It seems that the worst thing a Japanese student can do isn`t sleeping in class or ignoring the teacher. It`s not disrupting a chorus concert by laughing and talking loudly. It`s not even rubbing each other`s crotches or pinning each other to the floor and slapping each other across the face.
No, it seems that the worst thing a student at my school could possibly do is chew gum or eat candy. For some reason, this rule is held higher than all others--more punishable than violence or sexual harrassment. Everyone is in the gym for the second assembly of the day about this. These assemblies come at really weird times and throw off the entire day`s schedule. We had one this morning, which cut into class time, and just to be sure that the students get it, they are having another one.
Japanese people are extremely polite and nonconfrontational. I was shocked when, one morning, a teacher was screaming at two boys in the break room. It is terrifying to see an angry Japanese person since they are generally so mild mannered. When I realized that two hours had passed and he was still yelling at the boys, I asked an English teacher what they had done.
"Oh, they were chewing gum in front of some teachers from another school during the festival."
Previously this year, a boy kicked a girl so hard between the legs that she bled. I barely heard anything about his punishment; at most I think they called his parents. But these other boys, these terrible gum chewers, have surely disgraced all of Eimei Junior High. They have probably shamed their entire families and the city of Chino. Possibly even everyone in Japan is ashamed of their behavior.
Discipline is totally different here. Students are given 10 or 15 minutes between every class in which they can do anything they want, including molesting each other and wrestling. I don`t really know how their grading system works, but most assignments that are returned don`t appear to have "grades" as we know them. I think the students are only graded on how well they perform on exams. Exams for all classes are usually held on the same day. To get into a good high school, they must do well on an entrance exam.
I guess the Japanese believe that discipline should come from within, and that is why I see students routinely get away with behavior that would have them suspended in America. Maybe the lack of grades is the reason that so many kids don`t even pay attention in English class.
Another disturbing trend I`ve noticed is that parents in Japan typically don`t make their children wear seatbelts. The kids just run amok in the backseat, wrestling each other and crawling around the car. Sometimes, the kids even sit on their parents` laps, which is totally against the law in the U.S. ( at least where seatbelt laws are enforced). I guess the parents figure that if the kids don`t like wearing them, they shouldn`t have to, even if it`s for their own good.
Zack sent me an interesting link that might help explain how the Japanese view discipline: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shame_society
It would be ethnocentric of me to say that the punishment at my school is crazy. Some of the punishment in America doesn`t make sense, either. I doubt that Japanese prisons are overflowing like American prisons are. People here may have a strange way of disciplining children, but the crime rate is low and I can walk to my house safely at night. People feel a sense of duty and honor here that you rarely see in a place like the U.S. Something to think about.