Japan's school discipline crumbles
Tokyo — Japanese educator Shoji Kimori believes the time may be ripe for return of the cane. His revival of the old maxim, "Spare the rod, spoil the child," has added an emotional new element to the current national debate on classroom violence.
With teachers more and more often facing the threat of attack with baseball bats, knives, and even guns, Mr. Kimori, Kyoto superintendent of schools, recently told city assemblymen physical punishment of violent students was unavoidable.
He argued that the 1947 ban on corporal punishment, a reaction against stern prewar school discipline, was not relevant to the situation in today's schools.
The National Police Agency reported 1,558 cases of school violence last year, up 20 percent from the year before. There were 394 assaults on teachers -- up from 232 in 1979.
Almost all the violence occurs in junior high schools, and a survey of graduating elementary-school children found over 50 percent feared being attacked at school.
"Students these days are often armed with wooden swords and baseball bats, and they assault teachers in gangland style." (One teacher was recently shot in the hand.)
The figures may not look particularly bad when measured against some Western countries. A survey by the US National Education Association indicated one in 20 US schoolteachers was attacked in 1979. But they are causing alarm here because they are a relatively new phenomenom.
The NPA has recently agreed to maintain close contact with local education boards, individual schools, and parent-teacher organizations to work out countermeasures.
Calling in police to control student riots, as some schools have done, seems only to have fueled the discontent of the students. Their rebellion involves not just acts of violence, but using drugs, smoking, drinking, playing radios in the classroom, dyeing hair in bizarre shades (both boys and girls) and redesigning school uniforms in so-called "hoodlum style."
Students have complained that the nation's junior high schools are mere assembly lines geared to turning out students capable of memorizing a mass of information required to pass stiff examinations for elite senior high schools.
One such complaint: "Teachers don't treat us like human beings at all. They're only interested in scholastic achievements, and never bother to promote a friendly, trustworthy relationship."
Almost 90 percent of junior-high-school students also attend evening prep classes. Surveys show these youngsters study about 12 hours a day and sleep for less than seven -- leading to a buildup of frustration and ultimately, in many, to an explosive protest against "this miserable life."
Opposing the return of corporal punishment, Motofumi Makieda, chairman of the teachers' union, says the answer to classroom violence lies with teachers who must get rid of their indifference, and work hard with students to regain lost trust.