When they stopped having classes on Saturday all it meant was less suffering for us and the students. We are not trying to meet any standards. The only thing that we try to do is finish whatever textbook we ask the students to buy. If there has been any consistent pattern of change to which teachers at Musashino point, it is less a function of any Ministry of Education reforms than it is to do with the reduced preparation of the students entering high school and their reduced learning.
To cite one example, Keiko told a story from her 2nd-year English class. The test was a translation from English into Japanese of a passage on Australian culture. All of the students were taught the English passage and its Japanese translation, and were given a copy of each to study. When the day of the test arrived, they were given the English and asked to translate it.
The teacher recorded their grades, and those students who did not get a passing grade had to take the test again, and then again, and then again, until they could produce enough of the Japanese to get a passing grade. Finally, the teacher began to give partial tests—where a student was tested on only a part of the passage at a time. This sped things up, finally allowing the last few stragglers to complete the passage one sentence at a time. The teacher was embarrassed about this compromise, but defended his approach this way:. Otherwise, everyone in the class fails.
For students like ours, that means they cannot get a job. They at least have to graduate. Clearly, in this instance, students did not expand their understanding and mastery of the subject matter.
They were also not working for some personal advantage. They were not maximizing anything, like their more elite peers. Having no stake in the outcome, they had no stake in the process. And the teachers, of course, were not deluded enough to imagine that they did. They did not learn logical reasoning nor did they have to take responsibility for their own learning, in the way we might associate with elite jobs. Nor did they learn the unquestioned obedience to authority one might associate with an ethic of factory work in Western theorizing on working-class culture in industrial capitalism.
Instead, Musashino students learned how to perform clearly demarcated tasks, not for some meaningful if remote goal, but for the sake of completing it because they were asked to. One very experienced female teacher characterized her students and what they learned in this way:. You watch the kids coming to school, going to their classes, talking to us and to each other. Some people say this is not what school is supposed to be like.
But here, at Musashino, that is what school is like, and we are luckier than we were before. An advert for video version of the popular Be-Bop High School. Many students and parents unfamiliar with Musashino cited this as an example what it probably is like. Group living is a cultural context that shapes individual subjectivities in line with the moral and practical expectations of adult society, and as such, it is an important part of whole-culture socialization, an important part of learning how to participate in a wide range of institutional contexts.
But as noted above, it is at the same time a management strategy, a form of governance that allows social control to be legitimately secured. The importance of securing order is clearly an important consideration for teachers at any high school. But more than that, the sort of order and control, the representation of legitimate authority and consent, provides a context within which students learn how to define themselves, their peers and those around them.
In the more elite institutions, somewhat paradoxically, an ethic of utilitarian maximization and the displacement of the high school by the cram school as the primary terrain of competition enable the school to be a more manageable and relatively conflict-free zone. Students do not have to depend upon their teachers or compete with their peers as much as those students who are less able to access cram school.
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Still, the assumed importance of academics, and maybe more significantly, the relatively unquestioned patterns of participation that structure the practices of schoolwork support willing cooperation in an orderly classroom. Elite schools are able to secure sufficient legitimacy to order and facilitate the various non-academic parts of the school. At most elite high schools, most students show up at sports day, participate to some extent in coordinated club activities, and allow teachers to maintain sufficient institutional authority to control the class. Musashino teachers cannot assume the same level of willing participation or cooperation from students.
Neither the instrumental value of grades nor the academic orientations apply in the case of Musashino students. By definition, these students are those who failed to demonstrate such abilities and orientations—otherwise they would not be at Musashino in the first place. This is combined with the virtual meaningless of an academic curriculum, leaving working-class high schools without any coherent center. Missing is the primary mechanism that establishes daily routine, motivates students, and helps teachers establish their authority around some model of orderly social control, some pattern of legitimate governance.
When students have no reason to be in school, making their time in school meaningful is quite difficult.
