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Today's Juvenile Problem and Educational Reform in Japan: Its Reappraisal and Future Implications - Part 4

10. How should we understand today's juvenile problem?

So far I have introduced and discussed three views concerning the increase in the number of children who are "irritable, peevish, easily snap and lose control" and "unruly schools": the argument about "school stress" as the cause, the argument about the advanced information and consumption society as the background, and the argument about micro circumstances. Now let me arrange these views just once more, focusing on their effectiveness, and add a little supplementary explanation.

As I have already explained, in general I am critical of the macro "school stress" argument. In particular, I think that the approach of concluding that the examination system and the coercive, forcible, and uniform methods of school education are the causes of the illnesses and thereby justifying the need for slimmer schools and more liberalization not only does not solve the problems at all but also is a serious problem itself, because it could reorganize the educational environment in a discriminating and elitist manner.

I do not have the space here to explain the reasons, but suffice to say that looking at the examples of, for example, the United States and Britain, which have similar or even much worse juvenile problems, it is predictable that the establishment of slimmer schools and the advance of liberalization will not have the effect of solving the problem. After all, the kind of slimming and liberalization that is being called for in Japan has been a matter of fact in those countries for some time.

What is more, although I did not use the term "school stress," the author has been pointing out since around 1980 that children in the examination-oriented and school-oriented society are placed in a state of blockage9. That is to say, in the author's understanding, the state of blockage and "school stress" have been characteristics of the conditions of children since the 1970s. The state of blockage and "school stress" were background factors behind the frequent outbreaks of school violence and bullying from the latter half of the 1970s to the first half of the 1980s10. And structurally the situation has not changed now, either. However, the recent increase in the number of "kireru kodomo" cannot be explained by this factor alone.

The importance of the "advanced information and consumption society" argument as a macro theory lies in this point. The development of the information and consumptive society has brought changes to the living and growth environments of children two or three times over. As I have already explained, as a result of the development of the information and consumption society, the affluent and sensory world of experience has expanded, and consummative and self-centered living and growth experiences have increased. This expansion and increase have become especially striking since the 1980s. The first generation to grow up from infancy with this environment as a matter of fact is now at junior and senior high school age.

Of course, the changes began in the 1970s. They were manifested in values and lifestyles. Until the 1970s Japanese society pursued rationality and productivity. There was a longing for more affluence and, therefore, an orientation toward the future. From the mid-1970s, however, a shift began to a postmodern society that was characterized by an orientation toward the present, the pursuit of preferences, comfort, and individual styles, and emphasis on choice as a value. This was the so-called change from a modern society to a postmodern society.

This change appeared first of all in the lifestyles and behavior patterns of young people. For example, there were such phenomena as the emergence of a so-called "new breed" and "floating" young people, the spread of individualism and me-ism, and then the emergence of something-maniacs and maniac culture. However, this emergence and development of young people's culture went in parallel with the rapid expansion of information and consumption culture in the 1980s, and indeed young people were its leading standard-bearers. But in contrast, the children who are "irritable, peevish, easily snap and lose control" who are attracting so much attention in the 1990s belong to a generation that grew up in an environment in which the information and consumption culture was as pervasive as the air we breath. The fine difference between these two generations can even be seen in language. While senior high school students in the late 1980s used such terms as "peeved" and "superpeeved," junior high school students in the 1990s talk about "snapping and losing control." It can be said that this is the difference between a generation that tied the information and consumption culture into its lifestyles and behavior patterns from adolescence and a generation that has grown up in an environment overflowing with information and consumption culture from its infancy and has absorbed this information and consumption culture on the level of physical senses. This generation gap, this time difference in the growth experience, can be seen as a macro factor in the background of the emergence of children who are "irritable, peevish, easily snap and lose control" as a problem in the 1990s.

As I have already explained, however, such macro factors do not explain individual and school differences. On this point, micro arguments are given as the reasons and grounds to explain the backgrounds and causes of incidents and problems.

