Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bicycle Asshole-ality: My Rationale

Okay. So David makes a good point that the bike rule sounds like BS, and I seem to be overreacting. I will attempt to answer this. Partly because I learned much of what I know about being a teacher from David and Dave, and partly because I talk this stuff through to myself all the time.

I will present my point in ascending order of importance.

1: Physically, every student riding a bike to school is impossible. There is nowhere to park them. If 400+ students parked their bikes within the grounds, there would be nowhere for recess or clubs. I don't think that is an alternative. If you haven't been in a Japanese neighborhood, it might be kind of hard to conceive of what they look like but I think "mixed use." Might be a generous term. Stores and houses and businesses and factories are all jumbled on top of each other. If the same 400+ students tried to park their bikes outside of the school, it would be a terrible nuisance for the neighborhood. Everyone would complain. The streets would be filled with bikes.

High schools students can ride bikes. Elementary and junior high can't. There is a good reason for this. The streets and sidewalks would be flooded between 7:30 and 8:30 AM. Traffic wouldn't flow. There would be tons of kids on bikes competing with cars and pedestrians and old people in wheelchairs and mothers taking their kids to pre-schools. It just couldn't work. Especially given what shit bike riders junior high schoolers are. They would be riding four across doing mail on their cell phones, and then we would have to be on them about their riding manners and following up on accidents. It just isn't feasible.

2. Rules are important. In Japanese junior high schools there are a ton of chickenshit rules. There are rules that I hear and wonder why anyone would need to follow them. But, and I see this now more than ever, the role of junior high in Japan is to teach young people how to function in society. In elementary school the kids can run around like monkeys all day. It is pretty free and full of breaks. They can go nuts as long as they learn to read and write Japanese at a basic level. That is what is expected of them. I might surprise you with this next point so sit down and hold on to your loose change. The academic component of junior high There is no academic component to junior high in Japan. You may say, "But there are classes! They receive grades on their tests." That is true but I ask you; what happens if you fail every test between your first day and your last day? What if every paper that comes to your desk you immediately tear up and eat? What if you laugh at every homework assignment and tell the teacher that you forgot to buy a pencil for three years straight? I will tell you; the same thing that happens to the best student in your class. You all graduate. All that is expected of you is to show up and to follow the rules. That may sound crazy, but to a large degree I have bought into the process. When it works, like at Mikuni, you get a school where kids can be what they want to be. If they want to work really hard on getting into a strong academic high school, they can. If they want to concentrate on sports and develop that area of their talents, they can. If they like reading books and writing manga and keeping to themselves, they can. All that is asked of them is to respect their elders and treat the people around them with respect. I agree with that. It is better than my junior high. When managing that many kids who have different goals and backgrounds who all have to exist in close proximity(35-45 a class) every day, the unifying factor is that everyone follows the same set of rules. Of course, within that, I over look silly little things when the kid is descent for the most part.

3. This school is actually out of control. The bad kids run the school. They actually run it. They show up when they feel like. They leave when they feel like. If a teacher or administrator attempts to discipline them, they raise their hands like they are going to punch them. If you ask them why they aren't in class they will respond, "Get the fuck out of my way." They run through the halls during class kicking on doors and stuff the bathrooms full of paper towels so they won't work. They talk to adults like they are dogs. They spit inside so that the hallways and stairs are covered in sludge. They can't have a serious conversation without laughing hysterically or fighting. They can't concentrate for more than a minute or two. I am seriously concerned about their immediate future, their safety and wellbeing.

In the midst of this are a good number of kids who would just like to go to a normal school. For this they get beaten down, both metaphorically and literally. The young man who comes and sits by my desk during every break because he is too scared to be anywhere else and who teaches me kanji because his hobby is reading novels, was beaten in front of the school last week because he had enough of the school bully harassing him and wouldn't listen to him. His face had a deep gash where his glasses broke. It was the one day in the week that I wasn't standing on the front steps at the end of school. There are many other kids who would just like to come to class, do mediocre and go home, but they can't because these loud mouths disrupt everything. You can either play along, withdraw into yourself or suffer. I don't think that is fair. I don't think this situation allows for and slack being given to the worst kids. I think they have to follow the same rules as everyone else. If they can get that through their heads then maybe we can move on.
A lot of the problem is that everyone, students and teachers, have gotten used to this situation. It seems like it is the way it is supposed to be. A few of us new teachers refuse to accept it and you can already see the change. Small though it may be. If they ignore me about the bike rule, why will they listen to me in class? If they don't respect me in class, why will they listen to me about running wild in the halls? If they don't care about that, why wouldn't they beat up the kids that are weaker than them? I don't see anyway around being a dick about the little rules until they can act like human beings.


The Morholt said...

Hey wes
I see all your points. I have been trying to hold the line on all rules applying to all students in a great teaching environment, I can't imagine dealing with the upside down system of authority you describe.
My comment was partly sincere in that I wasn't sure why kids wouldn't be allowed to ride bikes to school, since here we would love to get more kids onto bikes and off motorcycles, out of the cars that their parents stop for ridiculously long times in front of the school to drop them, stopping all traffic and alienating our neighbors.
But the main thrust of my question was whether you were choosing your battles well (since it seems to me that the priority in establishing order goes classroom>hallway and cafeteria>grounds>off grounds.) And you have to start with an island of order then build outward, in my experience, or you simply end up overwhelmed and with no support from the adults around you who appease these kids, and whom you also have to teach the value of and means to order (by example).
Also, in establishing order (rather than maintaining it) it seems that the heirarchy of enforcement goes Bullying and fighting>disrespect for individuals>vandalism>disorder (like loudness and cell phones etc)>technicalities(like the content of kids lunches, minor dress-code infractions, etc.) Not sure how the bikes fit in this, but they seem fairly low.
And speaking of example, the idea of laying hands on a kid in an aggressive way is very strange to me. The way you described the confrontation seemed a little out of control, and control is the essence of discipline. It also would have been immediate firing and lawsuit in the USA, serious trouble and possible dismissal here in Mexico. So it made me worry about you a bit, not because your impulse and values were wrong, but because i couldn't understand the judgment process that led you to that confrontation at that place and in that way. I think i get it now.

wwc said...

I hear what your saying. It's just a different world. I would normally say that I oppose being physical with kids. I would say that it is a sign of a weak teacher. However, it is pretty common in Japan. Lots of parents will tell you, "please smack my kid around."

I guess my goal in being directly physical with the bicycle kid was 1: He was on a bike and would have ridden past me otherwise. 2: I see it as a way to keep down violence. Any kid can throw a punch when they are angry and you are a foot or two away, but if you are up in their face there isn't much they can do. They aren't going to out wrestle me. I think it is the safer course. A kid trying to punch me is not a remote possibility. It is almost inevitable at this point. As for my battles, I am choosing all of them. I don't really see them as separate. Either the kids respect the teachers enough to not ride past you laughing or they don't. If I lose them on that count, I have lost them in the school as well.

attempting to silence the voices in my head.