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A mid-career teacher, who lamented being transferred down from a much more elite school, commented:. My students [at Musashino] see us as babysitters, or entertainers, or cops. We see continuity from middle school: working-class students seem more likely to seek out personal rather than instrumental relationships with their teachers, whether they are rewarded if they find them or frustrated and angry if they do not. The wet relationship with teachers is echoed in each condemnation as well as each tribute.
Musashino students in fact depend upon teachers to help them in all sorts of important ways, besides keeping them from failing out of school: pregnancies, police trouble, drugs, family violence. Nevertheless, this sort of closeness, even intimacy in a way, does not help teachers turn the school into a coherent place of social order and control. After all, daycare, stage shows, and jails those places where babysitters, entertainers and cops are found are not necessarily appropriate places for high school adolescents.
Teachers at working-class schools must turn elsewhere for models of order and authority. While the predicament is rather distinctive to working-class schools, the ways of dealing with it vary. One important variable is the political orientation of the teachers, a fact that reminds us of the way that class sorting is never separated from its political implications.
The somewhat paradoxical fact is that both of these alternatives are in some senses based on an attempt to resuscitate the embattled models of group living. At Musashino, I saw two options that were familiar to most teachers and present, in some form, at most schools. If these teachers could organize a voting block or critical mass, they would be able to run the more important committees in the school. They must come to some understanding.
The union teachers believed, however, that this was a far more effective way to promote learning.
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Teachers union demonstration opposing revision of the education law. The non-union group of teachers was more conservative. Many principals saw this posting, even if there were virtually no substantial results, as a stepping stone out of teaching and into the administrative structure of the Board of Education itself. Not knowing much about the school, they took their short rotation usually just a couple of years , hoping to be able to rally enough of the more conservative teachers around them.
More concretely, this was achieved through instructing them in greetings aisatsu , use of appropriately polite language, and demonstration of an open sunao character in their willingness to do hard work and obey superiors. They will require virtually no knowledge or skill.
Some teachers within this group exploited the segmentation of the curriculum to codify classroom behavior into similarly discrete and therefore calculable variables. Other teachers who were less meticulous and had more of a stomach for open conflict demonstrated a more explosive classroom culture, where students were frequently and often arbitrarily berated and punished for their ill-defined failings in comportment and attitude.
These two approaches are broadly familiar to most public school teachers as addressing the structural and class predicaments of low-level schooling across Tokyo, and probably urban Japan more generally. And, in their own way, they were both trying to restore some aspect of this moral community, of group living the delegation of responsibility to students by the union teachers and subjugation of personal goals to the needs of the group for the more conservative teachers.
Students showed up to school and took enough credits, mostly in applied subjects, to graduate, as one might in college or most US high schools. The Board of Education is just processing students. It is not surprising that given the choice, students favored the less confrontational union teachers except for those few who looked forward to a fight, like Keiko , but even this was not an unproblematic format.
He explained:. They were more concerned about catching and punishing us than teaching us anything. For almost everyone, especially in their first year, the competing classroom cultures made for contradictory messages about school expectations, and students were often caught in the crossfire.
All the teachers were pushing you in different directions so that even if you wanted to stay clear [out of trouble], you could not. I just moved away.
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By their last year, most students had learned to hunker down and keep their head out of the line of fire, and most teachers had lost much of the ambition or energy to bring any wet coherence to the moral community of the school. As students got older and increasingly began to see the school as less of a reliable mechanism for their future, they simply did not have that much at stake.
Today, many of the older teachers say the same thing about their schools and even their younger colleagues. The more authoritarian teachers have survived as clusters at some schools with reputations for troublesome students, but without the oppositional union teachers to fight against, they seem to be less self-consciously organized at most schools. Today, many teachers from both extreme groups lament the current state of education, not as too progressive although there does seem to be more of a presence of counseling approaches or too authoritarian although incidences of some forms of school conflict do seem to be quite high.
The possibility of any moral community, however one sees the politics of group living, is probably most directly challenged by the threat of the dry convenience-store high school. Each year, fewer of them bothered to consult, except when these sessions were part of their required class time. Most turned to friends or want ads to find jobs.
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