[wisehat] Wise Hat News #5

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  • Date: Sun, 2 Nov 2003 23:44:20 +0900

Wise Hat News #5
2 November 2003

The online version is available at:

1. Happy All Soul's Day
2. The Rhythm of Learning
3. Peace as A Global Language II
4. Taiko Drumming Revisited
5. Administrivia


*"The task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound
good with immobility and evil with activity."*

It feel like an eternity since the last issue. But the questions that
plagued me before are even more omnipresent in my mind now. Just what is
genuine democracy and how does it relate to genuine learning? What is
genuine freedom and to what extent is genuine learning dependent upon it?
And just what do I mean by genuine anyway?

Take for example the idea of Halloween. What is it and how happy should it
and can it be? When I was a child living in England Trick or Treat was
unknown.We played apple-bobbing. I can't remember when I learnt that this
was symbolic for drowning women by tying them up and throwing them into
water. And even now I'm uncertain whether a woman who floated was seen as a
witch and instead burnt at the stake, or whether floating was a sign of
innocence and divine intervention. Neither sound particularly 'happy',
although perhaps those who gained at the demise of the women concerned could
raise a smile.

Thinking further, one can also wonder what apple-bobbing has to do with
Halloween, which as I understand it was an ancient Celtic festival to mark
the end of the old year. Except that the Celts called their festival
Samhein.The word Halloween came with Christians. The Celts did carve scary
faces (from root vegetables like rutabagas) and they did dress up but trick
or treat was probably a medieval tradition. I read recently that it is
something to do with 'role reversal' where the positions of the powerful and
the unpowerful are reversed, all be it temporarily. Role reversal holidays
are supposed to help maintain the existing social orders of the societies
that hold them. To me that sounds like a good reason for not observing them.

I've never liked trick-or-trick. It seems like an exercise in extortion
which I've always thought wrong. Hand over the goods or else! I find it
difficult to understand why we would want to encourage this kind of
behaviour even in play. But then, perhaps, it is simply mirroring the way
the World really works. The powerful push the weak around to get what they
want. Big companies use their size (read economies of scale) to gain
advantages over smaller companies. Very big companies influence regions and
even whole states to get terms (legal and economic) that maintain and
increase their power. Then states create laws which limit and shape the
freedom of people both inside and outside their borders. And of course the
more powerful a state becomes the more likely it is to use violence to
achieve its objectives. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with extortion?

But of course there is, otherwise there would be no need to hide it. When
the United States, aided by the British decides that it wants to increase
it's influence in the Middle East by invading Iraq (not to mention the
profits to be made from reconstruction and oil) it cannot simply use the
argument 'might is right'. Instead we get stories about weapons of mass
destruction, fighting terror and the removal of a tyrant. We get the
creation of a myth. Of course the myth doesn't involve the simplest of
questions. There's no need to examine who supported the tyrant or where he
got his weapons from. The myth is enough. Similarly there is no need to
consider international law, or international relations or even human rights
because the myth makes this unnecessary. The myth says, "we are good and
that makes what we do right". Accordingly it is perfectly possible to see
the occupation of a country as the establishment of democracy and to conduct
policies that kill civilians as a war on terrorism. It is also perfectly
possible for an American three star general to claim that George Bush is in
the White House because "God put him there." See here!


I wonder if this is how the Christians adopted and adapted Halloween. Heaven
and Hell were not Celtic concepts. The Celts believed in faeries and
considered that the faeries were hostile to humans because humans were
taking over their land. The association of Halloween with evil came later.
Possibly this had something to do with the Church's increasing dislike of

I am not suggesting that regarding Iraq either the United States and British
Governments or regarding Halloween the early Christian Church lied. I'm also
not suggesting that they didn't. But what I think is that the creation of a
myth works on a different level than notions of veracity or falsehood.
Something else is involved. Something to do with action and inaction and
belief systems. Something to do with democracy and education. I hope this
issue I can reveal a little of what I mean. Here goes!


P.S. As far as I know there is no evidence that bobbing apples represent
drowning witches. So how did I learn it? More on that later.


