Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Education Stops in the Home

Speaking of teachers and education, I read a rather hair-raising (but I guess not all that surprising) article in my newspaper a couple of days ago.

Back in the early nineties, when I first came to Japan to teach, the biggest problem facing teachers here was gang violence. That was back when the James Dean image was hip. "Cool" guys wore their hair in greasy duck-butt styles, swaggered around with their faces frozen in a lip-jutting "I'm so bad" sneer, spoke in slurred speech, and got into fights a lot. Unfortunately, many if not most of them also tended to carry knives, which makes me wonder how the rate of injury, let alone death, remained so low. Actually, the problem didn't really seem as serious as all that, but it was still the #1 cause of worry and stress for Japanese teachers. (#2 was the outlawing of corporal punishment, which was still a fairly recent thing.)

Cut to the twenty-oughts. Most students of today have no idea of what a duck-butt style even looks like; now the "hip" kids tend to have ratty-looking hair. The swagger has been replaced with an unmotivated shuffle. The "I'm so bad" sneer has been largely replaced with a vacant expression. Instead of slurred speech nowadays one tends to hear a childish whine. Instead of knives, they carry cell phones and portable game systems.

So what is the biggest problem facing teachers in Japan today?


Troublesome parents have gotten to be such a serious problem around the country in recent days that many school districts are now employing special counselors whose job is specifically to deal with them. Other school districts are having their teachers take special training courses on how to deal with problem parents themselves. Apparently the number of parents that make unreasonable demands of their kids' schools and become harassing, disruptive, and even threatening if they don't get their way is reaching epidemic proportions. It's at the point where it's actually interfering with the effective function of many schools.

Examples of the kinds of things teachers are having to deal with nowadays include:

  • Parents that insist their child be given special privileges, such as being provided with a custom-tooled school lunch on account of their picky tastes or being excused from a (required) school subject that they don't like,
  • Parents that demand their child be exempted from school rules,
  • Parents that insist their kid be given special extra credit for a weak subject, claiming it results from some kind of odd (and totally unproven) handicap,
  • Parents that demand a particular kid other than their own be transferred to another class if not kicked out of school even if that kid has never gotten into any trouble,
  • Parents that go ballistic if their kid gets in trouble, is given the slightest criticism, or is prevented from doing what s/he wants,
  • Parents that demand the school intervene in their own family issues, such as a domestic dispute between the parents,
  • Parents that blame the school and threaten legal action when their kid winds up being caught shoplifting, smoking, etc..

The list goes on and on, but keep in mind that none of these is new. Such parents have always existed. However, they were generally a rare occurrence until recently. Now they're common to the point of posing a serious problem. I suppose it's a mark in favor of the Abe administration that they're actually trying to do something about it, but they seem to be missing the whole point. Why is it that problem parents have become so widespread these days?

Some politicians and corporations have been trying to blame all of Japanese society's ills on Westernization, but I think they are missing a very basic point. The fact is that many if not most of the parents of elementary and junior high school students nowadays grew up in the eighties, the peak of the so-called "bubble economy". In other words, they grew up in a life of convenience and were indulged by their own parents. Now they are parents themselves, and they can't tolerate the slightest twinge of dissatisfaction. The world has to bend over backward to accommodate them, or they are being cheated out of their worldly due. We've arrived at an era of spoiled brats being raised by spoiled rats.

I suppose there's nothing we can do other than simply doing our best...and hope we don't inadvertently wind up being the target of a hate campaign. I've already seen it happen. Believe me when I say it wasn't pretty.


  • I'd rather have a PSP jabbed into my ribs than a knife, so at least that part is an improvement.

    I also think a good replacement for corporal punishment is to give teachers the right to take kids cell phones and game players and smash them with a hammer in front of the class. It wouldn't change their attention span, but it would sure get their attention.

