Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, September 15, 2006

What Begets What??!?

When I first arrived in the Land of the Rising Sun back in 1990 corporal punishment in schools had only just been officially banned and was still very much a part of the local mindset. The Ministry of Education (now the Ministry of Technology and Education) made a sort of witch-hunt of the whole affair and was quick to make a very visible example of any teacher they caught using violence against students. However, it was still considered a matter of course by most parents that schools would quite literally whip their kids into shape. As far as the teachers themselves were concerned it was standard procedure, and I witnessed some pretty horrifying acts of "discipline" during the three years I spent as an Assistant Language Teacher assigned to the public senior high schools of the greater Kashima area.

Not that I remained silent about it.

Actually, in a program like JET, which recruits mainly hot-headed, ambitious young people with delusions of grandeur right out of college, it's only inevitable that there is more than a dragon's share of (mostly liberal) activists on the roster. The fight against corporal punishment was definitely the crusade du jour, and the cliche "Violence begets violence" got tossed around at every turn. I was nowhere near as frothy-mouthed about it as many of those would-be hero types, but I made my views on the subject very clear. In fact, I protested rather vociferously, telling my Japanese coworkers that I refused to do my job if a teacher was brutalizing a student in the faculty office or, as was often the case, in an adjoining closet. I don't know how much effect I had personally, but the acts of violent discipline definitely seemed to fade to almost zero while I was present.

Eventually I left the JET Program(me) and the local public high schools and moved on, eventually settling here at ye olde academy. Meanwhile, the fight against corporal punishment turned from a political publicity stunt to a witch-hunt at the grassroots level. By the end of the 90s most of the municipal school boards didn't even allow teachers to scold students, let alone use any kind of physical punishment. Meanwhile, here at ye olde academy, a teacher who was known to pound students on the head if they either talked or slept during his class was repeatedly suspended and finally banned from the classroom till he resigned. Another teacher, who slapped a student that insulted him, was verbally roasted during a staff meeting as if he were guilty of rape or something.

Then there was "hero-at-large" Mr. O, who tore into me with a vicious barrage of heated insults and attacks on my professional competence because I wanted to hold a staff conference regarding a group of troublesome students. In his mind, the fact that I even thought those students should be considered for disciplinary action was proof of my lack of ability. His final words were, "As teachers, above all, our job is to LOVE the students, LOVE the students, LOVE the students!"

(Funny...he never even tried to deal with the problem students, and they continued to be a problem till the end. So much for his "superior, professional ability".)

Perhaps I should also mention my wife, who has just been railroaded into quitting her position as coach of her school's tennis team by a rabid mob of parents who are also calling for her removal as a teacher altogether. Her crime? She said the following statement to the newly-elected punk captain of her team: "If you can't listen to me or do your job, you might as well quit." Ooh, that's harsh. The parents are calling it "verbal corporal punishment", and a couple of them are even threatening legal action.

Yes, education in Japan has become a far kinder, gentler affair than what it used to be. Depending on which school or municipality you are in, it is also full of all kinds of nauseating cliches, such as "They are not children, they are small adults," or "Respect them, and they will respect you," or "LOVE the students, LOVE the students, LOVE the students!"

I guess I already said that last one. Sorry.

Anyway, since the whole point of the fight against corporal punishment was "violence begets violence", you'd think that in this wonderful, happy, violence-free, love-filled educational environment kids are growing up to be nice, sweet, non-violent little angels that totally respect their teachers, right?

You'd think it, and you'd be WRONG.

In fact, today's news reported that school violence has been on the rise steadily over the past decade, with the largest increase happening during the past four or five years. The biggest problem is that kids nowadays are much more childish than they used to be, a product of indulgence, which means they are much less able to control their emotions. They are also well aware that their teachers' authority is totally toothless, so they have little or no respect for authority in general. Violent attacks on both teachers and fellow students are happening at a rate almost double what it was back in 1990.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the academic performance of Japanese students has also taken a very disturbing nose-dive.

