III: Meliorism or educational implications

Somaesthetics and learning

Part III is concerned with the implications for education. Considering the educational value of somaesthetics, Shusterman stated, “No matter how compartmentalized our institutional learning has become, we become educated as embodied wholes. As there is a somatic dimension to all our feeling, thinking, and behavior, so we can sometimes get a better handle on the education of our emotions, attitudes, and conduct by approaching things from the somatic side.”1 I investigate the problem of learning by taking the basic idea of somaesthetics into consideration in this chapter.

What is rote learning?

I discuss the phrase “tsumekomi kyoiku” here. If I consult a Japanese-English dictionary for the definition of this phrase, the result would be “rote learning” or “education that stresses memorization.”2 This phrase is sometimes used in criticisms of school education in Japan, as rote learning is currently quite popular in Japanese schools. I shall attend to this common discourse here but with a focus on the word tsumekomi in Japanese. This word is a noun derived from the verb tsumekomu, which means to fill a space tightly with something (e.g., to stuff books into a bag). If we follow this definition, kyoiku or the education of tsumekomi would be akin to stuffing something called knowledge into the head of students. This image overlaps with stuffing one’s stomach with food. Even though one might not be hungry, with no desire to eat, one must anyhow, stuff food into one’s mouth and swallow it. This is nothing but a pain.

It would be impossible, however, to stuff knowledge into one’s head the same way as stuffing food into one’s stomach because knowledge is not a simple material object and the head is not a thing that has a physical space like a stomach. If tsumekomi of knowledge can be said to mean the gaining of knowledge entirely through memorization, tsumekomi kyoiku would be rare because we could never find a school where students devote themselves entirely to memorization.

Among my acquaintances, the university students who want to become teachers easily use this phrase — tsumekomi kyoiku —as well. However, if I ask them to identify an elementary' school that practices tsumekomi kyoiku based entirely' on memorization in reality, they' are immediately' at a loss for an answer. What they' have in mind as an example of tsumekomi kyoiku is mostly the rigorous studying for university entrance examination at high schools. Recalling their own experiences, the image of tsumekomi kyoiku as a surfeit of rigorous study is formed. It does not mean, however, that the education of knowledge is evil in and of itself The problem is the repetition of study all day long, day after day; in other words, it is a problem of lifestyle. Everybody knows the pleasure of obtaining new knowledge and solving a difficult problem.

As an educational psychologist, Shigenobu Ujiie stated that the process of learning must occur in the person being taught, even if the teacher taught seriously, the act of teaching cannot produce some knowledge inside the person being taught.3 In short, the teacher cannot stuff knowledge into a student. However, when children encounter knowledge, they are required to exert an intellectual effort to learn by themselves. This idea is posited by the theory' of learning of social constructivism.

Therefore, if we continue to think about the phrase tsumekomi kyoiku, I should say that it signifies not the situation of stuffing food into the stomach as a metaphor of feeding but the situation of putting food into the mouth unnecessarily despite the lack of hunger. Children devote themselves simply to the activity of learning in the system of school education imposed from outside without realizing why they should learn.

However, tsumekomi kyoiku is not what should be avoided as condemnable but would be a fundamental condition of learning in our school education, because at school, children gain the designated knowledge and skills to solve problems that they have not found by themselves, without knowing why. This is the commonplace situation of our current school education. In this regard, we have to say that tsumekomi kyoiku would be the essence of our school education system. Such recognition generates feelings of discomfort toward the current school education. It demands a viewpoint of the body and knowledge.

A viewpoint of the body and knowledge

The issue of bodily knowing was investigated in Chapter 4. I reconsider the problem in relation to education here. “Body” has recently become a keyword in the study' of humans and society due to the interest in reconsidering the real state of humans and society concretely based on the fact that a human being is, in the first place, a bodily existence. Amid this trend, the viewpoint of the body and knowledge allows us to recognize various matters.

When they hear “the body in school education,” many people would easily' imagine the subject of physical education. A common idea of knowledge would then be applied to subjects such as language, mathematics, and science. In such a stereotypical conception, the body is located in a directly' opposite position to knowledge. The so-called intellectual subjects — the subjects of knowledge mentioned above — are regarded as main subjects of study' in the current Japanese educational system, where these subjects fall into tsumekomi kyoiku in the sense mentioned. The necessity of learning does not take root in the learner’s critical mind and the acquisition of designated knowledge proceeds separately' from the world of daily' life. To overcome the problem, we would need to bring the acquisition of knowledge back to the world of daily' life or connect both anew. The world of daily life would be a world of experience in which everybody lives. The experience consists of concrete bodily acts.

The knowledge in question here has a fixed style, the acquisition of which is verified by examination, which consists of questions necessarily having the right answers. It is a type of knowledge peculiar to the setting of the current school education. In Japanese, an expression “‘atama no yoi ko" literally means “a child having a good brain”—which in fact means “a child earning good marks in the tests of subjects.” This is a product of school culture, as die test is peculiar to school education. In this respect, neitlier a child having a good brain nor a child having a bad brain exists, if no school exists. In this consideration, the posture of school culture in which knowledge belongs to the domain of the brain or the head becomes visible.

The learning in school subjects is learning through drills and as a game. If we learn various things through own bodily experiences beyond the learning of school subjects, which would form the living knowledge, the knowledge gained in subject learning as a game would only be the visible surface of knowing. Since the restoration of the connection between the knowledge of subjects and the world of daily life would not be easy in the current school education system, we should first realize this limitation of knowledge.

How can we think about the relationship between the living knowledge and the so-called knowledge? Although a key to the connection of both is the world of daily life, a presentation of the expected meaning of learning using words might beat most a superficial kind of reasoning. In this regard, what we must consider is the problem of the body. I want to propose an issue of kansei (sensibility) linked to bodily sensation. While kansei is an ability to grasp something, it does not merely mean a passive sensitivity but an active power for understanding the environment and the self, as in Toshio Kuwako’s notion of the ability to grasp the correlation between the environmental world, including the climate, and one’s own body.4 Along with Shustcrman, we shall call this sensibility the somaesthetic.

We learn through whatever we experience. Life-seize knowledge could be generated from our experience through the somaesthetic. It would be called living knowledge, which is not different from the so-called knowledge. As I noted that knowledge could be the visible surface of knowing, the so-called knowledge is also a form of holistic knowing. The somaesthetic necessarily works in acquiring knowledge as well. We cannot acquire knowledge itself without learning from the somaesthetic aspect of the experience.

Even in rote learning (e.g., reciting the Analects of Confucius or simply repeating a calculation drill), children learn the various matters of a situation so that learning could evoke a dense somaesthetic experience, not only the feeling of pleasure but also of irritation or boredom. The first step of moving away from the so-called tsumekomi kyoiku would be for the person involved in learning and the people concerned with the educational system surrounding the learner to understand this body-ness of knowing.

If the university entrance examination — which is commonly regarded as a notorious example of tumekomi kyoiku — is considered a problem of a lifestyle of the person concerned, it could also be considered as an opportunity for the somaesthetic learning, which is not related to the result of the examination. While reforming the university entrance examination is surely an important issue for the future education of students in Japan, at the same time, we should ask university students what they learned from studying for the university entrance examinations without stereotypically disposing of it as a necessary evil of tumekomi kyoiku.

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