Three phases of manabi (learning)

When we construct a new posture of learning in connection with somaesthetics, a new conception of learning becomes important. In the latter half of the 1990s in Japan, an innovative notion of learning was posited by Manabu Sato and other professors at the University of Tokyo. At the same time, there was a corresponding change at Hiroshima University — a new doctoral program was established at the graduate school of education. This program, titled “Major of Learning Science,” — where I was involved as a staff member — aimed to develop an interdisciplinary new theory of learning by adding the viewpoint of practical research to the existing educational studies. In this context, I invited Shusterman to be a visiting professor for this program, even though he was not highly involved in education. This project of learning science had relations to various problems in education, but I will briefly discuss the three phases of learning here.

To clarify the premise, I want to call attention to the etymological significance of the Japanese word manabi. Its significance was mentioned in note 38 of Chapter 4. Its verb form, manabu, has the same origin and a similar pronunciation as the word manebu, which means “to imitate.” In other words, the Japanese word manabi (learning) contains a fundamental meaning of “to imitate.” The meaning of the word could be expressed by mimesis, as Gunter Gebauer and Christoph Wulf stated.5

Further, Sato interpreted learning as dialogic practice in the following dimensions6:

  • 1. An encounter and dialogue with the objective world: a cognitive, cultural practice to construct meaning in the objective world. This is called “worldmaking” in educational practice.
  • 2. An encounter and dialogue with others: a social, political practice to construct relations with others. This is called “making friends” in educational practice.
  • 3. An encounter and dialogue with the self: an ethical, existential practice to rebuild the self. This is called “cultivating the self” or “searching for the self” in educational practice.

The basic structure of this idea is based on a simple understanding of the reality as “a subject (self) together with others in the world.” Therefore, the world, others, and the self become three moments (key factors) in comprehending reality. Now, I shall concretely describe the three phases of learning with these dimensions.

An encounter and dialogue with the objective world

The first phase is the practice to recognize, verbalize, and express the object. This practice corresponds to learning in a conventional sense. According to Sato, “Children make a relation to construct, structuralize, and organize the world of the objective meaning through the observation of and experiment with the concrete object and the utilization of general concepts and symbols concerning the concept, law and structure of the content of learning. This sequence of activities is regarded as a linguistic practice, in which children ask questions about, reason about, inquire about, and organize the object by naming in the linguistic activity.”7

Children discover many things when learning school subjects. Learning is an encounter and dialogue with the world called worldmaking. The world in this regard means not only the countries that one learns about in social studies, but also the world of insects in science, the world of swimmy in the poem of Leo Lionni in Japanese language, and the world of fraction calculations in mathematics. They are all the worlds that the learner constructs inside oneself. This view may be connected to the notion of worldmaking by Nelson Goodman.8 When we know something, we do not acquire knowledge but create something in cognition. If a child does not learn about a neighboring country', such as Korea, or about Mozart and Chopin, then Korea, Mozart, and Chopin do not exist in the world of the child. The purpose of learning about Korea, Mozart, and Chopin is not to present the correct answers on a test about them, but to create these things in and enrich one’s own world with them. This idea relates to the epistemology of constructivism.

An encounter and dialogue with others

The second phase is a dialogue through communication with others. This signifies that making friends is a kind of learning too. We should understand, however, that it does not mean a superficial human relation such as the catchphrase, “Be kind to everyone and let’s make one hundred friends!” sometimes suggests.

We cannot live without others. We cannot directly know what the person sitting next to us is thinking, as if through witchcraft. We, however, can surely communicate with the person through words, gestures, etc. In other words, understanding others would not mean to literally grasp another’s idea; it would mean that one has interpreted another’s idea by means of words, etc. Therefore, there is always the possibility of misunderstanding. Constructing a good relationship with others through both understanding and misunderstanding is what is meant by the expression of “making friends.” Furthermore, “making friends” would be considered as a posture of learning accompanied by the learning of worldmaking in various activities together with others rather than cultivating a relationship in a one-to-one correspondence. The attempt to have a good relationship with others is not always successful. We often conflict with others. In such a situation, we need tolerance and broad-mindedness to foster a good relationship without violent acts or attitudes of ignorance. “Making friends” is in a sense an “ethical learning”9 as well.

Another possible idea would involve expanding the range of “others” from ordinary humans — like friends — to the materials around us. Would it be possible to pay attention to materials, such as one’s own desk, pencils, and randoseru (a school backpack) popular among primary school students in Japan? This may be related to the attitude of using things carefully, which could be reconsidered as a type of learning in the second phase.

An encounter and dialogue with the self

The third phase is concerned with the act of reflecting on oneself, discovering the kind of person one is, and cultivating it. This is not included in the conventional concept of learning as well. It is not an easy matter, like understanding others. Answering the question of “What kind of person am I?” may allow you to perceive the seriousness of the problem and may lead you to confine yourself in your room in darkness while asking yourself what you are, with your arms folded. You can never find yourself in this anxious way of thinking. Rather, you would generally discover yourself by reflecting on your utterances and behaviors during activities, such as club activities, circle activities, and volunteer activities where you are seriously engaged with your friends. The discovered “I” might be a delightful person who altruistically devotes himself or herself to an activity while being considerate of juniors; an awkward person who is irritated with the unacceptable opinions of members; or an ingenuous person who is singing wholeheartedly in a choir. This sort of selfunderstanding would emerge even unconsciously in the experience of living after the first signs of the self have appeared. Self-understanding would be necessary for self-realization, and suitable behaviors with a good selfunderstanding would be important evidence of a person’s wise development. The encounter and dialogue with the self in the respect described above are also included in the notion of learning.

When we consider learning as engaging in a dialogue with the objective world, others, and the self, we should understand that these three phases of learning are not separated from each other. These are unified in the experience of the learner. In the current school education system, the core is occupied by learning the subjects where learning as worldmaking begins. Learning is not achieved alone but together with friends, as they teach and learn from each other, another kind of learning, one of making friends and engaging in a dialogue with others, necessarily occurs in accompaniment. Through such experiences in school activities, each child becomes involved in searching for the self and cultivating the self, thus participating in learning as a dialogue with the self.

This learning is also available to the teacher. When this level of learning is considered, learning becomes synonymous with experience. Therefore, we can say that nobody can live without learning. However, learning and experience are not simply equivalent. Valuable moments in a broad sense must be present, such as those that

Somaesthetics and learning 75 broaden, deepen, and enrich the objective world — those that enable the formation of a symbiotic human relationship and society — and those that allow the realization and transformation of the self that generates learning as worldmaking and making friends. The three factors of worldmaking, making friends, and searching for the self (cultivating the self) could be apparent by reflecting from the particular perspective of a way of life with the notion of experience as learning.

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