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Americans and Okinawans gather for future education

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-03-02

Following on the heels of CULCON (see related article) in Okinawa Prefecture, local educators and parents attended the first "Okinawan and American Family and Education Conference" at the Tropical Techno Center on February 20, 1999. Attended by over 70 people, the meeting was hailed by many as an important step towards achieving the goal of quality education, while also addressing many of the problems children face in today's changing society.

The conference included several guest speakers, who presented various teaching methods and theories on improving education and parent-child relationships. Lectures were given on the following topics: multiple intelligences, effective communication, "latchkey" children, parent-child bonding, learning disabilities, and quality of life for the elderly. Two workshops on "Reading for Children" and "Multiple Intelligences" were held in conjunction with the seminar, and there were several displays, including videos, books, and catalogs provided by Zephyr Press on the latest in educational materials.

Although most Americans were familiar with many of the topics discussed, Japanese teachers and parents were getting their first introduction to some of the different styles of teaching currently being practiced. "Multiple Intelligences", which was designed by Dr. Howard Gardner Ph.D. of the Harvard School of Education, was one such technique presented at the conference. University of Maryland students Sandra Campbell, John Neal, Lisa Nelson, Jennifer Strickland, and Rie Koja explained the theory and application behind Dr. Gardner's work.

Broken into eight categories, Multiple Intelligences focuses on a child's strengths, while providing parents and teachers the opportunity to nurture the child's intelligences with a variety of applications. Some of the categories include music, bodily kinesthetic, visual skills, and interpersonal skills. Parents and teachers are given a variety of examples to recognize key signs for helping to define the intelligences of each child. The technique gives children, who do not learn as well with traditional classroom methods, a chance to develop many learning skills through different approaches.

Effects from family relations on a child's development were explained by Dr. Lynette Long Ph.D. and also by Dr. Masaharu Matayoshi Ph.D.. Long interviewed thousands of American children who were left alone at home after and before school hours because of their parent's jobs. Her research found that many of the kids suffered from stress, a sense of isolation, and fear. The problem is also a growing concern in Japan, where there has been a huge increase in the amount of families with both parents working. Commenting on the application of her research to Japanese society, Long said, "Some of the things can relate to kids in Japan and some can not. Safety is one of the differences. I don't think the sense of fear is as great here in Japan."

Dr. Matayoshi presented his theory on "Amae" and "Amayakashi" (mother and child bonding), which is an expansion on theories developed by Freud and Maslow, to better explain the relationship between child and mother in Japanese society.

Co-Chairpersons Yoneko Yamazato, President of the Okinawa Association for the Study and Teaching of English to Elementary Teachers (OASTEC) and Dr. Joyce Trafton, who is co-author of "Sosen Suhai - Okinawan Ancestors Worship" and a professor at the University of Maryland, showed their enthusiasm for continuing the conference in the future.

"Our primary goal is to get parents and educators from both the American and Okinawan communities together to discuss education," said Trafton. "We hope to possibly extend the conference to three days in the future."

"In the year 2002, cross cultural education will begin to be taught through English classes at all Japanese schools. This will begin at the elementary level, so it is a very important change," said Yamazato. "I think we need more events supported by parents from both communities."

If you would like to be involved in future seminars or with OASTEC, or if you can support next year's conference through sponsorship, please contact Dr. Joyce Trafton at 935-5579.

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