Nurturing Educators Through “Alternation”between Theory and Practice

Public Relations Office        November 1, 2019

The “Hedgehog’s Dilemma” as the Base of Research

Kyoko Fujii

Kyoko Fujii

Kyoko Fujii Professor, School of Education
Kyoko Fujii obtained her doctorate from the Tsukuba University Graduate School of Psychology and is a qualified clinical psychologist. Her doctoral dissertation was on “The Dilemma of Exploring Psychological Distance in Friendships in Adolescence.” Her professional experience prior to taking up her current position in 2013 included a period as an Associate Professor at Aichi University of Education. In her current position, she is engaged in teacher training. Throughout her career, she has served on many Board of Education committees and worked as an instructor in teacher training programs. She has also used her qualifications as a clinical psychologist to work as a school counsellor in a junior high school, which has brought her face-to-face with the minds of adolescents in the field in schools. Her motto is ‘Live in the space between psychology and education.’ Her areas of specialization are adolescent psychology, lifespan developmental psychology, and school psychology.

 Education in Japan is said to be entering an era of great transformation. Amid calls for “regeneration” and “reform” in line with the changes in the times, how should we be raising the children? While, on the one hand, people and goods are now able to freely traverse across national borders, on the other hand, there are those who point out a growing disparity in education as poverty has increased. Against the backdrop of such a social climate, Professor Kyoko Fujii of the School of Education has continued with her research into the “hedgehog’s dilemma,” which is a metaphor about the difficulties in establishing a moderate distance with others in interpersonal relationships. She is teaching students, who aim to become teachers themselves, not to brood about issues by themselves, but to acquire many different viewpoints through discussions with others and to develop healthy critical thinking skills.

 KGU has Learning Commons at three of its campuses, Kobe Sanda, Uegahara, and Seiwa. These are spaces in which multiple students come together to gather a variety of information, study, and discuss things. In the 2018 academic year, Professor Kyoko Fujii of the School of Education conducted a survey about what impact students’use of these commons had on their attitudes towards their studies. The data indicated that the greater the frequency of use, the more individual initiative, cooperativeness, and diversity increased. From that data, Professor Fujii observed that students should be encouraged to use and take advantage of the commons as part of student life.

 The “Rippla” Learning Commons opened in Building 2 at the Seiwa Campus two years ago. Professor Fujii was involved from the conceptualization stage. What kind of learning is needed to develop people who will nurture other people? Because the Seiwa Campus includes the school and junior college training teachers and childcare workers, the needs are clear. On the other hand, due to the restrictions in the license-related courses, combined with the credits needed to graduate, some students must take close to 180 credits. It tends to be difficult for such students to learn in a way that relies on their own individual initiative and cooperativeness. ‘We wanted to supplement these areas for the students outside of classes, which is why we started the Rippla project,’ comments Professor Fujii.


 Today’s students are very serious about their studies and they are very diligent about attending classes to obtain their credits. They also want paths and skills that will help them arrive at the correct answers quickly. “In the education field, not all topics have one right answer. For example, when children ask questions that come from inside them, and that are simple, yet profound, such as ‘Why is the water in the ocean blue, but the water in a cup is not?’ and ‘Why does the moon follow me when I’m in the car?’ simply giving them the scientific facts is not the right answer. We need to lean into the child’s own imagination and curiosity and draw out the answer together with the child, in a way that best suits the child’s stage of development.”           

 It is a matter of not learning by oneself, but developing and exploring the answers together with others. Making the image of learning visible and inspiring each other, transmitting a project one has developed to the outside world, while also incorporating various people and information from the outside—"alternation” between theory and practice. It was in the hope that this kind of learning would reverberate and spread that the Learning Commons was given the nickname “Rippla.” ‘It is part of the philosophy of the School of Education that our students do not simply learn the theory, but they alternate between theory and practice as they grow into educators. We want our students to take their time and face up squarely to those questions that have no right answers. It is important that we consider that our strengths are that can only come from being part of a general university.’

 Professor Fujii has concentrated on adolescent psychology in her research throughout her career. She is exploring the theme of the “hedgehog’s dilemma” in modern adolescence, particularly in friendships. Her research originated with the realization that many youth today are troubled by their inability to form appropriate psychological distances with others. This expression comes from a parable from the philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer. It refers to the way in which people repeatedly draw close to each other, but hurt one another with their (metaphorical) quills, so move apart. They then become lonely and draw close again, only to hurt each other again, so find themselves searching for a moderate psychological distance. However, what Professor Fujii found in her empirical research was the image of today’s youth, who predict each other’s quills and the degree of cold and set their own inner moderate distance. This generates their own complete dilemma inside themselves, in which they will not draw any closer or move any further away from that distance they have set for themselves. Currently, the professor is expanding her research to include adults, with the supposition that this psychological characteristic is not confined to adolescence, and could apply to modern humans in general. ‘I want people to accept that we all have these quills, and to develop the wisdom they need to co-exist.’

 In 2002, the United Nations advocated the concept of “education for sustainable development” (ESD). It calls for us to respect each other’s human dignity and diversity, establish nonexclusivity, and acknowledge each other’s diverse values. It also incorporates a spirit of healthy criticism. Professor Fujii expressed her concerns about the direction the world is moving in. ‘We had been moving in the direction of acknowledging each other’s diversity and living in harmony, but in the 2000s, there has been a swing back toward nationalism and single values. Students tend to think that criticizing is a badthing, and that expressing an opinion or questioning someone else’s research in class would be rude or would offend that person. I want to teach them that healthy criticism rooted in mutual respect is an acknowledgment of mutual diversity and becomes the driving force for creating the next thing, but this global-level trend is also happening in universities. Students tend to fear stepping on other people’s toes even if they notice someone else’s mistakes, so they let it go, or they think that it’s enough for them to get course credit.’ Professor Fujii has been involved in training teachers for close to twenty years, including in her previous position at Aichi University of Education. ‘I tell the students in my seminar group, “You are the educators of the future, and wherever you go, the children of the next generation are waiting for you. That is why you need to learn how to see things in diverse ways and to acquire the skills for healthy criticism. I want you to talk about things not from images or impressions, but from evidence, and to demonstrate leadership.”’

 Professor Fujii believes that educators will continue to be a necessary human resource even in the coming AI age. ‘Humans can’t compete with AI in terms of knowledge. That’s precisely why I want my students to develop awareness of qualities like curiosity, consideration for others, and the wisdom needed to coexist with others, which will always remain quintessentially human.’