A Question of Cannibalism
日曜日, 4月 10, 2005

Higher learning or slave to society?

Yo, don't stop reading and writing about the posts below, but here's a new one, an open question, or series of questions really.
The more opinions the better, I promise I personally will not abuse any.
Working as a teacher here in Japan, education and the school system have become, naturally, an interest. Often other teachers ask me, "in Australian schools, do you have X?" or "do the students do Y"? And, having no systemised teaching experience back home, and coming from a single private school, often I don't really have an answer.

So, over to youse guys.

1 What do you think of the Australian school system (this one especially directed towards those of us in Japan, having built, I suspect, something of a critical eye)?

and, more importantly,

2 What function(s), if any, do you think school provides, or should provide?

OK. I expect at least a slight degree of intelligent comment from you all here, otherwise it will be pretty apparent that the 12 years + tertiary education you all probably have was a complete waste of time. At least that will probably answer question 2: no function.

Anyway, write whatever you like. Cheers. 
Question 1

Yeah as u said nick there does not seem to be much uniformity throughout. At the primary scool level it is definitely underdone. There needs to be more male teachers to give the kids two sets of role models. There also need to be a more ways for a teacher to assert control of the class. Corporal punishmant is pretty psycho i guess, but it would do the job for two reasons: firstly it would deter troublemakers and more importantly it would set a great example for the others. However, while it is good in theory, there are obvious practical drawbacks that would make the process more trouble than its worth. For this reason i say bring back the witches hat and place the troublemakers in the corner. There would be fewer ramifications from angry parents and the kids would learn a lesson in they would never forget (depending on the teacher's discretion of course).
But yeah to avoid sounding like the cynical swimming teacher that i may be, it is important to list what i feel are positive aspects of our system. In my own experience, i found that there was a tight policy on bullying and as a result most of the kids at school were allowed to be pretty expressive. In other words: knowing you are not going to be bashed allows one to build self-esteem.
The recess and lunch breaks are also very well timed. Just when the kids are getting restless they get a break. I dont agree with the afternoon tea break though and question its worth (for the students that is), as it seems to be too close after the lunch break.

Question 1:

I definitely agree with Hux's comments above, about there needing to be more male teachers in primary schools. Unfortunately, a lot of males seem to prefer older kids, and there is still, even more unfortunately, a bit of a stigma attached to males working with little kids, ie there seems to be a bit of a tendancy for certain people to think "paedophile".

A few other things about the Aus system:
- Students and teachers get breaks - weekends and holidays are for resting up. While teachers will go in to school when they have extra work to do, the kids are given the days off, except perhaps for sports, where they actually play games, not just have drills every day of the week. And school holidays are actually holidays.
- Teachers are not expected to take on the parenting role as much as they are here in Japan.
- Teachers in Aus teach a lot more hours a week than in Japan. In Aus, teachers usually only get 4 or 5 free periods a week.
- Teachers in Aus are more accountable. This can be over the top in some cases, but on the whole its much better for the students. In Japan, teachers seem to make up their plans as they go along, with no real goal at the end (except the uni entrance exams for 3rd year students). One teacher at my school here in Japan had students learning a script for 25 weeks. At the end of that 25 week period, some students still hadnt memorised it, and they sure as hell had no idea what they were actually saying.

Question 2:

The school system in Aus is generally much more geared towards helping the students develop in all areas, not just academically, ie they are taught to think more for themselves, voice their opinions etc. They also learn study skills and are not spoon-fed everything.

Of course, you cant generalise anything. This is all based on what Ive seen in schools I attended/taught at in Aus, and my every-so-strict and anal school here in Japan.
Thanks Mel and Hux, i appreciate that somebody actually took the time to try and say something intelligent. Here`s what I think.

I guess schools are around for a few main reasons.
1. Most formally, to teach kids information, or at least give them the opportunity to gain information.

2. Most importantly, to give kids the chance to interact socially with a wide variety of other people, and generally to become accustomed to interpersonal relationships outside the immediate family.

3. This come out of the points above, but also to teach kids respect. And I don`t mean respect my authoritay style, I mean so that kids realise when someone is trying to help them or communicate with them and respect those people, be they teachers or other students.

4. Obviously all these ideas are reliant on a certain understanding of a desired society, which is more or less imposed on kids through these various interactions. You can call it socialisation, you can call it slavery, but clearly underpinning schooling is the goal of getting kids to accept a certain view of society. This might be to maintain the status quo, or it might be to change certain prevalent values, but it's definitely there, and I think unavoidable.

5. Stemming from the social structure, schools also provide the basic facilities of looking after kids while their parents aren't around. Even if you want to get very left-wing and attack the capitalist framework we live in, it is not particularly desirable, I think, to have kids at home all day. Like I said, I think an important part of school is also to facilitate social interactions.

So the question is how to balance these various motives to help kids grow up well-balanced, if that is indeed the ultimate goal. I obviously am not suggesting we aim to create an army of like-minded unemotional drones. The point is to promulgate creativity and individualism in the context of a wider society consisting of other people who are hopefully in the same situation. Not everyone can be a doctor, and not everyone can be an art school dropout who goes on to front an underground noise band. But everyone should be able to appreciate, and respect, the right of others to follow either of these, or any of the infinite other, paths available to them.

