Wednesday, August 21, 2002

A Blessed Classroom

In the "Voices" column of today's Asahi Shimbun newspaper, there was a letter to the editor from a 65 year old high school teacher asking that "air conditioners be installed in classrooms during the summer." According to her, "In a classroom where the temperature goes over 35 degrees (Centigrade), you perspire profusely and the perspiration literally gets into your eyes and runs down your cheek." The reason students and teachers subject themselves to this heat and go to school is that, since the 5-day school week was fully implemented, there aren't enough hours in the school year to finish the curriculum. Reading this, I was filled with mixed emotions.

That is to say, my three children have never had to go to summer school to catch up. It's not that their grades were particularly good, but, since they went to a high school that is "attached" to a university, there was no real need "to study for entrance exams." This, and the fact that the classrooms in my children's school were all air conditioned so that my daughter even says that "the air conditioner is on too high" and takes a sweater to school in the summer--all the facts came up which contrasted sharply with the situation in the letter.

High school textbooks nowadays clearly explain global warming and the need to preserve the environment, and there are undoubtedly questions on these subjects on the student exams. One of the main reasons for global warming is the excessive use of energy by the developed countries--This is surely something they must know. But, it's as if "knowing" and "doing" are completely separated. The relationship between what is learned at school and their actual lives is very weak. I've always suspected that to be the reason why teachers don't think a thing about turning up the air conditioning so high that one actually feels cold. I've found out, albeit a little belatedly, however, that this problem does not exist in public schools.

So we can say that the school that my children attended is very blessed. It's not easy, though, to determine whether or not being blessed materialistically like this is actually "a good thing" for children who are in the process of growing up and becoming adults. When I was in high school, we had heaters in our classrooms, but not air conditioning. Even so, I don't remember it being "too hot to study" during the summer session. And, since we didn't have convenience stores, fast food restaurants, or vending machines, we couldn't buy things, and we had almost no way of buying alcohol or cigarettes. We didn't get very much of an allowance, and we didn't have cell phones, so, naturally, there weren't any problems associated with them, including Internet date sites accessible with cell phones. In other words, while we may make a "society that is blessed with many things", at the same time, we create "complex problems" as well.

I touched earlier upon the fact that my children didn't have to take "entrance exams," but I wonder if this really is a "blessing." In the current economic environment, one can't get a job in a good company simply by having "graduated from a famous university." It's not enough for the university to be "famous", but, unless one is a graduate of Tokyo University, Waseda University or Keio University, it's difficult to get the job of your choice. Even if one's grades are high, it doesn't mean that you can get a job related to your major. So, we might say that they "aren't blessed." But, it also may be that using the time usually spent to instead play a sport, spend time with friends, or read develops a broader personality. That way, it may be that, when one becomes an adult, even if you're not guaranteed a spot on the road of the elite, one can choose a way of living that doesn't separate "what you know" from "what you do." As parents, that's what we hope for, but in the end, it's all up to the individual, so it's not easy to say what exactly it is that determines "how blessed" we are.

- MT

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