El conocimiento os hará libres y las fronteras os harán gilipollas.

sábado, 11 de abril de 2015


    Is there something we should learn as teachers from the anime Naruto? My answer is definitively, afirmative. Not from the endless battles among the main characters in the anime and the conventional plot where a super villaine  is trying to destroy all the world and a group of superheros is saving it -even when the ideas of good and evil are more complex in the manga universe-. That is useless for our purpose. I want to focus our atention in the original idea of the serie about little children with gifted talents that must learn their "own way of the ninja". 
     This process of learning is, no doubt of it, one of the main ingredients that made this anime so attractive and adictive for lots of children and teenagers all around the world who are, no need of saying, students themselves. The main characters -Naruto, Shikamaru, Neji, Hinata, Gaara and all of the others- are students too. And if this is not enough, the other main characters are teachers, or using the proper word,  sensei: Kakashi or Gai, for instance. All of them are heroes in disguise, eager to reach a new level of skills and learning. This pattern doesn´t appear exclusively in Naruto. It's similar in Harry Potter too, with an old-fashioned British school as the main stage where all the plot takes place.  The differences of learning and teaching, however, are quite remarkable when you compare Hogwarts to the Hidden Leaf academy. We could say that the first one is the old academy (even when it is a school in transformation, where there are teachers who are making things in new way and applying new aproaches to education, and add sharp critics of the old system: less theory and more practice), meanwhile the Konoha academy is the school of the future, with its lights and shadows. Let's explain this more carefully.

    Teamwork as a result from diversity and tackling adversity
     The beginning of the anime is quite memorable. The team seven: Naruto, Shakura and  Sasuke have to pass a single exam designed by their sensei Kakashi. If they don't pass the exam, they have to go back to the academy and never have again any chances of becoming a true ninja. The task is apparently an easy one: taking a couple of bells from their master. There are only two, so it means one of the team will be expelled. The bells are hanging on his pocket. From the start, every student does his best in order to get these bells; however, all the individual attemps failed and Kakashi repelled the attacks very easily, without interrupting his reading of a novel. 
      After the rookies surrended, Kakashi complains the lack of teamwork. It doesn't matter if there are only two bells for three members of the group (in fact it was some kind of distraction from the main objective in the mission). If they are trying to reach any goal individualisticly, they are condemned to failure. And that is why he refused to keep them under their coach. However Kakashi gave them a second chance to pass the test. This time, they even have to break the rules that Kakashi sensei gave them, with the only purpose of keep the team united. Finally, after some hesitations, they decided to work as a team. And here comes one of the most famous Kakashi quotations: "Those who breaks the rules are scum, but those who abandone their friends are worse than scum". Teamwork is something more than a mere circumstance or a tool to be more effective on a mission.
     Why is teamwork so important in the ninja academy? Real life is more complex than any scholar simulation, so teamwork solves much better the circumstances of that real life. But there is another important reason, that is embeded in our educational system.    
      Every student in the Ninja academy has his own gifted talent. This talents are as diverse as you can imagine. It is impossible to find two identical students, because their talent and their perseverance to enhance their skills can be completely different. All the opposite to our schools, where we have tried for a long time -without success- to standardize our students into the same level of learning and skills. Every student realizes that he or she is not complete and independent, and their abilities and talents only will work in cooperation with the talents of others. Therefore, teamwork is an unavoidable need.
     All this is in sharp contrast with our old educative system, where competition occurs between individuals, and where every student has to show his talent isolated, with no help from anyone. It goes without saying that this education is at odds with reality. In real world, people colaborate and cooperate in order to achieve all kind of goals. This doesn't mean that there is no competition between different groups. All the contrary, Konoha ninja education is highly competitive, and teamwork is a tool to tackle efficiently the missions and survive in the battlefront.

