Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Where Education Begins


Aw, phooey. It's not working. I still hate 'em. Having a group of parents standing either out in the hall or in the back of the classroom carefully scrutinizing my lesson (read "trying to stare me down") is about as much fun as a kidney stone. Well, maybe a bit more fun than a kidney stone, but still not much fun in general.

At least I can make a halfway decent attempt to ignore the parents.

Our school has these things two or three times a year, mainly because, as a "high-level" private academy, we tend to attract students whose parents are extremely concerned about their children's future (read "overprotective education maniacs"). In other words, many if not most of the parents like nothing better than to shove their noses into our business and tell us how to do our jobs.

After that disaster that was the orchestra's planned trip to Australia, parental meddling is very high on my list of "things to suffer if I ever decide to become a masochist". Unfortunately(?), I am not one.

Actually, not many parents tend to come to observe classes for grades 8-11. However, for some strange reason grades 7 and 12 tend to be pretty crowded. I guess parents are particularly concerned with how their kids' education begins and ends, but don't give much thought to what's in the middle. Unfortunately, I teach grades 7 and 12. I have already had parents of 12th graders complain to the principal about my "time-wasting" and "irrelevant" lesson content (before their kids managed to enter top universities...and personally thanked me). I have also had parents of 7th graders noisily comment on my lesson's "meaninglessness" while said lesson was in progress.

Part of the problem is that I do what most teachers are afraid to do: I just conduct a regular lesson instead of going to a lot of trouble to devise a special "showcase lesson". I pretend that there is no audience, and I just stick with my usual program. What the parents see is what I usually do. That is, after all, supposed to be the whole point, anyway, isn't it? What the parents get in most other classes is the educational equivalent of an election campaign. ("Yes, that's right! I spend ten hours preparing props and illustrations every day, and I always conduct my classes in this kind of animated manner!")("So why does my daughter always say your class is as bland as wasabi-less sashimi?")("Er, uh...") However, in this land of "appearances mean everything", my honesty can get me into trouble.

Actually, my honesty has gotten me into trouble before, such as when I was working at Toys R Us as (among many other things) a bike assembler/repairman/safety inspector one winter vacation during my college days, and I explained to one impatient customer quite honestly that it was taking me a long time to inspect and clear the bike she'd bought because the graveyard-shift crew had assembled all the bikes rather hurriedly the night before on account of the unusually large number. I said, "I wouldn't want you to put your kid on this bike unless I'd be sure enough to put my own on it first." I thought I was assuring her of our high standards of quality and safety. What she said (yelled, actually) to the manager right after that showed a very different sentiment. Later, the manager took me aside and said, "It's not really that we want you to lie, but..."

Apparently honesty is the best policy except in either education or toy stores. Nevertheless, I am what I am.

I seem to have digressed a bit.

Anyway, now we've come to my 7th grade classes today, both of which have a sizable gallery of observers. However, I notice something odd about them immediately. They're not saying a word, at least to me or each other. It's not that they're standing there quietly; on the contrary, they're pacing around in the back of the room if not going in and out. Some of them enter and exit the room several times, but never seem to do anything once they're out in the hall except turn around and come back in again. They seem oblivious to each other, and they don't even seem to be paying much attention to what's going on in the class. I see vacant expressions and blank stares. However, every time I call on a student whose mother is present, that mother immediately approaches and hovers over her child. Later, when I give the class a relay activity to work on, the parents scramble to look over their kids' shoulders and tell them what to do.

It's unbelievable. What's even more amazing is that I think I'm beginning to see a pattern here.

The first 7th graders I ever taught were this year's 12th graders. During the open classes, several parents expressed very loud, arrogant comments to each other that were often confusing, as if they hadn't really paid any attention to either my lesson's content or my explanations. Coincidentally, the students of that grade seem rather arrogant, but they also seem to have little or no idea of what's going on.

