Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote, "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you," encapsulates a profound warning about the potential dangers and opportunities inherent in engaging with contentious and intricate subjects. In the realm of education, where instructors often grapple with complex and controversial topics, this statement holds particular relevance. This post considers how Nietzsche's insight can inform effective teaching strategies, safeguarding educators and learners alike from the pitfalls of moral and intellectual entanglement.
Maintaining Ethical Integrity:
Nietzsche's admonition serves as a reminder to educators to uphold ethical integrity when navigating contentious issues. Of course, knowing whose ethics, whose morals and the social normative culture around which said ethics are presented as "neutral' is essentially if a teacher truly wishes to master their pedagogical craft. Such knowing will only come through informed, reflexive praxis - it cannot be assumed to 'just happen'.
In teaching so-called 'controversial topics' such as climate change or ethical dilemmas in technology, instructors must strive to maintain objectivity and fairness. In an aged of domination both in terms of social and academic press by the US and to a lesser extent the Anglo-speaking world the work required to dig beyond the 'given truth' has never been more difficult or possible. For instance, when discussing opposing viewpoints on climate change, educators should ensure that they present a balanced portrayal of scientific evidence without succumbing to personal biases or ideological agendas. Too often such topics are approached form an emotionally grounded presentism which, while being one means of considering the issue, is by no means the only. Sadly, governments globally appear to be following such an agenda as we see the rise of populism both it is hard and soft version - the sad truth is we know where such policies lead us and the abyss into which they pushed us on multiple other occasions (Rawanda, Cambodia, Germany, Maoist China or Stalinist USSR are all examples from the 20th century while the Atlantic slave trade, the late policies of the Ching Dynasty and even the Bakumatsu period in Japan are reminders of the 19th century. Thankfully, there have been moments when street level populism lead to improved well-being for many but this process is by no means a linear one. By embodying Nietzsche's caution against becoming "monsters," educators can foster an environment of critical thinking and open dialogue, free from indoctrination or manipulation. First we must know who we are and what possible monsters may lie within. Only by facing such possibilities of self can teacher truly liberate themselves and their pedagogy.
Preventing Moral Entanglement:
Teaching complex topics often involves delving into moral and ethical dimensions that may challenge deeply held beliefs or values. Nietzsche's warning about staring into the abyss underscores the importance of being mindful against moral myopia. For example, when teaching contentious issues such as abortion or capital punishment, educators must tread with respecy to avoid imposing their moral values onto students. Instead, they should encourage students to critically evaluate diverse perspectives and develop their own ethical and moral frameworks based on reasoned analysis and empathy - too often I see students parroting their instructors ideals without actually ever having delved into the abyss of wrestled with the monster that such ethical issues demand. Afterall can you truly say you understand and know, if you have not walked in the shadows of that which you now claim to have a moral standing on? Of course, that is not to say we must DO, but rather we can CONCEPTUALISE this darkness Surely, through such mental exercises we can come close enough to the monster and the abyss without falling into its trap of becoming either? By heeding Nietzsche's caution and calling, educators can guide students through moral ambiguity without succumbing to moral absolutism or moral relativism or worse still moral laziness.
Fostering Intellectual Empathy:
One of the central themes in Nietzsche's quote is the notion of reciprocal engagement with the subject matter. In the context of education, this translates into fostering intellectual empathy – the ability to understand and empathise with diverse viewpoints, even those that may be diametrically opposed to one's own beliefs. For example, when teaching controversial topics such as immigration or religious fundamentalism, educators should create opportunities for students to engage in respectful and purposeful dialogue with peers holding contrasting perspectives: agreeing to disagree is an option, we seem to have forgotten. Likewise, I can respect your 'right' to an opinion, without accepting the 'opinion'. By encouraging students to "gaze into the abyss" of differing viewpoints, educators can cultivate critical thinking skills and promote mutual understanding in the face of complexity and ambiguity - surely this is the cornerstone of a democratic process of learning?
Mitigating Emotional Distress:
Engaging with complex and controversial topics can evoke strong emotional responses, ranging from anger and frustration to fear and anxiety. Nietzsche's warning about the abyss serves as a cautionary tale against allowing emotional distress to cloud one's judgement. In the realm of education, instructors must be mindful of the emotional well-being of their students, particularly when discussing sensitive issues such as racism or gender identity. By creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment, educators can help students navigate emotional challenges and foster resilience in the face of adversity. However, we can only create 'safish'places for any place which is absolutely 'safe' will always run the real risk of exclusion of discussion and growth pains. After, the most smooth lakes are also the most stagnant. Growth, by its very defintion is both painful and rewarding, often in equal measure.
