Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, June 22, 2008

(Snow) White-Washing Education to Death

And Japan goes and takes the cake (and eats it too) once again.

It seems that a kindergarten in one of Tokyo's many suburbs wanted to stage a school play based on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". However, the parents thought it was unfair that only ONE GIRL (gasp!) would be selected to play the lead. Therefore, they organized a relentless campaign of harassment and bullying until the teachers finally caved in to their demands.

The result? A performance of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in which all 25 students at the kindergarten played the lead role (i.e. Snow White) and no one played any of the other roles.

The parents apparently gave the performance a rousing ovation and called it a triumph of personal rights for their precious snowflakes (Tip of the hat to Fark) who all got to be Snow White.

(Article in the Times. The same article has appeared in a number of different publications from various countries both printed and online)

This would be laughably absurd if it weren't so pathetic. This is a perfect example of the state in which Japanese education is finding itself these days; schools and teachers are becoming more and more under attack from what is known as "monster parents". Basically, the parent of the 20-oughts is someone who feels that his child has rights without responsibility, that society owes him and his offspring special treatment, that he is entitled to have his sushi and eat it too. It's not just the education system that is under attack, either; instead of respecting the certified professionals whose services they hire, such as doctors or lawyers, they noisily demand that those professionals make special allowances for them. Quite often those demands are just plain outrageous. Not surprisingly, more and more school districts, hospitals, etc. are having to take outrageous measures, such has having contracted lawyer teams on standby, simply to be able to do their jobs.

This isn't a faraway thing, either. My wife wound up being driven from her tennis coach position because the "monster parent" father of the team captain, who she'd demoted after he'd not only failed but had scandalized his position, had organized the parents of the first-year students (i.e. the ones that didn't know her) into a posse and harassed both the principal and the local superintendent trying to have her sacked both as coach and as a teacher. (To their credit, the latter refused to punish my wife in any way, and a lot of parents even came out in her defense, but the posse was causing so much trouble that my wife finally quit.) Mssr. Maestro Ogawa at Ye Olde Academy very nearly lost his job five years ago because of something vaguely similar (though I shouldn't and won't give details), and it took me risking my own job by forcing the people up top to listen to the full story and even making efforts to form a counter-posse to defend him. Now I'm having to deal with something of a "monster parent" myself; this person isn't malicious or overly demanding (yet), but she has been pestering the teachers and harassing certain students in the music club every time her precious snowflake has trouble getting along with her seniors (which is about every other week). We've actually been lucky. I know of other teachers and schools in our area which have suffered far worse.

Experts are saying that the "monster parent" phenomenon is a product of the late 90s, when Japan both suffered an economic downturn and saw a rash of faulty product scandals. It is said that, because of these factors, young adults are now far more aware of and quick to demand their individual rights as paying consumers. Well, that may very well be part of it, but after having been a teacher here in the Land of the Rising Bile for almost two decades, I'm far more inclined to believe it has more to do with the bubble-economy indulgence of the 80s. After all, most of the parents of elementary-school-age kids now were in high school when I started teaching here. I remember what they were like as kids: spoiled rotten. These were the children whose fathers were more dedicated to their companies than to their families and whose mothers were intimidated by their doting grandparents. In other words, they got lots of money from their parents and naught else, allowing them to get what they wanted when they wanted without many rules attached. Life was just one, big, convenience-oriented consumerist paradise. Now those spoiled brats are parents, and guess what? They still expect to be given whatever they want whenever they want. Bottom line? This country proudly dug its own grave twenty years ago. The question is whether it can now avoid melting into it.

While I say all this, I realize my American and European readers are probably thinking "Been there, done that..." because the PC and "soccer mom"/"helicopter parent" phenomena have been around for longer than they have here. However, since the "25 Snow Whites" story has gotten so much coverage in American and European press, I have to wonder if this is yet another field, like cars and electronics, which Japan came into later but has now started to overtake the competition.

Anyway, by interesting coincidence, the latest post on Happysurfer's "From Where I Am..." website is a list of 11 Rules of Life, often mistakenly attributed to Bill Gates (because he quoted it in a speech) but which was actually created by Charles J. Sykes, author of the book, Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, Or Add. Personally, I think this list is both excellent and very timely:

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time..

