At my karate club people call me Sensei, and my friends just call me Richard.

2013/03/31

Why a PhD? なぜ博士号を?



Recently people around me are curiously asking why I'm going to attempt a PhD.

Why not just work, some ask.

Well, an easy answer is that the 2 year global studies masters program I just completed at Sophia University only felt like a warm-up to the broader world of learning. And since my work is a learning environment, the support I receive from superiors and peers encourages me to continue.

To be honest, three experiences during my initial study of global karate triggered me to follow my human rights passions. First, as I started to peel back the martial arts from an academic viewpoint, I came up against some barriers which revealed entrenched positions of authority that were not radiating actual stimulating ideas nor even interested in new stimulation. The ideas of progress were going on far from these shores.

The second was being in a Conflicts and Security graduate class I took right at the beginning of the master's program and just feeling like this is it, I'm home, this is my field. Finding out how to alleviate the suffering of others. I've been covering human rights topics in my high school home room classes for 8 years now, and while since my own high school days I've been supporting human rights causes, this grad class triggered me to begin to read about human rights education intensely for these last two years.

And my third experience was the loss of my writing hero, Christopher Hitchens, when he passed away in December 2011. One day I'll write what a profound impact he had on my thinking, but his passing is still too raw for me to do so. Suffice to say, when I read at the end of one of his books, 'Letters to a Young Contrarian',  that he felt human rights education was the most important issue at hand when approaching the world's conflicts, I was deep into my study of globalization. Here he had written for someone like me and the timing was perfect as I was still debating my PhD program choices.

Eventually I came up with two plans. The first was I stuck it out with my original karate thesis goal as I still wanted to figure out how karate's global popularity fit to the theories of dominant sports leading up to the Olympics. This was important to me since I work in this industry everyday and feel its affects. Hence, my graduation thesis is titled 'Globalization of Karate; The politics of a martial arts tradition from the late 19th century to the early 21st century'.

I'm very satisfied with the result, and a department of the university may publish a version as an academic article in the near future.

The experience of crafting the karate thesis was extremely important to my development as a beginning scholar, how to approach a specific globalization topic, how to ask the right questions and how to achieve perhaps an original academic result. These skills I will most definitely need in the PhD program. It was also important for me in terms of not being discouraged by a large, challenging project that would prepare me for...

... PhD studies...

There was this nagging thought that if I don't pursue the human rights topic, this international education issue of high importance for my PhD, it would haunt me. I'd always ask myself what if.

So my second plan led me to write a thesis-length independent paper over the recent winter break. It was a slightly crazy attempt to write a long, complicated paper in a few short weeks, but I planned what I wanted to say line-by-line for months based on my two-years of wide-ranging reading. I was able to come up with a coherent theme and with the kind help from some of my professors, an approach that was clear and I think sound. The long-winded title is -->'The Re-emergence of Human Rights: How global human rights movements ended the Cold War and Apartheid, leading to the establishment of the UN Decade of Human Rights Education campaign (1995-2004)'. It was this paper I used to apply to the Peace and Conflicts PhD program at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and it seemed to do the trick. 


So from my perspective, I graduated from Sophia with two thesis-length papers on what appears at first quite different topics, but which ultimately are parallel in that both karate and human rights have spread widely since WWII, both have deeply rich globalization experiences to which both have transformed the lives of millions of people.

Really, I started to think that it's not about me at all. It's about fresh ideas, open approaches to learning and hard work in order to do something for others. Corny? Not if you've read what I've read.

3000 babies born with HIV/AIDS die everyday. Women who pass the disease to their children tend to become infected from lack of control over their lives, whether it be a husband or male partner who bring the disease home. Illiterate women find it harder to fend for themselves. One-third of all children in the world receive no primary education and most are girls. But we know improving the life of a girl by teaching her to read and giving her a safe environment that allows her grow up to have control over her own body and her own finances, enabling her to raise healthier children by being able to make better choices. Causes for the destabilization of society leading to these tragedies range from war to culturally destructive legacies. Are the causes of conflicts in some locations the struggle for control over rare earth minerals we need for our electronic devices? Do developed world university students like here in Japan feel empathy for people in conflict zones, or even for minorities in this country?

When I'm engaged in teaching English to students here, topics like these always strike a nerve and students wake up. They too have something to say about these things. They want to express themselves and in doing so demonstrate their growing skills in Global English. Issues can range from HIV/AIDS to local topics they have a concern for.

Human rights education is perhaps about the transformation of thinking, which requires educators to provide effective systems of learning. So too is teaching English effectively, finding ways for students to feel in control of learning and experience success that's not related to perfect grammar or high test scores.

Well, for my dissertation, I'm interested at seeing how human rights education policy can become effective in practice, whether it's human rights teaching in a school or university, or in a post-conflict environment. Where can commonalities overcome differences in order to create peace and end suffering?

And as a scholar, is it possible to make a contribution to improving the lives of others?

So, in broad terms my interests are a multitude within Peace & Conflict Studies (PCS). In specific terms I'm focused on effectively teaching universal human rights within PCS, without letting go of my secondary topics of world karate developments and "Global English" learning in international education.

It took me my first 6 months in the masters program to become adjusted to academia again, so let's see what happens in these first few months as a PhD student. I'm sure there will be major changes in my thinking as I really attempt to delve deeper into this field. What I do know is that by being focused on specific academic targets and really just driving forward towards them every single day, successful results will prevail.

Saying I'm student of the globalization of culture may not be quite on the mark, but perhaps it's in the ballpark.

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