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March 1996 - Issue No. #22 (p.11)

Philosophy in the Classroom

What does language teaching have to do with the meaning of life? How can foreign language teachers help students think about their life goals? This article outlines the ideas of one English teacher working in Japan.

by Kip Cates

"How should I live my life?" "What should I strive for?" "What things are most important in this world?" These kinds of philosophical questions are relevant for all of us, but particularly for the young people of our world who are often searching for meaning in their lives and who often find themselves in our foreign language classes. How can our teaching stimulate them to develop healthy values and a socially-responsible purpose to their lives?

One person working in this area is Mr. Iwao Sasada, a Japanese high school English teacher active in global education. Mr. Sasada gives his students the essay "What I Have Lived For" by the famous British philosopher, peace activist and Nobel prize winner Bertrand Russell. This powerful, essay outlines the three major themes that characterized Russell's life - love, knowledge and compassion. After his students read and discuss the essay, Mr. Sasada has them write their own compositions on "What I Live For". He says students are impressed by Russell's essay, stimulated to consider their life goals and challenged by expressing their personal philosophy in a foreign language.

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) has been described as one of the towering intellectual figures of the 20th century. He was not only a pioneering mathematician and philosopher but also a passionate humanitarian, a biting social commentator, a progressive educator, an outspoken champion of women's rights, a committed peace activist and a tireless global citizen working for a better world. He wrote over 40 books, campaigned for women's right to vote, was jailed for his pacifism in World War I, founded his own alternative school in the 1920s, worked with Albert Einstein to promote nuclear disarmament, helped found the Pugwash Conference (recipient of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize) and was arrested in London at the age of 89 for joining an anti-war sit-down protest. He is remembered for quotes such as "I dislike communism because it is undemocratic and capitalism because it favors exploitation" and for the 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto written at the height of the US-USSR nuclear arms race: "We appeal as human beings to human beings - remember your humanity and forget the rest."

What I Have Lived For

by Bertrand Russell

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness - that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I have sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what - at last - I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberated in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and I would gladly live it again if the chance were offered to me.

Iwao Sasada, Green Pia Oizumi 101, 3-21-19 Nishi Oizumi, Nerima-ku, Tokyo 178, JAPAN


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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
E-mail: Work Tel/Fax: 0857-31-5650