Nagai Minami Jr. High School students
Students of Nagai Minami Jr. High School

Several years ago I helped start a non-profit organization in Japan called Enjin01. The leader of the organization is Shigeaki Saegusa, a sometimes crazy, but a very giving, thoughtful and inspired person. He collected a number of notable people and called out to a diverse group of "cultural figures" including company executives, writers, architects, actresses, educators, academics, artists, political figures and musicians. The group is now about 100+.

We have annual meetings where we visit a region of Japan and work closely with the local community to produce a volunteer, free-of-charge event open to the public that includes workshops and talks.

In addition to the annual event, we recently started a program where any Jr. High School can fill out a form on the site and request Enjin01 to dispatch a number of us to teach at the school. So far we haven't turned any requests done and have done quite a few I understand.

Last week, I participated for the first time. Four of us went to Nagai Minami Jr. High School in a small town in Yamagata. The Shinkansen (bullet train) stopped about 20 min away so it was fairly convenient, but still took me over three hours from home one-way. However, the travel wasn't the hard part...

Although I am on the board of Nishimachi International School which has a Jr. High, I had never really had to stand in front of a Jr. High School class and teach. They had scheduled two classes of 35 or so students each.

It was probably one of the hardest talks I've ever given. I had forgotten what it was like to be in Jr. High and also realized that Jr. High in Yamagata was probably quite different from Nishimachi. I tried very hard to connect to the students, but the combination of their shyness and my lack of context made it very difficult.

In the end, it was a great experience. A few of the students were visibly excited and the "wrap up" session where all of the students and teachers got back together and reported back showed that at least the kid who reported back was listening.

I do think that speaking to Jr. High School students who really don't know or much care about your real-world importance/fame is good for the soul and refreshing. I recommend it to people who are mostly speaking at industry conferences to the same crowds. ;-)

Anyway, my hearty thanks to our hosts in Yamagata and I hope it was worth it for all of you too.

I've posted some images to Flickr.

3 Comments

So what sorts of things did you talk to them about?!

I talked to them about the importance of open standards and openness in general for innovation. I talked about Japanese social issues that restrict the ability for people to take risks and how this impacts the willingness of Japanese to start companies.

I also explained how open source and open content (Wikipedia) work.

I understand that it was really hard for you to stand and teach such noordinary audience, but I suppose, you've got a great experience from it. For me, it will be very interesting and useful to come into such curious situation.

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