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Amen. This should be required reading for all parents.


  • Monster parents are here in the US also. I think my sister who teaches should read your blog. She would be extremely sympathetic.

    PArt of the problem with teaching now adays is that students don't respect the authority of the teacher because good old fashion liberalism has defeated such useful instruments as the paddle.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 4:04 AM  

  • No more community = no more discipline = no more respect = parents afraid of their kids, and so on and so forth....

    Anyone got more of these?

    By Blogger Olivia, at 8:29 AM  

  • Just remembered I read somewhere that we work harder to accomplish less today. What our parents considered to be comfortable middle class is now by the wayside. What we consider to be comfortably middle class is what previous generations thought of as well-to-do.

    And so there come along with that all the attached expectations and standards...

    By Blogger Olivia, at 8:31 AM  

  • Interesting blog post. I am caught somewhere between "Yeah, you're right." and "This is Bill Cosby yelling at the kids to get out of his yard."

    The list at the end has some points, but, as a teen, I would have tuned out somewhere between 1 and 2. As I've learned in adult life, the truth doesn't help if nobody is listening.

    With that in mind, let me give my own pithy response to Sykes' pithy bromides:

    1. Yep. No argument there.
    2. Self-esteem is a path to victory, not an excuse for blaming someone else.
    3. By 2010 to 2019, this will be wrong.
    4. Not true. With a boss, it is always pass/fail. The B,C and D are worth lots of guilt you don't have to deal with in a job.
    5. In America, it is 90% hispanics flipping the 60% caucasians, this is an arcane point. Try "working in retail" instead.
    6. No argument.
    7. I'm sure Dave likes the politics in this one, but teenagers are cognitively wired for this rebellious response...and if they weren't, they'd NEVER LEAVE HOME.
    8. Bologna. Other than early death there are no losers or winners; only shades of happiness and misery. You can go to jail for 20 years and become a millionaire if you are smart and lucky enough.
    9. Screw that. Enjoy your summers! When they end, they end. Take the good while you got it. Your parents sure as hell did.
    10. If the guy that wrote this got his news from CNN or Fox, his words have no meaning.
    11. I know a lot more nerds working for jocks who inherited jobs from their daddy. They weren't nice to nerds until they could make a buck off of them.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 3:41 PM  

  • Dave
    That's exactly what I expected you to say, and you didn't disappoint me. Well, I don't know about in the U.S., but here in Japan it may have been liberalism that got rid of the paddle (or the buckets of water and sitting on one's knees for an hour, as the case may be), but the "monster parents" seem about evenly divided between the "my child deserves the same satisfaction as everyone else" liberals and the "how dare you destroy my child's image" conservatives.

    You said it, m'lady. Nowadays the common theme of society seems to be "I'm entitled to (fill in the blank)". The idea of having to earn anything seems to be fading out with the typewriter.

    Excellent...a classic Snabulus response! Yes, you're right about people not wanting to hear the truth. In fact, in some countries (such as the U.S. until very recently and China) trying to tell the truth is liable to get you shrugged off at best and publicly branded a traitor at worst.

    I will rebut a few points, though, if I might be so bold (as opposed to italics):

    2. "Self-esteem" is the excuse that is most often used for eliminating any kind of competition or achievement in education. Back in the mid 90s my father said "self-esteem" was the reason official education policy under the Clinton administration was one of "encourage, don't correct", i.e. nothing was ever to be marked wrong. That's why we now have a whole generation that can't add, spell, or use correct grammar...but at least they feel GOOD about themselves!
    3. Why? Will the U.S. be a socialist paradise by then?
    4. If you don't meet a teacher's standards you'll likely get poor marks with perhaps some extra study attached. If you don't meet a boss's standards you're liable to find yourself out on the street looking for a new job...unless you have a powerful union backing you up, in which case it's exactly the same as with a teacher.
    5. I suppose it depends on where you live. In some parts of the U.S. the overwhelming majority of working-class jobs are held by Afro-Americans. In others it's Italians. In others it's Vietnamese. Etc. By the same token, in some parts of the U.S. virtually all students at public schools are black or Hispanic, whereas those at private schools are white and Asian.
    7. Point well made and well taken.
    8. That depends very much on how you define "winning" or "losing". If you define it on whether you achieve your dream or not, there are DEFINITELY winners and losers. If you define it in terms of fame, wealth, or power, there are DEFINITELY winners and losers. If you define it by happiness alone it becomes different shades of gray.
    9. I think he was referring to life AFTER school. People may take time off for vacations, but it's not a guaranteed, calendar-marked right. I have actually had summer vacation plans vetoed by my employer more than once, and there wasn't much I could do about it (except maybe quit my job).
    10. I think he was making a distinction between prime time TV and real life.
    11. It also depends a lot on how you define the word "nerd".

