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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Japan's Education System - Truancy

It's Canadian Thanksgiving - Monday, October 12 - as I write this, and we're not doing anything special today, as the wife is working.

It's cool... we can use the money. We get by, of course, and we eat well enough everyday, so every day is Thanksgiving as far as I'm concerned.

I have a son not yet 10 who, because of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), has had a difficult time of it in school. Recently, however, we were able to get him on some medication that helped control his ADHD... for which I am thankful.

By the end of Grade 1, he was unable to read and sure enough didn't even know his alphabet... which was quite troubling for me, his father, who makes his daily bread as a writer.

We worked his butt off in the summer between Grades 1 and 2 and at the worst got him up to the equivalent Grade 2 level. If he's beyond that now in Grade 5, I don't know, but he enjoys reading and being read to every day - so I'm not concerned.

I have friends who have kids and don't have a single book or magazine in the house.  Me - I have a library.

I read him Uncle Scrooge comics - the very same books that, whether I realized it or not, inspired my imagination... and probably had some influence in me becoming a writer. Even as a child, I read every Uncle Scrooge book I could get my hands on, realizing that not all stories were created equal.

That love of adventure soon had me reading Bradbury, Tolkein and then every single fantasy and sci-fi book I could get my hands on. I think I am a better comedic writer than serious, but I know the opposite is true.

My son used to hate going to school - in Grade 1!!! But me understanding that he has ADHD allowed me to know it wasn't something he could control on his own.

Even now, because of his past behavior issues, he doesn't have a lot of friends - but thankfully still has one very good one and is working on having more. He excels in baseball, and now has lots of new friends on his A-level Rep baseball team.

It could have been worse... and granted it could still be.

I used to hate going to school as well, but for different reasons.

When I first moved into this very same house I am in now to begin Grade 5, I was in a new school and didn't know anyone.

I was a year younger than my classmates, shorter than all, and not White... which doesn't seem to make a whole big of a deal nowadays, but it did then.

Not to me at first, however.

As a cheerful, friendly sort with a smile on my face, I was anxious to show I was every bit as smart as everyone else in my class, and so, with great pride after my first test that school year, when asked, I explained that I had got 100 per cent on the math test.

One kid - and I forget who now - said: "Of course you did. All you Brown kids get perfect on tests."

Owtch. I wasn't going to fit in if I was so smart... so I made a conscious decision at that moment to never try in school again. It wasn't peer pressure, but it was. It wasn't bullying, but it was.

Soon enough, my school marks were all wet - below C-level. Ha-ha.

Going in to Grade 9 (high school), I continued that trend, but was unable to fit in... now the smallest and youngest kid in the school... I wore glasses, and was still Brown. There were other Brown kids in high school, but I was the one who got picked on, as everyone needs someone to be superior to apparently. Not me, though, because I was at the bottom of the social ladder.

By Grade 12 when I was 16, I had had enough of the bullying and began to skip school. I would go to the homeroom class - be accounted for in attendance, and then skip off and go to the library, the arcade or go bowling. I'd magically show up again after school to play soccer in a community league. For me, it was soccer.

After one week... I was caught and exposed... and given a one week's suspension from school and was told I would have to write all the Final Exams regardless of my grades.

No biggie... I was failing everything except Music and Gym... but the best part was being suspended for a week. Yes... that will teach me not to skip a week of school. Idiots.

I did Grade 12 again, was now in the same grade as people my own age... and decided to try again... doing well enough in Grade 13 (Ontario used to have that at the time) to get into the community college and universities of my choice.

My issue was emotional and psychological, not chemical.

At least with chemical, as long as the damage hasn't been done emotionally or psychologically, there's an excellent chance of recovery.

Emotionally or psychologically... I was able to turn things around myself... but not everyone can do that and help is required.

Heck... my biggest kick in the pants was a letter I received from a Physical education teacher at the end of the Grade 12 (first time) year, who told me I was special and should not let others bring me down. It's why I hold Pam Lawton in such high regard, when other teachers just stuck to teaching from books.

I was also lucky, however, in that I did have friends. King of the Nerds, is how I described myself then - and now.

I'm the type of nerd of likes comic books, cartoons, Star Trek, but also likes his sports, and actually played them well enough to garner some respect on the pitch. But not every Nerdy kid can do that. They can, but not every one.

My son's new school principal is a former classmate from high school, and her brother was one of my best friends in high school, too. When my wife chatted with her last week, she didn't recall my name... until she realized Andrew Joseph also meant A.J., which was how she knew me.

So apparently I wasn't completely anonymous in high school amongst the female population. You learn stuff as you get older.

Truthfully, high school was a hated time for me. I hated it. I hated myself. And you can guess that whatever dark thoughts a teenaged boy could have, I had them. All of them. So I get it.

In Japan... there is a saying about "the nail that stands up gets hammered down." It means that anyone that doesn't toe the company line gets beaten until they do.

But not every Japanese person wants to toe the company line.

In Japan, according to the School Basic Survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the number of primary and middle school students absent from school for more than 30 days a year for reasons other than sickness and financial difficulties exceeded 100,000 for the first time in fiscal 1997.

100,000 kids... who weren't sick... who wanted to skip school.

Apparently many of the Japanese kids who skipped school said they did so because of "anxieties and other emotional problems", “psychological exhaustion” and “troubles with friends, other than bullying.”

First, I find it difficult to believe they said the Japanese equivalent of that, but I do believe that the statement is true. I suppose 'anxieties and other emotional problems' is a blanket statement that covers it all

If they said they didn't go because of bullying - that I could believe.

Bullying covers it all.

Whether it's the need to study all the time to get into a good high school and thus have a perfect work career and thus be more attractive to the opposite sex - anxiety covers it all.

Parents send their kids to Juku - cram schools at night to help get the grades up and to better prepare for entrance exams.

There is always a need to fit in... at school... at work... even at home... regardless of one's sex, race or culture.

Japan is no different despite it's hammer and nail philosophy.

Truancy among all primary and middle school students was 1.21 percent in fiscal 2014, almost twice the figure of 0.63 percent in fiscal 1995.

Doubling its truancy rate in the past 20 years is a troubling sign for Japan.

I'm not offering any solutions here. Each person's case is individual and can't be covered in a stupid blog.

But these are the facts, warts and all.

Happy Thanksgiving.
Andrew Joseph

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