It’s a little hard to give you all an update on my CIP since the school has been on break for the last few weeks. Instead, I’d like to talk about my observations of Japanese high school life and the high school system, since I can go into more detail in an English blog post.
I wish I could sit in on (and understand!) some of the non-English language classes, if only to see if their as boring as people tell me they are. I know I already mentioned this in my last blog post, but it really shocked me when I asked my high schoolers what their favorite subjects were, and they looked at me like this was an inconceivable notion. They truly don’t seem to enjoy any of their classes, and the kind of system that shuts people down like that is pretty concerning.
Though, of course, I’ve heard equally bad things about the American public education system, so I should really stop judging the Japanese system. Growing up, one of my childhood friends was too smart for the classes he was in, and his boredom and frustration caused him to just give up on doing schoolwork altogether, until he had terrible grades when really he should have had amazing ones. But the thing is, people like that, in the U.S., can get a second chance. He eventually wound up at community college, got a 4.0 there for two years, and transferred into UC Berkeley. Frankly, he saved a ton of money on tuition for the first two years, and now he’ll get a degree from a world class university. Not too shabby.
People here don’t seem to have those kinds of chances. There’s not a lot of room for alternative paths. It makes me think about the Ghibli movie, Whisper of the Heart, where the main character, Shizuku, decides not to focus on schoolwork and to pursue her dreams instead. She’s lucky enough to have parents who encourage that kind of thinking, but even so they warn her that she will have no one to blame but herself if not getting the right test scores ruins her life from then on. And her sister gets angry because she believes that you only get options in life if you play by the rules—only by getting into a top notch high school will the main character have multiple doors open to her.
On another note, one other thing that really took me aback was the discovery that the class with whom I’ve interacted the most, a group of middle school girls whose English teacher is actually an American guy from Wisconsin, is considered the advanced/special English track class. That surprised me for two reasons. First, honestly, they didn’t seem that much better than some of the younger students in the normal track. They knew more vocabulary, but they practiced talking about nearly the same things as the younger kids. Maybe that’s not something to be blamed on them, but on the course syllabus and the rigidity of the way the Japanese education system teaches English. Second, the girls had always struck me as extremely cheerful and outgoing, almost to the point of obnoxiousness (like I said, discipline in the middle school section is pretty lax) but it turns out that they, as a class, are kind of outcasts at school. During a break between classes, most students flooded the hallways, chatting with friends at lockers or visiting friends in other classrooms. But these girls all stayed in their one little classroom, talking to each other. When I asked one of them why they did not also go out into the hallways, she told me that they don’t really have other friends. Very sad!