I haven't been writing about school lately because it is all much of a oneness. Also I have been busy living about school, instead of digesting it as an experience. Since Christmas break I have largely been at elementary schools anyway.
I am writing about yesterday, not because it is exceptional, but because it is the story of what happens everyday in a nice, contained package. Two things to understand:
First. Again. Students are not allowed to ride bikes to school. I realize that this sounds like a tight-ass rule for kill joys and sticklers, but it is just a practicality. My school lies in a congested, mixed-use urban area and has over 400 students. For those who haven't experienced the Japanese city, it is not a landscape of sidewalks, parks, open spaces and, at worst, parking lots. It is 10-15 feet of rough asphalt, exposed gutters and front doors. Parking one extra bike in an apartment parking lot creates a nuisance. A parking lot in Japan isn't an expanse of pavement under an open sky, it is a shoebox blown up a little. There is no way to ride your bike to school without being an asshole. Not only to the people in the neighborhood around the school but to the vast majority of kids who suck it up and walk. Not that anyone has that far to go. The furthest house can't be more than twenty minutes away at a light stroll. I have walked between both elementary schools and the junior high in the course of one lunch break. I walk to the station and back every day, and it is surely farther than the most distant student's home. Riding your bike to school is just a way of saying "fuck you" to the entire process, and not in any constructive way.
Second: I don't care about Takuma anymore. I didn't think I would ever give up on a student, but he could never turn up again and we wouldn't be at a loss. Another teacher said to me today, "I have no interest in his life." That is pretty much it. I have dealt with all kinds of teenage behaviour. (I hate to pigeonhole teenagers that way anyway. Everyone is different. Everyone has something to offer. People between 12 and 20 aren't any real group. But they are undergoing some similar experiences and are subjected to similar pressures. So with that understanding.) I have busted kids for pot and felt nothing more than a complicated kind of disappointment and frustration. I have stopped kids from fighting. I have chewed kids out over destruction of property. None of it is that big of a deal. A lot of it is very normal. One kid this year got in trouble for throwing a shopping cart of the top of a parking garage. While we, as teachers, have an obligation to get angry over this, it doesn't concern me for the child's future. I can"t think of many things more entertaining than being 13 and throwing something of a building. Of course it is dangerous. Of course it is destructive. Of course you have to react and let the kid no it isn't acceptable, but it isn't rotten either. Takuma exists outside of this. Has he done anything terrible? Not really. Has he done enough to make me write him off as a liar and excuse maker with no heart, no will and a complete disregard for anything outside of himself? Yes. I don't even scold him anymore. I ignore him to the extent that I can. I never thought I would feel that way about a student.
I walk west from the station. My school's district lies to its west, so I walk through neighborhoods that all attend another junior high school. I pass those students every morning. Some are laughing and riding tandem on bikes (which is illegal.) I almost say something to them, but they have no idea who I am and I don't know their rules or their situation. I emerged from a small alleyway between a pre-school and an old folks home yesterday morning to see two bike pass me. One had two boys on it, the other had three. I thought, "Man, the other school has some rotten kids." Then I realized that I knew all of them. They hadn't recognized me because, in the cold, I was wearing a jacket with a high collar and a knit cap pulled way down. I walked after them, watching where they were going. One bike they parked under an apartment building, the other in another pre-schools parking lot. When I say 'parking lot' I mean a narrow strip of asphalt between rusting fences where parents can stop their bikes and drop off their kids.
"What are you doing?" I yelled. Ueshina shouted "Takuma" alerting his buddies. Takuma looked up at me and kept on what he was doing. I said, "You know you can't ride bikes to school. Take them home and come back." The indignant excuses began. "No. We have to come here because Ueshina has to bring his little sister to pre-school." He does have a little sister there, but she wasn't on a bike. "Then we were going to take the bikes home and then go to school." "Really? That is moronic. Why would I believe that? Hurry. Now!" At this point parents were showing up on bikes and wondering who the strange foreigner, who vaguely resembles a homeless bum (the beard is coming nicely, thank you) is standing in front of the pre-school shouting at children. An assistant principal from my school walks past. "Hi Miyaji!" Makino shouts. "Good morning." He waves back, useless. "What are you doing?" Makino protests. We have an odd relationship. He respects me because I fight and he will listen to me but he can't give away to much in front of his crew. "I am looking for your bike's registration number so I will know it next time I see it." "You could just ask. I don't care." I kind of like that about Makino, even though I want to kick him in the ass every now and then. "You know that you can't ride bikes to school and you can't ride two to a bike." "Sure we can." "No. You can't" "Who cares?" "Those are the rules that other kids have to follow." "And?"
At this point Takuma has run in to the pre-school, where he has no relation, and is screaming and running around in circles. Lately when we discuss him, we just shake our heads and refer to him as "truly stupid." Raw unfiltered stupid. I consider going in and finding the head of the school, but I realized how much I would freak them out. More than a 13 year-old doing laps around their grounds, yelling. When I do get them all out, I tell them to take the bikes home. Takuma and Kyohei (who is well loved by all of the girls at school because he looks like a member of an all-boy pop group. If you haven't lived in Japan, you can read that as, "Ugly by our standards, as diverse as they might be.") take the bikes and ride a direction that is not the way home, laughing. Makino yells after them, "That isn't home!" I walk in that direction but can't find them.
I report all of this to the assistant principal in charge of discipline. All of their families get a call. Takuma is specificaly in trouble over running into the pre-school. His parent's response, "But it wasn't his bike." That is apparently as far as the conversation got. Guess waht happened this morning. The exact same thing. With parents like these, it is no wonder.