Monday, July 5, 2010

Beat On The Brat

A boy - a friendly boy - came up to me while I sat in the teacher's lounge at my hellish nightmare school, Kaneda Kita Chu Gakko (Kaneda North Middle School). He, as is his norm, was scruffily dressed, which is quite the feat considering he was wearing the exact same clothes as all the other students.

He scratched his head and offered up some papers. It was his report card. Everything was at the 20% level. Obviously nothing to brag about, to say the least, so why would this shy and introverted Japanese kid show me his grades? (see THIS blog for a view of the other shy kids.)

Why? probably because he's not shy and introverted. He's merely an anomoly within the system - someone who doesn't do well in school. And he knows it. 

This kid is constantly told by his teachers that he's different; that his attitude does not fit the machine.

I suppose the same holds true in western societies, but perhaps not to the same degree as it is in Japan.

Next he pulled out a sheaf of papers - they were his tests. Again, a strange thing to do. Why show a perfect stranger something like this? The test scores were all bad. I asked why his marks were so low. He answered in Japanese: "Baka desu." (I'm stupid.)

I almost cried on the spot. How sad it is when a 15-year-old boy actually believes he is a dullard.

I wonder if he knows that he isn't alone - that many people in his school don't do well either. But here in Japan, the nail that sticks up gets hammered down (Deru kugi wa utareru).  It is a famous Japanese saying, and it implies that conformity is a must. This kid does not fit the Japanese system. 

Unfortunately for him, the educational system in Japan was not designed for non-conformists. He must either learn to learn or ... there is no or. 

And he will conform, perhaps in his own way. Maybe he has a learning disability. Maybe he has attention deficit disorder or perhaps he's dyslexic. Maybe he suffers from depression or sleep apnea - it doesn't matter... he is a nail awaiting a hammer.

And that's where the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme can make a difference. Yes, we're supposed to be English teachers, and some people take that responsibility quite seriously. Me? I'm a teacher, but not in the language vein.

Part of our role here is to be an ambassador for our country, but it's also to perform something called internationalization. To me that means informing the Japanese that there is a world out there that isn't so Japanese. It means I respect the Japanese culture and traditions, but it also means I can inform them of how other countries work.

I'm no expert in the Canadian educational system, but, I did go through a Private School, Catholic Separate School, Public School, University and Community College... with varying degrees of success.

I expressed my concern to this boy's Japanese teachers of English about this particular student and asked if I could make a speech to the class about some of the educational differences between our two countries.

Lost in the translation, it was arranged that I would give a speech to the entire school the next day.

My speech was translated quite well (I'm only guessing here), and I spoke from the heart rather than from a prepared speech.

I told them how I was a pretty good student for awhile until I lost interest in studying. The reasons why are not for this blog. I began failing nearly everything in school from Grades 7 through 12. I hated school. I hated what they were trying to teach me and how they were trying to teach it. It simply wasn't interesting. I was bored.  

Yet, somehow, I got over 50% in most things and continued to pass to the next year. In Japan, you can get 0% in everything and still get passed to the next level. I'm unsure which is worse.

Like this boy, I too was told how worthless I was - not in direct terms like they do here in Japan, but rather through inference. I was given three IQ tests perhaps to see if I was a moron and if I should perhaps repeat a grade a few times. Instead, without the benefit of caffeine, I did pretty good on my OQ tests, getting: 145, 142 and 148.
What do those numbers mean - read about it here - MENSA

So apparently, even though they thought I cheated somehow on the first test, and again on the second test, the third test proved to them that I was either smart enough to figure out how to successfully cheat or merely just smart enough to be smarter than them. It also means I must still be a classic under-achiever. 

The point of it was, however, was to show that despite early set-backs in my educational career, myself and countless others in my society are afforded multiple chances to pull up our socks and improve ourselves. Which I took advantage of. 

In Japan you are screwed at the age of 15 should you not pull off that amazing grade to get into a top-notch high school. Your future is set right there and then. Fair or not, that's the way things are in Japan. 

I suppose the chiding of that 'stupid' student friend of mine was meant to shame him and to cajole him back to into becoming an upstanding member of society. 

Wow... 15 years old. I was 24 before I actually figured out how to study - and that was only because I enjoyed learning about my chosen field - journalism. Does that show through in this blog? No, huh. Darn.

Somewhere repeating the grade,
Andrew Joseph
Today's song by The Ramones. Bless you boys. HERE 

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