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  Japan's educational system and Ijime

 

    I think most foreigners here and many Japanese people agree that Ijime* 
 is a problem that needs to be fixed.  But any advice on how seems to fall 
 on the deaf ears of those in charge.  The few articles I have read say 
 basically the same things.  Ijime is so severe because students are trapped 
 in the same classes all day, and they have no one teacher to identify with.  
 
They get little support from complacent teachers or parents who feel it’s just 
 a part of growing up.  Frequently teachers contribute to the problem and often
 encourage the kid to drop out.  This is all related to the group mentality, the 
 articles suggested, because every group is defined by its outsiders.  
 
The recommended solution is to change the class structure, so students aren’t
 stuck in one class and can ‘network’ for friends.  They also suggest a stronger
 teacher presence in the classroom and the everyday presence of counselors.

      While I think this is all true, I also think it’s a little more complicated.  
 
Its good in theory, but it doesn’t really examine the root causes for the behavior, 
 or why the classes and teachers are organized the way they are.  The root causes 
 lie within the structure of Japanese society.  It goes a lot deeper than complacent 
 teachers who are too tired to enforce discipline. 

      First, I’d like to mention a few things about culture.  Our cultures provide
 a framework for how we perceive reality.  When we are operating within our 
 own culture, we take for granted that that’s the ‘natural’ order of things.  
 
It isn’t until we experience (or study) a foreign culture that we can really 
 understand the relativity of our own.  Cultural awareness isn’t just knowledge 
 of another culture, its knowledge of our own culture.  While we are still more 
 comfortable in our own culture, we come to appreciate why we do things, not just
 ‘that’s the way its done’.  One reason any change is so slow in Japan is that there 
 is a general lacking  of this awareness.  You can’t change behavior if you don’t 
 understand why its there.  The other thing cultural awareness does is help to 
 erase the boundaries between what we think we do and what we actually do. 

        We are all members of social groups, and as such we all have mental concepts 
 of what makes each of us a members of those groups, or how we should act as such.  
 
For some of us, these standards are often flexible, and can adapt to accommodate all
 members of that group.  The strong voices of minorities in our own cultures sometimes
 forces people to adapt.  Most Japanese have a very complex and defined concept
 of what it means to be Japanese.  In Japan, it’s the members that are expected 
 to adapt to accommodate the standards.  Though there are entire sub-cultures 
 of Japanese people who defy these rules, they get singled  out as anomalous 
 individuals (or ignored entirely), thereby protecting the greater ‘Japanese identity’. 
 
Because our mental standards don’t always reflect reality, change requires an 
 awareness of  the discrepancy, or a confrontation that forces change.  
 
Through ijime, these confrontations can be avoided. 

         The organizations of the schools doesn’t just exacerbate the problem, 
  it validates it.  The schools' organization is not arbitrary.

            The other thing about culture is that it thrives based on its ability
  to be reproduced in the younger generations.  Because schools in Japan
  have the liberty of assuming all the students share a common culture, they
  have become an institutionalized way of passing on that culture.  
 
The schools organization plays an important role in this transmission. 

     The school’s organization reflects that of the adult world.  This provides a ‘safe’ 
  environment to test the limits of proper social behavior.  Behaviors are reinforced or 
  discouraged through discipline.  Lack of discipline in certain cases is not accidental.  
 
In this way students learn the social skills for successfully navigating the adult 
  world on their own.  This is one of the most important stages for forming their 
  mental concept of what it means to be ‘Japanese’. 

         In the West, our social groups change frequently.  Employers value 
  ingenuity and skill over age or overtime hours.  In order for us to be successful 
  in this environment, we have to learn flexibility and creativity.  We also have 
  to be independent.  We learn these skills in junior high school when we get 
  our own lockers and unique class schedules.  We immediately get seven different 
  social groups to deal with.  We teach independence by rewarding individuals 
  who excel in certain areas.  In Japan, dedication and age are given the most 
  weight.  Consistency is rewarded over skill.  To be successful, Japanese 
  people must learn how to function as part of a group.  Support the group 
  and it will support you.  They also learn these skills in junior high school 
  when their single class becomes their main social group.  The fact that 
  the classes are often left unattended reinforces the notion that students must 
  work within the group.  With no adult to intercede or take control, students 
  are forced to learn how to establish and deal with the group’s structure.  
 
