Somewhere in Japan, Dispatch № 84: Conditioning
Ostensibly, I am an English teacher. My students do everything in English at my after-school facility, and we teach a brief lesson in English, in addition to having them do worksheets and read aloud from a series of graded readers.
But really, we’re taking care of the kids for a few hours after school while their parents are at work. We get them to do their homework and make sure that they follow the rules. Strictly follow the rules. This, I would argue, is actually the primary function of my job.
In The Little Red Schoolbook from 1969, authors Søren Hansen and Jesper Jenson wrote to the book’s intended audience of children:
Instead of helping you develop as an individual, schools have to teach you the things our economic system needs you to know. They have to teach you to obey authority rather than to question things, just as the exam system encourages you to conform, not to be an individual.
So it was in the late nineteen sixties in Denmark, so it remains in much of the world in 2021, perhaps especially in Japan. This is readily apparent. And while I do not deny it for an instant, I do take exception to being party to it.
So I quietly resist every single day.
Everyone demands things of them, but not enough people encourage them to be curious or to be true to who they are. Almost nobody gives them permission, let alone a push, to question authority or to push against the structures to which they find themselves subject but from which they rarely benefit.
While I make sure they follow the rules that matter, not all the rules matter. I try to minimize their busy work, too, and give them what free time I can. It’s when they are free to do what they want that you see their identities come through in the greatest clarity. This is when they are able to be themselves.
When in play, they reveal the amazing people they are at heart, unabashedly exhibiting the personality and character at risk of being walled off in the name of conformity and fitting into a society with specific expectations of them. Expectations that require a sacrifice of the individuality and creativity that we are all born with, but that only a tragic minority of us actually get to keep into adulthood.
I’m worried about these kids of mine, but I know my position is limited. Still, it is my responsibility to do for them what little I can. I believe in them and care about their futures, and I am worried. Every day, I try to be an honest and trustworthy adult in their lives.
I wish there were more I could do.