I just got home from having dinner at Kumfa with Kamada-sensei again. This time, I drove so that she could try some cocktails. She was very excited to try a Mai-Tai!
Kumfa is slowly becoming my favorite place to eat dinner. Even though I’ve only eaten there twice now. But I’m totally up to go again and again. It’s like the Tateyama version of Khyber Pass for me (only, you know, different cuisine).
We had made plans for this dinner last week, but this morning, Kamada-sensei came up to me and said that she might have to cancel. She wasn’t specific at the time, but she said a student was having some problems, and she might need to go to his house and talk to him.
Later, she explained the problem to me.
I’m going to change the name of the student, for privacy reasons. I’ll call him Toko. (I’m pretty sure that’s not a real name. xD)
Toko is a first year in the special education class, which Kamada-sensei teaches (or at least helps to teach, I’m not sure). I’m not sure exactly what his disability is, because she can only explain it to me vaguely (she probably doesn’t know how to explain it in English; why would that be something she learned to say?). He basically can’t tell right and wrong apart; he’s just stuck in that stage of development where children haven’t figured out that their actions affect other people or something. (Give me a break, I only studied Psychology for three months.)
This means that Toko really doesn’t have any sense of personal boundaries. He can’t recognize what is his and what isn’t. This leads to several problems. He steals a lot—unintentionally, since he just picks up things because he wants them or is attracted to them somehow.
The next problem is a little difficult to explain, so I’ll just use the example she gave me. One day, Toko saw a man working construction by the side of the road. The man took a break and started to smoke, and Toko saw that and apparently became curious about it. Kamada-sensei didn’t continue, but I can guess what happened next—Toko tried to smoke.
He also has an affinity for fire, apparently, because she said that he got hold of a lighter and tried to burn some things. That shit is dangerous for someone who doesn’t understand consequences.
The other problem is the personal space issue—she is afraid that he, like many young boys with his problem, will become some sort of sexual harrasser. Because he doesn’t understand personal boundaries. He won’t understand when someone tells him no—he wants something, so he should take it.
That’s the worst-case scenario, though. Another student recently transferred schools because of that problem, actually. He apparently touched a girl inappropriately—on purpose, unlike Toko’s so-far-accidental harrassment—so they made him move schools.
Kamada-sensei is worried about Toko, because she wants him to stay with her, but if he continues his bad behavior, they will have to move him to a different house and a different school.
Because the other problem is, Toko is in a foster home.
There seem to be a lot of children in the area that are in the foster home—which is more like a group home or an orphanage. I talked to Kim (CIR, not predecessor) about it—why are there so many orphans in Japan? She said that there are probably just a few areas where they are concentrated, so that’s why it seems like there are so many. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but assuming that’s true, I have another question.
Why the fuck would you send orphans to the inaka?
“Inaka” means “countryside.” There are not a lot of resources in the countryside.
There are even less resources for children with disabilities.
I understand that people might want to send children away from cities, where maybe they might get into more trouble, but at the same time, cities have a lot more resources for helping troubled kids than rural areas. Right? Maybe I’m wrong. I dunno, maybe I just feel that since cities tend to have more money, they would have more money for resources to help kids. (But then again, you can look at the Los Angeles area and argue that that is not the case.)
In any case, children like Toko need a special kind of care, like professionals who know about stages of development and how to advance children through each stage. (You know, people not me. XD) Unfortunately, the teachers here aren’t really trained specifically for that (as far as I know), and they have to take care of many other students, too. They do their best—Kamada-sensei’s care for Toko really touched me—but the fact is, there just aren’t enough resources to take care of these kids that need just a little more help.
It kind of relates to the mental health care problem we have in the U.S. And the problem we have with helping people with disabilities worldwide. As a whole, we people of the world need to take better care of our children.
Toko is in the institution because his mother can’t take care of him. She doesn’t know who his father is, and she is incapable of dealing with consequences, apparently.
(By the way, “institution” is the word that the teachers use. I really don’t like it, but I think that the use of the word itself really says something about the kids’ situation. Or maybe it just shows lack of English vocabulary. I don’t know.)
