Monday, 8 November 2004

After the excitement...

of last week's post and all its assorted associations, we're back to the more mundane this week. The guru is still pregnant and will be for the foreseeable future, well, until May,and I am rapidly coming to realise, even as I type, that this alone isn't going to sustain this blog for too long as not a great deal changes form week to week.

So better think of something else to write...

Here's a weird thing that I see almost everyday and have been meaning to mention for ages but have never seemed to get around to it. When I taught, before doing what I do now, I used to teach a lot of kids from about 2yrs old and upwards. I was pretty good at it, though I say it myself, mainly as I soon tapped into the most effective teaching method for young learners - noise. Anyway, this isn't the point, the point is is that when I taught Japanese kids I was very much of the opinion that kids are kids all over the world and that there's not a whole lot of difference between a 6 yr old in Japan and one in say, the UK, US or Australia. I mean, kids like having a laugh, being noisy, getting messy if possible and generally larking about. Organise your lessons with as much of that in as possible, hopefully with a bit of English thrown in and you have yourself a happy classroom and a good learning environment.

Nowadays, of a morning, I leave the flat at 8am two or three times a week, depending on what time I have to be at the office. With an 8am departure I am walking at the same time as the kids all go off to elementary school (junior high school kids are generally about with a 730am apartment exit). To make it easier to spot elementary school kids, they all wear yellow hats - baseball caps for the boys and round sun hats for the girls. This is to make them more visible to cars and easier for older bullies to target, one would think.

Anyway, what you can observe here is Japanese group think par excellence. All the kids walk to school in groups, the same group everyday. Each group is led by an older looking kid, probably 7 to the rest of the kid's 5 or 6. This older looking kid is the leader as they hold the yellow flag. The yellow flag denotes authority - you do not fuck with the yellow flag. The rest of the group, maybe 6 or 7 other kids follow the leader. They walk in the straight line, single file. They always occupy exactly the same spot in the line. Their organisation is such that I know that if I leave the flat at 8am dead, I will pass the first group just after leaving the block and the second as I turn right onto the small street in front of the old people's home (with the building site and the 5 new houses at the end). The second to last student of this group will be a girl with pig tails who stares at me every time I walk past. There are no teachers to check on progress, and only a few mothers at some crossroads to oversee road crossing. The kids, and the yellow flag, rule the walk to school with an iron bound efficiency. There is no noisyness, no larking about or high jinks. I have not seen one kid trying to give another a dead leg/dead arm/wedgie in 18 months. Not one pile-on have I observed. In reality these are not kids, they are robots. And this messes with your mind.

A part of me thinks "wow, that is so great, the kids are all organised by themselves. And it's a lot safer as they aren't running in the road or causing a disturbance". But then my real brain kicks in and tells the Japaneseifying part of me to stop being so stupid and look again. These are 6 yr old kids, for heaven's sakes, they should be mucking about, playing tag, fighting each other and generally being, well, kids. But they're not, they're too far into the system. They have been organised and inculcated with group think. Already.

I used to think that, as far as my kids were concerned, a Japanese education up to the age of about 10 would be great, but junior high school isn't known as exam hell for nothing and so by then, at the latest, the guru and I would be looking for a return to the old country, or an international school depending on how things looked (and how healthy the bank balance was). But now I'm not so sure - if 'they' can make 6 yr old kids walk in single file everyday of their school lives, what else can 'they' do...?

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