In conclusion, Nietzsche's statement offers invaluable insights for educators grappling with the complexities of teaching controversial topics. By maintaining ethical integrity, navigating moral entanglement, fostering intellectual experiential learning and some mitigating of distress, educators can navigate the abyss of contentious issues with wisdom and compassion. Ultimately, by heeding Nietzsche's cautionary tale, educators can empower students to confront complexity with courage and insight, ensuring that the pursuit of knowledge remains a transformative and enlightening journey for all involved. We should not fear the abyss but rather we should fear being told not to look into it.
The practice known as 'mura bo' or Village Bojitsu is often characterised by its emphasis on public displays and shared group activities rather than being solely focused on the martial art's essence, known as 'budo'. This trend can be observed particularly in the cultural context of Okinawa, where martial arts have deep historical roots and societal significance.
In the realm of mura bo, the emphasis is placed not only on individual skill development but also on community cohesion and identity. In Okinawan villages, martial arts were traditionally practiced not only for self-defence or personal advancement but also as a means of fostering unity and resilience among the residents. The communal aspect of mura bo is evident in various practices such as group demonstrations during festivals or gatherings, where participants showcase their skills collectively rather than in competitive or combative scenarios. Indeed the true essence of these bo activies is more akin to Morris dancing than to any formal budo activity. For a deeper dive into the actual names and forms of the mura bo, as practiced on Okinawa, I invite you to read more the wonderful post by Ansreas Quast at: https://ryukyu-bugei.com/?p=824.
The communal nature of mura bo extends beyond mere physical training. In Okinawa, these practices often serve as vehicles for transmitting cultural values, traditions, and historical narratives from one generation to another. Through group activities such as kata performances or traditional weapon drills, participants not only hone their physical abilities but also deepen their connection to their community's heritage and identity. The were and remain a means of telling a village or region history and supporting a local identify.
The emphasis on public displays and group shared activities in mura bo can also be attributed to its role in fostering social cohesion and solidarity within Okinawan villages. Historically, these communities faced various challenges, including external threats and socio-political upheavals. In such contexts, the practice of martial arts served not only as a means of self-defence but also as a unifying force that brought people together, instilling a sense of collective pride and resilience. Okinawa, we forget, was the poorest area of the Japanese achipelego and later the vast Japanese Empire. Traditionally it was an was ravaged by illiteracy, child mortality, mass migration to say nothin of the natural disaters which were all to common in the seas and skies around Ryukyu. Therefore, local identify helped sow the seeds of mutual aid and support in hard times - the village festival, of which the mura bo was a constitutent part, thus was a central axis of community.
Moreover, the communal nature of mura bo aligns with the broader cultural ethos of collectivism and mutual support prevalent in Okinawan society. Unlike the individualistic ethos often associated with modern interpretations of martial arts, mura bo emphasises collaboration, cooperation, and shared responsibility. This emphasis on community values and solidarity underscores the distinction between mura bo and the more individualistic pursuit of budo.
While there is some evidence that some landlords along the coast may have actually taught some of their retainers or labourers the use of the bo, this was most likely a rudimentary level of bojitsu as there were by law set bands of local milita which were responsible for patrolling the island and guarding its coast.
So how can you tell is what you are watching is mura bo or an actual for of budo using the bo. This is a million dollar question however, based upon what I have witnessed Mura Bo festival perfomances usually follow a simple back and forth embusen which usually composes of hitting the sticks at a high and medium range - there is also usually some fort of turn, again in a straight line, which a counter/attack simple format. These drills lack the complexity and multidimensional 2 person kumite you see in more budo aligned training. Laslty, usually the practitioners tend to be "doing" the work rather than letting the weapon "do" the work. Mura bo techniques tend to be quite static and robotic as opposed to more fluid. Lastly, the bo is usually only demonstrated against the bo and not other weapons such as the sword or sai.
So next time you view a so called BO demonstration ask yourself is what you are seeing Mura bo or bojitsu?!?
In summary, the practice of mura bo in Okinawa is characterised by its emphasis on public displays and group shared activities, reflecting its role not as a martial art as a means of fostering community cohesion, preserving cultural heritage, and promoting collective resilience. In this context, the communal aspects of mura bo distinguish it from the more individualistic pursuit of budo, highlighting the rich cultural tapestry of martial arts practices in Okinawa.
As someone with a vested interest in a balanced curriculum and a commitment to holistic education I find the rush in some districts and places to implement more contact hours in So-called STEM courses is often done haphazardly and without a significant discussion on the pro/con's of such a change.
Thankfully, the move to increase contacts time for some and lessen for others tends to be still in the minority among national systems where citizenship and an awareness of the need for a complete society outweigh the vision of a STEM based economy into which students are placed as functioning cogs. Below I provide a very brief synopsis of some of the macro pro-/con ideas around which a move to a STEM based curriculum may move schools.
Implementing additional contact hours in maths and sciences for non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects in a secondary school can bring about various outcomes, both positive and negative.
