Saturday, April 21, 2007

A banal pacifist in Hiroshima

Having lived in Hiroshima for more than 20 years, I found it not easy to remain as a pacifist in this ‘Peace City.’ You receive criticism that to keep raising a voice for Hiroshima’s horror is only one sided. The A-bomb saved tens of thousands of the lives of American soldiers (and of course, battles in the mainland Japan, thus
Japanese lives). Plus, I used to live quite close to the A-bomb Dome. I saw the structure everyday on my way to and from work. The A-bomb became too familiar to me, as it were. To keep a critical awareness of nuclear issues was not easy.

Yes, being a pacifist in Hiroshima probably means living a life of cliché and banal peace talk. When critics said that the mantra of peace messages means nothing in real politics, I used to take their point. If becoming an intellectual requires you to stay away from banality, you cannot be a pacifist and intellectual at the same time.

But who assumed that you need to be an intellectual to be against war and nuclear armament? It may only take ordinary but determined and courageous citizens to prevent war and nuclear proliferation. Having read ‘Hurry up again please it’s time’ by Jason Epstein (The New York Review of Books, March 15, 2007, pp. 28-30), I once again realize that I am not, and choose not to be, an intellectual. I am naïve, impractical, blind and banal. I take the blame and choose to be a pacifist (I admit a minimum degree of self-defense, though).

As the title of the article suggests, Epstein thinks that we now need to do something to prevent possible future nuclear catastrophes in advance:

Assume the worst and most likely outcome: negotiations and threats fail and Shiite Iran a decade or less hence, like North Korea today, tests a bomb with impunity provoking its Sunni neighbors – Saudi Arabia and Egypt – to arm themselves accordingly. Or the Musharraf government falls and jihadis come into possession of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and A. Q. Khan network. Or perhaps Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear sites, precipitating a Middle East arms race fueled by a nuclear industry revived by the rising cost of fossil energy. (pp. 29-30)

Sounds too pessimistic? Epstein also writes:

Today’s impending nuclear arms race echoes the frenzied militarization of a century ago when the European powers still had time to avert the senseless catastrophe that would soon befall their people, a catastrophe whose unforeseen consequences include, among others, the Bolshevik Revolution, Hitler, World War II, nuclear weaponry, the Holocaust, the cold war, and the unstable entity known as Iraq. Urgent disarmament proposals dismissed then as naïve, impractical, blind, and so on must be seen in light of the madness that followed to have been the greatest wisdom. It was the sleepwalking war makers who proved to be naïve, impractical, and blind as they led their countrymen into the abyss from which emerged the disasters of the twentieth century and beyond. The difference between then and now is that there may be no one left to render a similar retrospective judgment should the nuclear powers fail to disarm. (p. 29)

Again, some political analysts may well express reservation or disagreement. They may invite you to technical arguments. Technical arguments we need, but we need simple common sense more. We want no nuclear war. We want no nuclear proliferation. And in order to prevent nuclear proliferation, we must also urge the nuclear disarmament of the U.S., Russia, Great Britain, France and China, as was agreed in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty many decades ago.

No nukes! What a banal slogan! However, banality for goodness may be our way of resistance in a complex issue like international politics. Could common sense in the form of banality be the best policy? Here is a remark of Hermann Göring quoted in the above NYRB.

Naturally the common people don’t want war…. But, after all, it is the leaders… who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship…. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifist for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country. (p. 30)

I’d like to keep receiving the denunciation as a banal pacifist in Hiroshima.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Inés K. Miller on Exploratory Practice

Some features transcend national boarders. As I learned more about Inés K. Miller (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) in the Oxford-Kobe Seminar, I just kept recalling the good teachers I meet in Japan, like TAJIRI Goro, for example. They’re all so enthusiastic, eager to convey something to us, always smiling, and ever trying to entertain us intellectually. Those who are good at teaching must share a lot of features in common no matter where they live.

