Anarchy in the classroom

Mainichi Shimbun, 15 September 1999

An interim report issued by the Classroom Management Research Council suggests that schools throughout Japan are suffering from a breakdown in order. While the authors of the report avoided use of the term class breakdown (gakkyu hokai) to describe this phenomenon, they did note that maintaining order in the classroom has become a serious issue and that some classes have not been able to function as they are expected to because the teachers can no longer control their students.

It is significant that the Ministry of Education-sponsored research council has concluded that a general collapse in order and discipline can occur almost anywhere and at any time. All concerned parties must recognize that schools face difficult circumstances and must dedicate themselves to formulating a response.

The report focused on classes in which children did as they pleased, ignoring instructions and disrupting lessons, creating situations which could not be resolved by the teacher in charge.

The research council conducted interviews at 102 problem classes throughout Japan. After the data was compiled, the problem classes were divided into 10 categories, and descriptions of one example from each category have been included in the report. The cases illustrate that the nature and causes of class breakdowns are varied. Class breakdowns occur after various factors accumulate and interact in a complex fashion. Unfortunately, anarchy is no longer a rare state in the classroom.

The declining size of families, the prevalence of nuclear families, urbanization, corporate dominance of society, and other social changes have been blamed for the breakdown of order in the classroom. The Central Council for Education's report on spiritual education pointed to the declining moral standards of adults, who tend to place a priority on their personal interests, material goods, money, and pleasure, as well as to the influence of those parents who are preoccupied solely with the happiness of their own children.

It is only natural for children to adopt the attitudes of the adults in their lives. Many children today have not acquired basic social skills and find it stressful to play the part of the good boy or good girl in order to please their parents. They often have difficulty forming human relationships, and this is probably not unrelated to the fact that most have fewer opportunities to play in groups and less exposure to nature. Class breakdowns are related to the changes that are occurring in the lives of children and cannot be prevented by the efforts of the schools alone.

Each case has to be dealt with on an individual basis. Some 70 percent of breakdowns are blamed on the teacher's lack of instructional ability. While teachers may need to try harder, it is also important for them not to be isolated. Instead, teachers who have lost control of their classes need the support of colleagues, education boards, parents, and the community.

Schools open to the community, team teaching and other new pedagogical approaches might be considered to help prevent class breakdowns. In particular, reducing the student-teacher ratio deserves special attention as an effective means of eliminating the problem.