[wisehat] Wise Hat News #3

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  • Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003 08:49:31 +0900

Wise Hat News #3
15 March 2003

The online version is available at:

1. Happy New Year
2. Lies, Labels and Life
3. Correspondence - WWOOF
4. What's New?
5. Wise Hat On Tour - The Yin and the Yang?
6. Administrivia


"You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war."

Here in Japan Spring is but a breathe away, though you wouldn't know it by
looking out of my window. Snow is still littering the rice fields. The sky
is grey, the sun is hidden and the bombs have yet to fall in earnest.

"You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,
You take the human being and you twist it all about"

So Adrian Mitchell wrote in his poem 'To Whom it May Concern' which was
first read out in Trafalgar Square in 1964 at a rally protesting the Vietnam
War. That was over 30 years ago. It was read again Saturday 13 October 2001
at the Anti-War demonstration in London. One could say that things don't
change, that poetry will always be read in protest and that the bombers will
always be doing their grizzly work. But things are changing. The protests
that have been taking place around the World are astounding. The Vietnam war
went on for years before effective opposition to it could be created. The
opposition to the war on Iraq is already changing the World. And it's
important to realise this. I would be very surprised if war was averted. In
some ways those that control of the killing machines have too much to lose
by agreeing to peace. To do so would be to admit that power really should
rest with the people. Very few political leaders are ready to accept this.

But consciousness is changing. Today will see a further example with the
Global Vigil For Peace. If you don't know about this and would like to then
here is the link:


Here is a question. Here are several questions. .

Just how much democracy is there in the World? How often do people get to
exercise real choice over issues that affect them? How often do we get
presented with nonentities offering us nonchoices? As Henry Ford once
promised us, we can have any colour we like - as long as it's black. Why do
we accept this? Why are we so ready to believe leaders when they say "there
is no alternative"? Why do we believe we even need leaders at all?

I see the resistance to the drive to war as the dawning of a new era. We can
reshape the World if we choose to. Even if the bombs do fall we must keep
building. We can forge new relationships and create new structures that
isolate, contain and bypass false authority. We can set about examining
hierarchies and eliminating those that do not serve us. My personal feeling
is that very few political, social and economic hierarchies are really
necessary. We can create new forms of democracy. We can move beyond the
dictum offered by Marx - "History repeats itself - the first time as tragedy
the second time as farce". We are learning. We are changing and we can
change the World.


PS I wrote this around a week ago (March 10th). I'm glad to say the snow has

PPS This is the second time to send this. I just discovered some settings were 
wrong. My apologies if for some reason you receive this twice.


"Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological

Last issue I told a lie. I didn't know it was a lie at the time but events
made it so. I said the next issue of this newsletter would be out early in
December. I hadn't figured on hard drive failure. I hadn't figured on losing
my entire website. I hadn't figured my backup was faulty. I hadn't checked
it, so how would I know?

Even so I told I lie, my actions made it so. Or rather my lack of them. I
could have put something out, I could have sent some message, instead I let
despondency get the better of me. I listened to that voice, the inner voice
that revels in put downs and contempt. I gave in to self ridicule. I gave

It's taken me a while to get back. I've been off inside the tangents of my
mind and I've been out of sync with external reality. It will be interesting
to see what happens if I can actually get in sync.

I feel being able to observe oneself without labelling the findings is a
useful tool for returning to harmony. Similarly when one finds oneself
succumbing to the voice playing around with it can curb the effects.
Rerunning what it says but making it comical and silly can really lessen the
impact. But it's also possible to extend this to interactions with others
and this is important if free choice is valued.

Recently one of my classes entered the 'stormy' stage. I'm not sure exactly
how my understanding of this is formed. I remember a workshop by Tim Murphey
in Niigata which discussed the life cycle of groups. Then there's 'form,
warm, storm, norm', mentioned to me by a friend, Alison Miyake. She picked
this up while taking an MBA. And I guess, many teachers are aware of 'the
honeymoon period', when students are on their best behaviour and not
distressingly familiar? It never lasts...

Classes, groups, individuals are dynamic entities, so of course variation
and change is inevitable. When tensions arise in a group this is a sign that
the group is recreating itself. Conflict can be healthy, once we can step
back and stop seeking to control it.

I feel the key is to let go of one's assumptions and expectations and drop
the labels. The class I mentioned consists of five boys and three girls. Two
boys and one girl joined an existing group. It took a while but suddenly the
maelstrom was on me. It wasn't that anyone child was pushing me or defying
me, more that my presence, and the presence of English became irrelevant to
the interaction between the students. They would grab materials, especially
balls and play amongst themselves.

With the labels of teacher and student in my mind this was rather
frustrating. I had a job to do and I wasn't doing it. It took me a while to
throw the labels out of my mind. By observing the situation and rerunning it
at high speed through my mind it was possible to make it comic. Suddenly I
found I had no position to defend and the stress drained away. This left me
free to look at what I really wanted to achieve.

I found I wasn't after controlling the class. I found I wasn't after
teaching English. What I found was that I am even more interested in how to
create situations of genuine freedom.

Freedom is a recurring theme on the Save Summerhill egroup:

As far as there is any consensus it seems agreed that freedom has to be
lived to be effective. Children at free schools like Summerhill experience
free choice on a daily basis. They have weekly meetings to determine the
rules the community will live by. The scope for this doesn't really exist
with a forty minute class, once a week. Previously I'd tried to get the
children to create some 'class rules', but this was little more than an
exercise in pleasing the teacher. It was really irrelevant to the processes
the children were interested in and their own expectations.

