From Friday, July 12
Kermit the Frog makes a lot of faces, but I have a hands-down favorite. It’s the “Kermit’s kerflummoxed” look, where he sort of draws his lips together and his nose back and stares dumbly. A bunch of kids are making that face in the corner, but they’re also jumping around waving their hands a lot and pointing at one clearly embarrassed but giggling child. All signs point to him just having broken some wind.
This is the most exciting thing to have happened so far today.
I finally got to teach another lesson, but I had no idea what do without guidelines or complete sentences, so I photocopied the Maine page of a US coloring book and had them paint the lobster red, the ocean blue, etc. I then had them draw in themselves, like, “what would you do if you were in Maine?” See, Ira had done a lesson in which students were drawing comics, and people were adding hilarious English speech bubbles like “fuck you!” with the Japanese teacher standing around complimenting them on using phrases they’d picked up from American movies. And Ira would try to swallow his laughter and correct them: “Well… in America… that’s not actually a thing you can say in school. I mean, kids do, but not… that’s really a very impolite thing to say to someone.”
I wanted that to happen to me. The closest I got, though, was when the kid surrounded himself with swastikas somewhere near Skowhegan. This might have disturbed me if I didn’t know that swastikas are an ancient symbol for peace, and that the Japanese still draw them into maps to indicate temples and shrines.
If I’m wrong, though, someone needs to get ahold of this kid. He’s got brown eyes and his name begins with a “K”, I think.
Mostly I’m just putting the time in today before taking the American kids back to Odaiba, which should be awesome since I don’t have to deal with any chaperones and can actually go to the amusement parks and Legoland. There’s also, apparently, a bilingual, interactive, cutting edge of a science museum in the neighborhood. And if I have an alley, that’s up it.
I’m definitely getting over the charms of being in school all day; can you tell? Mostly they just put me in the role of student or observer, and there are hours every day when I’m contractually obligated to do absolutely zippo. Having the Moore kids has helped somewhat, but wow, it’s a good thing I enjoy writing. There’s no Internet, even, just my trusty pink notebook and self.
I’m so bored right now I actually just did the math for the first week I was here. I had an average of six hours and twelve minutes per day with only my brain to occupy me.
Don’t mind my crank, please. They kept me up too late at that all-you-can-snarf place last night and tone-deaf goblins are currently blowing foghorns or recorders or whatever at me in music class. With absolutely no sense of timing or synchrony. Plus, again, they won’t give me one so I’m just sitting here, mentally growling and trying not to breathe through my nose.
It’s now a few hours from that last sentence and I wish my impatience hadn’t been so evident. Until today, I’ve been pretty good at going with the flow of all the classroom behavior, but I’m damned if I understand it and have spent hours (and you know I have them) trying to pinpoint this philosophy and determine whether it’s an improvement over ours. Or, more specifically, mine.
See, I grew up in the ‘80s surrounded by Yamaha, Sony, Toyota, and talk of Japanese technological and educational dominance. I even read about it in history books: the United States pumped a couple of billion dollars into reconstruction after the Big II in order to create a free market- and therefore non-Communist- economy, and at the same time prevented Japan from investing in any kind of military, which is our biggest cash vacuum. There was a prevailing Japanese attitude of “save your money and educate your children” so banks were able to provide all kinds of credit to a disciplined and technically savvy emerging workforce, and boom: economic fuse lit, reputation made.
And the thing about reputations is that they last, even if undeserved, unless contradictory evidence becomes glaringly obvious.
I’m staring it in the face now and I feel like an idiot for not having thought it through before. Sometimes I get irrationally egocentric and assume that things just happen to people and places connected with me. Like the Great Depression. It didn’t occur to me until well into adulthood that dozens of countries would have been affected. I had generally pictured it as, well, some people high-diving off Wall Street and others Grapes of Wrathing all over the Dust Bowl. Sad, distant, and US-exclusive. Wrong.
It was the same with the ‘80s. People darted around blowing coke-holes through their noses and canonizing Reagan by making terrible long-term decisions that nevertheless looked savvy to the greedmongers, and when it eventually hit the fan, of course there were world-wide repercussions. Japan’s economy, so dependent on feeding the excesses of the nouveau, took a massive sucker punch.
It has not, in fact, recovered, and children born since then have no memory of the war’s devastation, recovery’s intensity, or domination’s elated high.
They’re just some kids in some schools because they have to be. Their behavior reflects that.
In my classroom at home, I have a real problem with kids touching, tackling, yelling or sleeping through the lesson. All of these things happen in classrooms here, and constantly. Teachers generally just stand by and lecture through the mayhem, presumably figuring the serious students will just figure it out and damn the rest of the mad lot.
From one point of view, this seems to have some benefit. Kids here honestly do seem happier, smiling more and playing more. At first I thought all the whacking might be offensive, but they often giggle and wrestle right back; it’s playful. I know it’s a crowded city and people are much more likely to live in close quarters; does this explain my perception that they’re less guarded with personal space? It truly doesn’t seem like a bullying situation, which it certainly would be at home.
On the other hand, shut up and show some respect when you’re there to learn! Sure, kids don’t necessarily know what a crucial factor education is in living a free and happy life, but isn’t it the teacher’s responsibility to create conditions conducive to getting one? Be engaging, create connections interpersonally and from content to life, and for sweet Buddha’s sake, have some rules to keep the chaos out of the classroom. What is happening here?
I guess I’m making the Kermit face myself now.