"JAPAN CLOSE-UP", July 2003, published by PHP
By Masaomi Ise
A 6-grade boy wrote an essay like this:
gMy dream is to become a top-class baseball player. To make this dream come true, I will have to participate actively in the national junior and senior high school baseball tournaments. To participate in these tournaments, I will have to practice very hard. I started to practice baseball when I was three years old. Until I was seven, I had practiced for about a half of each year. However, from when I was in the third grade up to now, I have been in hard training 360 days out of 365 days. Therefore, I have only 5 or 6 hours to play with my friends in a whole week. With such hard training as this, I believe that I will be able to become a professional baseball player. And the team that I want to join is the Chunichi Dragons or Seibu Lions. I also wish to be picked in the first-round draft of either team and sign a contract of a 100 million yen or higher. I have confidence in pitching and batting.
Last summer, my team participated in the national elementary school baseball tournament. I watched the plays of almost all pitchers in the tournament and I felt certain that I was the No.1 player of the tournament. For batting, I hit three home runs in the four games held in our prefecture. Throughout the tournament, my batting average was 583. Thus I achieved satisfactory results. Also, my team did not lose a single game for a year. I will keep trying hard from now on. If I could become a top-class player, I would invite the people who had helped me to the games in which I would play. This is also a part of my dream. After all, my biggest dream is to become a professional baseball player.h
The boyfs dream came true. He has become one of the best baseball players not only in Japan but also in the U.S. major league. The name of this boy is Ichiro.
Kamala, a Wolf Child
The girl, who appeared to be about eight years old, walked around on her hands and feet. She put her face over a bowl set on the floor and drank milk using her tongue. She could not speak any words but howled like a wolf at nightc.
Kamala was found in India in 1920. Wolves had raised her since right after her birth until she was about eight years old when she was found. A missionary priest named Sing had found her and took good care of her. During the nine years she remained alive after her discovery, she barely used any words and also never reached her ghumanity.h Although she was assumed to be around 17 years old, she was described as being gequal to a three or four year old child.h She died without being able to develop her intelligence or humanity, which is not to say that everything about her was undeveloped. She could see even in the dark. In recent Japan, there is an increasing number of children like animals, though not as extreme as Kamala, who run around in their classrooms uttering strange sounds, who easily become out of control and behave violently, or who keep sitting on the ground on busy streets with no regard of other people.
From talented Ichiro to wolf child Kamala, what makes a difference to the same human beings? Modern brain science is starting to reveal that the secret is in education of the brain in early childhood.
Surprising Transformation of the Cerebrum in Early Childhood
The basic components of the brain are neurons. The neurons project dendrites toward one another and exchange chemicals through the contact points (synapses) to transmit information. Likened to a computer system, each neuron is like a CPU and the brain is a parallel computer system in which CPUs are connected to one another using networks.
There are approximately 14 billion neurons in the cerebral cortex that controls human intelligence. This cerebral cortex undergoes dramatic transformations in early childhood. A baby is born with a huge number of neurons, but they die out in large quantities and drop down to one sixth the original amount within a year. After this, the number of neurons keeps falling moderately without new neurons being created. The surviving neurons develop their dendrites and set up a lot of networks with one another. The number of network contacts increases up to approximately 1.6-fold by the time a new-born baby becomes six years old, then takes a downward turn. That is, a huge number of neurons are created first. Then, the neurons that are not used in the environment after birth die off and the neurons that are used frequently develop networks.
For example, a babyfs eyes catch various images. At this time, the neurons of the area that receives visual input are used, the network expands, and the babyfs visual capability is developed. If a baby unfortunately gets an infantile cataract and loses his/her vision, the relevant neurons will die out. Accordingly, even if the baby recovers from the cataract, he/she will not be able to see well during his/her entire life.
