Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru is turning to be a rather entertaining little comedy, and while it probably isn’t the best anime Shinbo Akiyuki has ever made, it’s more than watchable. One of the highlights of the first three episodes has been the way main character, Hotori, and super serious maths teacher, Mr. Moriaki, play off against each other. Hotori isn’t the most gifted of intellects, and there have been plenty of examples of her mental shortcomings, not least of which coming when her memory blurs an incident of her being shot down by Moriaki into a confession of love. (Minor spoilers for Soredemo Machi.)
The most interesting interaction comes in episode 3, in what is arguably the best written sequence of the show to date. Moriaki, confused by the meaning of an inheritance from his recently passed artist grandfather, two rather strange self-portraits, goes to Hotori for consultation. Now, Hotori is an odd choice for someone to bring clarity to a confusing situation, given her pitiful understanding of the subject Moriaki teaches her in (as well as her slack attitude towards academics, and general mental ineptitude), but Moriaki has somehow identified what he calls “an eye for the extraordinary”. Hotori delivers when Moriaki returns the next day, and in her crowning moment of glory, gives a self-consistent, watertight explanation for the portraits, which is later proven to be 100% right.
It gets particularly humourous (and tense) when Hotori deliberately holds out on giving him the answer, teasing him with abstract hints about the truth and taking the opportunity to grandstand and relish in the reversal of roles, one of the few times where she can claim to understand something that Moriaki doesn’t. It frustrates him to the point where he’s just about looking over a mental precipice, which is hardly what he wanted out of the whole thing when he went to Hotori to alleviate his confusion.
Moriaki is an educator and an academic, and like most academics, he likes to know answers. It’s frustrating not knowing answers. But he recognized that his perspective, and his train of logic as a master of maths and linear thinking would be insufficient to penetrate the creative thought process of his eccentric grandfather. Somehow he realized that giving the problem to Hotori was the right thing to do, and he recognized, in her, a similarly abstract and inventive mind as that of his grandfather. I think it’s a really nice example of an educator fostering divergent thinking and creativity in a student outside of the bounds of what is typically encouraged and taught in schools.
Public education is something which is strongly debated at the moment, and while there is nearly a consensus in all countries that it should be reformed, no one quite agrees on how. I take particular note of the opinions of Sir Ken Robinson, who strongly advocates that the teaching and fostering of creativity should be given the same emphasis in schools as literacy. He says that the current system of education, which values maths and literacy, punishes mistakes and conforms to standardized testing, is antiquated, designed in the background of the industrial revolution to produce workers capable of contributing to the economy, much like an assembly line (in fact, he points out that many features of school mirror a factory, like the school bell and the division of fields into subjects). It’s an antiquated model, especially considering that a lot of the current and imminent challenges that humanity faces are going to require both creativity and collaboration to overcome. Both of these are, in one way or another, devalued by education. Creativity is nigh impossible if one isn’t prepared to make mistakes, but making mistakes is punished in school. Exams and assessment are, in the majority of cases, submitted individually, and working as a group on certain assessment items can, in some contexts, be seen as cheating.
Robinson points out that art is victimized the most in the current education system, although science and maths also suffer (the problem with the scientific process, as it’s taught in school, is that it implies there’s no place for creativity in science). Appreciation of art requires one’s senses to be at their peaks, in order to take in all the aspects and stimulation of a given artistic experience, but the laser-like focus demanded by particular subjects, combined with what Robinson claims is a fashionable tendency among medical doctors to over-diagnose ADHD, anesthetizes children, limiting their ability to appreciate art and other types of mental stimulation. He points out research that shows that as children grow older and spend more time in the education system, their capacity for divergent thinking, an example of which being the ability to see multiple and/or unconventional solutions to a single question, diminishes.
There is a role that educators can take in fostering divergent thinking, as Robinson says when he recounts the story of Gillian Lynne, who struggled in school until her doctor, of all people, identified her gift for dancing. Lynne had a remarkable career as a dancer, and went on to choreograph Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals Cats. People’s innate talents are different, and a lot of potentially brilliant and creative people are, as Robinson argues, graduating from the education system under the impression that they are not, because their particular talents weren’t valued in school.
Good teachers, in my opinion, can work both within and outside of the limitations of school. Moriaki has managed to identify in Hotori a capacity for divergent thinking and given her a problem that has allowed her to begin to foster her skills in that line of thinking. What’s even more impressive is that he’s essentially done this at the expense of his own ego (and almost his sanity) and directly counter to his own straight-laced, rule-abiding tendencies. That makes Moriaki a good teacher in my books.
This talk by Sir Ken Robinson is particularly recommended.