Something's Strange: Education in Japan (3) Are Classes Military Organizations? - Director's Blog



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Something's Strange: Education in Japan (3) Are Classes Military Organizations?

Japanese Chinese

I imagine some readers are surprised by this strange title. My apologies. I would very much like to present a cheerful subject full of hope, but, one can only carefully convey the facts despite this time of hardship when the world is facing a coronavirus crisis.

I would like to share two experiences that prompted the use of this odd title. They both occurred while I was seeing patients. (I have made minor changes to their ages, etc.) One child was a boy in the second grade who showed signs of attention deficit and hyperactivity. When he displayed a tendency to refuse attending school the previous year, his parents became concerned and brought him for consultation. Based on his behavior, he was diagnosed as having ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and continued receiving medicinal treatment. According to his mother, after strong reprimands by the homeroom teacher for quarrelling with other students, he started showing resistance to attending school. His mother also noted that he complained that the teacher did not listen to him because although the fight started when the other boy teased him, the teacher only shouted at him. The mother then asked the teacher to listen to what her son had to say. She added that the boy was delighted at being able to talk to the teacher and had become less resistant about attending school.

What surprised me was what the teacher said to the mother afterwards. "I can't stand it when children don't do what I tell them to do." While one might want to commend the honesty expressed, it is very clear that the teacher completely failed to understand that the classroom is neither a military organization where all must absolutely obey the commands of the teacher (one's superior) nor a place for the teacher's self-expression.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I thought of this as an anecdotal incident, but I recently encountered another case that was hardly anecdotal. It involved a very individualistic girl in one of the lower grades of elementary school who had clear likes and dislikes. She understood a lot, but refused to do anything that she did not find logically convincing. I remember telling her mother then that her daughter reminded me of the character in "Totto-chan: the Little Girl at the Window." According to my diagnosis, she was a child who had a problem controlling her attention, that is, lack of attention or hyperconcentration.

The other day, the homeroom teacher held a conference with the mother and pointed out a problem concerning her daughter. Even when told do mathematical calculations (addition and subtraction) on paper, the student did them in her head. The answers were correct and her grades weren't bad either. The teacher seemed to be concerned that if the student did not get used to doing calculations on paper, she would have trouble keeping up with the class as they became more difficult with each school year. What surprised me, however, was the mother's account of the homeroom teacher's explanation: "It's going to be difficult if she doesn't do what everyone else does." The mother felt that this teacher was being very considerate and trying to help, so unlike with the episode of the above-mentioned teacher, she did not feel inclined to find fault with this teacher.

However, even such a teacher still expects children to behave like everyone else and I have to sigh at this Japanese way of thinking. Wasn't it the aim of the Ministry of Education's fundamental policy of education to provide education that develops the individual abilities and strengths of each student?

In a survey conducted by a major life insurance company, when girls in elementary school were asked what they wanted to be in the future, the second most popular occupation after "pastry chef" was "teacher." This might be evidence that many elementary school students admire their teachers and view them as someone they would like to be in the future. I only hope that the two teachers mentioned above are just anecdotal characters.

sakakihara_2013.jpg Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before working with Ochanomizu University.