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 8:10 PM  

  • I'm getting numbers on the brain, so I will dispense with the point numbers. Nice rebuttal and I would agree with most of it.

    A couple comments though. First, Olivia's point about the higher standard of living plays a big role in all of this...which could explain the huge rise in immigrant labor (which of course leads to a a rise in xenophobia). In fact, the tone of Sykes' responses can be looked at through the lens of jealously of what kids get now compared to what they used to get.

    Due to inflation and currency degradation, $60k will be the new $30k; this is not a political point. Other than some short lived pilots projects and specialty schools, there have always been grades. My daughter gets them now and they are not always easy or fair. In fact, with my incessant nurturing and coddling, her math level is about a year of where I was (and she started out with math being a bad subject for her). Your response about "nerd" is probably the perfect answer to Sykes rather than mine.

    Also, your point about the kids being a product of spoiled parents is a good one, but I think that point could be made in America about every generation since the end of WWII. Overall, my point is that while we all see examples of how some stuff is going wrong, the world strangely keeps going on and people adapt to whatever cultural/commercial systems they encounter. My teenager drives me freaking crazy every day and seems very spoiled compared to my childhood, but she has MUCH better people and networking skills and has a better career focus and I know that this is what will carry her through more than her current aversion to our criticism and doing chores.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:10 AM  

  • Sorry about the grammatical errors. I corrected them and Blogger decorrected them for me.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:13 AM  

  • I've got a different point of view...I think "helicopter/monster" parents are a result of "affluenza" - meaning more middle class folks are acting like the upper class folks of yesteryear.

    I heard about all this kind of stuff happening in the 50's& 60's at private schools all ... and it's spread right down the line.

    Of course the vast majority of these a$$wipes are CONSERVATIVE, arrogant, snobby busybodies who, as you say moody, have lots of money but pay no real attention (or care) to their children whatsoever.

    Believe me as the former bookkeeper for a private school, I've seen it all. Several parents considered anyone working for the school as their personal servants, and treated them as such. That includes loud temper tantrums, arguments about $5 daycare bills (while at other times boasting about their $10,000 monthly American Express statements), ostentatious (sp?) gifts to teachers as bribes for good grades (which unfortunately worked several times), and as you say, endless badgering of administrative staff if their child did not get some coveted award, position, whatever.

    As I have a sibling who is a professor at a private college, I could go on and on about indulged students in higher education in the US, but I think you get the idea.

    By Blogger ladybug, at 1:19 AM  

  • Monster parents, we do have them here too but mostly parents of students in private schools. However, 25 students as Snow White won't happen here. Teachers still rule. Incidentally, their maternity leave has just been extended to three months from two.

    Thanks for the link.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 12:56 PM  

  • These are all great comments...certainly far better than the (Westerner) moron who wrote a letter to my newspaper's editor saying the 25 Snow White play was a GOOD thing as it showed parents were no longer just standing by and allowing schools and teachers to "abuse" children.

    Happysurfer, 3 months? Here in Japan a teacher gets a FULL YEAR of maternity leave!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 4:14 PM  

  • MM, three fully-paid months. Is the full year leave paid too?

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 4:47 PM  

  • I don't think so. It just amounts to a guaranteed return to position once it's done. I should ask my wife though just to be sure.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 5:47 PM  

  • The Moody Minstrel said...

    Happysurfer, 3 months? Here in Japan a teacher gets a FULL YEAR of maternity leave!

