What is it that we want our children to learn in school? It was the question that came to mind after watching the documentary Children Full of Life (link to part 1 of 5). The documentary follows the Japanese teacher Toshiro Kanamori and his class of fourth-grade children in a primary school in Kanazawa, northwest of Tokyo, throughout one school year. The movie has been around on YouTube since 2003, but it is a gem.
This teachers’ classes are not just about math or biology. He also speaks with his pupils about friendship, happiness and life and death. He creates an atmosphere in his classroom in which the children are free to speak about their feelings, they even read from their diaries to their classmates.
My favorite moment in the movie is this one. One afternoon, Kanamori punishes a young boy in class for chattering through classes all day and not paying attention. That afternoon, the class will go out for a fun activity: they will ride their self-built rafts in a swimming pool. Kanamori tells the young boy that he cannot join. But his classmates do not accept this. They stand up for him. Kanamori let’s them explain why they think that his decision is not fair. And what happens…I would say: watch the movie!
I hardly know anything about the education system in Japan, but I read that Kanamori’s unconventional teaching methods sparked quite some discussions about the education in Japan. They also have the potential to do that in other countries. Kanamori tries to help his pupils understand that they are not alone in this world. What could be more important?