One of the reasons it can be easier to 'teach' very young children is that
they have no preconceived notions of what a teacher does. It's much easier
for younger children to accept the idea of playing in English and
interacting through English. Once children have experienced elementary
school they quickly accumulate a lot of mental baggage. They are more aware
of being in a classroom with an adult who is a teacher. Moreover, they are
more adept at communicating in their native language and often are more
likely to perceive communicating in a foreign language as less an exciting
game or challenge and more a chore. Accordingly the children in my stormy
class found it much more fun to play with each other. And the more space I
gave them, the more they ignored me. It seemed that if I wasn't acting as a
teacher I had no influence at all.

Since I believe that the structure of a situation shapes the possible
outcomes I decided that if I wasn't satisfied with what was happening I
needed to change the structure. My aim was to show the children what they
were creating and to realise that they were responsible. One reason for
doing this was because I still felt a sense of duty to the parents who were
paying for an English teacher when my role had become more of a babysitter.
Part of me didn't want the children to think I was just a 'weak' teacher who
couldn't control them. But primarily I wanted the children to confirm that
they realised they had choice and that they were taking it.

Can freedom be exercised in a vacuum?

The immediate try was to ask the children to assess how much English they
were using in each 'lesson'. This wasn't a test and we accepted their
assessment without comment.

The change in structure was to use two rooms for one class. One room I
labelled as 'English Preferred Japanese OK. The other room I labelled as
'English Only'. This was a mistake. I've made it before. It's simply too
tough for most children to maintain - Japanese slips out, so the rule is
impractical. Really it's the intention and determination to use English that
is important, rather than the odd word of Japanese. But the main reason it
was a mistake was because it was my rule and just created a win-lose
situation. One boy immediately saw this and deliberately began using
Japanese in the English Only room. I ended up physically removing him from
the room which he thought was great fun.

Defining different physical spaces for different activities is a good idea
but assuming the use of force is rejected nothing will work without
agreement. John Holt describes in How Children Fail how he had a symbol he
would put on the blackboard when he wanted the children to keep their noise
level down. This was accepted for a while but one day the children decided
to test this out and one after another began talking loudly. He was
struggling to write down the names of the transgressors until he realised
what the children were doing at which point he stopped and tore up his list.
He simply told his students that he realised they had the power to wreck any
system but that he needed some system for ensuring quiet. After this they
didn't test the limits again.

It is one thing to give children the space to make their own choices. It is
another to get them to realise that they have that space and that the
choices they are making are their own. So far the only way I have found to
do this is to give children questionnaires. Hopefully by answering the
questions they gain time for reflection. After going through a questionnaire
the group I mentioned became much calmer But we are very much in the middle
of the process and I feel there must be some other action that can be taken.
The children accepted the questionnaires and did them, equally they could
have chosen to ignore them. I feel the idea of multiple intelligences comes
into play. The message I would like the children to get is that they are
free to choose what they do and that means being responsible to the choices
they make. A questionnaire probably appeals to linguistic and intrapersonal
intelligences. But what about the others?

I guess I'm rambling. I'd like to close this section out by tying back into
the introduction. In the same way that schools require compliance in order
to operate, so too do Nation States. We can choose to stop complying. Some
people are doing this economically:

Boycott Brand America:

CO-OP America's Boycott Action News:

IDEA - International Group for Direct Economic Action against the war:

It doesn't take so many people to create change. Imagination helps, and a
little perseverance.


"Every kind of peaceful cooperation among men is primarily based on mutual
trust and only secondarily on institutions such as courts of justice and

Recently I received an email from 'the WWOOF team' - here are some extracts
from the letter:

"WWOOF is a shining example of everything that war is not!"

"WWOOF Japan is a membership allowing people to go to visit and stay on
farms and other places in Japan at no financial cost in return for helping
the people at the place they decide to go to with the work they do. The
first WWOOF organization originated in England in the 1970s, and since then
has spread to more than 40 countries throughout the world. The word 'WWOOF'
was originally an acronym for 'Weekend Workers on Organic Farms' and then as
circumstances changed with people wanting to visit farms at times other than
weekends came to mean 'Willing Workers On Organic Farms'. These days not
only farms, but other places, businesses and families are becoming Host
Establishments, thereby giving WWOOFers access to a greater diversity of

You can find information about WWOOF Japan both in English and Japanese by
visiting their site:


"He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my
contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the
spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be
done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate all this,
how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be
a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the
cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder."

There are some more game ideas, some more articles and a song. Here's an
alphabetical list with links a brief description.

The A-Zen of Teaching (an article that first appeared in 'Snakes and

Bombs Away (A whiteboard game tool. Can players save the city from the rain
of bombs?)

Christmas Puzzle (An out of season worksheet)

Do You Like Cake?  (A matching game with suspect graphics?!)

Flags and Nations (A very simple worksheet for download)

Murdering Bush (A variant of the traditional Song)

Rather than just ideas I've started to include some material for
downloading. Please let me know what kind of material would be useful and
maybe I can put it up!


Thank you to the thirty-odd people who attended the team teaching workshop
held at the Jalt National Conference towards the end of November. Both
Alison Miyake, my co-presenter, and myself had a warm and wonderful time. At
the time I said I would be putting up notes and handouts from this
presentation online. It hasn't happened. I lost the relevant data from my
computer. I do have a hard copy but I'm not going to say when I will get
round to restoring it. I'm sorry. And on that rather flat note I'll slip


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"The important thing is not to stop questioning."

(Quotes this issue by Albert Einstein)

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