Well, to all you cliche-spewing idealists, I'd say take a good, hard look at reality. The verdict is in; "violence begets violence" doesn't stand up to empirical evaluation. Maybe it's time to experiment with going back to the alternative and put a little fear back in the kids. Bring back the scolding. Bring back the switch sticks. Maybe it's time to see some little punks standing outside holding buckets of water for an hour again.

Actually, maybe it's time to see some parents doing that...and some administrators...and some politicians...and some teachers...and some random people off the street...and...

*ahem* Anyway, back to life...


  • Violence certainly does beget violence in terms of abused kids growing up to be abusive parents.

    Perhaps the problems with students you see now isn't due to a lack of corporal punishment in school, but other factors, such as those messages they get over their cell phones from the mother ship in orbit directing them to attack all earthling teachers.

    I'm not weighing in with a conclusion, just suggested food for thought. I don't think the two are necessarily linked.

    It might be wise to consult Kinpachi Sensei. He solves this kind of stuff all the time, usually in less than an hour.

    And take a Judo class.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 5:14 PM  

  • Wow - the old question of helping kids on the way to their own self-discipline. As a former teacher, I never hit kids but it's also a mistake to soften your method of teaching so much that kids walk all over you! They still have to know what is acceptable behaviour towards the teacher and towards one another. I don't like violence and brutality at all and there have to be other ways for teachers/parents to get kids on the right track.

    Fiji is full of talk at present about using the cane on kids - many Fijians say it's the only way to make kids know what is right and wrong. Even at the Methodist Conference there was a resolution that corporal punishment is schools is okay - and then the Human Rights guys jump up and down. Apparently it is illegal in Fiji to hit kids in schools.

    I was appalled when I found out that my little grandson was beaten for being late for school early this year. Plus a few others the same day. He was only 6 then. In a Suva school. I think the teacher, a woman, later apologized to the parents.

    Take away privileges and other ways of discipline. Hitting only teaches kids that physical brutality is acceptable.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 9:44 AM  

  • I guess I'd better throw in a quick disclaimer just in case. That last paragraph was mostly meant to be sarcastic. I am not really in favor of physical punishment, mainly because I've seen how out of hand it can get. (I mean...making kids sit on their knees for an hour outside on the sidewalk on a cold, winter day because their bus got caught in a traffic jam???!? ) However, it does irk the hell out of me when some of these vacuous idealists I work with get on my case if I even suggest scolding or taking away privileges.

    I might add that the state of the elementary schools in our area is nothing short of atrocious since teachers are not allowed to take ANY kind of disciplinary action. That winds up carrying over into junior high school (i.e. my classes), and it's a BIG mistake.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 4:31 PM  

  • you know, i soooo agree w/ you on this. i think getting a stick and swatting someone isn't such a bad idea and i also think that holding a bucket full of water for an hour outside isn't a bad idea either - matter of fact, that one sounds delicious! ;)

    you know, when i was in the 10th grade, the teachers would call you out to the hall and beat you in front of everyone if you were misbehaving. i had never seen that before - this was in texas. it terrified me, to say the least. one i got caught w/ gum in my mouth and thought for sure i'd get licks, but didn't. when i was in junior high, anyone could get licks. there were trouble makers in school, but not a lot... and i think that's the reason.

    my husband had corporal punishment in his school. there were many a time that he was hit over the palms of his hands w/ a yard stick. he was once hit w/ it, but you know, the kids in his school still made lots of problems for the teachers and school.

    i think a lot of this is from no discipline in the home. it starts there, don't you think? if the child has no respect for his own parents and isn't made to mind, how can a teacher expect to reach this in the school?

    i got spankings at home from both my mother and father. not a lot, but i knew there were consequences to my actions, which kept me in line most of the time. i didn't misbehave at school... but times were different then.

    i'm rather shocked at the ppl there. but you know, i think nowadays kids have this mindset that they rule the world... but then again, maybe we did when i was school as well... but i don't remember it being like that.

    By Blogger tooners, at 2:54 AM  

  • When I was a student, we walked ten miles to school in the snow, ate clay for lunch, got hit with a hickory stick if we even looked at the teacher wrong, and walk home ten miles in the scorching desert.

    And we liked it!

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 5:32 PM  

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