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MAY 20, 2010

Academic Wisdom and Practical Wisdom

By Yoshito Hori

My column (Thoughts on the Education of Children – My Son’s Junior High School Exams) prompted a flurry of opinions on Twitter and on my blog about education.

Reading many of these opinions, it occurred to me that there is a difference between Academic Wisdom and Practical Wisdom

Academic wisdom come from a method of criticizing and judging from a third-person standpoint. These may be interesting to read, but they offer no suggestions to people who need to act on the issue at hand.

That is because what we all want to know is the discussion that leads to “What we could do” and not what is right or wrong. An academic or critic approach tends to lack a sense of reality, becomes notional, and often doesn’t help those on the ground.

Practical wisdom offers many alternatives based on personal experience, with many opinions and case examples, and talks about “What we can do” by analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each option. In the case of children’s education for example, practical wisdom is what lies ahead of, “There are many problems. But there is not one correct answer. No matter what, we need to educate our children. So what should we do?” Thinking seriously and specifically for children and in first-person awareness leads us to the level of practical wisdom. Unless we do that, our opinions remain notional and irresponsible deriving from the standpoint of a third person. This is what I mean by Critical or Academic Wisdom vs. Practical Wisdom.

The most helpful is to offer advice based on experience, such as, “I did this, and got this result. This is what I think I should have done, so I recommend anyone following my footsteps to do this.” This is, in other words, providing the wisdom of experience.

Globis University’s Case Methods(*only in Japanese) works on a similar idea. There’s no use debating what’s good or bad about a company’s management. The important point is to take a first-person standpoint and think seriously, “What would I do if I were the owner?” It’s about thinking, “We have to move forward, even with problems or contradictions. So what can we do?” There is no perfectly correct option. What’s important is to think and decide which one is better or best.

Education up to high school focuses on logical reasoning, mathematical skills and linguistic processing skills, but higher college education focus on how to derive the best possible answer in a world that has no right answers. Society has no one correct answer. Higher education is about learning how to think on your own and find your own answer in this complex and diverse world. Practical wisdom is ultimately about learning how to live.

Shinzo Mori has the following to say in Shushin Kyojuroku: “Scholars need to research the details but a practical learner reads actively and from the bottom of heart to develop broad perspectives.”

Sometimes, researching the details may not be important for a person practicing an action. The important part is to think about the larger framework. For the practical person, academic theory may be something he doesn’t care much about. It is useless if he can’t put it into practical use. But instead, a practical person has to develop understanding of a broad range of fields, diverse enough to include psychology, sociology, philosophy, history/geography, anthropology behavioral science, brain science, pedagogy, science/technology, operations and systems engineering, industry, the Internet, finance and economics.

But you don’t learn for the purpose of offering critical comments in these fields or to undertake the advanced research of a scholar. You learn actively and from the heart to develop the perspectives you need to take practical action as a leader.

I always value practical wisdom. It may in fact be useless for me to learn any other type of wisdom. My Columns and Opinions will also intend to take a first-person perspective, rather than a scholarly or critical stand. In doing so, I’d like to keep in touch with as many practical people as possible, develop my own thinking, and write in my own words.

March 16, 2010
Yoshito Hori