Education column by John Davis


By: John S. Davis

The UFJ Volume 3.4

 Where, oh where, are we to obtain the proper education for our children? If there is one thing each of us have in common or should have in common it is that our children are, or should be, bilingual children, at least.

Should not educational curricula depend on the nature of the beast!?

Those of you who cannot afford international schools perhaps envy those who can. Don’t. This column is equally directed to both types of parents. It is also directed to Japanese parents who must also understand that the curriculum of the Japanese school system is substantially inconsiderate with respect to who your children are and where they are or should be or could be going.

Begin here: No matter what school your child goes to, go to the educational authority of that school and ask the following question:

Should the curriculum of the school be based on an understanding of where the students are and who they are and be built from there, or should it be something decided and fixed upon up or out there, to which the children must conform or be conformed? Or, even better, ask the first part of the question without offering the alternative.

Then, when the answer is “yes, of course,” which will be the answer of any educator, ask them the following:

If the school is an international school, ask them what percentage of the children are of bilingual or multilingual backgrounds? Then, when the answer is a pretty hefty percentage (as it must be, with rare exception), ask them why their curriculum is essentially a monolingual curriculum when the children are or should or must be bilingual or multilingual. If they seem puzzled by the question, ask them if they are familiar with the current research regarding bilingual education. The answer will be “no,” or “yes, but…”

If the school is a Japanese school, ask them why it is that the curriculum is so antiquated. For example, the preschools are generally not very educational, and the children are not taught hiragana until grade one and katakana until grade two, even though most of them already know it not from kindergarten but from home. Is the purpose to turn the children off from education just when they are getting started? If your child happens to be non-Japanese, ask them what kind of program they have to develop your child’s academic proficiency in Japanese. If there is really no program, ask them why not! Is it not the responsibility of the school to create a program suitable for the children it “serves”?! Should that not be the responsibility of a public school, as well as a private one?! The answers here, too, would be either “no,” or “yes, but…”

What follows the “buts” in each of the above examples would be essentially the same, i.e., some reason or excuse why the person you are speaking to and/or the institution they are representing cannot or will not do anything about it.

When will Japan wake up and do something about the fact that there are thousands of non-native Japanese-speaking children –about 17,000 by Ministry of Education estimates– attending the public schools with highly insufficient curricula for them. The acknowledgement of that figure (probably an underestimate) is practically the extent of their service to the special needs of those children.

Those questions are just the beginning. I don’t think it would take too long for any of us to realize that there is something really wrong with the educational options we are presented with, perhaps especially for children of international backgrounds, but really for all children. Then, when we know that, where do we go or what do we do on behalf of our children?

This column will address some of these issues. Do we have a motive beyond the mere exchange and development of ideas? Yes. We feel we have right, an obligation, and a responsibility to inspire the development of educational alternatives and/or internal change to what exists out there right now. Contact us please, with your responses, questions, ideas, and experiences.

I may be reached by e-mail at John S. Davis or by snail mail c/o Head Office, United Front Japan, 2-18-2 Iwana, Noda City, Chiba Prefecture 278-0055, Japan.

Copyright 1999 United Front Japan, All rights reserved.

  Reproduced here with Permission.

                                                                            EDUCATION COLUMN-2

Beginning at the Beginning

By :John S. Davis

The UFJ Volume 3.5

 Until about thirty years ago, the only brains that could be studied were dead ones, and what do dead ones do?–just lie there like a rock. The times have changed. Now we have PET scans, which film the flow of glucose in the brain and therefore precisely where the brain activity is taking place, EEGs which measure the different kinds of brain waves (alpha, beta, delta, and theta), and MCR’s which identify the flow of oxygen. And we have astonishing facts. For example, the brain has no nerve cells for pain. Therefore, it can be stimulated and/or operated on when the skull has been opened while its owner is wide awake! And the neurons in the brain–we are born with are the ones we will die with–they do not die and get replaced every 20 some days or so, as do most of our body cells. Other incredible facts:

1) Children prior to the age of 12 use about 225% more glucose in their brains than adults-no wonder our kids are all geniuses! They are making as many as 12,000 connections per second.