Which is where I think Japan is not doing a good enough job. Like Mel said, too much emphasis, especially by older teachers, especially by teachers who have not travelled extensively or at all, and especially in upper schools, is placed on the information goal. Schooling in itself accomplishes the socialisation goal, but it's important that teachers focus on the respect and individuality concepts too. Which is unfortunately impossible if you happen to be a jerk. And I think that's the crux of the issue. Japanese teachers are basically impossible to fire. There is no evaluation system at all. Teachers in my town have been picked up for sexual harrassment and allowed to keep their jobs and even be promoted later. I don't want to condemn people for life for a small indiscretion, but for me teaching is one of the more important jobs in our society, and if you have these kinds of people in positions of responsiblity, that can only give rise to more problems in future generations. I must say that two teachers have actually been forced to quit (actually, one was just transferred to another town I believe) in Ako; one for shoplifting while drunk (which I have to admit is difficult to be too strict about), but one for taking photos up a nurse's skirt in hospital. That's not on.

And it's one thing to screen teachers more strictly, or give them the boot when they fuck up, but the kids also need to learn respect in other ways. Japan is somewhat notorious for the rule that everyone has a right to learn, at least for the 9 years of compulsory education. Which basically equates to not being able to kick out a student who is disrupting the class. So while you have to respect their right to be in the classroom, you are apparently allowed to ignore the other 39 kids' right to not be oppressed. I realise that the root of the problem lies not in punishing the kid but in counselling them, but that's what I mean when I say respect is necessary. Respect for your fellow students and for the teacher who is probably trying his/her best to control, and give attention to the opinions of, so many kids at once.

Mel, I agree that this is a big burden on teachers, and that kids have to learn this stuff at home too. There will probably always be dysfunctional families that make this impossible, but the trend seems to be to rely too much on the school to raise the kids. Most of the teachers probably have kids of their own too. Parents need to take responsiblity here.

Continuing about the stress on Japanese teachers, while like Mel says Aussie teachers might have more classes to teach at school, Japanese teachers are mre overworked in the sense that they are always back until night at least, every day barring possibly Sunday. I have tried to inquire about just what it is that they have to do, but I can't seem to get a straight answer. Most people just tell me it's the damn system. It seems really strange because most teachers, at least at junior high, only teach one year level, and so basically they are only require to prepare about 3 or so classes a week, and then just repeat and hone them. Whereas to my understanding in Australia, teachers teach all different year levels, so they are busy preparing 5 times as many classes as their Japanese counterparts. Yet they still can go home by dinner time and have weekends more or less off.

Chris, I don't think corporal punishment should ever be used because it only reinforces to kids that violence can solve problems (which of course it can, but we don't want to let that out). Again, respect is the main solution here. Although isolation and mild punishments like that can also have deterrent effects. Punishment in itself is counter-productive, I find.

In the spirit of having various personalities and approaches at a school, I think male and female teachers in equal proportion is desirable but not necessary.

It might seem like a small thing, but I think you're right about breaks too. Kids have a lot of energy, and well-placed releases of that are important.

Wow. The lunch bell is going to go soon so I've got to get back to the staff room and plan on how to oppress some more slaves, I mean students. Today is parents' observation day, which is slightly nerve-racking but it's always fun to play in front of a crowd so I'm looking forward to it.

But not as much as I'm looking forward to getting on a plane tonight and going to Laos. Best wishes to y'all, write again when I get back. Later.

Try arranging 'classroom contracts' with your students where everyone agrees to behave and react in a particular manner in certain circumstances. I'm getting at that 'right to learn' stuff and disruptive kids issue. If you have the students believing in their right to learn, they will also be likely to take some responsibility for this right. So a contract could be that if someone is disrupting the learning of others, 3 steps are followed.
A - the student informs the 'disruptive student' that what they are doing is interferring with the learning of others, and asks them to stop.
B - the student notifies the class teacher if the behaviour continues.
C - if the behaviour continues, all students agree to ignore the 'disruptive student' for a period of 5 minutes.
If at the end of the 5 minutes the behaviour is continuing, repeat the process.
This would only work if all the students believe in their right to learn and feel empowered to take control over their learning. If not, the process will be exclusive in nature and has the potential to be malicious. Additionally, close monitoring and review of the system is required to avoid a mini Lord of the Flys set up. The message also needs to be given to the disruptive student that they are still are 'good person' but that the class dislikes their behaviour they are CHOOSING to exhibit (unconditional positive regard stuff).
Cheers for the suggestion Scottford. I don't know how much I can do, seeing as officially I am only an assistant teacher, but I'll think it over.

Unfortunately, as with many countries, the quality of teaching over here leaves something to be desired for some many. I'm lucky that most of the English teachers in Ako are very good, experienced, bright, enthusiastic, young people, so the kids respect them, which makes class control easier. Most of the time.

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For too long, puritanical love-monkeys have been talking ill of one of our little planet's most time-honoured gastronomical past-times. Have YOUR say in reclaiming your right to eat your friends. If god had meant us not to eat human flesh, why did he make it so damn tasty?

場所: Perth, Australia

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