Social Justice and the Ten Year-old

If you live in Japan, you’ve probably seen a parent or coach slap a kid upside the head.  You’ve probably seen this kind of thing on TV. Beat Takeshi is always bopping people on the head with inflatable mallets and such. This kind of hitting isn’t taken seriously in Japan, but I find it very disturbing.

My son attends a school that prides itself on raising kind, considerate children. And yet, I have heard from two witnesses that my son’s teacher is slapping the kids.  Slapping my kid. My son is happy at school and he has never once mentioned this. When I asked him about what I’d heard, he shrugged it off said that he was at fault in both instances, and that “it’s the Japanese way.”

I’ve also heard that the some students spend all of their noon recess correcting homework and re-taking tests. According to my son, the students are given the option of doing the work at home. Maybe that’s true, but yesterday I wrote in his notebook (a private note to the teacher) that I would like for my son to be allowed to have recess. Somehow, the entire class knew about what I had written. My son told me that my note caused him misery at school. He tearfully demanded that I never write in the notebook again without telling him first.  Something is not quite right here.


9 thoughts on “Social Justice and the Ten Year-old

  1. I only once directly witnessed a teacher physically bullying a student, but I can still see it happening in my mind. I can also see the cricket stick that another teacher carried the with him into the classroom, “To demonstrate who is in charge.” I feel for you as you navigate this with your son’s teacher. It’s disturbing to see a teacher hitting a student but to think of someone (a teacher – it still really boggles my mind!) possibly hitting one’s own child is really upsetting.

  2. Hi GaijinMama, this is my first time posting on your blog. I wanted to say I am impressed with the kinds of issues you write about. I think they are really important and your post today about the “slapping” thing is a very important one indeed. I worked in a JHS as member of regular staff and got to see all kinds of bullying and some violence from teachers. What I noticed was, that I wasn’t the only one who was not impressed at what was going on, Japanese teachers weren’t happy about the few macho male teachers who were doing this, but they never spoke up about it. I think they were just waiting for those particular teachers to be moved to another school so it wouldn’t be their problem anymore. The school’s official policy was no touching the kids, but that was not enforced in any way.
    So it makes me wonder what has to be done to stop this, given that there are often official policies in place.
    I hope some way can be found to stop this particular teacher from slapping your child too!

  3. My son was assigned to a teacher last year who was Asian, from Singapore, and apparently from the same school of teaching as your son’s teacher. She berated him constantly in front of classmates, told him how bad he was, etc. She read test grades aloud and chastised the kids in front of everyone. Michael was miserable in her class, and became withdrawn. After I sent an email to her she lit into him with fury and he begged me to never send another email. I contacted the principal and we set up a meeting, and the end result was I insisted he be taken out of her class. He wasn’t able to learn. He is smart and a good kid, normally. His new teacher was great and he did well.

    Shame-based teaching is awful. My mother was a teacher, and although at first she sided with my son’s teacher, she eventually realized he was being traumatized and backed me in pulling him out fo the class.

    I wish you could pull your son out of the class he’s in, but I suppose the other teachers would be as bad?? I feel so bad for your son. Is there any way you could just homeschool him?

  4. I have it on good authority that my son’s ( 5th grade) teacher slaps the kids. One woman even told me about it and said her son had been hit a few times after spending two years in this woman’s class, I was disturbed when she told me not to worry ‘because my son is a good boy’. First, he is so far from being a ‘good boy’ it’s not even funny, and secondly because it’s just plain wrong, regardless of who’s kid is being hit. My son wont tell me anything about his school life, I think because he knows I’ll storm the school if I hear of any hitting.
    My DH, too doesn’t think there is anything wrong with it, he sees it as some kind of ‘tough love’ thing.

  5. miss behaving’s comment reminds me of something my 8th grader told me the other day – actually this whole conversation does:

    a Lost Boy of Darfur came to my son’s school to speak after a movie presentation of their situation just this week. at the end of the presentation, the students were encouraged to ask him questions. one person asked what the biggest shocks were when he came to america. he told a story with a smile, of how where he came from it was everyone’s business to punish kids who were misbehaving (no pun intended) he saw a bunch of kids running in the street and yelled at them to get out of the street or he would punish them. the kids took one look at this foreign teen yelling at them that he’d punish them, and they yelled at him they would call 911 if he touched any of them. he had no idea what they were talking about.

    now this just illustrates a cultural difference, which seems to have a common thread to this blog topic. but one commenter brought up that in Japan, there are policies in place to prevent teachers from hitting kids, regardless of what is culturally acceptable. i can’t help but think of my mother confronting my elderly – old school style- 1st grade teacher, whn the teacher claimed i refused to use my right hand and to hold the pencil correctly. now my mother was of a generation and region in which she was rulered across her knuckles and had her left hand tied behind her back to prevent her using it.

    i bring this up out of a sense that from her generation to mine, there were policies in place to prevent teachers from forcing righthandedness or using corporal punishment. it may be that for Japan, the shift from policy to cultural shift hasn’t happened yet.

    this doesn’t make the ridiculing or the public embarassment of the note from home or the actual hitting by the teacher ok, but maybe adds a new perspective, that by the time his kids are grown, it may be less of an issue than it seems to be now. in the meantime, i know it can be hard for you to be the parent to confront about it giving the foreign context, but maybe your husband would go to the school and point out the policy infraction at the very least.

  6. The thing is, my son is HAPPY at school. He never tells me anything because, like Miss Behaving’s son, he thinks I’ll go in and cause a ruckus. And my husband believes it’s a tough love thing, too. Also, my son is the incho (class leader) and very proud of this. He’s afraid that if I start making trouble, he’ll lose his “job.”

  7. If your son is happy at school, then he’s probably right — you shouldn’t step in.

    Lots of teachers in American schools use shame-based discipline also, and there are plenty of arguments that it’s worse than corporal punishment. I’m not advocating corporal punishment, but I’ve seen plenty of teachers in America encourage ostracism from peers. Sometimes it’s not even intended as punishment per se, it’s just because the teacher is clumsy at dealing with children.

    And of course, 22 states in the US still do allow corporal punishment.

    Your son needs to trust you. I think you should promise to him that you won’t write, or even call, without asking him first on any complaint. He’ll shut himself off from you on any problems in his life if he thinks you’ll step in unbidden, so he needs to feel absolutely secure in this. Once he does, you can have real conversations with him about it, or about other issues that may be legitimately bothering him, and you’ll be able to make a real offer to step in and do something.

  8. Speaking as a former teacher in Japan, it sounds like the teacher is using bullying as a classroom management technique. The first red flag was bopping the kids on the head (a teacher with solid classroom management skills would never do that). The second red flag was that the entire class knew about the note. The third red flag was your son’s shame.

    If it makes you feel any better, there are plenty of teachers outside of Japan who are just as bad. From the perspective of a parent, a weak teacher is just something to be endured.

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