*"The teacher must derive not only the capacity, but the desire, to observe
natural phenomena. The teacher must understand and feel her position of
observer: the activity must lie in the phenomenon."*

Shortly writing the last newsletter I found myself attending a Taiko
demonstration at a nearby Junior High School. The event was put on
especially for pupils and their relatives. This was to cause a problem. One
of my own adult students had a daughter at the school and was entitled to
go, but she thought I and her own classmates might like to attend. But
unknown to us, the invitation leaflet made it pretty clear that outsiders
were not permitted to attend. Accordingly we arrived and it was pretty
obvious that our group contained non-relatives. I don't know if my student
had intended that we 'snuck' in, but I was uncomfortable doing so. So my
student disappeared into the principal's room. It took around ten minutes
but she managed to get permission for us to go in. We signed the event
attendance books and walked into the main hall.

Inside pupils were sitting down in exact rows. Non-pupils had an area off to
one side. Pupils had to sit on the floor. Non-pupils had the option to use
cushions. I sat on the floor. I focused on the students. They were all
dressed exactly the same, even down to their socks. Only their indoor shoes
were different. They were all white and were exactingly the same, but they
were made different by numbering. Each pair of shoes had its own number. It
was like a prison. I began to wonder how many of the students really wanted
to be there. I could guess that for many a Taiko demonstration would make a
welcome break from ordinary lessons. That would certainly have been the case
with my own schooling. As I write now, I remember one Friday afternoon when
we all trooped in to the assembly hall to hear a talk by a man from the
army. It was mildly more diverting than Friday afternoon lessons but not by
much. We all knew we were a captive audience. I wonder if the man from the
army recognised this. I remember him struggling to get us to ask him
questions, he'd have had a better chance of shooting someone and not getting
blood on a stone.

Of course a Taiko demonstration is much more interesting than listening to a
propaganda talk for the military, and I think universally so. It is so much
more alive and the group that performed were good. They interspersed
riveting performance with information about the drums being used and
personal reflections. Follow your dreams they said, and played with passion.
One would have had a very hard time not becoming energised, though I guess
some pupils managed this.

School is practise in becoming dead. Even schools that allow pupils to wear
their own socks are in the business of teaching conformity and subservience
to authority. School is not about learning to follow one's own whims and
desires. School is not about developing one's intuition and sense of life.
School is about time-tables and discipline. Not self-discipline, but
acceptance of external authority. School is training in passivity.

I wonder just how many of those young teenagers would have chosen to stay
and listen to the Taiko drummers if they were given a real choice. Certainly
the ones who were eager volunteers to participate in the finale would have
done so. But I wonder about the ones who sat rather glumly, withdrawn in on
themselves. I wonder about the ones who were tolerating the event rather
than participating in it.

There's an old Japanese saying that goes something like, "The nail that
stands up shall be hammered down". I'm not thinking now about the nails that
stand up. They've got the metal to look to themselves. I'm thinking about
all the nails that sit in place, the nails that never seek to resist the
hammer at all. Even when the hammer is nailing them down in their own

Since the war on Iraq began there have been over 1,700 US soldiers injured
and over 200 killed. (I wonder why I couldn't find figures for the UK).
Someof hte figures I did find are here:


Do the poor (and it's almost exclusively the poor) who enlist in the United
States Army do so because they see the army as the only way out of poverty?
Or do they enlist because they want to participate in their country's myth -
the story of the American Dream? Perhaps there is a connection?

At the Peace as a Global Language Conference (see below) I came across an
interesting book, "You Don't Know War" (Kamogawa Shuppan Publishing Company,
2003). The author, Allen Nelson served in Vietnam, survived and now visits
schools to tell his story. Tellingly he writes of his mother's reaction to
his decision to enlist:

"I remember going home to tell my mother that I had joined the Marine Corps.
I thought she would be happy and proud. But my mother was very angry, very
disappointed, and she even started to cry."

His mother was all too aware of the myth. She could see through it. Despite
living in terrible poverty (she spent her days working and her nights
guarding her sleeping children against rats), she could see through to the
truth. In war the poor suffer. Her son had to go to Vietnam to discover

(You can read more about Allen Nelson here:

But how does this connect to schooling? How does this connect to the Taiko
drummers? In my mind it connects to the extent that there is a gap between
what we say we believe in and what we actually do. This is where and how the
myth is sustained. And the greater the myth becomes the more destructive it

When the Taiko Drummers spoke to their audience of teenagers about the
importance of following their own dreams, they were adding to the myth. What
sense does it make to talk like that to children in uniform with numbered
shoes? Follow their own dreams - they weren't even allowed to decide whether
to attend the performance or not. If the Taiko group were true to the
meaning of those words then they would refuse to perform to a captive
audience. They would be aware of linking their actions and their words
together into a whole flow of existence. Not that I mean to blame or shame
the group. I'm not even naming them. And I am no better. I write and I talk
but how far do my actions really harmonise with my words. I believe in
democracy and choice but how much do I really give that to my own students?
And can I really give it, anyway? Perhaps it's the other way around. Perhaps
it's more about not taking it away. Perhaps it's more about not supporting
systems that do so. Perhaps it's more about challenging myths.

