In Japan, the word isai, which means genius in English, comes up with both pros and cons. Some people admire isai as people with extraordinary talents or senses, while others criticize them as strange people who cannot deal with easily. As one famous Japanese proverb goes, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” In so-called standard society in Japan, people put great emphasis on flexibility and cooperation. Therefore, children who have truly unique characters cannot exert their potentials. There are many children who cannot follow their interests because they have difficulty assimilating in school. There is a project that creates a new form of study for these children. The project is ROCKET (Room Of Children with Kokorozashi, or strong will, and Extraordinary Talents), which started in 2014. About twenty pupils from all over Japan get together in an ancient-looking building at The University of Tokyo, which sponsors this project.
Professor Kenryu Nakamura, the creator of ROCKET, originally studied on universal access for physically disabled students. He found there was little support for children who have learning disabilities. He started to support students who could not become accustomed to their schools and became confirmed to their homes. It is also a kind of “universal access”, said Nakamura. He thought that even with disabilities they may have tremendous potential.
According to Nakamura, ROCKET is a project which gathers extraordinary children and does not provide special education to them. It does not adopt intensive-education programs for their strong fields in order not to spoil their uniqueness. That is why ROCKET accepts and supports what the children are really absorbed in. It uses no textbooks and has no deadlines and provides support when conducting large-scale or expensive activities. If the children find something interesting to do in a foreign country, they can go there for free (Once ROCKET took some of the children to Italy and let them experience its local charcoal making there). Moreover, they are willing to buy very expensive equipment like heavy tools or introduce eminent leaders in every field as long as it is necessary or beneficial to the children.
“True isai gets down to what they like without being helped or encouraged, so it is important to leave them as they are,” Nakamura firmly believes. If we exclude extraordinary children, their treasured character would lose its brilliancy. “We commit to every child in earnest so that they are able to make the best of their character and live on their own, which will lead to the realization of an ideal society in which extraordinarily talented children can live boldly just as they are.”
ROCKET. This challenge for educational diversity aims at improving society so that it can protect unique isai. ROCKET is an extraordinary “Room” where extraordinary children can live up to their potentials.
Written by Chihiro Kondo
Edited by Yamaha Sato