A public elementary school as a cultural context : Japanese children learning to perceive their environment Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/41687k29m

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  • This thesis examines the cultural context in which Japanese children are constructing their own perspective of the environment because in the development of environmental education in Japan, the perspectives of children and teachers have not been taken into consideration. Although educators have made efforts to give direction to environmental education, relatively few have focused on the teachers’ and children’s ordinary activities from the point of view of environmental education. This ethnographic study helps education policy makers to understand the actual state of a public elementary school, an institution expected to produce environmentally literate people. The data presented in this study were collected in my fieldwork at a public elementary school in Osaka, Japan between September and December in 2005. Main methods utilized in this research are participant observation in classrooms, school events, and casual conversation, and in- depth interviews with twenty teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. Throughout the research, I have two main objectives in mind. First, I explore whether children are completely removed from nature or not, a question that is dependent on how nature is defined. It is a tendency in Japan to view nature and culture as blending with each other, but in different ways according to the context. Thus, when observing children playing with a small part of nature (e.g., insects and flowers), some argue that children still have a connection with nature while others say that children lack opportunities to feel close to nature. Increasingly, people today accept the latter perspective, and regard nature as something distant from children’s ordinary lives. This view of nature is reinforced by the dramatic images of nature broadcast on TV. Additionally, the social circumstances that prevent parents from allowing their children to play outside freely lead them to think that they need to invest considerable time and money in order to let their children experience nature. As a result, parents tend to believe that nature hardly exists in their This thesis examines the cultural context in which Japanese children are constructing their own perspective of the environment because in the development of environmental education in Japan, the perspectives of children and teachers have not been taken into consideration. Although educators have made efforts to give direction to environmental education, relatively few have focused on the teachers’ and children’s ordinary activities from the point of view of environmental education. This ethnographic study helps education policy makers to understand the actual state of a public elementary school, an institution expected to produce environmentally literate people. The data presented in this study were collected in my fieldwork at a public elementary school in Osaka, Japan between September and December in 2005. Main methods utilized in this research are participant observation in classrooms, school events, and casual conversation, and in- depth interviews with twenty teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. Throughout the research, I have two main objectives in mind. First, I explore whether children are completely removed from nature or not, a question that is dependent on how nature is defined. It is a tendency in Japan to view nature and culture as blending with each other, but in different ways according to the context. Thus, when observing children playing with a small part of nature (e.g., insects and flowers), some argue that children still have a connection with nature while others say that children lack opportunities to feel close to nature. Increasingly, people today accept the latter perspective, and regard nature as something distant from children’s ordinary lives. This view of nature is reinforced by the dramatic images of nature broadcast on TV. Additionally, the social circumstances that prevent parents from allowing their children to play outside freely lead them to think that they need to invest considerable time and money in order to let their children experience nature. As a result, parents tend to believe that nature hardly exists in their neighborhoods. The pervasiveness of this view has led to the strong influence of parents’ sense of values and families’ socioeconomic status on how their children experience nature. Second, I describe what kind of environmental education has actually been implemented at a public elementary school. Children are constructing their perspective of the natural environment not only in the classes officially regarded as environmental education, but also in other aspects of their everyday school lives. Even when teachers do not think that they are teaching about the environment, their words and behavior convey culturally accepted ways to think, act and speak, and make decisions; this in turn influences the way students deal with nature. Thus, teachers are officially and unofficially, consciously and unconsciously, implementing environmental education. Nonetheless, today’s teachers believe that they conduct environmental education only in a weekly “Period of Integrated Learning.” While their preparation time for environmental education is limited, they realize the existence of various obstacles for the implementation of environmental education, such as lack of time and resources and the fact that children do not have enough knowledge and experiences to understand environmental problems. They eventually come to conduct environmental education through the lens of their own values. Yet, because of the lack of efficient criteria to judge whether the activities have a positive influence on the children, teachers do not seem to have confidence in the ongoing environmental education and underestimate the value of environmental education in comparison to other subjects like Japanese and mathematics. Teachers’ perceptions of environmental education have been shaped by the official discourse of environmental education, which has been widely accepted by common people and environmental educators. A significant effect is the pervasive belief that environmental education can be conducted by an add-on approach. This generates the tendency to ignore the fact that the curriculum itself has a deep cultural perspective on the human-nature relationship, which is highly problematic from the point of view of environmental education. In conclusion, I strongly argue that environmental educators and school officials who accept the importance of environmental education should comprehend the status quo of public elementary schools before turning over the responsibility of children’s education to teachers. Japan must build a society that affords the essential needs of education in order for teachers to give all their time and energy for the children they are currently facing. Before teachers can concentrate on environmental education, education officials, policymakers, and the public must understand the limitations of individual schools and teachers in relation to environmental education within the present education system. I recommend that environmental educators pay heed to insiders’ voices and experiences, examine what the voices represent from a broader perspective, and make these findings the basis of future plans for environmental education.
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  • description.provenance : Approved for entry into archive by Julie Kurtz(julie.kurtz@oregonstate.edu) on 2007-01-24T18:45:07Z (GMT) No. of bitstreams: 1 A Public Elementary School as a Cultural Context.pdf: 2892272 bytes, checksum: 4814ed6cba074487cd92a7ecf99c3b08 (MD5)
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