    As for the problem of parents, I say crush their PSPs and cell phones too. Imperfect, but cathartic. (then ring a bell in front of their eyes and say, "Gooooooood niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigght ding ding ding")

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 6:58 AM  

  • problem parents is not systematic of just Japan. My sister who also teaches says parents are a problem too. But she doesn't make it sound as bad as you do.

    I would not doubt that there is some sort of social change that has occured in Generation X who are now parents. The trouble is identifying what exactly causes the social change to occur. Perhpas the one big change that has come is the arrival of the Internet, a global information exchange which saturates the mind with all sorts of things.

    Japan is also a country of great change. In the last hundred years, Japan has gone from being an ally of the US to an enenmy to an ally again, and immedietly after world war 2 was subject to much westernization as a result of our presence there. But you know that story better than I do.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 8:04 AM  

  • Not on the subject Moody, but have you had anything to do with buying sheet music over the internet? A guy gave me this address where he bought Cohen's Hallelujah for piano and recommends the site.
    It's and I looked it up. I'd like to buy things like the Adagietta from Mahler's 5th etc. but my security suite or whatever says it's not a reliable site to open up etc. I have to download some kind of 'Sibelius Scorch' or something to see the first page of the music etc.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 12:41 PM  

  • LOL

    I couldn't more agree with your statement

    "We've arrived at an era of spoiled brats being raised by spoiled rats."

    That's so true!!!

    By Blogger Selba, at 7:53 PM  

  • Snabbo
    You are right about that. Our two "disaster classes" at Ye Olde Academy, the current grades 9 and 12, tend to evoke a lot of stress and griping among the faculty, but leveler heads often point out that, though spoiled and immature, at least the kids are friendly. We've seen none of the violence and outright maliciousness that have popped up in certain problem classes in the past. I should be grateful for that.

    There was once a popular TV drama in which a rebellious, young teacher is transferred to a private all-girl school which has serious problems. During his very first lesson, which the students are determined to ignore, he mentions he has a black belt in karate, and when the girls then ask for a demonstration he goes around, collects their cell phones, and karate chops them. He is immediately disciplined by the administration.

    I know it's not just a Japanese problem. Posters on Fark are fond of using the expression "the pussification of the West". I think that hits the nail on the head. My friend FH2o once wrote an interesting post, quoted from a friend, talking about his "dangerous" childhood in which he actually climbed trees, swam in untreated ponds, walked for miles alone, talked to strangers, ate unprocessed foods, used potentially hazardous tools without reading the directions, etc., and guess what? He's still alive!

    I mean, there is cautious, and then there is ridiculous. Love and indulgence are not the same thing, and there is definitely such a thing as being too protective. People only grow strong when there is something to overcome.

    I haven't ordered sheet music for direct download. I've only ordered packs of sheet music for jazz or concert band for ordinary shipment.

    The sheet music available at that site is obviously all in Sibelius format, which has become a sort of standard. That means you need a program able to read sbl (Sibelius format) files. Sibelius itself, which is what I use to make sheet music, is quite expensive. The Scorch reader, however, is free and can be easily downloaded and installed.

    Yes...sad, but true.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:59 PM  

  • Hey Moody, you've hit the nail on the head. This is not just a "Japanese" problem, it's a huge problem in North America too.

    There's even a book (which I can't exactly remember the name of)which is designed as a handbook for folks like "Helicopter Parents" (parents who hover and harass staff for the littlest thing for their "precious" [spoken w/Gollum inflection) & their opposite "Friend Parents" (they don't parent, they are just friends, and they will dump $$$ into the keep everyone quiet, including their kids). Colleges & Universities are having problems! Basically the book talks about how parents have abdicated their role, and expect the schools to do it for them.

    I think your analogy "spoiled brats being raised by spoiled brats" needs to go farther. The kind of special privilige, attention and teacher humiliation that was the hallmark of only the upper echolons of society has now drifted down to the pseudo-rich.

    Kind of gives a new shade of meaning to Reagan's "trickle down economics" - it's the fallout.

    By Blogger ladybug, at 3:14 AM  

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