Japan has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world, and it is the leading cause of death among those aged 15-39.
More Japanese school pupils commit suicide on September 1 each year than on any other date, according to figures collated by Japan’s suicide prevention office over a period of more than 40 years.
“The long break from school enables you to stay at home, so it’s heaven for those who are bullied,” one Japanese student told CNN. “When summer ends, you have to go back. And once you start worrying about getting bullied, committing suicide might be possible.” [Source: “Japan’s worst day for teen suicides,” CNN.com, Rebecca Wright, 9/1/15]
Most of us already know that bullying plays a role in teen emotional problems and ultimately in teen suicides. We naively and optimistically assume that if governors, legislators and presidents “do something” about bullying, the problem will hopefully go away and all will be well.
But few of us ever ask: What way of thinking contributes to bullying?
Nanae, the Japanese student quoted here, thinks the Japanese education system’s focus on collective thinking is at the root cause of the problem.
“In Japan, you have to fall in line with other people. And if you cannot do that, you’re either ignored or bullied,” she told CNN. “You are required to have a unified opinion, and it crushes the uniqueness every person has. But that uniqueness is not something to destroy.”
The bullied teen’s mother said her daughter’s time on the Internet was a key factor in helping her get through the bullying. “By creating connections with people in Japan as well as other countries, she was able to regain her confidence,” Mina said.
“Adults tend to say that the Internet is dangerous but there are definitely some children who are saved by it.”
Our theories about bullying, teen depression and suicide are so unoriginal, and so ineffective, that it’s truly pathetic. Most of keep reading (or saying) the same things over and over again, all the while expecting different results.
Schools — most of them — are geared towards creating good little citizens and good little members of the group. Objections to unconventional methods of educating (small tutorials, home schooling) arise not for intellectual reasons so much as social ones. “I don’t want my child to be a misfit.”
We teach children in groups and expect them to assemble or huddle around some kind of intellectual middle norm, rather than to break out of their limitations and excel into all that they might and should be. “You are required to have a unified opinion, and it crushes the uniqueness every person has. But that uniqueness is not something to destroy.” It takes a teenager in a faraway land to name the issue at stake here; and she fully, beautifully nails it.
“Fitting in” and “socializing” children are the ultimate goals most parents claim to want. It’s not even subject to analysis, much less questioning or debate.
Is “fitting” into the averaged-out mindsets of a collective or group the central purpose of life, including education? Or is the development of your reasoning, thinking, intellectual, creative and technical abilities really what it’s all about … especially in an educational setting?
Schools have long since lost sight of what education actually is. Government schools are particularly guilty. Public schools are government schools. If we called them what they are — government schools — many of us might not be so prone to defend them.
By their very definition, the purpose of nationalized, federally subsidized government schools is to turn out “good little citizens” — as the government currently in power defines them.
Bear in mind that this is neither a Republican nor a Democrat issue. Each party stands ready to get its turn in the sun and utilize the coercive apparatus of the federal regulatory and funding structure in an attempt to assert their visions, priorities and will into the minds of young people. Social engineering (right wing or left wing) imposed on children, propped up by government coercion, subsidies and mandatory attendance laws … It’s truly the intellectual equivalent of child abuse.
Contrary to principles of education discovered and articulated by geniuses like Maria Montessori, most schools approach education collectively, not individually. We utilize the German model, based on the kind of thinking that gave rise to Hitler, nationalism and fascism; there’s nothing American about it. A distinctively American approach to education would be based on individualism, for-profit and competitive excellence, and parental choice in a totally free marketplace. Innovation and genuine diversity would be the dominant themes in a privatized education marketplace. We presently have none of those things.
Children are not taught to learn in their own ways at paces they can personally handle, while still adhering to objective standards of truth, fact and knowledge. Instead, we strive for normalcy, as defined by the rulers in charge. We seek out teachers who pursue master’s degrees in the nonspecific (and indefinable) field of “education,” while knowing little or nothing about the subjects they’re expected to teach. We require teachers to teach for the sake of nationalized tests, more in the pursuit of attaining scores that make the schools look collectively good rather than actually catering to the highly individualized, while still objective, process of learning and thinking.
Children, who are generally quite perceptive and good at following the lead of their elders this way, hear the message. Whenever someone does not “fit,” they put the offending person down. This doesn’t happen because the person is bad or ineffective, by some rational standard. It happens merely because the person is different, and for no other reason. We have trained children to belong to the group, first and foremost. Adults are motivated by group conformity and authority, particularly in the government school model; children perceptively sense this, and (most of them) respond in kind.
Bullying arises from fear. The irrational fear is ultimately of another’s individuality. Bullies rely on group pressure and group warfare to intimidate, subjugate and (when plausible) physically harm anyone who displays characteristics of individuality. In group psychology, the “I” is an ever-present threat to the “we.” It’s the “I” who must be intimidated, or even destroyed, for the sake of the group. The suicidal kids are the ones who turn that destruction against themselves. It’s a tragedy, to be sure. But the greater tragedy is that most of us cannot or will not understand what it actually is.
Bullying arises from the collective thinking that we routinely and systematically instill in children. We’re getting exactly what most of us are intending, claim to want, and (assuming we pay taxes) are financing. It’s one of the uglier consequences of a school model and philosophy based on an ideology of group conformity and citizenship rather than rational, independent and thoughtful or reflective individualism.
Some kids take this better than others. It’s damaging to everyone.
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