    You guys got it easy, here in the US you can get 3 months UNPAID (it's a Federal law). Now you can use any vacation time or sick days to apply to that time off...but the max usually is 2 weeks per in order to get to 3 months paid, you'd need to work 6 years with NO VACATION...and that's assuming the employer will let you accumulate vacation time, which almost nobody does anymore (you have to use it, or lose it).

    Gotta love the so-called "family friendly" (snicker) policies...because any REAL decent maternity/paternity leave is a godless commie liberal conspiricy!

    By Blogger ladybug, at 11:20 PM  

  • Oh.. so those quotes are not originally from Bill Gates? I did put some of the quotes in my blog (4 June 2007 post).

    Btw, have you seen the "Nanny 911" shows? It's so unbelivable how today's kids are so unrespectful to their parents. They can yell "I hate you, I will kill you" then kick, punch, slap their parents but the parents can not do anything. No more discipline, can not spank their kids coz' later neighbour will think the parents are abusing their kids, so only there's only "time out". I think the way of old days parents in raising/disciplining their children is much better than these days.

    Last night, I went home with my colleague, her husband was also in the car (he is 36 years old), he need to call someone but he didn't have the number with him because the phone number is in his bag at home, so he called his home, his mother picked the phone then he asked his mother to look the phone number, you know what? First, he explained to his mother that he need the phone number and asked her mother's help to find the number, and between the lines, he said very politely to his mum, "Sorry mom, if I'm disturbing you." And when his mom couldn't find the number, he still thank her very much for her effort (though it's less than 5 minutes help from her mum).

    By Blogger Selba, at 11:02 AM  

  • I think the difference between "caring for" and "indulging" has been lost, as has the distinction between "rational discipline" and "irrational abuse".

    I think too many people think everyone is supposed to be smiling and happy all the time (unless they are of a different color or religion).

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:49 PM  

  • At first this seemed like an incredible story but we have the same thing in the states, it just takes a different form.

    Regardless, this does a big disservice to the kids because they'll have no real grasp of how to deal with adversity.

    Plus, a play is not a win or lose situation it's a group effort to put on the show.

    I wonder if anybody recorded that show because it sure would be a weird thing to watch.

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 10:49 PM  

  • When I referred to the paddle, I was thinking specifically of the pink plastic pingpong paddle my family used.

    I think that paddle is what allows me to make the income I make today.

    By Anonymous Dave (ouch), at 7:46 AM  

  • What an interesting post and responses. So many Snow Whites - how amazing. Yeah, I don't like to see kids spoilt, and that's one thing we did right with our kids - kept everything as simple as fair as possible. Of course the Fijian genes did help.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 8:43 AM  

  • And here's a cool hot link for you
    liquid illuzion
    from Inspiration Boulevard

    listen to the soundtrack!

    By Blogger QUASAR9, at 8:58 PM  

  • Help! our office in implementing a paperless workflow. The software arrived today and the boss is ordering the scanner. I have to make this thing work!

    What the hell is an SQL Server?

    By Blogger Phillipa Scratch, at 6:24 AM  

  • Start by looking here.

    By Anonymous Some noif, at 12:54 PM  

  • O.K. I found a white paper that made sense to me. Basically its a Big-ass alternative to MS Access, only in a different ("more robust" is how they describe it) computer language and without all the pretty forms and reports. The meat and cheese of the sandwich, without the bread and mayonnaise. That I understand.

    Bro, sorry about hijacking your blog but mine doesn't get nearly enough traffic and we are doing this paperless thing NOW!

    By Blogger Phillipa Scratch, at 2:33 AM  

  • Question: Where did they find 7 actors for the dwarfs if everybody was busy being Snow White? Did boys get to play Snow White too? Did any girls want to be a dwarf? How did they handle the Prince Charming role? Did some do double duty as dwarf/Prince Charming? Or was that a triple? Dwarf/Prince Charming/Snow White? Or would that be NINE roles per student? SW/PC/ Happy/Dopey/Sleepy/Doc/Grumpy, etc. And was the director Grumpy? And were the students Happy? And were the parents Dopey?

    By Blogger San, at 12:58 PM  

  • Phillipa
    No problem! Good luck getting it all figured out!

    I think the parents thought they were Happy, but I wonder how they feel now that nearly every major news service in the world has made them out to be Dopey.

    Those poor kids are all marked for life.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:36 PM  

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