Wisdom Creates Characters: KATSUIE SHIBATA
November 12, 2015
Education in 2036, imagined by sci-fi author Katsuie Shibata, is introduced in seven segments, four from a short story written exclusively for this site and three from an interview with him. This is the prologue of the story. In the future, public education is offered everywhere including in town parks. What has evolved and what has not changed….
A New Type of Teacher
My grandfather. He was the happiest to hear that I had become a teacher.
From what I gather, when he was younger, he was raised on TV programs featuring energetic and persistent teachers. The way my grandfather saw it, as someone who put the effort into helping students overcome a challenge, I was deserving of admiration.
That flattered me. But I didn’t actually think I could be any good at it. Among my instructor friends, some tried to imitate the style of teachers in the TV show. Not me. I never tried to entertain. I felt I should merely convey to my students information of practical, daily importance.
I was not a proper “teacher” who strove to cover the great truths of life. I was just an instructor of penmanship. My role was to show how the kanji characters should be written.
Having something that one is good at is important, even if it is only a hobby. I think the kanji characters are great. I am much more fascinated by them than the average person. I took the certification exam in kanji proficiency, and was somehow able to pass. I earned the certificate and became qualified to teach as an associate instructor.
Under liberalized education policies, students in their compulsory years of education are now able to select extracurricular classes that suit their interests. Beginning in elementary school, some kids might learn about business from company presidents, for example, while others might study the basics of fashion from actual designers. Classes taught by manga artists and sports athletes are always popular. A local fellow skilled at analog games might become a favorite teacher—a sensei—as might a talented singer from the neighborhood or anyone else in the community.
What we call a “teacher” nowadays could be someone from a corporation. This is several steps downstream in the streamlining of the educational institution. The idea has become fundamental to a massive educational system operating all types of schools and classrooms. Teachers preoccupied with instructional theory, or pedagogy, and educational engineering outsource the actual instruction to someone certified, such as myself, in order to spend their time on administrative tasks or specialized research activities. But unfortunately, they seem to see something like kanji studies as outside the scope of their job description.
So what does that make me? Just a single instructor among millions, responsible for one corner of a curriculum comprised of tens of thousands of subjects. I am nobody—just a guy who works for the local Water Department. I am someone who teaches as a hobby.
Lessons from My Grandfather
Not long after I became an instructor of calligraphy, I made a long-overdue visit to the temple where my grandfather lives. Years ago, my grandfather was a Buddhist priest in a position to teach others. He has now traded in his indigo robes and spends his time learning culinary skills from the chef of a three-star restaurant.
Perhaps it is because of the sheer number of elderly in Japan’s aging society that adult education classes have become as important, if not more important, than standard education. I watched my grandfather lift freshly boiled pasta from the boiling water as he followed the chef's instructions through the liquid-state monitor.
"I just copy what I see,” he said, “but I'm not bad. Don't you think?".
His creation was indeed impressive. He beamed with pride.
"Wisdom isn't encapsulated in words," he said.
That struck a chord with me, and settled my mind. I will just try to teach as best I can, I thought. It's fine if I am not great at it. It's fine if it's not the most sought-after job. I'll just do the best I can.