these ideas in future blogs.
A.S. Neill and other well-known pioneers of ‘child-centred’ and ‘progressive’ education (such as Rousseau, Steiner, Dewey, Froebel, Montessori, Isaacs and the McMillan sisters) often had very strong and very particular ideas about children, and about teaching and learning, which they tended to pursue passionately and often dogmatically.
The best educators select the best of their philosophy from what the giants of previous ages have said about pedagogy, and then adapt those ideas to fit their own understanding, their own experience, and the nature of the times and circumstances in which they live. None of the above mentioned would have had a single notion of what it would be like to live and learn in the age of mass communications, ubiquitous television, smartphones and computers, and of course the Internet, which began specifically as a means of sharing knowledge between academics and researchers.
Kinokuni is an independent school and therefore has a great deal of freedom to create its own pedagogy and curriculum. Under the guidance and inspirational leadership of Dr Shin-ichiro Hori, Kinokuni has created its own learning environment, high in the mountains of Wakayama prefecture, and its own way of learning and living for children of all ages.
There are many wonderful things to be said about Kinokuni Children’s Village, and in particular about its staff, its leadership, and its philosophy of teaching and learning.
On our most recent visit we had the privilege and the pleasure of talking to a large group of the school’s senior students about the 3Di model of multiple intelligences. We also did the same thing for a meeting of some 40 staff members. We thank all of them for our warm reception and for their willingness to discuss with us multiple intelligences and their relevance to life, learning and future careers.
We noted, as had previously been observed, that Kinokuni very successfully provides for the whole and balanced development of each and every child – for all of the intelligences, and for each child’s progress as an independent, self-directed and creative learner who loves learning for its own sake.
We thank Kinokuni Children’s Village very sincerely for its hospitality, and we wish you all an enjoyable, stimulating, creative and successful future, both within the school and beyond the school.
Arigato gozaimasu! Kampai!