How do the various trends in macro conditions permeate individual children and schools, and what is their impact? What is happening to human relations, standards, and interaction in families, schools, and peer groups, which are the places for living and growth experiences from infancy? What experiences are individual children having there for their self-formation? Investigating these environments and experiences and the special characteristics of the process and thereby clarifying the mechanism of the formation and emergence of "kireru kodomo" and "unruly schools" is an important research theme, but I do not have space to consider it here. So here I would like to indicate five points to note in making a desirable response to the various problems, including this one.

11. How should we tackle school disorder problems?

First, regarding the problems of "kireru kodomo" and "unruly schools," or the problems of bullying and absenteeism, there are various fixed conditions and backgrounds behind each specific problem, such as the nature of relations in the home, the school, and among friends; the experiences accumulated therein; and the psychological inclinations and behavior patterns of the person concerned. Although it is important to understand these conditions and backgrounds both scholarly and practically, on the specific practical side we must also remember that appropriate responses can be made even if the details have not been made clear. Confirming this point is especially important for dealing with specific problems in schools and so on. One reason is that making the details clear often actually only makes the situation or relations worse. Another reason is that the problem of privacy is often involved, especially facts relating to family circumstances.

Second, although micro conditions (fixed circumstances and backgrounds) are diverse, depending very much on the individual case, clarifying the general trends is an important issue academically, and understanding these trends is important practically. As I have already stated, for example, knowing that cases often involve such environmental factors as divorce, family discord, pampering or nonintervention in the home, excessive control or violence, delinquent, violent, or alienated relations with friends, and arbitrary and tightly controlled school systems, or such mental factors as a sense of alienation, a sense of self-denial, excessive tension, or pent-up dissatisfaction, is important for accurately grasping the situation at the specific practical level and for responding properly to the situation. In such cases, however, it is also necessary to remember that peremptory judgments and responses often lead to a deterioration in the situation and can hinder an adaptable and flexible response.

Third, it is important to understand that although micro circumstances have their own dynamism, they also reflect and are influenced by macro circumstances. Especially today, with the advance of the information and consumption society, it is an important fact that the evaluation of and attitude toward children's ways of understanding the world, the responses of parents and teachers, and school guidance arrangements reflect norms and terminology that are common in the world. Children are sensitive to the contradictions of the adult world, and concerning the question of how to talk about the various problems and behavior, they are familiar with popular opinions. Rather than urging self-examination on the part of children, these popular views about ways of recognizing the world, problems, and phenomena tend to justify the self and to criticize parents, adults, teachers, schools, the outside world, and society.

Fourth, although, needless to say, it is important to adopt clinical and appropriate responses to deal with the various problems and phenomena that take shape amid micro circumstances and to improve arrangements for this purpose (for example, the improvement of counseling arrangements), it is also important to endeavor to improve the problematic conditions pointed out by macro arguments. In this case, however, the measures for improvement must always be rational. As I commented in the section about the "school stress" argument, regarding this point, the measures to introduce a five-day school week and integrate junior and senior high schools are lacking in rationality, although this is not to say that "school stress" has no relationship to bullying, the problematic behavior of "kireru kodomo," and "unruly schools." Indeed, many cases have been reported of children who have problems in one school enjoying exuberant lives, as if transformed into other people, after moving to another school with a completely different environment. What such cases suggest is that, first, such factors as " school stress" and the causes of this stress, such as the school's guidance system or peer relations, are important as the background of various problematic phenomena; second, it is important for individual schools to make efforts and be creative toward eliminating or alleviating this "school stress"; and third, it is important to improve the background factors behind this "school stress," such as the examination system and mode of school education. Although, needless to say, individual school responses and measures on the macro level must be appropriate, as I have already stated, it is important for especially the latter to be always rational. The reason is that in the case of the former, because they are specific responses, their suitability becomes evident in a relatively short time; but in the case of the latter, it is almost impossible to judge whether changes in the situation are the result of certain policies.

12. Biased policies toward the problem

Fifth, the responses and measures that have been considered and promoted in recent years in relation to the macro circumstances can be classified broadly into the following five items: first, reforms of the education system, such as the introduction of a five-day school week, the integration of public junior and senior high schools, and the liberalization of school choice; second, strengthening of cooperation among the school, family, and community and improvement of the total educational environment, including the family and the community, such as the strengthening of cooperation among the school, family, and community and development of social education networks; third, improvement of the information and media environments, such as restrictions on harmful information and introduction of the V-chip; fourth, improvement of the school counseling setup, such as the allotment and increase of school counselors and "spiritual classrooms"; and fifth, reform of social order and penal arrangements, centered on revision of the Juvenile Law.

