Wednesday, November 23, 2005

More Thoughts on Discipline in Japanese Schools

I hate to return to a topic that I’ve harped on so many times in so many previous entries, but there was an incident at school today which caused me to further reflect on the discipline in Japanese schools. And by that I mean of course the complete lack of discipline in Japanese schools.

The 8th grade students were working on writing their English essays on “My Dream”. I was wondering around the room and correcting problems and troubleshooting.

As usual during free work time, there was a certain amount of chaos going on (see previous post). Very few students were actually working on their compositions. Most were talking to each other. A few were reading comic books, and some were sleeping.

(Students very often sleep during class in Japan, and this has always seemed a little strange to me. I mean it’s strange that they get away with it for one, but it’s strange that they even have the urge. When I was in middle school and high school I never really felt much of an urge to sleep in class. By the time I got to college my roommates kept me up till all hours of the morning, and I was nodding off in classes left in right. But in junior high school I was still on a fairly regular sleep pattern, and never really had a problem with sleeping in class.)

Anyway, the usual chaos was going on. A couple boy students started wrestling. It’s not unusual for this to happen during class, and I’m generally inclined to follow the Japanese teacher’s lead. If she lets it go (which she usually does), then I don’t feel much of a need to take it upon myself to step in.

The trick of course is telling when the line has been crossed from playful wrestling to actually fighting. And this is hard to tell because often I think the participants themselves are unsure. They had strained smiles on their faces and they were even attempting to laugh but the wrestling was becoming a bit vicious and starting to look a bit less like play.

The Japanese teacher was busy helping other students. She looked up at the wrestling briefly, and then went back to what she was doing.

The combatants had their arms locked so neither could throw any punches, but one of them head butted the other. I decided I should probably do something. “Um, boys, shouldn’t you be working on your essay’s now?” I went over and gently directed them back to their desks. They went back surprisingly willingly. I think they had almost been waiting for someone to break them up before things got anymore violent.

I sat down briefly with one of them. “What are you working on now? Oh, your dream is a computer programmer. Good job. Okay, just keep writing then.” I then went and had a similar conversation with the other one.

I was just walking away, and thinking to myself, “Good job Joel. You handled that very well. Just goes to show how sometimes being a little bit proactive can go a long way…” When suddenly there was more commotion behind me. I turned around and one of the combatants had leaped up from his desk and ran across the room to punch the other one in the face. At this point their classmates separated them, and the Japanese teacher at last got involved.

One of the students, who had a bit of a black eye from being head butted, and who was bleeding from being punched in the mouth, started crying. He was trying not to because its embarrassing to start crying in front of the class when you’re in 8th grade, but he was loosing the battle to himself. The other student was still upset about something, and was kicking desks angrily as the Japanese teacher tried to sort out what had happened.

Now to be fair to my Japanese colleague, once things reached this level she did take it seriously. Another teacher was called in to help her sort out what happened. But as far as I could tell, no disciplinary action was taken. They were simply concerned with making sure that the fight was over and that no more problems would happen.

I’m not sure if this is the worst case I’ve seen yet, but it definitely ranks up there. There was also the time this spring when I saw one student (who was standing up) kick a student (who was sitting down) in the face over some argument. The Japanese teacher saw it, but didn’t do anything, so I took upon myself to escort the bleeding student to the nurse’s room, but no disciplinary action was taken.

And then there was the time back in Ajimu when the Japanese teacher actually got in a physical alteration with a 9th grade student. She was fighting with him, and I was just watching this with my jaw dropped wondering what I should do, when she broke away and just nodded with me to go on with the model reading.

What makes all this surprising is that it does not fit the myth of Japan which I was fed as a student. I remember one of my church youth group leaders saying, “In Japan they never have any discipline problems in the schools. If a student is misbehaving, the government simply says, ‘we don’t believe you appreciate this education we’re giving you, so you can just get a factory job instead’. So the teachers never have to deal with any misbehaving students.” Boy, what a lie that was.

In high school also teachers always talked about how strict Japan was. One teacher told a story to illustrate. “I asked the Japanese exchange student about misbehavior in Japanese schools. She said that once as a joke they all sat cross-legged in class. They were very nervous, but fortunately the teacher had a sense of humor and didn’t punish them. It just goes to show you the difference.”

I’m not sure if these stories are still being told to the younger generation of American high schoolers or not. I suspect that now that the Japanese economy has tanked, the refrain of “The Japanese are going to take over everything, and it’s all your fault for not studying hard enough” has probably fallen with it as well. But if you hear anyone still saying it, do me a favor and call them on it.

For what it’s worth, the myth persists on the other side as well. Japanese people believe that their schools are much better than the American schools, and are often surprised when they visit an American school and learn it is actually stricter. This August some of my students visited their sister school in California. They were really shocked. “When the students were talking in class, the teacher really got angry at them,” they said in amazed voices.

Link of the Day
Once again I'm going to have to plead ignorance because of being in Japan. Perhaps this story has already gotten more than enough coverage and I'm just being reduntant by linking to it.

But I read in the paper yesterday that the IRS has threatened the tax exempt status of a church in California because of an anti-war sermon.

Of course this presents obvious concerns about the freedom of speech and religion. Also it seems like a bit of a double standard to me. I grew up in an enviroment, and many of you did too, were right wing politics and Christianity were commonly fused together.

Don't forget Buy nothing day is coming up. The Japan Times has an article on Buy Nothing Day in Japan.

And finally...
Matt Lind goes on the attack after Bush says critics are re-writing history. Media Mouse has a very thorough rebuttle as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is apparently well known that ministers need to be a bit careful when they are political as they can endanger the non-profit status of their churches (I know my father had mentioned it in the past after we sat through an especially Grand Rapidian 'Republicans are teh good' sermon).

In any event, if the case gets some traction, I'll be doing what I can to make sure that cases also get filed against all of the churches that have helped to support the current administration as well.