Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What Do Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi and Dr. Maria Montessori Methods Have in Common?

A little more than you may realize.

At first, Karate Kid's Mr. Miyagi (played by Pat Morita) seems to be taking advantage of Daniel-san in order to get some household chores done.  He has him wax his rather extensive collection of old cars, paint the fence around his property, learn to prune bonsai trees.  And Mr. Miyagi is very particular about how these tasks are to be carried out.  “Wax on, wax off.”  Make circular motions, first one hand then the other and keep alternating hands.  Paint the fence.  Wrist all the way up, arm extended.  Wrist all the way down, arm extended to the ground.

Daniel-san is more than a little miffed when he thinks he’s been duped into serving as some old guy’s lackey.  He’s gotten the snot beaten out of him more than once by some punks, and he’d like to return the favor.  Daniel-san asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate.  He fails to see how waxing cars and painting fences will help him reach his goal. 

Mr. Miyagi knows all along that these practical life skills are preparing this young man in mind, body, and spirit for life as well as the martial arts lessons to come.  Daniel-san doesn’t realize that there’s a method to Mr. Miyagi’s chore list until he’s shown through a mock attack that his muscle strength, mental acuity, coordination, and reflexes have improved considerably.  Suddenly things start to come together.  He sees all of his hard work hasn’t been for naught.  His sensei has been training him all along.  Once he developed the basic skills needed, he was ready for greater challenges and difficulties. 

Dr. Maria Montessori’s method is very similar: teach kids how to do the things that they will need to do in life at a young age by giving them hands-on experience, providing them with simple step-by-step lessons, and age-appropriate materials.  Give children tasks and activities that accomplish something and have a much broader purpose than is initially seen, certainly by them. 

At first glance, it might seem like a way to get kids to do the teacher's work.  Have them fold laundry, sweep up the messes they make, wipe off the tables, cut up and serve food, wash dishes, choose their own work, put things back where they found them, cut flowers, tie their shoes, wash their hands with soap and water, wait their turn, walk the line, respect nature, proceed at their own pace, indicate when they are ready for the next lesson, make a thank-you card, write an apology note, sew, use their manners, learn from their peers and those who are a little older or younger than they are…

Gross and fine motor skills develop as muscle strength, coordination, and concentration improve.  Children absorb valuable and practical ways they can be involved in, explore, and create in the world all the while building up their socialization, teamwork, independence, cognitive prowess, and leadership abilities. 

I’m fairly certain Dr. Maria Montessori would have approved of Mr. Miyagi’s seemingly roundabout approach to educating his student.  Daniel-san just wanted to learn karate, but Mr. Miyagi taught him a great deal more than that.  Really good educators teach a great deal beyond what’s required by SOLs and the written curriculum.  They allow their students to experience what they are to learn rather than just read it in a book or see someone else do it.  Wouldn’t you agree?
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