With appointed Honchos, students are encouraged to settle conflicts internally. 
 
Punishment for a class disturbance may fall on everyone, but the class then 
  has the freedom to punish the individuals.  If students contribute to the group, 
  their lives will be easier. 

            When a Japanese baby is born, he is immediately thrust into an ‘elite’ 
  social group, with complex rules.  When he’s older, where he goes to school 
  or work is in large part determined by his test scores.  If he doesn’t like 
  his work group, he has little opportunity for change.  To be successful, 
  he has to work with what he’s given.  This is an essential skill, since being 
  Japanese means you are expected to conform to a certain standard.  
 
If someone doesn’t agree with these standards, they have few choices.  
 
Since almost everyone in Japan shares this identity, there’s literally 
  nowhere for dissenters to go.  They either reluctantly conform, or 
  become social misfits, with a bunch of shame heaped on them. 
 
(Or they commit suicide).

            When kids see others bullied by students and teachers, they learn 
  the consequences of not conforming.  Single class groups help teach this skill, 
  but the bullying reinforces its necessity. 

            Suggesting they switch to multiple class format is tantamount to asking 
  them to stop being so Japanese.  Considering the function class groups serve, 
  reluctance to change for a few individuals is understandable.  The benefit of 
  the majority comes first.  Japanese teachers know that functioning, as part 
  of a group is a necessary skill.  Ostracized individuals are seen in some ways 
  as lacking this skill.  Either the bullying teaches them how to conform, or it 
  drives them out.  If they can’t conform, they have on some level ‘failed’ at 
  being Japanese.  It seems logical to us that Ijime is bad, but it also supports
  the conformist system in which the majority are successful and comfortable.  
 
The truth is it’s easier to ostracize one individual than it is for everyone 
  else to reorganize their mental concept of what it means to be Japanese.  
 
That’s what acceptance would require. 

            It may sound like changing the school system means changing the culture.  
 
That’s how a lot of Japanese people feel, like its westernization.  Resentment is
  understandable considering they’ve spent their lives learning how to be successful
  through conforming, and here we come along telling them to accept people as they are.  
 
Even if they do disturb the Wa.  They consciously or sub-consciously see change as 
  a threat to their cultural identity.  It is in fact a threat, but only to their perceived 
  identity.  In reality, it would take hundreds of years of prolonged foreign pressure 
  to really change any culture, much less one as homogenous as Japan’s.   
 
Changing the current system would only validate those who already think differently.

            The school systems won’t change because of Ijime, there’s too much else 
  involved.  Ijime will only change when the standards for being Japanese become 
  more flexible.  This requires awareness, and the current rate of exposure to 
 foreigners isn’t really enough.  The current mentality allows them as a group to 
  dismiss foreign advice as ‘not the Japanese way’.  Only when the majority of 
  people, or those in power, realize that what they think makes them Japanese 
  isn’t really what makes them Japanese, will they be more receptive to positive 
  change.  A change in the skills demanded by the adult corporate world could 
  encourage change in the educational system, but this would also require a lot 
  of unfamiliar flexibility.

            Aside from that, I think change on a small scale can occur through the 
  subversive tactics of teaching children gruesome Western fairy tales.

 

* Ijime is a severe form of bullying where a single student is ostracized and 
  bullied by all the other students.  They are essentially left without any 
  friends or support from any end.  This happens to different kids for 
  various reasons, boys who are effeminate are frequently singled out.  
  They may be physically abused, sometimes put in the hospital, with severe or  
  life threatening injuries.  Frequently these kids drop out of high school, 
  suffer severe depression and hole up in their rooms.  Sometimes it ends in suicide.  
  Almost everyone else claims to not know why they are depressed, or committed 
  suicide, acting genuinely shocked.  Its possible they really are unaware that these 
  kids suffer any more than any other kid.  All students have senior students 
  (sempai) whose job it is to 'toughen them up' in club activities.  Many Japanese 
  people are unaware that 'Ijime' differs from the typical sempai relationship, 
  or that its really a problem.  

                                                          

 

  Hey! What time is it in Japan?

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