On the contrary, the Masai who live in the African savanna develop good vision because they habitually look into the distance from early childhood. 2.0 vision is quite common among them; some even have 5.0 vision. Vision is not created only by the physical performance of the eyeballs; it owes much on the functions of the brain. This is probably the reason why Kamala could see in the dark. Ichiro is also said to have hit balls clocked at 150 km during batting practice since he was a boy. It would appear that Ichiro thus highly developed his vision for moving objects.
gProlonged childhoodh (neoteny) that is characteristic to human beings gives spurs to the dramatic transformation of the brain. Compared to apes, humans are vastly immature when they are born. A humanfs childhood is 1.5 to 2 times longer than that of anthropoid apes. During childhood, while receiving various external stimuli, the brain changes dramatically involving the mass death of neurons and development of networks. Since this transformation continues for a long time due to the prolonged childhood, the human brain is developed far more highly and flexibly than an apefs brain.
To put this the other way around, since apes are born after they have matured to a certain level, they do not have much individual difference caused by their postnatal environment. However, humans do have significant individual differences; they will or will not be able to develop their faculties depending on the environment after birth. That is, the difference between Ichiro and Kamala is produced because they are human beings; such individual difference would not be produced if they were apes.
Singing a Lullaby, Speaking to a Child, Lifting a Child up in the Airc
Which will a child grow into, Kamala or Ichiro? What makes a difference is the childhood environment. Needless to say, there are inherited factors that influence around 30% to 60% of a personfs development. So, not everyone can become Ichiro. But everyone can become Kamala if the environment is bad. Therefore, the childhood environment is very important in raising a child properly.
Children have to be exposed to their mother language to develop their linguistic ability. For this purpose, not one-way approaches such as having them listen to the radio news, but an interactive environment, in which mothers talk to their children consciously and listen to them carefully after they start to talk, is effective.
As for the musical ability, it is effective to expose babies to a constant shower of good-quality music starting from age 0. Classical music is especially favorable. From what I have heard, there is data indicating that some children have had their intelligent quotient increased by 10 points as a result of listening to Mozartfs music. It is also reported that, if mothers sing lullabies to their babies, the babies are less likely to become tone deaf.
To develop the logical and mathematical abilities, it is effective to have children play with blocks and make three-dimensional objects. To develop the physical capability, it is effective to lift children up in the air, hold them upside down, and swing them around. When children start to walk, let them move around freely like having them run around in the park with bare feet.
All of what has been described above suggests that the most important thing for raising children properly is an gordinary environmenth in which mothers always stay close to their babies while talking or singing to them, lifting them up in the air, playing together with blocks, or encouraging them to toddle about in the park. Children can grow into a man or woman only with their mothersf love during their childhood.
Maladjustment to Own Group
The visual and physical capabilities, which are rather basic functions of the brain, are completed by around the age of four years. The literacy and logical thinking abilities are built by the age of eight to twelve years. In addition, there are higher-level capabilities such as social intelligence for understanding the social relationships with others and maintaining appropriate social behavior, and emotional intelligence for understanding the feelings of others and controlling our own emotions appropriately. At the latest, these capabilities must be developed by the age of twelve years, through interaction with family members and friends.
For example, assume that a newborn monkey is separated from its mother and raised by humans for about a year, then returned to the group to which it originally belonged. This monkey would more than likely fail in living in the group properly. It would be bullied often by the other little monkeys in the group and even attacked by the grownup monkeys. This maladjustment to its own group would continue all its life. Even after becoming an adult, it would not be able to reproduce. If its brain is examined after it dies, the number of neurons in the area called the frontal association area that controls social and emotional intelligence would be found to have decreased dramatically.
It is interesting to note that, if a monkey of two years old or older is separated in the same way, it would have a hard time right after it is returned to its group but would soon be able to adjust itself to the group. Two-year-old monkeys are equivalent to humans that are eight years old.
Children can fully develop their social and emotional intelligence by building up the relationships with their parents, brothers and sisters, and relatives by the age of eight years and through experiences gained by playing and fighting with the neighborhood children of all ages. They thus cultivate their basic capabilities for actively functioning as a member of society.