Inés K. Miller was also a brilliant theoretician. Her presentation on Day 1, “Bringing Exploratory Practice into Teacher-Learner Development,” was full of insightful clarification and useful references. The following is my partial reproduction of her presentation material. I thank Inés K. Miller for her generous permission to publish this report on this blog. Any errors in this reproduction are of course mine.

Miller sees Exploratory Practice primarily as ‘work for understanding.’ She justifies this view by quoting the statement by Allwright (1997) that “understanding is the logical pre-requisite to any intelligent problem-solving or change for improvement, and that focusing on trying to solve a problem or change a situation before it is properly understood is a recipe for expensive mistakes.” She then extends the notion of Exploratory Practice as “discursive space that offers learning and/or awareness-raising opportunities for involved practitioners – learners, teachers, teacher-consultants and teacher-learners.” (cf. Allwright, 2005; Miller, 2001)

According to Allwright and Miller, Exploratory Practice “aligns itself theoretically with human, non-technicist, non-reductionist, as well as developmental, process-oriented views of education.” Exploratory Practice, therefore, is in line with a number of theoretical perspectives such as:

(1) The sociointeractional perspective on ‘what is going on’ in human interaction (Goffman, 1974) and interactional inferences (Gumperz, 1982)
(2) The inherent complexity and idiosyncrasy of classroom life (Gieve and Miller, 2006)
(3) The ‘situatedness’ of human learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991)
(4) The inextricability between participant involvement and understandings in knowledge-making (Bourdieu, 1977, in van Lier, 1994; van Lier, 2000).
(5) Learning as social interaction (Gieve and Miller, 2006) or as a process of participatory inquiry (Reason, 1994, 1998), in communities of pracitce (Wenger, 1998)

With these theoretical backgrounds, Miller claims “the teaching practice component of a teacher education course appears as a privileged moment for recontextualising the Exploratory Practice principles and for bringing a reflective, human and non-technicist posture—into teacher development.” She wishes to “engage future teachers in thinking of pedagogic practice as ‘work for understanding’, and as a way of ‘being’ in the classroom and of valuing the ‘quality of life’ experienced in it.” She also wishes to create space in which a critical and reflective posture, curiosity, courage, creativity and trust for personal professional ‘intuition’ are encouraged. This is to “familiarize future language teachers with such notions as ‘the post-method condition’ (Kumaravadivelu, 1994), teachers’ ‘sense of plausibility’ (Prabhu, 1990), the ‘tact of teaching’ (Van Manen, 1991), and with the move from ‘teaching points’ to ‘learning opportunities’ (Allwright, 2005).”

In Inés K. Miller, I see an excellent example of a teacher-researcher who listens to the voices of learners and colleagues. I very much enjoyed being with her, as much as other participants of the seminar did. Being together. Isn’t this most important in life?


Allwright, D. 1997. “Exploratory Practice.” Unpublished manuscript.
Allwright, D. 2005. From Teaching Points to Learning Opportunities and Beyond. TESOL Quarterly, Alexandria, Virginia. 39, 1: 9-31.
Gieve, S. and Miller, I. K. 2006. Understanding the Language Classroom. Hampshire, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.
Goffman, E. 1974. Frame Analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Gumperz, J. J. 1982. Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kumaravadivelu, B. 1994. The Post-method Condition. TESOL Quarterly, 28, 1:27-48.
Lave, J. and E. Wenger. 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, I. K. 2001. Researching Teacher-Consultancy via Exploratory Practice: A Reflexive and Socio-Interactional Approach. Unpublished Ph.D. diss., Lancaster University, United Kingdom.
Prabhu, N. S. 1990. There is no best method – why? TESOL Quarterly, 24, 2:161-176.
Reason, P. (ed.) 1988. Human Inquiry in Action. London: SAGE Publications.
Reason, P. (ed.) 1994. Participation in Human Inquiry. London: SAGE Publications.
van Lier, L. 1994. Some Features of a Theory of Practice. TESOL Journal, 4, 1:6-10.
van Lier, L. 2000. From Input to Affordance. In J.P. Lantolf (ed.) Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning, 245-259. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Being ambiguous and ambivalent

What I perceive as a beauty of the argument of Empire/multitude is that it retains the ambiguity of globalization.

