Every month, the Kahoku Shimpo participates in and sponsors numerous events designed to educate the local community about everything from how to read a newspaper to, of course, disaster prevention. Over the past 4 weeks I have attended these events as an awkward observer, hiding in corners and doing my best to avoid distracting the students. The following is a short collection of my experiences in the Japanese classroom.
The 5th of July brought me to Sendai’s Tohoku Fukushi University. Making my way to the lecture hall with Mr. Otsuki, a member of the education unit at the Kahoku Shimpo, I walked through droves of uniform-clad students, admiring the expansive campus and its rich rouged buildings. Once we arrived at our destination, I marveled at the brilliantly lit lecture hall as Mr. Otsuki readied his lecture for the oncoming mass of students.
In the speech that followed, Mr. Otsuki touched on many topics related to journalism such as writing style and analyzing information, all the while stressing the importance of reading the paper. Despite his background as a journalist, Mr. Otsuki smoothly slipped into the role of teacher, eliciting enthusiasm from the students before him.
Two days later, I found myself at Miyagi Gakuin High School trotting behind Mr. Otsuki as we made our way into the all-girls school. The classroom we arrived at was decidedly cozier than the lecture hall of a few days’ past, perhaps because of the wooden paneling underfoot. There must have been about twenty-five students or so, each of whom listened attentively as Mr. Otsuki spoke about the history of the Kahoku Shimpo and the how-tos of journalism.
The great thing about teaching journalism is that students don’t have to be aspiring journalists for it to be useful. While this is somewhat true for many different disciplines, to me, journalistic skills are conspicuously adaptable. There is no large body of facts that one must understand before becoming a journalist; instead one spends their time honing their ability to digest information. The same ability can be used to analyze information in a variety of contexts, from poetry to finance.
In fact, as I watched Mr. Otsuki talk at these events and explain to students how to write, read, and dissect an argument, I realized that he was not just teaching them how to be journalistic, but also teaching them how to think. Mr. Otsuki fostered healthy levels of skepticism among the students, encouraging them to question their reading material and engage with their innate curiosity. He prompted students to find meaning in a bog of information, and gave them the tools to come to their own conclusions.
In the weeks following my excursions with Mr. Otsuki, I went to some more educational events, specifically about the Tohoku Earthquake, with Mr. Takeda and other members of the Kahoku Shimpo disaster-education unit.
On the 26th?of July, the Kahoku Shimpo hosted a group of Tokyo high school students on their way to visit disaster sites in the Tohoku region. Replete with an ample supply of papers, a large projector screen, and an array of glossy tables, the room was handsome. Once the pack of murmuring students had filed inside, instruction began.
The structure of the class was a combination of lectures and videos about the 2011 Earthquake followed by approximately forty minutes of group discussion. Although each group had a member of the Kahoku Shimpo present to steer discussion one way or another, the staff ensured that students had free reign to express their views in a comfortable environment.
Many other educational disaster meetings I observed involved long periods of group discussion. The jisedaijuku for example, an educational event that took place the week before, is organized in the same format.
Discussion-based instruction is especially well-suited to the demands of disaster risk management. For one, it teaches students to come to conclusions democratically. Like the community-organized discussions following the Tohoku Earthquake, groups of students attempt to tackle complex disaster-related issues while incorporating the views of all the participants. Students learn to listen to others and speak up when they have something to add to the conversation.
The idea of community-focused learning becomes even more crucial when considering the second positive aspect of inclusive educational discussions. These discussions not only teach the students how to think about issues like disaster management, but also inform the ‘teachers’, or the staff at the Kahoku Shimpo, how the new generations think about such issues. In other words, discussion-based learning keeps the conversation fresh. This is especially important considering that the students, or perhaps the students’ children, will be the ones to grapple with the challenges of the next large earthquake. Keeping the conversation fresh enhances intergenerational understanding and connection, making for a greater variety of opinion and a better-informed citizenry.
At the Kahoku Shimpo, instruction is centered around giving students the tools and ability to parse the world around them. Mr. Otsuki and other members of the education team teach hundreds of students every week how to think critically while the disaster squad challenges them to work with others to tackle tricky problems. In a Japanese school system centered on the results of standardized tests, the Kahoku Shimpo’s educational events provide a vital avenue for Japanese students to foster a sense of intellectual curiosity, and challenge the precepts of their predecessors.