We tell children at school that we have democracy but give them no chance to
experience it. We say we value individual choices but we seldom allow
children to have any. We say we value peace and freedom but we pay for
weapons to be made and we pay people to use them. We say we respect and care
for the environment but then we live in a way that destroys it. We feed the

We are good and that makes what we do right.


*"Discipline must come through liberty. Here is a great principle which is
difficult for the followers of common-school methods to understand. How
shall one obtain discipline in a class of free children? Certainly in our
system, we have a concept of discipline very different from that commonly
accepted. If discipline is founded upon liberty, the discipline itself must
necessarily be active. We do not consider an individual disciplined only
when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable
as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined."*

The Second Peace as Global Language Conference took place at Seisen
University, Gotanda, Tokyo over the weekend of September 27th and 28th. A
conference proceedings CD will be put together. Click here for more


There were some very interesting presentations, though for me the greatest
attraction of the conference is meeting so many people interested in peace
and acting on that interest.

One of the things I have been thinking about since the conference is the
relationship between individual actions and global change. Possibly this is
because recently arguments about individualism versus collectivism have been
invading my inbox. I may return to this theme in another newsletter but not
now. If you want to see an example of what I'm talking about try here.


I think the distinction between the individual and the group is false. This
is not to say that individual action is unimportant. For example Karma Yoga
Press is the work of one teacher, John Small:


John, who also goes by the name of Michael Spiri is self producing text
books and readers that promote peace and global understanding. He gives the
profits away.

This is an example of direct action by an individual. Another famous
individual who involves himself in Global Issues is Sting. He is known for
championing the Rain Forests. he appears in the video Spaceship Earth.
Here's a link:


The video is aimed at interesting American teenagers in Global Issues. It's
fast paced and very visual. It attempts to show how we are all connected and
why caring for the environment is important.

I like the fact that the program is youthful (for example it is presented by
a teenage girl) even thought the format is conventional. And I like the way
it uses puzzles to engage the audience:

"Kids eating burgers in Los Angeles. Surfers in Australia. Indians in the
Amazon. What in the world do they have in common?"

But there is a problem. There is a lack of 'critical analysis'. After
demonstrating how the World is connected the program suggests that we should
take action. There then follows a montage of images showing people taking
action such as car pooling and recycling paper and glass. The program
suggests that by taking individual action of this nature we can 'make a
difference'. The underlying causes of the problems are largely ignored. For
example, take car pooling. According to the book Cradle to the Grave (John
Whitelegg, 1993, Umweltund Prognose-Institut Heidelberg) a car causes more
pollution before it's ever driven than in it's entire lifetime of driving.
(More statistics about cars are here:

The problems facing the World are at a deeper level than the program
examines. Examining and changing individual consumption patterns is useful,
especially where this brings people together and gets them communicating,
but unless we change the structures we use to create and operate society
it's like lighting a candle in a whirlwind or more appropriately perhaps,
using an eyedropper to put out a raging inferno.

One can argue that critical analysis of political and economic processes is
controversial but to leave it out of a such a program completely simply
furthers the myth:

We are good and that makes what we do right.

Having said this it is important for me to state that I haven't seen all the
video. The presentation I attended went through the first half of the video
only. It could have ended with the kind of analysis I'm thinking of in which
case my opinion would be different. But I really doubt it. I feel if the
makers of the video were aware of and wanted to look at and include the
structure of society they would have made their video differently. They
would have been more explicit. And this brings me to the dilemma I am still
working on. The dilemma is this:

How can one have a curriculum and be democratic?

This may not confound some people but it confounds me. At the conference I
brought this up as a theme where I could. In general it seemed a non issue.
In general it was accepted that the teacher teaches and the students learn.
The teacher can give choice and reflect upon the needs, wants and views of
the students but ultimately the teacher has the responsibility to make the
decisions. In other words enlightened despotism.

