Friday, January 26, 2007

Japan Schools to Rethink Beating Says BBC. Oh, Really?

"Japan Schools to Rethink Beating", says the headline of the
Jan. 24 BBC article. The top paragraph, in bold, reads: Japanese schools should rethink their decades-old ban on corporal punishment, a government-appointed panel has urged. And the main body of the report begins with the sentence: The report, submitted amid growing concern over bullying, stopped short of overtly backing beating, but suggested an end to a policy of leniency.

Now you would think that the report deals almost solely with bullying and that the Japanese authorities want to combat that with canings and lashings, but won't just yet come out and say so outright. If the BBC says so. But just to be sure, let's take a look at the publicly available records of the Education Rebuilding Council.

The important thing to note is that the rethinking on the measures in question mainly revolved around the maintenance of order in the classroom, and, in the initial discussions, was not discussed in relation to bullying. The issue was part of the discussions in a Nov. 29 subcommittee session. The member who led the discussions on this point was Hiroyuki Yoshiie, the charismatic but somewhat controversial ex-gangsta, teacher turned education expert, who recited the following rules on "taibatsu"="corporal punishment" issued in 1949 (The ERC secretariat had produced an earlier (1948) set of rules (my translation; words added in [ ]s to facilitate understanding), which were one of the main sources for the 1949 rules)]:

To not allow a student to go to the bathroom [during class hours] or to keep a student in the classroom past lunch hour [school lunches are typically served in the classroom] is corporal punishment since there is concomitant physical pain, and the violates the School Education Law.
A student who is late to class must be allowed in to the classroom. In compulsory education [ i.e. El-Hi 1-9], it is forbidden not to have the student receive education, even if it is for a short time.
It is forbidden to make a student leave the classroom even if the student is lax in his/her studies or making a commotion. The student may be required to stand in the classroom as being within the authority to punish, as long as the measure does not constitute corporal punishment.
A student may be required to remain in the classroom [after hours] as a form of punishment to the extent that it does not become a form of corporal punishment if the student has stolen or broken something belonging to someone else or committed other similar acts.
In the case of theft and the like, the student [presumably the suspect] and witnesses may be interrogated, but they must not be forced to confess or testify.
It is acceptable to increase the frequency of cleaning [the classroom, corridors, playground, and toilets
(yes, we had latrine duties in the old days; very progressive too, unisex, a la Ali McBeal) and the like [catering duties?] in the case of a student who has been late or is lax in his/her studies, but inappropriate discrimination or harsh treatment is forbidden.
Joint commuting to school is acceptable as a means to prevent lateness, but there is a need to be careful so that it does not take on military training qualities.
(This was, of course, 1949.)

Mr. Yoshiie said that changing circumstances have made it impossible for teachers to maintain order and that the ERC, while not supporting corporal punishment, should put forth how to deal with these rules [the implication being that a new set of rules should be issued] as part of normal education activities. This was followed with some chatter about how in those days such rules were routinely ignored by teachers, back from the war, who would often beat students with their hands (reminding people today what Japanese military life was often like).

At the Dec. 8 session of the subcommittee, the rules did come up in the context of bullying. Mr. Yoshiie, again is at the center of the talks with a recitation of the rules, adding brief comments to each one. But the talk is not necessarily limited to bullying. Anyway, almost all the talk is about suspension (which would be an infraction of above mentioned rule no 1). There remains the need to provide education, i.e. separate classes, for even these egregious cases. In this context of taking disruptive students out of the classroom, Yoshiyuki Kasai, another ERC member and chairman of JR Tokai and conservative commentator, expands on an earlier (Nov. 29) idea of his and suggests special classes for the egregious cases featuring [lots of] judo and kendo as part of its curriculum, and this idea is briefly discussed. This comes up as an intermediate solution before calling in the cops, which in its own way takes up a fairly good portion of the talks.

So, what does this all add up to? The ERC members did come out in favor of revising a nearly sixty year old set of rules on taibatsu. But the taibatsu that has been covered by those rules goes beyond what is commonly understood as "corporal punishment". Admittedly, the judo/kendo classes can lead, in excess, to physical pain in the name of physical education (in fact, there will be at least some pain in any case, or you are slacking off). If that idea is taken up. But to tie that brief exchange of to a rethinking of beating requires a substantial measure of investigative journalism. Not that I am suggesting that BBC was even aware of this exchange.

In any case, not only did the ERC not "overtly backing beatings", beatings were the farthest thing from the minds of most, perhaps all, of the ERC members. And something clearly was lost in translation from taibatsu to corporal punishment.

Not, actually. Because, you see, BBC evidently did not bother to read anything but other news reports before writing up this article and slapping on the headline "Japan Schools to Rethink Beating" and posting it, much less the publicly available documents.

This is a fine meme that BBC has unleashed on an unsuspecting foreign language public, tabloid sensationalism at best, misleading at worst.

C'mon, BBC, you can do better than this.

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