When this year's 10th graders were in grade 7, a LOT of parents came to the open classes. They chatted noisily during my lesson, disrupting it, hardly paying any attention to it at all, but after it was over they were quite warm and friendly with me and had nothing but compliments...and constructive comments. Coincidentally, the students of that grade (last year's 9th grade disaster class...the ones that drove me to throw a desk) are remarkably noisy, childish, and out-of-control, but they're also both very affectionate and very talented.

As for this year's 9th graders, in their 7th grade open classes their parents seemed serious, polite, and perceptive, but also kind of slow to figure things out (i.e. they kept asking the same questions over and over). You guessed it: their kids are exactly the same way.

So what about this year's 7th graders? I'm really glad you asked me! Actually, only this morning, while I was on seasonal traffic safety duty yet again (on the SAME DAY AS OPEN CLASSES???!?!?&#%$*), I and one of the cooler members of the faculty, a P.E. teacher who is also one of the school's guidance counselors, were just discussing that. This year's 7th graders are, on average, eerily cold and withdrawn. There's an unusually large number of individuals that are virtually incapable of interacting with their classmates at all. A troubling number of the students also seem to have great difficulty expressing themselves to even a very minimal extent. It's difficult if not impossible to get the students to be interested in or enthusiastic about anything. It's like they're just wandering around in a fog unable to do anything unless an adult comes over, takes their hand, and walks them through the steps. We've never seen anything like it, at least not to such an extent, before. Our faculty is becoming increasingly concerned, because it's like we're trying to deal with classes filled with semi-autistic 7-year-olds.

[cue Robin Leach voice] And now I think I know why.

In my country, the phrase, "Education begins at home," is considered an axiom, if a rather maligned one. Here in Japan, however, such a rule has never been publicly accepted. Schools are considered solely responsible for a child's upbringing. If a kid goes bad, all the blame is rested squarely on the shoulders of his or her teachers; in the public eye, the parents not only get off spot free, but society actually pities them. They're seen as having been victimized, forced to see their kids "ruined" by incompetent education.

Excuse me? I think the evidence to the contrary is clear as a bell. It's easy to see who these kids' chief role models are, because their character and behavior echo them so plainly. I might also point out that, since the parents insist on meddling in our work and compelling us (some, anyway) to do things we consider questionable anyway, it's rather hypocritical for teachers to have to take the whole rap for education's failings. We do what we have to do according to the limits what we're able and allowed to do. Even so, a child's first and most important educators are the ones that are right there at home. If the latter fail in their responsibility, as is so often the case here, it's a pretty ridiculously tall order to expect the schools to sort out the mess...especially since everything we do is so subject to scrutiny.

Whatever. Classes are over for the day. Time to have a cup of coffee and prepare the orchestral score for that The Sound of Music medley.


  • You poor thing... Have a rest and relax for the weekend, k..

    In Asian country, education is regarded as a very important element in bringing up children. Because of the high emphasis on this field, society regards Education sector highly, but indirectly, put a large responsibility on its shoulder.

    Educationists were once highly revered, but with the rising of youth problems, the blame game started. Rather than focusing on the factor of family upbringing, parents started to blame schools for failing to educate their children properly.

    Secondly it's the culture of 'kiasuism' that is widespread in Asian region. (Note: Kiasu is a Hokkien adjective literally meaning, "afraid of losing".The nearest English equivalent is "dog in a manger", though even that is pretty mild. ~
    The Coxford Singlish Dictionary)
    Parents want their children to be successful, be talented, be perfect. Many demands only the best of the best for everything they have paid for. In fact, sometimes parents send their children for music lessons not because their children have any interest/talent in music, but simply not to fall behind other competitive parents.

    With the examination-oriented system, and with one of the judging criteria relying heavily on achievements, parents rushed their children to participate in countless extra-curricular, wanting them to be perfect in every aspect. This kind of culture has existed for a long time. Everyone thinks it stress the children out, yet everyone still does it, because they do not want to lose. In short, kiasuism.

