"JAPAN CLOSE-UP", November 2004, published by PHP
The gHuman Developmenth Revolution at Edogawa Gakuen
By Masaomi Ise
In its first year, the Edogawa Gakuen Toride middle and high schools that opened in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1978 had the lowest ranking in the prefecture in terms of the academic ability of the students. Also, the behavior of the students there was typical of delinquents, with the boys sporting ducktail hairstyles, the girls wearing long skirts down to their ankles, and cigarette butts frequently being found in the toilets.
Nevertheless, the headmaster of the school kept on saying, gAim to be the best in the prefecture in academics, baseball and rugby!h In the schoolfs third year, its baseball team won the prefectural championship. Then, in its seventh year, students who qualified to enter Tokyo University began to appear. After 20 years had passed, the situation had changed so much that those qualified to enter not only Tokyo University, but also other famous universities representative of Japan, were being turned out in large numbers. Also, in the area of sports, following on from baseball, the karate team and the rowing team both won events in national championships, while in track and field and American football, some athletes qualified to take part in national events. This was truly a marked steady improvement in both the academic and the scholastic area. The main factor behind this achievement of successful results was the educational policy of the headmaster, who believes that gif you refine peoplefs characters, their academic ability will increase.h
Three Factors for Developing Human Beings
Ifd like to introduce one example: S, a student who entered the school in its 15th year. She belonged to the athletics club, and for the six years up until graduating from high school, never missed a session and practiced running every day. When she first entered the school, her grades were only slightly above average, but after one year was over, shefd jumped up to top place in her academic year. When she tried out for university entrance exams, she qualified to enter the extremely difficult Medical Department of Tokyo University. She is currently working at a general hospital, and also regularly takes part in the Nagoya Womenfs International Marathon and other events.
How is it that students like S came to be produced? The headmaster of the high school explains that there are three factors in a personfs becoming a fully rounded human being, as follows. gIn my view, although of course wisdom is also important, what is really necessary for people to be truly like the human beings theyfre supposed to be is emotional openness and mental strength. These elements are exemplified by consideration, kindness, and a spirit that honestly responds when you look at or listen to beautiful things, for the first element, and perseverance so that you donft give in during hard times, plus a spirit of determination, for the second. These two factors make a person. If you polish up these two elements, the third factor, which is knowledge, can be improved on steadily throughout onefs whole life. And thatfs why I tend to emphasize the emotional education of the students.h
Both the gcramming education,h which aims to extend only the studentfs knowledge, and the grelaxed education,h which came into being as a reaction to the first type, tend to focus only on knowledge, and do not pay any attention to factors such as emotional openness or mental strength. To start by building up these elements that form the base of becoming truly the best that a human being can be, is the unique feature of this school.
The Impact Received during a Class on Morality
So, what methods are used to build up emotional flexibility and mental strength? One means is the class on morality taught by the headmaster himself. Once a week, on Mondays, all of the first-year students of the middle school are gathered together in the big hall, and the headmaster himself speaks to them for about 35 minutes. The students must write down everything that was said in their notebooks, and then produce a one-page report about their impressions of the talk within three days. The reports are divided up among the headmaster and the class teachers, and read, and a one-page reply written by the reviewers in the same notebook before they are returned to the students. The students show each other what they have written and discuss points that they did not understand. Through this process, they are able to review the headmasterfs talk many times, and also become able to make friends through mutually working hard and applying themselves..
One student wrote down the following impressions, gIn the class on morality, what impressed me the most was the part about epeople who give up on themselves.f One example of this is for tests. If I happened to get a bad result on a test, Ifd easily just give up, even though I had not had much time for study, saying to myself that I got this result because that is all the level of my ability is in any case. So at that point Ifd really given up on myself. However, through the headmasterfs classes on morality, I came to realize that it was no good to stay like that. Avoiding making an effort, while not doing anything to make a difference, was simply a self-centered attitude toward myself. I came to see that.h If you can come to see your real self and receive some kind of an impact, the strength to try harder next time comes into being. It is only natural that students such as these will concentrate on their studies, and that their academic ability will expand.
The Group to Talk about Dreams
There is also an event called gTalk about your dreams with the headmaster.h In this, 10 or more students, divided by whether they are middle or high school students, have to speak about their dreams and get advice from the headmaster, in front of between 500 and 700 other students. This event takes place three or four times a year. For example, one second-year middle school female student talked about her dreams in this way. gOne of the reasons that I decided Ifd like to become a veterinary surgeon comes from when I saw the drama of the rescue scenes carried out by vets who had gathered from all over the world to save penguins covered with crude oil, and I felt very moved. Also, the extinction of animals is progressing rapidly. Animals give us strength. For example, people who keep pets have happier lives through sharing their daily lives with animals, and they are able to relax more easily. Some animals also work as seeing-eye dogs and rescue dogs. Yes, animals definitely give us strength. I think the occupation of veterinary surgeon, where you can save such valuable animals with your own hands, is a really wonderful one!h
A speakerfs fellow students, who have heard a student speak about his or her dreams, naturally want to have their own dreams that are just as good. If all the students have their own particular dreams, they will work hard at sport or study in order to realize these dreams.
