Democratic Schools – the educational answer to the 21st century
By Mr. Yacov Hecht
Head of the Institute for Democratic Education
What are the reasons for the main crises that the education system is facing? Why are the solutions of more… of what has failed… will continue to fail? What are the new solutions that the democratic education offers? And why now is the time?
Where did the Japanese discipline go? \ From “Ha’aretz” newspaper, 5.2.99
Teacher Sato’s second grade is falling apart. One of the children has already broken the windows four times. Another child is hitting his friends and spitting on the floor. Another child is writing on the walls. The rest of the pupils don’t clean after them, refuse to listen to the teacher’s orders and chat constantly during class. Discipline – not in our school.
In the last few years many of the Japanese classes turned from straight rows of obedient pupils to chaotic circuses of problematic youngsters. Teachers, who got used to the stature of “sansay” – the distinguished master that no one dares to defy – find themselves incapable of dealing with the student’s growing impudence. “The Washington Post” brought the story of the new phenomena.
“Broken classes”, is the name given to the Japanese classes, in which the studies are stopped due to student’s disturbance in the radio and television – and in every public park in which the mothers gather to discuss. A survey recently conducted by a Japanese news agency shows that 44% of the teachers in elementary and junior high schools taught in “broken classes”. Most schools continue, of course, to function as usual. But the change in the teachers’ stature takes its toll: some of them say they lost their authority, others say they are close to a nervous brake down.
All of Japan is trying to understand the causes for the situation that the educational system got into. Some blame the ministry of education that refused, so they claim, to adjust its methods, which require homogeneity, to the world of pupils who are getting to be more and more individualistic.
Some claim that the roots of the problem lie in the children’s eating too much fast food and spending too much time in front of the television and the computer' screen. And some say, that the Japanese children are simply imitating the American children.
Upon one thing almost everyone agrees: the Japanese society is going through a fundamental change. The old order gave way to a new order, that forces the Japanese people to discuss the education in their country and the future of their polite and disciplined culture. Many notice the inevitable confrontation between the parties: the pupils, which are Japan’s future generation, want to make real their personal and creative urges. Facing them is the educational establishment, which is one of the most conservative establishments in Japan. One local council recently sent a letter to the parents of the local schools pupils, in which they were asked to refresh their children’s memory as to the basics of discipline and politeness. This is an unusual letter. Japanese reminding themselves to behave politely are like a fish, reminding itself to swim.
In a discussion over educational issues, the pupils were recently asked what qualities they would like to see in a teacher. Many of them said they would like to have a teacher that understands them more and that is “’cool”. A junior high pupil said he would like “someone that will take off his tie and play with us, that will be accessible and will know what children like”. But most teachers are not willing to play this role. Most of them were trained for something completely different – for students who won’t open their mouths.
Another side of the problem is that teachers and parents blame each other in braking the discipline. It is possible that Japan is suffering from the Chinese “little emperor” syndrome, due to the drop in birth rate to 1.4 children per family. Only children, especially in a wealthy society, may become more exposed to the abundance of attention and material pleasures, and become little tyrants in their homes and schools. “Yes, our children are spoiled”, says Mr. Tushieko Miagawa, an expert in education. “The homes became ‘air pockets’, in which the children can do whatever they desire”.
But there are some that believe that the hour has come for them to adjust to the sign of the times. “Schools should act as business firms”, says Iuana Matsuy, chairman of the national parents association. “They should answer the altering needs of their clients – in this case, the pupils”.
What are the reasons for the main crises that the educational system is facing?
When I analyze the difficulties that appear in this article and in many articles similar to this one that are published all over the world lately, I assume that the educational system in the world is in deep crisis. There are, in my opinion, three main reasons that led to this situation –
1. The lack of communication between the employment market and the educational system – assuming that the educational system is supposed to prepare its pupils to the future world that takes place outside the school, and simultaneously to be a microcosms of the reality. “The school”, that was set up to be a preparation and training program to working at the factory of the industrial revolution, is not adjusting to the changes that occur and are expected to occur in the employment market. The “old” school is trying to maintain the frameworks in which it was created – in a world where the successful worker acted as a “state of the art robot” (Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times”). Therefore the pupil’s main goal in that school was to practice procedures of complying and be educated to obedience. A close relative of that school, which continues to operate until today with minor changes only, is having a hard time finding solutions to education to entrepreneurism, creativity, developing the imagination and the thinking that are the present and future needs of the progressive employment market.
2. The revolution in the subject of human and child’s rights and it’s manifestations at the school – the traditional school was set up in a world that is substantially different in its perception of the concept of human rights. The 20th century was clearly more aware of women and minority’s rights and lately the notion of child’s rights has been strongly accepted. The recent family is very different, almost all over the world, than that of the beginning of the century. The main change is in listening to the woman’s and the children’s voices in the new family. The new family, in which the child’s position is complicated, different and not yet clear, displays many difficulties in adjusting to the new situation. S/he arrives to a school in which the human rights revolution had not yet created the essential change. This encounter is a complicated and hard one, and it is currently causing many problems for the people involved in it. If a proof is needed it can be found in the large number of schools in which there are struggles between parents and teachers.