The Egofs Functions for Developing Humanity
Human faculties widely range from basic visual and physical capabilities up to high-level emotional and social intelligence, all of which are controlled by the gego.h Our ego is aware of our own physical and mental states, and controls our various faculties for attaining our individual goals.
What made Ichiro practice hard to become a top-class pro baseball player were the functions of his ego, which can be summarized as follows:
- He had a dream with a view of the future and made a plan to achieve his dream.
- To fulfill his dream, he took voluntary and independent actions, became focused on and enthusiastic about a specific activity, and developed creativity during the process.
- He felt happiness while being focused and enthused, and felt a sense of mastery upon attaining his goal.
These functions of the ego develop the ghumanityh that separates humans from apes. What we should learn from Ichiro is that he exerted such ghumanityh to the maximum. His genius as a baseball player was the result of having developed his innate talents by his ghumanity.h He wrote in his boyhood essay: gIf I could become a top-class (pro baseball) player, I would invite the people who had helped me to the games in which I would play. This is also a part of my dream.h This suggests that he had a wonderful social intelligence. If nationwide elementary students could exert such ghumanityh for their own goals like Ichiro, our society would become a wonderful society. This is a dream that education must focus on.
Brain Science Explains gTroubled Educationh
In reality, however, children like Ichiro are exceptional and the phenomena of gtroubled educationh have hung over the country. Brain science can explain the causes of the phenomena. For example, there is a mental disease called gattention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).h Children who suffer from this disease become distracted very easily. They cannot focus on anything and walk around or make noise during class without being able to remain in their seats. This disease accompanies the functional disorder of the frontal association area that is in charge of the ego, social intelligence, and emotional intelligence. This disease can be caused by physical damage such as an external wound or a tumor in this area. In many cases, however, the children have had problems in their background up to the age of eight years. Some children were the only child in the family and grew up in solitude because the parents had divorced or were both working. Under such circumstances, the children were unable to fully develop their emotional or social intelligence.
Moreover, there are such phenomena as gwithdrawalh where children cannot get along well in their groups, gschool violence and family violenceh where children cannot control their emotions and easily go berserk, gapathy, indifference, and noninvolvementh where children cannot harbor a dream or make efforts to attain their own dreams, and ginsensitivenessh where children fuss around or girls put on make-up inside commuter trains in disregard of other people. These symptoms are mostly caused by their underdeveloped egos, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence.
Scientific Basis for Traditional Education
The reasons for such underdevelopment include the declining birthrate, trend toward the nuclear family, and loss of fields and playgrounds due to urbanization. In addition, it seems that some ideologies, such as feminism and relaxed education, which have no scientific basis contribute to this tendency. Supporting womenfs social advancement is important. However, it is unscientific and even guilty to groundlessly deny the importance of gmotherhoodh in child education, which has served as the backbone of human progress for more than half a million years. As described above, it is absolutely necessary for the brainfs sound development that mothers always stay close to their children while talking to them, singing lullabies, and playing with them. Nursery schools in which each child-care worker supervises several children cannot substitute for mothers.
Moreover, gfatherhoodh that establishes order in the family and teaches the norm and rules of society is also essential in developing childrenfs social and emotional intelligence properly. In contrast, gclassroom democracyh that makes children think about social rules after they become middle or high school students would be too late.
Especially, applying grelaxed educationh for children in the lower grades of elementary school would leave their neuron networks undeveloped and cause irrecoverable damage to their intellectual abilities. Recently, a teaching method that has achieved satisfactory results by making children calculate in their head or recite by rote is attracting public attention. This makes sense also from the viewpoint of scientific theories.
Modern brain science is thus revealing the reasonable grounds of traditional child rearing and education such as mothersf love, fathersf strictness, and literacy and mental arithmetic.
This article is adapted from the mail magazine gJapan on the Globe.h
Masaomi Ise is editor-in-chief of the magazine.