Regarding the first item of systematic reform, as I have already commented, basically these are systems relating to the distribution of educational opportunities, so the measures cannot be expected to be rational ones for tackling such problems as bullying, knifing incidents, and school violence. Regarding the second item of measures to improve the community educational environment, such measures are desirable, needless to say, but amid the advances of urbanization and information and consumption culture, one doubts their efficacy. Accordingly, it is necessary to confirm the irrationality and irresponsibility of policy proposals to transfer functions that have so far been provided by schools to other community and social education facilities-for example, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives' idea of open-type schools. Regarding the third item of restrictions on harmful information, care should be taken because of various latent problems that exist, such as the abandonment of responsibility by parents, the possibility of an even more overt barrage of extremely violent and sexual expressions as a countereffect, and the possibility of infringing on the freedom of expression. Regarding the fourth item of improving school counseling arrangements, on the one hand this measure is necessary, but on the other hand it is also important to give consideration to the maintenance of appropriate cooperative relations within groups of teachers, including counselors. And finally, regarding revision of the Juvenile Law, this matter includes at least the aspect of reform and correction, the aspect of punishment and discipline, and the problems of transparency and fairness in investigations and court proceedings. As I stated at the beginning, it can be said that this is a symbolic reaction to the fact that juvenile problems, including the Kobe incident, are entwined in sensationalism. In my personal opinion, if there is a need to consider the Juvenile Law, then really problems relating to investigation and court proceedings should be given attention first. In the Yamagata mat incident, for example, in which a student was rolled up and beaten to death in a mat, there seems to be a relationship between the fact that the truth about the incident has not been made clear, despite the fact that several dozen students were in the gym, and regulations in the Juvenile Law relating to this point.

The above has been a brief discussion of recent reform trends. There is a bias toward adorning the understanding of problems with sensationalism, and there are self-righteous and irrational responses based on beliefs. Generally speaking, individual responses to micro circumstances must be speedy and accurate, but measures relating to macro circumstances must not be hasty or irrational. This is particularly so in fields in which macro circumstances cannot be changed overnight, like today's juvenile and educational problems. In this sense, what is needed now are wise policies and sincere responses. We do not need irresponsible sensationalism, and we do not need self-righteous and irrational policies.

13. Implication of juvenile problems and policies in postmodern societies

The situation of juvenile problems such as delinquency, violence and school disorder problems might differ from country to country. The Japanese situation explained above might be seen as being centered around schooling and school related problems and relatively less serious, compared to the American situation where juvenile violence and criminal behavior is much more widespread both inside and outside schools.

Assuming this observation is valid, this difference is partially rooted in the social and cultural environments between these two countries: In America, as social cultural and economic diversity has become more pronounced, social and ethnic conflict has become more inevitable; while uniformity, conformity and economic equity have been rather characteristic of Japanese society. It can also be said that violence is very common in American culture and society; whereas it is not the case in Japan at least up to now. It would be misleading, however, if we attribute the differences in various juvenile problems and violence between two countries solely to the environmental differences built in their respective socioeconomic and ethnic structures.

From the author's view, more important seems to be the educational and sociocultural orientation among people as well as the institutional organization of education and educational caring. As I mentioned at the beginning, if we devalue the role of school education and move toward individualizing the responsibility of caring everyday life of children, educating and guiding them, and their growing up, then it will undermine the foundation both of a healthy and safe society and of the sound development of children and their enjoyable life as a whole.

9  Hidenori Fujita, Children, Schools, and Society: In the Irony of Affluence (in Japanese), University of Tokyo Press, 1991. (Relevant parts were originally carried in Sogo Kyoiku Gijutsu (General Education Techniques), Shogakukan, from April 1981 to March 1982.)

10  Hidenori Fujita, Educational Reform (in Japanese), Iwanami Shinsho, 1997.

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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