    By Blogger YD, at 6:23 PM  

  • argh... something wrong with the comment box... duplicates! sorry ya!

    By Blogger YD, at 9:31 PM  

  • You threw a desk? Listen, Moody, if I ever said anything to offend you, I didn't mean it OK? No hard feelings, right? Now put the desk down, very slowly. Everything will be OK.

    From your description of the seqence of the characteristics of each class , I would start looking for environmental factors like lead or arsnic or mercury in the water or elsewhere in the environment. I heard Kamisu had WWII chemical warfare agents in the water. Any kids from there?

    Of course lame ideas as yd describes may also account for it.

    yd is right. have a nice break and think of .....

    Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens;
    Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens;
    Brown paper packages tied up with strings;
    These are a few of my favorite things.

    rnlwaxux: What I use to wax my rnl.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:41 PM  

  • Thanks for the excellent elaboration, YD!

    Yes, Pandabonium, I threw a desk. I wrote a blog posting about it(last February or March, I think) just before I started this blog. I posted it at Snabulus. I didn't throw it at anybody, but everyone (especially me) was pretty amazed at how far I chucked that thing. I was pretty furious at the time. It made Seishin history. Ironically, the grade chief said my doing that was probably the best thing that ever happened to that class, because the kids all sat up and took notice after that.

    A lot of Seishin kids come from Kamisu, and they do account for a lot of the troublemakers. Actually, the arsenic didn't come from old WWII chemical weapons. The government thought (pretended?) it did at first. Then, more recently, they said it came from industrial waste that had been illegally dumped in somebody's backyard (by his permission...and he got paid handsomely). Unfortunately, illicit dumping of hazardous waste is a widespread problem in northern Chiba and southern Ibaraki prefectures, and an awful lot of "quarries", "land-clearing projects", and "topsoil marketing" are really just pits being dug in which to bury drums of toxic goo. The government says it has begun a crackdown, but there's little reason to be optimistic. Too much money is at stake, organized crime is involved, and corporations say they need low-priced waste disposal to remain profitable.

    From education to toxic waste. Hmm... Yes, I can see the connection!

    spcjc - A bit of humor that is not only logical, but fascinating.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 3:02 PM  

  • In my case, i'm having lotsa fun, it's a different kinda education :)

    But you must have complaint, haven't you, Moody? Or you still get the same old answer : "It's not really that we want you to lie, but..." :p

    Being an educator is not easy, at all. It's easy to teach maths and economics, but not moral, arts, politeness, etc.

    Again, we are talking about few different generation all together. If you ask me, i still prefer to let me children roam in the rubber estate, take few sip of water while learning how to swim in the river, or climb some rambutan tree for the fruits...

    My point is, yes, agreed, "Education begins at home". This reminds me how my father used to whack me with rotan (or anything around him, scary, huh?) while i am totally naked...

    I will probably let me children have T-shirt, after all i'll only focus on thier butt, haha! Of course, i am far from hating my dad, and i'm aware that not every incident like this ended up a happy ending :)

    Oh i am a good boy, just that i can't help when my little sisters start crying for small matters, hahaha...

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 5:51 PM  

  • Little sisters can be good at that, can't they, Low? ;-)

    Thanks for stopping by!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:47 PM  

  • Sounds like we're on the same "ship", hehe!

    I'm innocent, that true! hehe!

    Thank you, for sharing the stories! As chinese used to say, if engineer build houses, teacher build our souls. And for each and every one of us! So you just hang on there alright :)

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 1:04 AM  

  • Pfffffttt on you, stinky head. Big brothers have doggie breath!

    By Blogger Phillipa Scratch, at 10:01 AM  

  • Just for the records, i am not Big Brother, after all. But of course, usually younger sis gets "moody" faster than the elders. Hehe!

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 10:58 AM  

  • Phillipa:


    mkxetos - The Greek spelling of "McCheetos".

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home