Kamada-sensei said that she wanted to get in touch with his mother again, because she thinks that if he doesn’t have any sort of parental figure, he is going to end up hating… well, everyone. His father is absent, his mother is irresponsible. Who can he trust? And if he is constantly pulled out of schools, away from teachers he has built a rapport with… Seriously, who can he trust?
Kamada-sensei confessed that she wants to be like a mother to him. That was really touching to hear, as much as it is troublesome. It is very difficult to strike a balance between teacher and parent, just like it’s sort of difficult to strike a balance between friend and parent, or friend and teacher. (Or in Michael Scott’s case, friend and boss).
You know what I mean? Like, as a parent, I figure you have to be an authority figure, but at the same time, your child should be able to approach you when they have a problem. I think teachers should be sort of the same thing, too, but it’s dangerous to play at parent for a student. I can only see that ending in heartbreak.
I’ve been wanting to write about this particular topic for a while, but I couldn’t find a good way to introduce it. This entry is my chance, so here it is:
In Japan, the parent-student-teacher relationship is really different. Teachers are more often in charge of disciplining the students; in fact, I’ve heard that some parents don’t know how to discipline at all. This strikes me as troublesome, because I sort of get the impression that parents aren’t really involved in their children’s lives at all. (Or at least not in their development, which probably has something to do with how repressed Japanese people are, but as I said earlier, I’m no psychologist.)
(And another problem: I have a cultural bias here, especially since my family seems to be very German, so I have the bias that suggests discipline is a huge part of the parent-child relationship. XD Ah, Germans…)
That’s not true, of course. Japanese parents are very involved in their children’s lives. The schools here really involve the parents A LOT. They have a PTA, and there are tons of days when parents come in to watch classes. I think the school keeps the teachers very informed, too, through like, newsletters and student reports. I just wonder what it’s like to have Japanese parents. Like, what is the Japanese parenting style like?
I know there are stereotypes—like, their kids have to get good grades all the time or whatever OR ELSE—but I mean, what is it really?
I would like to read more about Japanese parenting, disability and mental health policies, and possibly even child development. I feel like I read about child development in college a lot, but maybe it’s just because they emphasized it so hard in Psych 1… Besides that, I only have Freudian shit from all the Horror film classes I took. (Horror critics love Freud. He’s the best thing that happened to them since Bram Stoker.)
So what do you think? Got any reading recommendations for me? Got anything to say that might make me think?
To finish this rather long entry, let’s go back to Toko. Kamada-sensei said that she was trying to teach him about right and wrong. She mentioned the Seven Deadly Sins and the Ten Commandments, and I’m not sure those are the best ways to teach someone about right and wrong. I feel like that’s just saying “Don’t,” and if you tell a kid “don’t” all their life, that’s just going to mess them up more. It might feel like they can never get anything right.
What’s more important is teaching them why some things are right and some things are wrong.
So I pulled out a quote from Kite Runner, because I’m literary like that.
“There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft… When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness.” (Khaled Hosseini, 2003)
In a nutshell, the reason some things are wrong is because they hurt other people.
She really liked that, and when I went on to explain using examples from his case, she liked it even more and said she would try to explain that to him.
Basically, the newest problem that prompted her worry this morning was that he went into the girls’ locker room and stole some things. I think she said that he stole some underwear and some feminine pads. He didn’t know what the pads were, which is pretty funny, but it’s also a little horrifying what he did think. She said he thought they were diapers. Great, now he’s going to go around his whole life thinking that girls wear diapers.
XD Like that’s the biggest problem.
Anyway, she is afraid that this breach of girls’ privacy is a bad sign. I told her that if one uses Hosseini’s character’s logic, one might say that by going into their private locker rooms, he has stolen the girls’ right to privacy.
Her eyes lit up, and I felt really happy for being able to (possibly) help. I don’t know how much help it will be—right and wrong is a very complicated notion, and so is what Hosseini is talking about. And I’m certainly no saint, so I’m not even qualified to talk about it either.
But my philosophy is that we just have to try to be as kind to other people as we can—and that means giving them respect.
Hmm… Whatever respect happens to mean in your culture. o_O