Mahatma Gandhi once said, “If we are to reach real peace in this world, we shall have to begin with our children.”
World-wide peace may be an unattainable goal in our lifetime, but Gandhi was right about children holding the future in their hands.
In keeping with this thought, Dr. Andrew Mitchell, who earned a Ph.D. in economic history from the London School of Economics, says he has always had a keen fascination with what determines the development of countries, which in turn, determines the development of its people.
Born in Australia and a traveler during his school days, Mitchell completed his Ph.D. thesis comparing the economics of Australia and Argentina and analyzing issues such as: Why did one country become wealthy and the other stay poor? Why did a country blessed with a vast amount of natural resources have so much suffering among its people? What were they doing in society that prevented them from doing well?
Both countries had the same kind of ideas, but he found that it was leadership and institutions that sent them down different paths.
Mitchell refers to what is currently happening in the State of California regarding the development of young children.
“California spends more money on prisons than education,” he says. “If the prisoners had been educated when they were younger, they probably wouldn’t be where they are today. It’s an investment in society. Public schools are getting less and less funds.”
After teaching international development studies at UCLA and then working in the corporate world for research companies, Mitchell decided to do something entrepreneurial. In high school, he and a friend ran a landscaping business and he enjoyed being his own boss. What he missed from academia were control of his time and teaching.
Putting the three together and the fact that his sister had success with the program led to him opening a Kumon Math and Reading Center in Venice.
Toru Kumon was a high school math teacher in the 1950s whose son was having math problems in elementary school. The program grew organically out of him trying to help his son. Then the neighborhood kids wanted to do the same work sheets, and all of a sudden Kumon schools opened up throughout Japan.
The program first came to the United States in the 1970s and operated out of church basements and community centers to keep the costs down and make it affordable. It spread through word of mouth until it hit the growth limit. Now, the program is more corporate and organized with training groups and quality control.
Echoing the words of Gandhi, Kumon’s mission is to discover the potential of each individual and develop his or her ability to the maximum and, therefore, foster sound, capable people to contribute to the global community. Again, a rosy thought.
The ultimate goal, however, is by giving children the fundamental skills in math, reading and writing, they will be more successful in life and be able to contribute to their communities more effectively.
The Kumon method is called self-learning or independent learning with a focus on teaching the students to teach themselves. Instruction ranges from kindergarten through 12th grade.
There are two purposes for enrolling children in the program. The first is usually for the older students because they may be behind in their classes and need to catch up. The second is to make sure the younger children start well and keep on track. The real benefits are when the students pass their grade level.
“The math program goes all the way up to university level calculus,” says Mitchell. “You can be in grade three or four and go all the way through if you want.”
For students who need improvement, the process can take a minimum of six months. The initial couple of months purposely proceed at a slow pace.
“We make it easy at first and then build them up — not only in terms of skills but also in terms of confidence and motivation in the process,” Mitchell says.
One of the biggest difficulties for the success of the students is getting commitments from parents to get involved. There are five days of homework (15 minutes for the youngest ones) and the parents need to grade it.
“Often times the parents don’t grade the homework or they don’t make their kids do it, or they don’t set up a routine,” says Mitchell. “So, we’re really up front about the time commitment. Make sure you know what is expected of you before you get into it.”
Mitchell had to do a large business plan before he opened the Kumon Center. He discovered that Venice is very much a reflection of greater Los Angeles because there is a huge social divide.
A third of its residents’ annual income is under $50,000, a third is over $100,000 and a third is sandwiched in between. At $125 a month, the fee is affordable for some families, he says, but it’s the under $50,000 group that concerns him.
“We’re largely for profit to remain sustainable,” he says. “At the end of the day, my goal is to offer our services to as many children in the neighborhood as possible and to develop scholarships. It would be nice to help those kids in the less than $50,000 families.”
A grand opening at Hoyt Plaza, 2805 Abbot Kinney Blvd. #E, will be held starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, September 19th. There will be snacks and games for the children. Raul Fernandez, principal at Mark Twain Middle School, will give a brief address about education for the parents.
Mitchell refers to the quote “The pen is mightier than the sword,” by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
Knowledge is power, and maybe someday Gandhi’s wish for world peace will come true. It’s by investing in the children of today that will help make it happen.
For more information, center.ikumon.com/92433/.