Japan schools call for recess on violence

The "blackboard jungle" has reached Japan with a vengeance. The national police agency, which began keeping figures on school violence in the mid-1970s, admits the current level of hooliganism is a grave social problem.

Somehow this doesn't conform with the accepted image of Japan as a peaceful, discipline country. Credit that to Japanese skill in hiding the problem.

Last year, an average of 14 out of every thousand schoolchildren received police "correctional guidance" for criminal offenses. In the first five months of this year, cases of attacks by junior-high students (12- to 15-year-olds) on their teachers were double the same period in 1979 and more than five times the number of attacks in all of 1975.

The headmaster of Tokyo's Okudo Junior High School recently summoned police to help quell a free-for-all between students and teachers that was touched off by confiscation of a tape recorder going full blast in a classroom during recess. Police arrested dozens of rampaging students.

There was sharp press criticism of the headmaster who, it was said, should have used persuasion. But one teacher, Tadami Kawakami, defends his headmaster. He points out that between last December and March, 72 out of 199 male third-year students were arrested for delinquency.

"These days, they are big and strong and don't hesitate to grapple with their teacher," he says. But what is surprising is that Okudo did not have a reputation as a "tough school."

At some schools, gangs of toughs are reported to have gone on vandalism rampages. Others have roller-skated or cycled around corridors with radios blaring. A favorite trick is "the kamikaze attack": tossing flaming paper airplanes at teachers.

Women teachers report an increasing level of verbal abuse, often with crude sexual connotations. In one Tokyo school, some students locked themselves in a studio and broadcast music and erotic tapes over the public address system.

Police also report an increasing number of student attacks against teachers with swords and air guns rather than fists. According to official statistics, 38 cases of assault on 58 teachers were reported in the first five months of this year -- up from 44 cases involving 66 teachers in all of 1979. And this is seen as merely the "tip of the iceberg" because many schools are reluctant to file charges and lose face.

Incidents are now even being reported in primary schools. But the greatest problem is definitely at the junior- rather than senior-high level (16- to 18 -year-olds). The imminence of crucial university entrance tests affecting their whole lives seems to have a sobering effect on the older students.

To cope with the problem, the teachers union has launched a "hot line" telephone- advice service. Police and education authorities have formed committees to prevent violence against teachers and the formation of gangs who engage in gambling, prostitution, shoplifting, and turf battles with other schools. Girls are often more violent than boys.

A leading psychologist says that "these children are trying to assert their independence. While this may not be revolutionary in some countries, it is in Japan's system of rigid social roles. they want to be noticed as individuals, not fresh battalions for the economic miracle.

"These children have been forced-fed into the education system which is supposed to guarantee success. But no one has bothered to ask them how they define success."

Parents share some of the blame. They have long insisted that classroom instruction should concentrate purely on getting good grades rather than on character-building. As competitive pressures have dangerously built up, many parents have lost trust in traditional schooling and now insist on sending their children to "prep schools."

Classroom emphasis, particularly at the junior-high level, has been on teachers reading from textbooks crammed with information the students often don't understand. Students become passive spectators, and slow learners readily become bored and "switch off."

The Education Ministry acknowledges this problem. It has just completed the first major revision of junior high school textbooks in more than 10 years. A ministry spokesman said the new books were generally thinner, contained brighter material, such as cartoons and comic strips, and attempted to spur more individual creative thinking.

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