Educational and psychological guidance The bond with school and teachers

In Japan, the municipalities have a local education committee (kydiku iinkai) and an administrative apparatus headed by a director of education (kyoikucho). The kyoikucho supervises local or prefectural administrative services of education. This administrator appointed by the kyoiku iinkai is under the control of the elected officials of the local or prefectural assembly.

The school head (kôchô) exercises his authority by delegation of the kyôiku iinkai. The prefecture issues guidelines and recommendations that influence local choices. The statutory working week of teachers is 40 hours at the national level but, in reality, teachers work between 52 hours and 60 hours per week: 20 hours are devoted to teaching, and more than half their time is devoted to meetings and various commissions (Satô 2007: 22, Lévi-Alvarès 2007: 157). Teachers have a bachelor’s degree (4 years in Japan) and are recruited by exams set up in each prefecture: they hold their position only in this prefecture, which is a significant difference compared to many countries. They are transferred, within the same prefecture, every 6-7 years, and every 3-4 years for their colleagues who have become heads of institutions. This development dates from the early 2000s, because previously, teachers remained in the same district all their lives.

The mission of the middle schools as defined by Japanese legal texts is teaching, the formation of the person, the learning of collective life, and the acquisition of moral sensibility (Lévi-Alvarès 2007: 168). This mission is conducted through various activities: moral education (dôtoku katsudô), special activities (tokubetsu katsudô), group-management class (gakkyü katsudô), activities of the student association (seitokai katsudô), club activities (kurabu katsudô), and organization of the different collective manifestations of the school (gakkô gyôji). Globally, one often hears that the teaching profession does not correspond to the expectations of young recruits. However, one of the significant differences with many Western countries is that speaking at meetings is discouraged for newcomers, as it does not correspond to the expectations of the teaching profession. Implicitly, young recruits are expected to start speaking when they have more experience and knowledge of the institution. It can last several years, but at the age of 35, it seems that one can begin to make one’s voice heard (Lévi-Alvarès 2007: 175). One of the reasons given to explain this is a principle of seniority -the older one is, the higher the status - where peer recognition depends on active and prolonged immersion in the school environment. For example, school management (gakkô keiei) books clearly define the teacher’s career: at age 20, he works exclusively with students as a teacher and facilitator; at age 30, he thinks of the insertion of his activity in the educational project of the establishment; at age 40, he assumes administrative responsibilities; and at age 50, he can choose a career as principal or deputy (Lévi-Alvarès 2007: 175). Hierarchy is everywhere. In the school field, it is between the different staff members, between the teacher and the pupil, between the pupils, and between the schools. There is always an inferior and a superior: there is always an older colleague, or a friend of a higher class (senpai Ikôhai), and establishments are classified according to an index, the hensachi. Hierarchy is a benchmark that allows individuals to situate themselves, to orient and limit their possibilities, and to focus their choices.

Another powerful, central idea I regularly encounter is that school is an institution that manages almost the entire life of young people, from primary school to their professional life - whether it is post-high-school or post-university. Teachers are charged with missions that their counterparts in many other countries never practice. The most striking examples are the organization of club activities or sports events during summer holidays, home visits, and patrols during school holidays. The responsibility of the teacher extends far beyond the school’s spatial boundaries: teachers patrol at regular intervals during the summer holidays to observe “hot spots”; they identify bicycles in front of a karaoke, where alcohol can potentially be drunk (Letendre 1995: 178). These “holidays” are, therefore, not a period of rest detached from school obligations; only the nature of their work changes. When Shimizu Hirokichi observed how classes at a junior high school in Osaka operated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was confronted with teachers who made more than a hundred home visits a year. The teachers’ strategy for students who had difficulties was as follows: “The further away a student is from the required level, the more problems there are, the more relentlessly he or she will be guided” (Shimizu 2007: 126). Depending on one’s point of view, the school can be considered good or bullying, monitoring, or harassing. For example, the theme of home visits in the 1990s was the subject of debate: violation of privacy for some, a way to better understand children for others, and even a way of keeping Japanese culture alive (Tsuneyoshi 2007: 146-148).

The work of Gerald K. Letendre is interesting here to help us better understand the school of the early 1990s and to identify current changes, especially on the subject of school absenteeism. He recounts a case of school absenteeism reported by a teacher at a meeting in the establishment where he practiced in 1992 (Letendre 1995: 171-172). When visiting the student’s home, she was able to talk to the mother and the child on the doorstep. The latter, at the mention of the school, systematically avoids discussion. We learn that the father died of cancer, and the mother thinks that he is afraid of dying himself: go see a counselor? She does not know any, so the teacher gives her an address. After 40 minutes on the front porch with the dog, the conversation changes to a book of animals that the mother has offered to her son, but he is interested, she says, only in dogs. She wonders about using the dog to try to install routines in her son’s life, such as getting him out, etc. The teacher approves because it would give him a sense of compassion (aijô). Although there was a school counselor at this school, it was the teacher who continued to make visits to the home of this child, bringing books dedicated to dogs. In addition, she tried to introduce him to other children in the neighborhood who would have the same interest in dogs, and asked class members to make visits to their comrade’s home.

The discipline in Japanese schools is another dimension that I must mention. There are strict regulations defining routines and good habits: storage, cleaning, care of uniforms, marking of names (shoes), physical appearance (hair), and accessories (bracelets, necklaces, piercings). The nurse records the students’ complaints and then forwards them to the teacher and guidance service. In Gerald K. Letendre’s survey, teachers regularly examine hair, nails (the fact that they are gnawed or discolored is considered a sign of mental or emotional problems), and coordinate nutritional programs for parents. The students have a meeting with the teachers, morning and evening. Cleaning and inspection of uniforms is done once a month. These routines focus on detecting and preventing student problems. Among the important issues in these activities for teachers in the early 1990s were the following: Were jacket buttons open? Had the student cleaned vigorously? In addition, sleepovers on a weekday were frowned upon. Similar concern was directed toward other behaviors such as girls wearing bracelets. For minor incidents, the student received harsh admonitions from the head teacher, and the head of the guidance service. For example, after the end of classes, a person who had disturbed the class must kneel before the teacher, while he lectures him about his behavior (this situation is unimaginable in schools today, as will be seen in the next chapter). Also, attempts were made to facilitate parent-teacher-student communication with the holding of a notebook (seikatsu dayori/noto), where the student notes his daily activities (study time and time watching television). The teacher would regularly consult the student’s notebook (Letendre 1995: 176-178).

While a number of these elements are no longer current, this description of Japanese schools in the early 1990s suggests the strict nature of the school, and unmanageable expectations imposed on teachers, students, and parents. Searching for runaways, being on patrols, and home visits took considerable time. Teachers were not trained in the treatment of absenteeism, school violence, or the various psychopathologies that were just beginning to be recognized, such as anorexia, bulimia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), developmental disorders, and autism. How was the school of the 1990s different from today’s school? What changes have occurred since the 1990s? More specifically, how are students treated when their difficulties are psychological? These are questions I will address in the next paragraphs.

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