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Today's Juvenile Problem and Educational Reform in Japan: Its Reappraisal and Future Implications - Part 3

7. The deceptiveness of recent calls for educational system reforms

The deceptiveness and problems of the systematic reforms that have been promoted in recent years have already been written about widely, so here I will only focus on the main points.6 Rather than solving the problems of children who are "peevish, easily snap and lose control," bullying, and absenteeism, such reforms as the full implementation of a five-day school week, the reorganization of the curriculum toward this end, the introduction of combined public junior and senior high schools and six-year secondary schools, and the application of flexibility to school catchment areas are actually designed to satisfy people with an urban lifestyle and the egoism of parents who are passionate about education and to meet their needs; they are reorganizing school education in a discriminative manner. Moreover, they are likely to accelerate the decline in average academic standards and the breakup of local communities.

For example, it is said that the full implementation of a five-day school week will bring some leeway to children's lives. However, even if there is an increase in the number of holidays, the extra days off will be consumed in the same way that holidays are spent at present: While there are some children who spend their time in a fulfilling manner, there are others who spend their time in an idle or harmful manner. This difference might be expanded, but it certainly will not be reduced or improved. In other words, it will be a case of "the wealthy becoming even more wealthy, and the poor becoming even poorer." And needless to say, in this case the poor will be children who frequently get peeved or burst into a rage.

The same can be said about the integration of public junior and senior high schools. The aim of integrating public junior and senior high schools, it is said, is to realize comfortable and enjoyable places of study by freeing children from the pressure of senior high school entrance examinations and enabling them to pursue integrated studies for six years. For this purpose, instead of selection through academic exams, it is said that admissions would be decided by evaluations using a variety of methods. However, if schools were formed according to this plan, only a few selected children would be able to enter them. Moreover, whatever methods of selection were used, unless there were a straightforward and complete lottery, not many children who are "irritable, peevish, snap and easily lose control" would be chosen. In addition, since selection by methods other than academic exams means selecting entrants by character evaluations, children who are judged to have problems in their daily life or behavior would have even less possibility of being chosen than through selection by academic exam. That is to say, combined public junior and senior high schools would be established not for those children with problems but for children from families rich in cultural capital and that are enthusiastic about education.

In this way, in the case of both the five-day school week and the integration of public junior and senior high schools, the proponents always, like a set epithet, begin by referring to pathological phenomena in the education system, such as the rise of school violence, bullying, absenteeism, and "kireru kodomo," thereby first of all morally justifying the need for systematic reform, and then set about promoting system reforms that virtually exclude the very children who are in most need of consideration from any benefit at all. If this is not a deception, then I wonder what is.

8. Children in an advanced information and consumption society

So, how should we think about the increase in the number of children who are "irritable, peevish, easily snap and lose control" and "unruly schools"? In the author's opinion, on the macro side, the development of an information and consumption society and the consequent changes in the living and growth environments are important background factors. And on the micro side, the rise in the number of children who, against the background of these macro changes, have problems in their growth, daily life, and school experiences is another important factor.7 First of all, let us take a look at the former.

Since the latter half of the 1970s, following the arrival of an affluent and value-diverse society and the development of an information and consumption society, the living and growth environments of children have changed drastically. Flooded with information and consumption culture, surrounded by all kinds of information media, and growing up amid abundant material goods and lots of sensory stimulation, children, in their mental and physical sensitivities and lifestyles, tend to look to the present, develop sensory modes of response, and be self-centered and mutually noninterventionist. The attitudes and behavior of being "irritable, peevish, easily snapping and losing control" are an expression of this mental and physical alienation and also of this displeasure and dissatisfaction.

From infancy children grow up in an environment in which they can easily get whatever they want and in which sensory stimulation, such as television, abounds. From as soon as they can remember, the information and consumption culture showers them with various items (goods, clothes, information, typical behavior patterns) by which they engage in self-expression and learn the habit of coordinating their relations with others. From adolescence they get their own private rooms and create their own personal space through the medium of such information equipment as radio cassette tape recorders, compact disc players, pocket-bell pagers, and cell phones, excluding intervention by adults (parents, family) and the intrusion from the outside.

At school, however, this present-oriented and self-centered lifestyle and personal space are disturbed and threatened by various forces. The frame of group life, intervention and control by teachers, relations with peers, discord and conflict with classmates, and the future-oriented activities of lessons and examinations naturally place regulations on personal behavior and often simply encroach on the personal world. Moreover, at school children have to perform themselves and establish their own position. In other words, schools are the source of overbearing displeasure and dissatisfaction.

The attitudes and behavior of "being irritable, peevish, easily snapping and losing control," and such frequent outbreaks are a manifestation of the contradiction between the living and growth environments on the one hand, based on the self-centeredness of the information and consumption society, and the interventionist and regulatory educational environment created by schools on the other. They are a manifestation of the troubles that arise in the interstice between these two very different spaces. Accordingly, if neither space can change its nature, the only way to alleviate the friction, alienation, and violence that arises is to create an attractive culture both inside and outside the schools that is capable of dealing with the discord and confrontation. It is necessary to create cultural and learning spaces capable of absorbing the various displeasure and dissatisfaction or sublimating and relieving them. And on the micro level, it is important to greatly increase the opportunity for thinking, conversing, and reflecting, taking time for this purpose.