2) An adult has as many as one quadrillion connections in their brain, the longest of which are 2 or 3 feet long. Do you have any idea how big one quadrillion is? If you were to count to it, 1..2..3…etc., it would take you fifteen million years to get there.

3) The brain neurons seem to have designated functions from birth in all of the human species. When it comes to language, there are separate cells for seeing words, hearing words, interpreting words, saying words, etc.

4) Memory is not like a video. It is a reconstruction of all of the related connections, every time one tries to remember something.

5) The same cells are designated for seeing and visual thinking (imagining). Hence the possible confusion of what one has seen with what one has imagined or been instructed to imagine, reducing the reliability of episodic memory.

6) The brain capacity of any individual is unlimited. Young children could probably learn as many as 5 languages quite easily if they had the environment for it. However, beyond the age of 10 or so, brain cells are subject to atrophy if they are not used, the more so the older one gets.

7) Children learn naturally and with joy if their learning has not been inhibited by violence and abuse.

So what?! More in Column III.

I may be reached by e-mail at John S. Davis or by snail mail c/o Head Office, United Front Japan, 2-18-2 Iwana, Noda City, Chiba Prefecture 278-0055, Japan.

Copyright 1998 United Front Japan, All rights reserved.

  Reproduced here with Permission.



So What?!

By:John S. Davis

The UFJ Volume 3.6

Yes, indeed, so what?! I will tell you what. Now that we know that children have such a huge capacity for learning, now that we know that the brain has an essentially unlimited capacity until it atrophies from disuse or misuse, and now that we know that younger children learn so much faster than older children and that they can do so with joy and not anguish, what are we going to do about it?!

1) Read, speak, and show–the earlier the better. Your child should be raised in a sense-stimulating environment. The more words the better, in whatever language–talk and read to them from birth. The more images the better — have colorful homes full of things on the walls and in the rooms for the children to see. Have objects and toys of different textures and sizes. Read and play with the children, not to keep them quiet or put them to sleep, but to inspire their curiosity and connections with the world.

2) Never use physical or psychological violence with children. The brain’s main adaptive function is survival. All stimuli initially go through the amygdala, the seat of fear. Fear inspires the production of chemicals which interfere with the learning process in support of fight/flight. They become automatic reactions to violence. If you cannot help but be violent and cannot stop it on your own, go to a counselor until you can and do stop it. If you know your violent tendencies with children, please do not have any more of them until or unless you overcome the problem.

3) Children need to walk before they can run. If they play the game tetrus, for example, initially a tremendous amount of glucose is used, but as the child becomes expert at it, less and less is used. Phonics can hardwire the decoding process, so that the children can concentrate on the meaning. Hiragana, as a purely phonetic “alphabet,” is so simple that a two year old can learn it from an electronic hiragana set, of which there are many — probably one for every popular character — anpanman, ultraman, pokemon, hello kitty, etc..” To do so they need only to be interested and they will be if you have read to them from an early age.

In sum, an incredibly good case, with a scientific base, can now be made for early childhood education. Given the results of current research, it is suddenly understandable why Maria Montessori working from her own inspiration, could teach retarded children how to read, write and spell, multiply and divide, from an incredibly early age. So why don’t the schools teach perfectly “normal” children to do the same? Why can’t our children be taught two or three languages instead of just one?! Whose inane idea was it to begin the study of a foreign language from junior high school?

The above points are hardly original or new. I learned most of them from a workshop given by Pat Wolfe on the results of the current brain research, and there are numerous Japanese and English books repeating the same thing. The only original part, perhaps, is my own particular synthesis and what we at UFJ would like to do based on it: namely, to inspire the development of educational alternatives and internal change in educational institutions on behalf of the children. Help us help you help your children.

I may be reached by e-mail at John S. Davis or by snail mail c/o Head Office, United Front Japan.

Copyright 1999  United Front Japan. Reproduced here with Permission

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