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#29 The Paradox of Learning and Teaching (Graduation Ceremony- June 10, 2023)

Last weekend I attended a Critical Theory symposium held at Cornell University in Ithaca, upstate New York, where I studied antebellum American Literature and poststructuralist philosophy as a graduate student back in the 1980s.  Located on the top of the hill overlooking the spectacular Cayuga Lake, Cornell campus is blessed with the beauty of nature and architecture shaped by the thematics of the Romantic sublime.


With the help of Fulbright Scholarship, I originally focused on completing my Ph.D. dissertation on the American Romantic writers. However, my mentor Professor Jonathan Culler initiated me into the new trends of critical theory as represented by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Gayatri Spivak, whose classes I could take fortunately. Skip Gates attempted to de-canonize American literary history by emphasizing the heritage of African American slave narrative written by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. Gayatri Spivak was reading the MS of her first monograph In Other Worlds, inducing us to read Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Bhagavad-Gita, and even Subaltern Studies. Since I focused on a deconstructive close reading of canonical American texts at that point, these new teachers invited me to emergent theories of New Historicist and Post-Colonialist approach that I could not have studied in Japan. Without the academic inspiration I imbibed at Cornell in the 1980s I could not have established my own academic way of life. Therefore, nearly forty years later, now in the third decade of the 21st century, it is very natural for me to recreate and incorporate what I learned at Cornell into the bilingual and bicultural education of Keio Academy of New York with special emphasis on the Trans-pacific, Trans-disciplinary and Trans-cultural imagination as already outlined by the founder of modern Japan and Keio Gijuku, that is, Fukuzawa Yukichi sensei. Now my point is that whatever you studied at school will never be useless, although we can’t predict when it will turn out to be useful.

What I discovered this time is a close connection between Keio Gijuku and Cornell University.  Fukuzawa sensei is well-known for avoiding any form of traditional religions and highly appreciating the achievement of western science. And yet, he came to know and accept in 1883 the discourse of Unitarianism, the modern version of Christianity, through his eldest son Fukuzawa Ichitaro who studied at Cornell University and Eastman College from 1883 through 1888. Fukuzawa sensei welcomed the humanist theory of Unitarianism, so it is highly plausible that Keio could have become a Unitarian University. What is more, Fukuzawa sensei’s grandson, Professor Kiyooka Eiichi studied at Cornell in the 1920s, the heyday of the Jazz Age, and translated The Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi (福翁自伝), which was first published from Columbia University in 1934 and later reprinted by Keio University Press in 2014. It is through this translation that Professor Kiyooka taught Anglo-Americans the spirit of modern Japan, that is to say, the transpacific and transcultural sensibility called “Wakon Yousai”(和魂洋才)that is, the Japanese spirit and  Western learning.

Now it should not be ignored that Fukuzawa sensei, who did not give up teaching even during the Boshin War in May 1868, kept learning about American culture from his son.  Historically speaking, Fukuzawa sensei first visited the United States in 1860, ending up with his translation in 1866 of Thomas Jefferson’s drafted text “The Declaration of Independence”(1776).  Nonetheless, even twenty years after his visits, Fukuzawa sensei did not lose his deep interest in the United States, learning a lot from his own child.

At this point, you might recall one of Fukuzawa sensei’s major principles “Hangaku- Hankyo”(半学半教), which means “Learning while Teaching, Teaching while Learning.”  In order to swallow the inexhaustible torrent of knowledge, he did not make distinction not only between teacher and pupil, that is, scholar and those just beginning to learn, but also between parent and child.  His attitude very naturally reminds us of a famous line of British romantic poet William Wordsworth: “The Child is father of the Man.” This paradoxical principle has already been implanted within the peer tutoring system of Keio Academy of New York.

This year most of you will become university students. After graduation from university, some of you might be in a position to teach your own students or younger colleagues either in Japan or in the United States. And yet, don’t forget that even while you are seriously teaching, it is your students who will teach you the radical lessons. Insofar as you keep in your mind this precious paradox of “Hangaku-Hankyo,” you can achieve your own independence and self-reliance, which will enrich your future life in a significant way.   Congratulations!!!