1. Enhanced Academic Performance: Extra contact hours provide students with more time to grasp complex concepts and improve their understanding of mathematics and science subjects.
2. Increased Student Confidence: More dedicated time to these subjects can boost students' confidence in their abilities and encourage active participation in class discussions and activities.
3. Improved Problem-Solving Skills: Additional time spent on mathematics and sciences fosters critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, essential for success in various academic and real-world scenarios.
4. Better Prepared for Higher Education: A solid foundation in mathematics and sciences is crucial for many college majors and careers. Extra contact hours help students prepare better for higher education and future career opportunities.
5. Strengthened Teacher-Student Relationships: More contact hours allow for deeper engagement between teachers and students, facilitating stronger relationships and individualised support tailored to individual learning needs.
1. Curriculum Overload: Introducing extra contact hours in maths and sciences may overcrowd the curriculum, potentially sacrificing time for other subjects or extracurricular activities.
2. Teacher Burnout: Increased teaching hours can strain math & science teachers, leading to burnout and reduced effectiveness in the classroom without adequate support and resources.
3. Student Fatigue: Longer school days or more intense schedules may result in student fatigue and decreased motivation, particularly without sufficient variety in instructional methods or opportunities for breaks.
4. Equity Issues: Students struggling with maths and sciences may feel overwhelmed by the additional contact hours, potentially widening the achievement gap without additional support measures to address their needs.
5. Perception of Undervaluation: Teachers of non-STEM subjects may feel undervalued within the school community, leading to disparities in resources, recognition, and opportunities for professional development and career advancement. Indeed for those of us task with teaching writing and the associated critical reading and communication skills a decrease in contact time can be most disheartening.
In conclusion, the decision to introduce extra contact hours in maths and sciences should be approached with a careful balance between improving academic outcomes and addressing potential challenges to student well-being, educational equity, and inclusivity across all subjects and disciplines. Arguably math and science while important are, to a functioning society, on par, not above other disciplines. Indeed the recent lack of critical thinking and analysis within the culture wars and identity politics reveal a dire lack of ability to engage with others in purposeful discourse.
Collaboration among teachers, school leaders, students, and parents is essential to ensure that any curriculum changes support the holistic development of students and promote a culture of inclusivity, respect, and appreciation for all subjects and disciplines. These outcomes are not synonymous with lack of academic rigour and economic prosperity for a given society.
In Japanese culture, the notion of the "Four Sacred Animals" is deeply entrenched in mythology and symbolism, often intertwined with the cardinal directions. Each animal is believed to possess unique traits and characteristics, which are accentuated by their association with specific directions. Let's explore each animal, their respective colours, and the qualities they embody in connection with the cardinal directions:
1. Seiryu (青龍) - Azure Dragon:
2. Suzaku (朱雀) - Vermilion Bird:
3. Byakko (白虎) - White Tiger:
4. Genbu (玄武) - Black Tortoise:
In conclusion, the Four Sacred Animals of Japanese mythology hold significant cultural and symbolic importance, each embodying distinct qualities and characteristics that are accentuated by their association with the cardinal directions. Whether it be the strength of the Azure Dragon in the East, the passion of the Vermilion Bird in the South, the courage of the White Tiger in the West, or the wisdom of the Black Tortoise in the North, these mythical creatures serve as guiding spirits, inspiring individuals to navigate life's journey with purpose and resilience.
The past month has brought me into deep contact with a world I had forgotten about - that of rampant individualism. Having lived in Japan for almost three decades, the notion of 'wa' for better or worse had seeped into my bones more than I knew.
As most of the folks I associate herewith are either Japanese or have lived here for a long time, we all know the 'rules' regarding 'wa' - it is unspoken, but we know it. So to once again be face to face with highly centralised 'individuals' who, despite their best intentions, did place themselves in a higher platform than 'us' was a shock and honestly one I was unprepared for.
Below, I share some ideas that emerged from this contact with the 'outside' world or at least the world of North America and Western Europe. This post is more about me, reflecting on 'stuff' I now take for granted but was not necessarily part of my original understanding of myself.
Life is a funny old thing - when you have changed and didn't notice.
1. Kaizen and Traditional Japanese Values:
2. Approach to Training:
3. Cultural Sensitivity and Awareness:
4. Principles of "Michi" (道) - The Way:
5. Cultivating Mushin (無心) - No-Mind:
6. Integration with Kaizen:
7. Transcending the Ego and Focusing on Self-Correction:
So there you have it- my learning over the last month.
I have changed in ways I did not know until I was confronted with what I could have become. Returning to the place we first knew and seeing ourselves again can be a frightful and shocking experience. Even more scary can be seeing how others see you.
It reminded me of something I once knew but forgot: It must be a significant burden always to know better than others and to hold a higher moral ground.
There again, both the chicken and the egg are only given meaning through the 'hatch' - hehehehe.
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan