The Japanese word “Wa” is a simple word with a complex idea and description. If one can imagine an entire classroom singing in harmony – no solos, no standouts and no off-key tones – then one can understand the power of Wa.
Professor Shiyo Sakamoto shared his knowledge of Wa last week at Salt Lake Community College. Wa is first defined by no open confrontation. Prince Shotuko, the 17-century founder of the philosophy stated, “Harmony is the greatest of virtues and quarrels should be avoided.”
After years of constant blood battles and the assassination of many rulers, the Wa movement brought peaceful relief to the exhausted country of Japan for over 200 years. It is easy to understand why it is still strongly emphasized today.
According to Sakamoto, this trait is “Not born but trained.” Wa lessons start at home with the mother and training then transfers to the school, where students begin with an elaborate entrance ceremony.
This “beginning” has the same weight as a high school graduation ceremony in the United States. Once one begins, they are forever a member of the group. Belonging to the “right” group is positive. The children are taught respect for one another and for their class. Superiors are taught to take care of the inferior and the elders are taught to care for the young. Japanese schools have no janitors. The children all pitch in together to clean their respective schools.
Another element of Wa could also be described as “classroom management.” This includes an emphasis on feelings versus facts. The strong individuality emphasized in the United States is not done in Japan. One detriment to the mostly positive Wa is that no one wants to step out and be a leader. Stepping out means singling out and that is not part of Wa.
As elementary students, the kids appear eager and excited to learn, happy to be part of a whole. However, as the featured videos were watched, a change in the junior high and high school students could be noticed; they were silent, avoided speaking out and seemed reluctant to act on their own.
It is not hard to understand why Americans are interested in studying Wa. The Japanese students are out-performing American students in math and science. After speaking with Sakamoto concerning reasons for the superior Japanese test scores, it seems to have more to do with “cram schools.” These are schools the kids attend just prior to a test.
Many American educators’ believe the implementation of Wa in classroom curriculum may be beneficial.