Tribune-Courier Sports Editor
DRAFFENVILLE – There’s ample evidence, from the industrial and technological renaissance and rise from the ashes of World War II, that Japan has its share of bright and intellectually gifted people.
But to this point, its educational system has ignored those people and their needs, and has failed to cultivate their potential.
There are no programs to serve gifted students in Japanese schools.
Educators there are developing programs now. They are using American models – specifically, the programs in Marshall County – as their pattern.
Last month, a symposium on gifted education – the first event of its kind in Japan – was conducted at Toyama University. One of seven speakers – the only non-Japanese – was Marshall County’s Toddie Adams.
“According to the professors at Toyama University, the education system in Japan focuses on rote memorization of facts in order to prepare students for testing,” said Adams, director of gifted services for Marshall County schools.
Such an approach does a disservice to students with above-average intelligence or talents, who at best are left to challenge themselves and at worst become disenchanted with school and never make any effort to nurture their gifts.
“Society’s perception of education in Japan is that there is a high percentage of intelligent students,” Adams said, and along with that image goes the assumption that these students’ talents are recognized and cultivated.
“Professors at Toyama University quickly dispelled that myth as we discussed the merits and deficiencies of education in Japan and in the United States,” Adams said.
Adams’ invitation was a consequence of Japanese visitors’ trips to Marshall County schools several times over the past two years, most recently in October, to observe gifted programs here.
In Marshall County schools, they observed GT (gifted-talented) camp activities, learned about identification of gifted students, and were introduced to teaching philosophies, practices and methods that were new to them.
Historically, bright youngsters (“child prodigies”) were singled out for special treatment, usually with the support of royalty or other governmental leaders or private patrons. As public education systems for the masses evolved, researchers began to identify and measure functions of students ranging from supernormal (gifted) to subnormal.
By 1900, according to the National Associated for Gifted Children (NAGC), the field of gifted education had attained a level of credibility, if not widespread implementation in public schools. In the second half of the 20th century, special accommodations for challenged or subnormal students, instead, took priority.
Tensions of the Cold War, specifically the launch in 1957 of the Soviet satellite Sputnik, spurred a movement to identify and serve gifted students in America. The National Defense Education Act, passed in 1958, can be seen as the genesis of modern gifted education in the U.S.
Thirty years later, the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act affirmed a commitment on the part of leaders of U.S. public education to emphasize programs for supernormal students.
Parallel efforts were undertaken in Canada, Hong Kong, India, Iran, the Republic of Korea and Ireland, Span and other European countries.
Now, the Japanese have identified the need to serve their bright students.
“Professors, educators, students, and parents who desire to make a change in the Japanese education system welcomed the facts and research that I brought to the symposium,” Adams said.
She began with an overview of gifted education philosophy in the nation, but explained, “As not all states are required to offer GT education as an option for students, I focused on gifted education in Kentucky with specific examples from Marshall County School District’s Gifted and Talented Program.”
Adams recalls how her audience responded to her remarks as they were delivered by a translator.
“I noticed many people leaning forward in their seats, absorbing every word of the translator,” she said. “I could sense the interest and sometimes amazement as I described gifted education in the elementary, middle and high school settings.”
Adams emphasized the importance of a relationship between teachers and student, which enables the teacher to meet specific needs, address deficiencies and challenge each student according to their capabilities and their preferences.
“I was told not to expect any questions from the audience as Japanese audiences are known to listen politely and not contribute,” Adams said. “We were all very surprised when hands went up in the audience. Each question was translated and I did my best to answer concisely.”
The presentation’s effects went beyond the realm of formal education and academic issues, Adams said.
“My best moment was at the very end of the day when a woman approached me outside of the meeting hall,” Adams said. “She told me that her son was much like I described twice exceptional students [who have both intellectual giftedness but also some sort of learning disability]. She said she has never been patient with him as she has always wanted him to be like all of the other children.
“She now understood that her son had unique needs and it is her responsibility to fulfill those needs. She said her parenting would change because of the information she received that day.”
Symposium organizers told Adams the event was a huge success and she has been invited to return for another visit.
“I am so happy that I was able to contribute vital information to the people of Toyama,” Adams said. “I continue to communicate with Dr. Toyokazu Mizuuchi on gifted education issues.”
She is also working with Junko Nakamura, one of the Japanese educators who have visited Marshall County. Nakamura wishes to obtain an endorsement in gifted education through Murray State University.
For Adams, the experience was doubly rewarding. She had plenty of time for tourist activities on the main island of Honshu, from Toyko on the east coast to Toyama on the west, and travel by train enabled her to enjoy the scenery of the land in between, including the scenic, snow-capped Tateyama Mountains.
“This was my first time to visit Japan,” she said. “I thought I was showing our Japanese visitors good hospitality, but I have no words to express the hospitality they showed me. They were very honored to have someone from Marshall County there.”
During her four-day visit, Adams says she and her hosts shared educational philosophies, concerns for students and trends in education.
“The food was incredible, the sights astounding, and the hospitality was beyond words,” she said.
Although she went to Japan as a presenter of information, Adams noted that the exchange was two-way.
“I learned so much while I was there,” she said.