I am truly puzzled. Mrs. Obama will be heading soon to Japan to bring her advice and encouragement to the Japanese girls that they not drop out of school. She feels that she should do this for the people of Japan. If one looks at the ranking given to the countries around the world on education, Japan is ranking 2nd behind Korea. In another study, they ranked 7th in the world in Math; 4th in Science and Reading. (Rankings) This is why I am puzzled about this visit.
Education in the United States is in crisis over Common Core and Standardized Testing to name only a few educational problems. Certainly our rankings in the world are not high. Teen pregnancy, drop out rate, bullying, and other issues also need to be addressed. Children in Chicago need to be able to walk to school without the fear of being shot by gang members. One would think that there is enough encouragement needed right here at home within the poorest parts of our country and in the inter-city schools.
The real question here is not anyone’s travel plans or good intentions, but WHAT IS BEING TAUGHT AND THE FREEDOM OF THE TEACHER TO TEACH. In a world of violence, fear, and distress, our children need to learn how to get along and compassion for each other as much as math, reading, and other subjects.
Here are a few quotes concerning what we are doing to our young people with the over-emphasis on testing rather than creative thought and how to live in the real world.
“Teachers were shocked by ambiguous test questions, based, as they saw it, on false premises and wrongheaded educational principles….. Others were dismayed to see that children were demoralized by the relentlessness of the testing process, which took seventy minutes a day for six days, with more time allowed for children with learning disabilities. One teacher remarked that, if a tester needs three days to tell if a child can read “you are either incompetent or cruel….” Another teacher said that during each day of testing, at least one of her children was reduced to tears. A paraprofessional—a classroom aide who works with children with special needs—called the process “state-sanctioned child abuse.” One child with a learning disability, after the second hour of the third day, had had enough. “He only had two questions left, but he couldn’t keep going,” a teacher reported. “He banged his head on the desk so hard that everyone in the room jumped.” (written by Rebecca Mead) Parents are beginning to opt out of standardized testing around the nation.
I need to mention that I had the privilege, as an American educator, of being invited by the Japanese government to visit the schools in Japan…elementary through high school. This was a “thank you” to the United States for sending educators to Japan after W.W II to help rebuild not only their country but their way of life. This also included the missionaries who went to help the people during this terrible time of history.
While in Japan, I was extremely impressed with their curriculum and teaching methods, but also in the students themselves. The children were happy in their classes. The high school students had a wing of baby grand pianos to practice because there was an emphasis on the arts in the curriculum. Just before classes were dismissed, I noticed two young men mopping the school corridor. I asked if they were being punished? The answer was “No, they are doing their responsibility.” I also saw girls as interactive as boys in the educational process. Nothing was mentioned about a drop out problem. Some criticism has come in more recent years about the long hours of study in Japan that has possibly been the reason for some suicides. Some middle class families have teens who have also more recently become part of violent gangs, which had not been a problem previously. The Japanese are trying to find the reasons for these changes in social behavior. Perhaps this is why the teacher of younger children that I am about to introduce you to has made a primary part of his teaching …the teaching of empathy.
The reason I am writing this blog, however, is to share something much more important than the testing issue. It has to do with, as mentioned above, with the actual teaching of young people how to live in this world. STRESS…VS ….COMPASSION is my title. Now meet a teacher in Japan who knows the importance of the child’s emotions…hurts and cares in the real world. (I would encourage you to set some time aside for this viewing…to be able to read everything that is said…for otherwise, you may miss some crucial points.)
(To see U.S. rankings in various areas of education, go to U.S. RANKINGS…comparisons to other countries )