[Snuggling Up to Our Differences] Episode 8: There Is No Such Thing as a Bad Child - Projects



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[Snuggling Up to Our Differences] Episode 8: There Is No Such Thing as a Bad Child


Two years have passed since we opened HILLOCK Primary School. There are no school rules and regulations. It does not matter if you are late for school; attendance is not mandatory either. Choosing to learn or not is entirely your decision, and no penalty is levied for not learning. It is a place of learning that truly lives up to the word "freedom."

When we hear this, many adults outside our school express concerns: "If the school affords so much freedom, won't the children do whatever they want?" "Won't there be fights, bullying, and trouble?" While I do not share these feelings, I do understand them. These feelings are why most public education systems today have school rules, regulations, and standards to regulate behavior that does not conform to the will of adults.

However, children, at least those who are old enough to enter elementary school, are not wild animals. They look around them, consider the feelings of others, and are fully capable of making judgments based on the overall balance. If you live under one roof every day with the same friends, of course there will be fights and troubles. I think it is rather a learning experience in a "jackpot," or "kakuhen" (a pachinko term in Japanese for "probability change," meaning that the odds of hitting a jackpot suddenly increases for a certain period of time. By the way, I have never played pachinko).

We often talk about moral issues in our daily lives, and, in their minds, children understand the importance of a caring heart. However, just because they understand it, does not mean that the concept has sunk in or is practiced in their speech and actions; it is not that simple. It is through real troubles that we experience in our life that we realize the difficulty in and value of living with others. That is why HILLOCK Primary School was created with a focus on it being a realistic place to learn, and it is no exaggeration to say that we live our daily lives while waiting for troubles to occur.

To be honest, fights and troubles among children are not pleasant. We do not want the children to get hurt, and managing them takes up a great deal of time. However, it is also true that there are valuable lessons that children can learn only through these occasions. That is why we make a conscious effort to remind each other among the staff when troubles occur, saying, "This is what we are working for."

The following is an example of an actual problem and how it was handled, with some details changed for confidentiality.

One day after school, I received information that "A hit B." As adults, our primary emotion would be, "I have to be scold A." But here we put the brakes on our emotions. Certainly violence is wrong, but why did A do it?

The next day, I asked B to come and talk to me, and he said to me, "A suddenly hit me. I got angry and hit him back. But it was he who hit me first, so it was his fault. I don't want to forgive him even if he apologizes." So we then empathize with B and say, "You were surprised, angry, and hurt, weren't you?"

I then talked with A, who said, "B made fun of a lesson that I love. I was so angry that at first I told him to stop. But he kept on laughing and didn't stop at all, so I hit him. I know it was wrong to hit him, but he hit me back before I could apologize, so I lost the desire to apologize." Here is something I always check: I asked, "You had never wanted to hurt B before, right? But in fact, B was hurt by the beating. If you planned to hurt him, it was a 'success,' and if you didn't want to hurt him, it was a 'failure.'" In reply A said, "I didn't want to hurt him. I just wanted him to stop. So I failed.'" When I said to him, "Yes, I know that you are not the kind of child who wants to hurt people," he burst into tears, as if a flood of emotions had overflowed from him.

Later, after both parties had agreed to meet, I called them both in and went over the whole incident. They seemed to see for the first time what they hadn't realized and what they had misunderstood about each other.

This is how you expand your view of the world: Ask questions about things you don't agree with. Tell them what you really wanted them to do. I followed up by saying, "But A felt this way, and B felt this way. Do you think B hit you because he wanted to 'hurt' you?" He replied, "No, I don't think so...."

Children also believe that their friends would never want to hurt them. That is why they are confused, and I want to make sure I can provide them with the right answer to their confusion before they become convinced that "A is a bad guy" without hearing both sides of the story.

In the end they are still friends who play together often. They play by their own rules so that nothing hurtful will happen again. There will be times when they fight. Each time, they can talk it out and reconcile with each other. I think they will think deeply and learn properly because they are close friends.

No child inherently wants to "hurt someone," and no child is motivated by a desire to "bother everyone and make them sad." They all want to relate to other children, to be cared for, and to protect what is important to them, and as a result, their actions and words are seen as "bad." There is no such thing as a bad child. If we can just say to them, "Of course I know you are not a bad person," I think it will help them avoid falling into the trap of being a "real" bad person.

Shogo Minote

Mr. Minote is the Principal of HILLOCK Primary School and the director of HILLOCK Setagaya School. He has 14 years of experience in teaching at public primary schools. While teaching school children, he also studied at the School of Graduate Studies, Open University of Japan, and earned his master’s degree in the Sciences of Human Development and Education. He previously worked for Maebara Elementary School, a school nationally well-known for its programming education, as head teacher in charge of research and ICT. In April 2022, he opened an alternative school called “HILLOCK Primary School.” His publications include “Children Will Learn on Their Own” (Gakuyo Shobo), “How to Use ICT to Realize the Best Education for Every Child” (Gakuyo Shobo), “Creating Classroom Using ICT in Special Schools for Children with Intellectual Disabilities” (co-authored; The Earth Kyoikushinsha Co., Ltd.), and “Understanding Before & After! Research Update” (Meijitosho Shuppan Corporation).