    The sensei: the teacher as a coach. 
A sensei teachs more than a mere technique. He teachs a way of life.
    Another important aspect that we can make reference here is the role played by teachers in this education. They are not any longer teachers that merely share a few hours every day with their students, and after they go back to their private life. When this teenagers start to live as genin, the old lessons are gone. No more desks, books and no more class discipline. It is open practice. Sensei and genin share the same fate and the same risks. The genin will learn from their sensei, but the sensei can become a student too in difficult situations. Learning and teaching  boundaries are not so clear from now on.
     The sensei has a different essence than a mere secondary teacher. I have to recognize that one of the best compliments I have ever heard happened when one of my students -follower of mangas of course- told me: "you are not only my teacher, you are my sensei". It means that you are not only teaching contents, but visions of life. We know that this is quite difficult in Secondary school, but this could be done if we started a radical change in our way of teaching.   
     The sensei is not only a teacher, but a wise man, a master, and in the educational way, a coach.  He will walk with his pupils in the way of the ninja.
     There are no more exams than real life, that serves as a preparation for the final test to become a real ninja. This final test is an open exam. Our exams are quite homogeneous and with closed answers: it can be right only with the correct solution and even sometimes with an only path to solve it. Konoha chunin exams are quite open, the answers can vary and sometimes they come out from very unexpected ways. Everything can be acceptable in order to pass the exam, from colaboration among different ninjas to all kinds of cheating. The ninja will have to guess if colaboration or fight are required for every circumstance of the exam.
Of course, we don't want to create ninjas, but highly educated, autonomous (and competitive) citizens. The comparison maybe is not right hundred percent, but it works right enough. Our students need something more than mere magisterial lessons.     
    Shadows over the ninja education
The ninja as a tool: Haku sacrifies himself to save his master Zabuza from being killed by Kakashi.

    We said that there are some black clouds covering this educational horizon. I don't believe that this kind of ninja education is not exempted from very deep problems and uncertainties. 
The most important trouble is based on the final goals of this education. Are we going to question ourselves what is the goal for all this impressive and highly technical education. Survival and adaptation are the favourite words but they are not enough. Very early in the manga, Naruto asked his sensei what was the meaning of the ninja way, after the first of his enemies, Zabuza, is defeated. Zabuza was a renegate, a ninja in exile that worked as a mercenary. Kakashi's team was hired too by other people, and this was the reason for the fight. Ninjas are like pawns in a chess game. "A shinobi is always a tool for others", quotes Kakashi. To be a shinobi is to be at the mercy of the destiny". So there is no goal in our life, no reason to stay here, but to be hired by others and live on. This is the real way of the ninja, nihilist and empty. Naruto strongly rejects Kakashi learnings. From now on, he will follow his own path of the Ninja. And this search will be crucial in all the manga. Naruto (and Sasuke, Gaara and others in this long story) will try to solve what to be a real ninja means and what is the last purpose in human life.

    The similitude with our educational system is quite significative. We are less and less concerned with the last goals of our life. Our education stress out how to be competitive, how to colaborate, how to survive in a hazardous world, or how to triumph in a highly competitive labour market. How to become ninja tools, in other words. but we don't say if there is a sense for all that. We are no longer concerned with questions like the last goals of our life or our duties as citizens. "What is the sense for all this?", a very philosophical question, is getting out of our education. The dissappearance of subjects like ethics, and being replaced by subjects like how to become an enterpreneur and a business man shows the paradigm change. A technician or a business man don't take into account these goals, and is only worried about how to live on in the capitalist market. We became market mercenaries, acritic spectators of our society, small screws in the system, like ninjas. Ninjas who are hired from anonymous agents for all kind of prposes, good or evil. This is not new, it is a well known critic repeatedly denounced from the times of the Frankfurt school to the last books and articles that criticize the education systems based only on the PISA reports.    

     But, what's going on then with the cooperative work? Are we not creating new skilled people who are replacing the old darwinist competition based on individual fight? We could be deceived by the intuition that teamwork and cooperative work  will help to create a better world. But we don't have to be cheated by that delusion. Cooperative work and teamwork, like in the Ninja system and our educational policies, is based on competition against other teams. It is just the recognition that in a very complex world, a person is not cappable by himself to achieve his own goals, and needs the cooperation from others. But the problem still remains: if we are not concerned about the final goals in our life, we can promote nice teamwork to discover not a new useful tool, but a terrible jutsu or a massive destruction weapon. Teamwork is the first step to create a better world, but it is not enough for himself. If we take another example, in the unpleasant movie The wave, teacher Rainer based his learnings on teamwork to create an outraging nazi movemment. Colaborative work is the mean to create a better world, but the ends have to be discussed also. 
Till the very end of the manga, teamwork is the only tool to acomplish the most difficult missions.

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