In either case, however, it certainly will not be easy. It might seem like a weird and roundabout route, which is why it is not surprising that others advocate simpler approaches. Indeed, even though our understanding of the background is similar, like the "school stress" argument that I discussed earlier, there are frequent calls for a complete change in the way that schools operate. And there are others who advocate the absolute value of tastes and individual decision-making and argue, for example, that the development of information and consumption culture should be left completely to the market principle, criticizing the disapproving moralizing against high school girl prostitution ("compensated dates"), the commercialization of sex, and expressions of sex and violence in the media as a groundless ideology. However, there are problems in both of these views.

First of all, regarding the opinion that schools should be changed, the problem is how they should be changed. If they are to be changed by means of the kind of systematic reforms that have been promoted in recent years, then the argument can be criticized in the same way as the "school stress" argument. That is to say, theoretically there is the problem of excessive generalization. And functionally, there will be no improvement in the situation. As for the second opinion, this approach even rejects the idea that attitudes and behavior of being "irritable, peevish, easily snapping and losing control" and the general phenomena of delinquency and deviancy should be seen as social problems and that some measures should be taken, so it is really out of the question here.

9. Distortion in the living and educational experiences and improvements in the school environment

The two views mentioned above, the "school stress" argument and the "information and consumption society" argument, are attempts to explain the increase in the number of children who are "irritable, peevish, easily snap and lose control" and "unruly schools" in terms of macro changes. However, even if these macro arguments can explain the overall changes (increase) in the problems and phenomena to an extent, they cannot necessarily explain individual cases. And they cannot explain individual differences or school differences, either.

Even if it can be said that "kireru kodomo" and "unruly schools" are on the rise, it cannot be said that all children easily snap and lose control or all schools are unruly. Why is it that some children often snap and lose control but many other children never do at all? Why is it that some schools are unruly but many others are not? In order to explain these individual and school differences, it is necessary to look at individual children and schools--that is, at specific contexts at the micro level.

Regarding the increase in the number of children who are "irritable, peevish, easily snap and lose control," the argument that pays attention to these micro circumstances emphasizes distortions in the growth, living, and school experiences of children8. The behavior and attitudes of being "irritable, peevish, easily snapping and losing control" are the outcome of a sense of mistrust, a sense of alienation, a sense of self-denial, a sense of meaninglessness, aggression, and impulsiveness formed through distorted experiences since infancy and alienating and violent experiences and discrimination in the home, school and local community. They are a manifestation of various mental maladjustments and troubles, including feelings of instability and powerlessness that become ingrained in family environments with serious problems, such as divorce, family discord, or the disappearance of a parent; emotional instability stemming from a mixture of such factors as dotage and overprotection, noninterference, excess expectations, and excess control; aggression, impulsiveness, and self-centeredness; and feelings of alienation, self-denial, and blockage that build up in a competitive, coercive, and oppressive school experience and relations with peers. And when the number of children who are "irritable, peevish, easily snap and lose control" with these mental distortions and troubles increases, then the possibility of schools becoming unruly rises, too.

Actually, as suggested by reports from many classroom teachers, when a school begins to get out of hand, there is usually some incident, albeit a trivial one, that acts as a catalyst, and there are usually certain students at the center of the storm. Of course, such an incident is not necessarily a single one, and maybe it only takes on importance in hindsight. Furthermore, the students at the center of the storm do not necessarily constitute a single group. As the situation deteriorates, the number of students involved increases, and maybe the borderline becomes ambiguous. Whatever the case, it can be said that an "unruly school" will not just appear all of a sudden without the existence of such incidents and students.

Of course, such incidents do not occur without any reason, and the behavior of these students does not necessarily become a problem. For example, there could be a variety of reasons: a sudden change in a teacher's or school's guidance policy, unreasonable guidance, guidance that clearly lacks fairness and consistency, extremely antagonistic and tense relations between teachers and students or between students, or pent-up dissatisfaction among students because of the school's tight control and coercion. Whatever the case, the interaction of the existence of such students and an inappropriate response and guidance by the school and teachers causes the situation to deteriorate.

Accordingly, in this case it is important to reconsider the methods of response and the guidance policy of the school and teachers and take positive steps toward improving the situation. At the same time, it is important to build schools and environments that are capable at all times of easing these troubles and distortions, healing scarred minds, and fostering a sense of self-affirmation and trust in others.

Hidenori Fujita, Educational Reform: Building Schools in an Age of Symbiosis (in Japanese), Iwanami Shinsho, 1997; Hidenori Fujita, "The Conspiracy Behind the Proposal to Introduce Integrated Public Junior and Senior High Schools" (in Japanese) in Gakushu Hyoka Kenkyu (Study Evaluation Research), No. 32, December 1997, pp. 38-47.

7  Shintaro Nakanishi, "The Form of Growth Is Shaking" (in Japanese), Ronza, May 1998, pp. 32-39.

8  Takuhito Mori, "From the Classrooms of 'Peevish' Students" (in Japanese), This is Yomiuri, April 1998, pp. 47-54.

Hidenori Fujita
Professor Hidenori Fujita is a member of the faculty of the University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Education. His field of study is Sociology of Education and he is affiliated with the Center for Clinical Research on School Development at the University of Tokyo. This paper was presented at the Japan-United States Conference on Juvenile Problems and Violence in a Changing Society" held in Tokyo, Japan from February 26 to 28, 1999. A major part of this paper, except for the first and last sections, is an English translation of the author's article, entitled "Today's Juvenile Problem as Seen from Educational Sociology," Crime and Delinquency (Hanzai to Hikou), No.117, August 1998, pp.4-26.
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