Mi Narai

I just had an insight about homework.  Japanese kids are not supposed to be able to do their homework by themselves, and they are not necessarily supposed to be able to think for themselves.  Japanese education is based upon learning from watching, or mi narai.

Here’s proof:

My son has been agonizing over the 3 page book report he was supposed to write.  I tried to get him to think about the book and his experiences related to the book, but he just sat there with tears in his eyes, his pencil still.  I sympathized.   I thought the task was way too hard for a second grader.  I don’t remember writing 3 page essays when I was eight years old.  I dictated a few sentences, feeling guilty all the while, but then my sister-in-law dropped in.  She said she’d have a look at the book and come tomorrow (today) to help him with it.

Well, my sister-in-law, who is the mother of a high school student and a college student, came back to help this afternoon.  She whipped out an essay that she had written, and my son copied it.  That’s it.  She’s an upstanding kind of mom, and her younger daugther was at the top of her class in junior high school.  I guess she knows what she’s doing. 


4 thoughts on “Mi Narai

  1. Damn. I have had that sneaking suspicion for a while now. . . (I do NOT want to go back and re-do elementary, jr. or senior high thank you) and this ties into a paper I read recently on the different cultural interpretaions of plagerism–especially here in Japan.


  2. Hmm. It sounds like the system must be set up for this already, if they are expecting so much from kids so young. How does it make you feel as an American mom? Fascinating fodder for an essay (or fiction too, why not?) I imagine that living in Japan provides countless situations where you have to just let go and accept that you sometimes have to go along with practices you don’t agree with, and other times when you decide it’s worth it to you to go against the grain and do things differently.

  3. Interesting. I think you’re probably right. And that that’s not a good thing…

    About the book report, the teacher and my husband thought that would be a good thing to do, but what a quantum leap from what writing they do in school (er, nothing other than copying out kanji… Writing an original sentence is an almost never task) to that (800 ‘letters’ (ji)). I don’t know if 8 year-old kids have the capacity to write that kind of report, but I do know that nothing in my son’s year and a half of schooling has come remotely close to preparing him for that. So he did a science project instead, which was fairly pitiful. (‘Can’t you write more than one sentence??’) But at the moment I’m big into process over product, and am mildly hopeful that seeing the other projects that the classmates (or their parents) turned in will prod him to put more effort into it next year.

  4. It feels so wrong. I want my kids to be creative and to be able to think for themselves, but it’s beginning to seem to me as if the whole system is set up to discourage those very things.

    And I’ve met many Japanese adults who find writing an original essay in Japanese very difficult.

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