Through Stay-over Training Sessions, the Students Changed
During the summer holidays, tatami mats are laid out in one part of the classrooms and about 20 to 30 students stay together for 10 nights and 11 days in each room. Since 400 students must live together within the same school area, they must follow discipline and cooperate in order to carry out eating, having showers, doing their laundry, etc. The students come to realize that if they act selfishly it will inconvenience other people, and learn how to follow rules and have patience.
As part of their experience of group life, those students who are working hard at study or sport have a large influence on the whole group. For example, T, a male student, whose goal is gto win in the three races of athletics, getting into Tokyo University, and high school life,h goes jogging every morning, even when he is living at home. Even during the stay-over training session, he went out on the practice field alone in the mornings at 4:30 a.m. When he looked up, he saw that a light was on in his own classroom, and that five of his fellow students were studying. T was strongly influenced by this, and the next morning he got up at 4 a.m. to go jogging, and then after that joined his fellow students in study from 4:30 a.m. on. Moreover, the next morning the number of students studying with him early in the morning had increased to 10!
The Mirror Phenomenon of Students Together
For schools that lead on to university, we tend to assume that they must be characterized by enforced stiff competition between the students every day, which makes it hard to make really good friends. The headmaster talks about this point as follows: gThe rate of improvement that comes from making students compete with each other is really not very much at all. Also, in such circumstances students are likely to develop personality problems. Every single student at this school keeps in mind the three phrases: eThe achievements of our seniors are gifts to their juniors,f eThe achievements of their juniors add to the status of the seniors,f and eThe achievements of my friend are my achievements.f I believe that instilling in our students the consciousness that they are all ecolleagues` is more likely to produce mutual influence, in a good sense. Instead of having adults intervene in an incompetent manner, the students themselves can grow limitlessly through their own strength. We call this ethe mirror phenomenon.fh
It seems that we can say that helping each other in the classes on morality, the meetings to talk about their own dreams, and the training where they stay in the school for several nights all serve to build up this gmirror phenomenonh among the students.
Become a Teacher Who Holds a Belief Worthy of the Studentsf Respect
In order to change the students, the teachers must also change. Education is really the connection between human beings facing each other, and does not consist of the teacher one-sidedly trying to force something on to the students. If a teacher says to the students, gLetfs do this. Letfs do that,h he or she must also reflect on gWell, what about me myself?h
After the school opened, for several years there was a problem of smoking by students. When Headmaster Takahashi saw the cigarette smoke enshrouding the teachersf room, he thought, gOh no, this is no good.h He started by making the teachersf room entirely non-smoking, and set up a smoking room in a different area. So at least when students came into the teachersf room, they could no longer smell any cigarette smoke in the air. After five years Takahashi then made the entire area inside the school non-smoking. As a result of these policies, smoking by the students steadily decreased.
Teachers who are in charge of a particular classroom conduct a 70-minute glong home roomh session every week. During this period, the classroom may not be used for discussions among students. Instead, the teacher must speak continuously for the whole 70 minutes. After that, all the students in attendance are asked to write down their impressions, and the teacher must write a personal reply to each of them. gIt is true that this is quite tough for the teachers. But it seems to me that eeducation of the heartf is about polishing the human character, so it is natural that it is tough. It is not something that you can take on halfheartedly. There is no other way than for the teacher to tackle each studentfs human character head-on, devoting their whole self,h according to Headmaster Takahashi.
The classes on morality that are taught by the headmaster himself do not have any grading, and there is no obligation to hand in reports but, even so, all of the students turn up. The other teachers also say that they experience these classes as glistening with awed attention.h The teachers also try very hard to hold a belief that is unshakeable and cannot be compromised, to have something that consists of facing up to things seriously, to have something about which they can show confidence with their whole self, and to have something that they can transmit to the students. When they are confronted by teachers who are tackling everything wholeheartedly and with a very serious attitude, it seems that students too, in this rather unusual atmosphere, experience and gain something by absorbing it through their entire selves.
The Dream of Being a Country That Excels in Creating Special People
There are many examples reported from throughout Japan of the sad story of classroom breakdown, with students riding their bicycles through the corridors, playing with balls in the classrooms, etc. during classes, while the teacher simply turns his or her back on the chaos and keeps on writing words on the blackboard. The concept of grelaxed educationh gone too far resulted in this sorry situation. Headmaster Takahashi commented on this state of affairs. gAlthough children are the children of their parents, at the same time they are joint assets of society and assets of the country.h In the past it was also said that gchildren are the treasure of the country.h The very fact that they are treasures is exactly why both parents and teachers should polish up the rough stone that is the basis of diamonds, that children are, with the same spirit. As well as being the way to bring happiness to children as they are polished as treasures, it is also the path to bring happiness to the people of Japan as a whole by polishing the countryfs treasures.
About 300 years ago, in the Edo Era, this kind of education was practiced to a certain extent, and indeed it resulted in the development of modern Japan, to an extent that surprised the rest of the world. In the 21st century, Japan can again become ga country that excels in creating well-rounded people.h This has made me want to talk about this gdream,h along with Headmaster Takahashi.
This article is adapted from the mail magazine gJapan on the Globeh #344 (May 16, 2004)
Masaomi Ise is editor-in-chief of the magazine.