Mount Fuji

The harsh reality of high-school clubs

by SVEN HOLM

As a parent I cannot but shudder from disgust when I consider my 14-year-old son and his weekly schedule. He goes to school six days a week. On top of this he attends one of those infamous juku cram schools four evenings a week, as well as occasional Saturday evening tests. Since he enjoys playing basketball, he is a member of his school basketball club. This means he must —always MUST— attend training for about 45 minutes, every weekday morning before classes start. As if this were not enough, he has to train for about two hours after school every day! Sunday, which is supposed to be a day of rest, is often spent playing other teams and often involves getting up early in the morning and returning exhausted in the evening.

I would say that my son's week is harder than that of most working adults, and he and his friends are only 14! Sports are important for young people all over the world, but here in Japan teachers drill pupils as if they were soldiers, shouting 'faito' (fight!) and 'atakku' (attack!) as they play the game of life and death.

Why train them as if they are all going to be professional basketball players? It reminds me of the Japanese coach of the Japanese Little League baseball team who was asked how they managed to win over the U.S. team in a match about 25 years ago. His answer was: 'The Americans think it is a game! Here in Japan, of course, everyone knows it is war. You fight, attack, charge and crush your enemy to gain victory. If not, you die.'

I have suggested that the children practice three mornings and three afternoons a week, but this has been rejected by my son's school. If he wants to be a member of the club then he must obey the rules of their exhausting training schedule, or quit the team. There is in fact no choice.

What right do fanatic teachers have to keep our children hostage to their own misguided ideas of education such as suppression of individual freedoms taken for granted in democratic societies? What rights do we parents have? What are the rights of our children who have their childhood taken away from them by a brutal school curriculum and inhuman educational demands by a society that exhausts its inhabitants?

My son also goes to cram school — 36,000 yen a month — in order to keep up with other kids, and get into a 'good' high school so that he may continue to a 'good' university and hopefully get a 'good' job at a 'good' company. All this studying is not learning but only memorizing, with the result that by the time I meet the robotized students at the 'good' university where I lecture, they are exhausted and broken, and all seem to look forward to a well deserved holiday before they are swallowed up by all sorts of corporations with their own in-house training.

The tragedy is that we are robbing our children of their only childhood. They can never return to their childhood once it is gone. Here we have the reason why our young ones never have a chance to develop a basic individual character and understand who they are in relation to all the other black uniforms.

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