It could be argued that at tertiary level (and I guess a majority of the
conference goers were from Universities), this isn't a problem. Presumably
students have freely chosen to enrol. For pupils at primary and secondary
schools such choice hardly exists and the situation is more critical. But
even in Universities I think there is a problem, at least if the aim is to
get students to think.

The concern I have about the enlightened despot approach is that it is
conditioning people to think within limits imposed by external authority.
The teacher sidesteps problems that democracy might bring up by not dealing
with them. But by not embracing democracy teachers tacitly accept hierarchy
and lead the students to do likewise.

What am I going on about! Well, recently I've been attempting to run some of
my lessons at the English language school where I earn money democratically.
It's hard! One class of 7-9 year olds imploded. The students asked that I
make them learn English. It seems that they wanted to learn but distracted
themselves too easily with activities such as throwing balls and drawing.
Likewise older children had the tendency to want to play boardgames
regardless of whether the game was helping English skills. It seemed the
guiding hand of authority was required. But this attitude is precisely what
needs countering. It's the attitude of the manager to the worker. It's the
attitude of the professional politician to the general population and it's
the attitude of the general to the foot soldier: You are ignorant of what is
required and so must be lead.

We are good and that makes what we do right.

Power is power. Sometimes it makes no sense to resist, but to ask this
question at all is to have a certain level of awareness. And unless the
question is asked, unless the structure of power is made visible and
critically examined we add to the myth.

One professor who is getting his students to ask questions is David Hough.
He works at a college which requires grading on a curve (the number of good
grades he can give is limited). Rather than meekly accepting this David
Hough is using this to challenge his students. At the beginning of the
school year he goes through a process in which the students create the
curriculum, decide how they will be taught and how they will be graded. Dave
gives the students a questionnaire that helps students decide how he should
teach. As for content he has a simple rule. Any content is acceptable as
long as a critical social analysis is included. So if the students are
interested in fashion he'll create some material about fashion that includes
a critical perspective. Looking at sweat shops for example. Dave has kindly
provided a copy of the current orientation handout he uses. And I'll be
putting it up soon.

Of course hierarchy remains. A university is a hierarchical place. But by
the way he teaches Dave is taking steps to create democracy where he can. He
is giving his students experience of making real choices that relate to the
external World. This is something to emulate.


*"We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a

I think I mentioned that the drumming was great. Towards the end of the
demonstration the group asked for volunteers. Over twenty students came
forward and took a drum. They then played a copy cat game where one of the
group members would play a pattern and the volunteers had to copy it. This
began simply but built up until the pattern became long and complex. It was
just too complicated for beginners, or so it seemed.

I appreciated that the group didn't run this as a knockout competition which
they could easily have done. Nobody was knocked out for missing a pattern
and was free to join in each time. But what happened next was even more
impressive. The lead drummer turned to the audience, played a pattern and
then challenged the audience to come up with a 'food' word the rhythm of
which matched the pattern. The first pattern could be played to the word
koh-hee gyuh-nyuh (milk coffee). There followed aisu kuriemu, poteto
chippusu and chokoreito (ice cream, potato chips, chocolate). The volunteers
were easily able to play each word. Then the lead drummer got them to play
all the words in sequence and suddenly the volunteers were playing the long
complex pattern that had eluded and playing it easily. It was wonderful.

By introducing the volunteers to a new way of looking at what they doing the
lead drummer got the volunteers to succeed at a challenge that had seemed
impossible. from a Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) Perspective the lead
drummer did this by chunking and reformulating. The larger problem was
divided into smaller steps and each step became an exercise in finding and
playing a word. It was very impressive. Though I thought it could have been
taken one step further by anchoring the achievement to problem solving in
general. The lead drummer could have made the process explicit by describing
it. This is more than saying "if at first you don't succeed, try, try
again". It's more like saying, "You've just experienced success. You changed
the way you looked at the problem and you succeeded. Remember this. The way
you look at a problem is the solution itself."

So now all I need to do is heed my own words and change the way I look at
the problems I have. How can a curriculum be democratic and what is genuine
democracy and what is genuine learning and what am I doing? Thought for

End of Part One.


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*"Truly our social life is too often only the darkening and the death of the
natural life that is in us."*

(Quotes this issue by Maria Montessori)

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