Globalization, I believe, is both good and bad, therefore, neither good nor bad. It is not right or wrong, either.

Ambiguity is not accepted in classical logic of mutual exclusivity. If something is A, it cannot be non-A. It is a contradiction that something is both A and not A. So natural science argues, too (except for modern physics, perhaps). Human world, however, retains much area which cannot be properly dealt with by classical logic or science. It is not prudent, therefore, to extend the logic of science to the ambiguous and indefinite human world, much of which is dictated by meaning and value.

In the mid-90s, when Japan stagnated economically and politically, I was fascinated by Hayek’s philosophy. Unlike the popular perception of it as an ideology for simple-minded Reagan and Thatcher (Reagan, by the way, may have been simple, but not necessarily unwise, as a recent article of New York Review of Books on March 1, 2007 claims), Hayek’s philosophy is more delicate than people assume and recognizes the limit of free market. The concept of “evolutionary rationalism” for free market (or catalaxy, as he calls it) is well contrasted with and juxtaposed to the concept of “constructive rationalism,” although admittedly he was highly critical of the latter.

Anyway, when the concept of free market was not a dominant one in Japan, I appreciated that idea and learned much from reading Hayek. However, Japan experienced Koizumi-Takenana reform in the early 2000s, and the word “free market” gained so much popularity, even into areas such as welfare and education. In response, I became rather critical of that word.

However, I never intend to throw away the word of free market from our discourse. No. I’d like to keep using the word, always retaining the ambivalence about the word. Free market must be counterbalanced by politics, but politics alone is not enough, either. Whether it is free market, politics, globalization or the spread of English, I’d like to remain ambivalent.

However, here is an example of a highly distinguished scholar who seemed to have forgotten the virtue of ambiguity and ambivalence. It is Milton Friedman.

In an essay entitled “Who was Milton Friedman?” (New York Review of Books, February 15, 2007, pp. 27-30.), Paul Krugman gives a threefold description of Milton Friedman as (1) the economist’s economist, (2) the policy entrepreneur, and (3) the ideologue. Krugman’s verdict is “there’s an important difference between the rigor of his work as a professional economist and the looser, sometimes questionable logic of his pronouncements as a public intellectual.” (p. 27). A case in point is Friedman’s laissez-faire absolutism. It “contributed to an intellectual climate in which faith in markets and disdain for government often trumps the evidence.” (p. 30)

Toward the end of the essay, Krugman concludes:

What’s odd about Friedman’s absolutism on the virtues of markets and the vices of government is that in his work as an economist’s economist he was actually a model of restraint. As I pointed out earlier, he made great contributions to economic theory by emphasizing the role of individual rationality – but unlike some of his colleagues, he knew where to stop. Why didn’t he exhibit the same restraint in his role as a public intellectual?
The answer, I suspect, is that he got caught up in an essentially political role. Milton Friedman the great economist could and did acknowledge ambiguity. But Milton Friedman the great champion of free markets was expected to preach the true faith, not give voice to doubts. And he ended up playing the role his followers expected. As a result, over time the refreshing iconoclasm of his early career hardened into a rigid defense of what had become the new orthodoxy. (p. 30)

Orthodoxy and iconoclasm. Restraint and political movement. Isn’t being ambiguous and ambivalent important for everyone?

Monday, April 2, 2007


This article is to promote the activities of WITNESS.

WITNESS uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations.

WITNESS was founded in 1992 by musician and activist Peter Gabriel and the Reebok Human Rights Foundation.

I see in WITNESS an example of empowerment of multitude, diversified yet networked individuals.

The combination of human rights awareness and advanced technology gives power to individuals as multitude to change the courses of the policies of some nations. English serves here as an extremely convenient means of global communication.

I am proud that I am a teacher of that language.