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Japanese Education at the Crossroads (VI) -"Emotional Education" or "Emotional Connections"?-

After a fourteen-year old junior high school student was arrested as a suspect in the murder of an elementary school pupil that took place in Kobe, the mass media reported repeatedly about his home environment and school experiences, with comments by learned people and contributions by readers, and discussed the brutality of the crime and its background. The actions of the government were also hurried: the director-general of the prime minister's office said that it would look into rules governing print media and television programming, the chief secretary of the Cabinet said that it would be necessary to study strategies including the reform of juvenile crime law, and the principle of strengthening co-operation to prevent juvenile crime was confirmed at liaison meetings of government offices concerned that were held at the prime minister's residence. Also, the Education Minister announced his intention to submit a question on "Emotional Education" to the 16th session of the Central Council for Education to be resumed in September.

No one knows how this murder case will turn out, but as these trends indicate, the question of how we should regard it is of major significance, insofar as this incident does not seem like one that will simply end up as a "brutal murder."

It is dangerous to make judgments about the circumstances of the case and the suspect before guilt has been established, but I would like to state a few of my own views about questionable aspects of opinions on the case that may influence the development of future policies connected to education.

(1) In this case, it is possible to conclude that a great deal about the suspect is highly individual. On this point, prudent and appropriate investigation including tests for the existence of mental disorder is essential. (2) There is no need to quickly generalize from this that there are problems in the education system or the way we run our schools just because, in his statement about the crime, the accused boy wrote "(my act was) in revenge against compulsory education." (3) Nor is there any reason to think that there is something wrong with the way he has been raised or the life style of his family just because various kinds of information have been circulated concerning the accused boy's home and community environment. (4) Nor is it appropriate to generalize from this that there are problems with our efficiency-oriented society or regulated schools.

If there was something wrong with the school or the home, we should ask why the growing seriousness of the situation was not noticed before his abnormal behavior started to escalate, and why the appropriate steps were not taken to get it under control. Still, extremely tragic as this was, since it was not the cause of the murder, it is also not something for which we should seek to place blame.

Having considered these points, now let us turn our attention to the background and the significance of the murder case.

First, about the brutality of the murder and its meaning: It is not necessary to once again point out the extent to which human beings are capable of brutality, but its manifestations differ according to the era and the society. In Japanese society today we hardly see such extremes of brutality, but it is not that human beings have lost their cruelty or even the tendency to be cruel. Incidents like the serial murders of young girls, the encasing of a high school girl in concrete or the case this time--where the victims and the perpetrators were school-age children--attract special attention, but brutal crimes are committed everywhere. Furthermore, in the fictional world of magazines, comic books, films, television, and video games, scenes of violence are extremely common. These scenes that are spread through the media are essentially just one kind of entertainment; still, while on the one hand they have the function of ameliorating or dispelling some of the discontent and madness that builds up in daily life, on the other hand they become the stuff of addiction, and present models of real violent behavior. It is quite difficult to make a judgment when considering this duality.

Second, with reference to the fact that the suspect is a junior high school student, and the necessity of stressing "Emotional Education": If it is true that, as has been reported in the mass media, this junior high school student had been repeatedly exhibiting anti-social behavior since he was a sixth grader in elementary school, it seems he never had an experience that might have offered him a chance of escaping his predicament, or encountered such concern and consideration. Or perhaps there were no "emotional connections" that could have stopped this boy from stepping beyond the crucial line and committing something like a murder. Perhaps, rather than supposing that "one part of the cause lies in insufficient character-building education and emotional education," we should think about how we can build the foundations of the aforementioned "encounters" and "emotional connections."

As our information- and consumption-oriented society develops and the pursuit of entertainment is given value in itself, there is a tendency for the foundations that allow such encounters and emotional connections to become weaker and weaker. However, because schools have so few chances to prevent this decline, it is essential that we again recognize the fact that it is important for schools and teachers to have more "jikanteki yutori"--time to do their jobs right.

[Source: This article was originally written for "Shinken News" September, 1997 issue published by Benesse Corporation]

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