If you are working or living in Japan, chances are you’ve heard of the Osaka suicide: a high school student took his life December last year after being beaten by the coach of his basketball team; an event that has opened the topic of corporal punishment in schools for discussion across the nation. (Click here for an English article by the Japan Daily Press.)
In light of this tragedy I decided to do a little research into corporal punishment in Japanese schools. Is corporal punishment a common problem?
As many of my readers are aware, in Japan teachers are not legally permitted to use corporal punishment. This has been the case since as far back as 1947 (♦). When I did a little more research, I was intrigued to find out that the first province of Canada to ban corporal punishment was my own British Columbia, and not until 1973, some 26 years after Japan! Even more starling is that the most recent Canadian province to ban corporal punishment was Ontario in 2009! (☼)
So Japan has a comparatively strict anti-corporal punishment stance. Indeed, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) states that “Corporal punishment is strictly prohibited by law, and its use to chastise children is also unacceptable from the viewpoint of respect for children’s human rights. Moreover, corporal punishment damages the relationship of trust between teachers and students. Overall, it is unlikely to produce any educational benefit.” (♣)
Anecdotal evidence I’ve heard from ALTs and other English teachers paints Japan as a country who shies away from ‘tough love’ in the classroom: teachers are apparently forbidden even from sending disruptive children into the hallway. Noisy students are instead subject to witness the good praise and adulation teachers give their well-mannered kids; the idea being that a randy child will learn by example. I tried to find laws like these in print, but couldn’t. If anyone could point me in the right direction, I’d be interested!
But if we’re trying to figure out why a teacher would refuse to send their student into the hallway, fear of the student’s ‘monster parents’ (more commonly known in the West as ‘helicopter parents’) would be a good motivator.
A monster parent is an over-protective parent or guardian who will resort to harassing teachers in order to ensure their child receives a fair education by their standards. Monster parents have apparently emerged from a consumeristic mentality after the 1989 bubble economy: (I translate:) “All parents pay the same amount to have their kids educated. Therefore they all want the same results.” (♫)
But this ‘customer is always right’ mentality has crossed a line, causing teachers undue stress.
One teacher in Saitama Prefecture took action. She sued the parents.
In January of , a teacher in a Saitama primary school took the parents of one of her students to court, claiming compensation of ¥5 million for the mental anguish, causing insomnia, that she felt due to “excessive complaining.”
The complaining began in September of the previous year and was apparently unrelenting. The parents had equipped their child with an IC recorder that recorded the teacher shouting at their daughter.
“It’s a weird teacher who hollers straight at her students,” claimed the parents.
“It’s weird parents who stick an IC recorder on their child,” retorted the teacher. (♪)
If I were the teacher of a monster parent’s child, I would think twice about punishing the kid at all.
All this can account for the lax attitude toward disruptive students. But the suicide in Osaka was a result of exactly the opposite problem. What’s the deal?
Well, while monster parents keep teachers in the hot seat, and corporal punishment is illegal, not all teachers appreciate the status quo:
In late 1987, about 60% of junior high school teachers felt [corporal punishment] was necessary, with 7% believing it was necessary in all conditions, 59% believing it should be applied sometimes and 32% disapproving of it in all circumstances; while at elementary (primary) schools, 2% supported it unconditionally, 47% felt it was necessary and 49% disapproved. (♦)
I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal evidence about Japanese corporal punishment in public schools in the 1960′s and 70′s (back in the day): the teachers were former Second World War military men, and not afraid to share some of their more brutal training and experience with some good old fashioned hand-to-face contact. (I’ve also heard stories of students riding their motorcycles through the school hallways. That was indeed a different time.) I’m sure a lot of us have also seen the odd teacher smack a deserving kid upside the head once and again. In fact, I see teachers lightly rap children in the head everyday over smaller things, in a style that mimics the popular manzai comedy routine.
But I have not seen anything as violent as what happened in Osaka. I should point out that while I’ve been talking about disruptive students, the victim in Osaka had a great scholastic record, and was captain of the basketball team. I’d like to bet that this is a rare case of a teacher going overboard. But then again, who knows? It’s really easy for a crime like this to go unreported: victims feel ashamed or that they deserved their abuse. In fact, of 50 other kids surveyed (both current and former members of the same basketball team), 21 reported being abused by the same teacher (●).
So how often does corporal punishment happen in Japan? I suppose it’s pretty dang hard to say. The act is illegal, but there are still teachers to attest to its effectiveness. Not even the threat of monster parents will deter all teachers from using brute force. Rules are broken, and incidents go over-looked or unreported.
So what do you think? Tough love? or forgiving teaching?
“Corporal punishment is strictly prohibited by Article 11 of the School Education Law. Increased efforts must be made to eliminate corporal punishment.” ~MEXT(♠)