TEDxKyoto has emerged as one of the premiere TEDx events in the world. I've attended every one of the Kyoto events (and spoken at two), and I am blown away by the outstanding job they have done. Superbly organized, professional, and inspiring. TEDxKyoto was founded in 2011 by Jay Klaphake, a TEDster and Professor at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies. Through his leadership and the incredible hard work of a dedicated all-volunteer staff numbering in the hundreds, TEDxKyoto has become a very hot ticket indeed. Although TEDxKyoto has held only a few major events so far, already two of its talks have been picked up by TED and featured on the front page of TED.com. The first TEDxKyoto talk picked up by TED was the special presentation by George Takei. And last week architect Takaharu Tezuka's 2014 TEDxKyoto talk was placed on the front page of TED's website. Tezuka's presentation was one of my favorites last year, although all of the presentations were fantastic.
Everyone will probably find the talk below interesting, but it is surely of special interest to educators and parents and anyone interested in the design of spaces for living and learning.
Below are some of the more salient points in Tezuka's talk from my point of view.
Silence is not always golden
In the 21st-century we are still using classroom designs that were essentially formulated in the 19th century. Many classrooms today are just boxes in which children are suppose to sit and play or listen quietly.
"This kindergarten is completely open, most of the year. And there is no boundary between inside and outside....also there is no boundary between classrooms. So there is no acoustic barrier at all. When you put many children in a quiet box, some of them get really nervous. But in this kindergarten, there is no reason they get nervous. Because there is no boundary."
"...our [human] kind grew up in the jungle with noise. They [children] need noise.... You are not supposed to be in silence."
This reminded me of my own college experience (I'm afraid I can not remember much of grade school, let alone kindergarten ). In my first year as an undergraduate, I had a real problem trying to study. Often I would sit in the massive library at the university for hours trying to concentrate, but I always ended up feeling nervous and anxious, unable to focus well. The library was dead quite, except for the very slight hum of the florescent lights. This was not a soothing hum, by the way. The library then had little natural light (they have a much better library now). I was very unhappy studying in the library, but one day I went to the cafe called The Beanery. This was before Starbucks, but the cafe was like a Starbucks except even more comfortable, earthy, and the coffee was better too. The cafe was always abuzz with students and professors. But in the cafe I could be alone among many and I could concentrate in spite of the noisy atmosphere of people chatting and jazz playing over the stereo.
The Beanery, across from the Oregon State University campus. (source)
Freedom to roam & explore
"...[T]hese days we are trying to make everything under control," Tezuka says. But he points out that we humans are very resilient. A little rain or a little cold never hurt any healthy child. Let them experience the elements, he says. It's natural.
"[Y]ou should know that you are waterproof. You never melt in rain. Children are supposed to be outside. So that is how we should treat them."
I share Tezuka's philosophy about encouraging children to see that they are a part of nature, not separate from it. For example, when I take my small children to school, I always do so by bicycle regardless of the weather (unless it's stormy and dangerous to do so). I think some people, including teachers, are surprised that I do not use the car on rainy days. But my children love the bike ride in the rain and do not complain. The kids actually enjoy putting on their rain gear and getting a little wet on the way to school. We stop by the creek on the way to school to see how much the ducks are enjoying the rain. My son says, "daddy, ducks and fish like rain, don't they!" And my daughter chimes in, "I like rain too, and so do the trees and the flowers!"
With the kids on the way to school on a spring day with light showers.
Learning to help each other
Next to the kindergarten is a five-meter tall, seven-floor play structure for children to play on. It is not without its small dangers or difficulties in navigating for small children. But because it is challenging, children learn to help each other up and down and the bigger kids naturally give guidance to the smaller kids. They do this with out being told to do so.
"My point is don't control them, don't protect them too much, and they need to tumble sometimes. They need to get some injury. And that makes them learn how to live in this world. I think architecture is capable of changing this world, and people's lives. And this is one of the attempts to change the lives of children."
"Now these days, kids need a small dosage of danger. And in this kind of occasion, they learn to help each other. This is society. This is the kind of opportunity we are losing these days.
This lesson resonated with me. It made me wonder if the years of being in separate classrooms with four walls did not reinforce feelings of separateness from different groups. We learn to trust our own group (class), but the kids in the class across the hall? Well, those guys are "other" and separate from us. I wonder how much of our fear of other groups is a result of years and years of studying in a competitive environment in what is essentially a box with four walls?
For a longer, more detailed look at this project and others by Tezuka, see his 2013 presentation at Harvard.