Monday, June 9, 2008

All monsters, no dwarfs.........


The setting is a suburban primary school, the stage has been set and the lights are lowered. The audience of parents are much like those in many other school districts, patiently awaiting their chance to see their child perform in the school play. This year, they are waiting to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but they probably should have just ordered a Woody Allen film from Blockbuster. This particular presentation has been altered ever so slightly.... okay, it's been changed in a major way. There are no dwarfs, no wicked witch, no chorus of "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's off to work we go." The entire cast is composed of 25 Snow Whites.

The children at this primary school in Japan are the offspring of a new generation there aptly dubbed "Monster Parents." They had bullied, heckeled, nuisance phone called the school until the teachers gave in and admitted to the "injustice" of selecting just one girl to play Snow White. Teachers across Japan have been reporting similar changes in the character of parents, after years and decades of respectful silence, they have become what is described as an army of super-aggressive complainers.

Japan's media has chosen to demonise them and shows the monster parents as a symptom of a society that has lost all respect for it's decorum and traditions. The parents believe they are champions of basic consumer rights but either way, few deny that parents there have switched from supporting the rigid education system to attacking it. Previously, parents apologised to a teacher when their child was in trouble, today they try to get them fired for anything that may be seen as a disadvantage to their child.

Dozens of educators have been forced to resign when faced with the fury of parents there now. Yoshih Morotomi, of Meiji University, has written a new book that lists hundreds of incidents from parents secretly placing cameras in their child's classroom to them demanding that sports results be changed to reflect their wishes, not the actual results.


"The monsters are created in family restaurants and coffee shops - places where the mothers meet each other to talk and relax. Simple chats spiral into emergency meetings." stated Morotomi.

Professor Morotomi goes on to describe what he feels is the worst category of monster parent currently in Japan, a group he calls the "teacher hunters." Those are parents who conspire in small groups and may even use the tactics of physically mobbing their victim near the school grounds and screaming abuse until a letter of resignation is signed on the spot. He believes that what were once small complaints by parents have now spiraled into more emotional and radical methods by the parents to get what they feel is best for their children.

This sudden switch many believe, is a symptom of deeper social troubles at the heart of Japan, troubles that began during Japan's long ecomomic downturn in the 1990's and are only now begining to surface. Unfortunately, this isn't a new behavior for parents in the United States it seems as more incidents of parents bullying teachers and school systems are reported.

In 2001, Christine Pelton, a Piper High School teacher in Kansas, decided to flunk 28 of her students for plagiarizing their biology project. She had noticed almost identical material in their papers. At least three patents then complained to the school board and demanded that the grades be changed but few felt that the fact that their child had been caught cheating was a large issue. The school board gave into pressure and changed the failing grades to give them partial credit for the project.

"It's not going to benefit the kids to go back and change their grades," stated Pelton.


After the school board meeting that reversed the grades and then upheld the decision, Pelton stated that she felt that they had undermined her as a teacher. She added that it was too late to restore the grades that had been left as failed until a final decision was made. Pelton had resigned from her teaching position there, rather than change the students grades to suit the board and the parents. Principal Mike Adams, who supported Pelton in her decision to fail the students, planned to leave the school after the academic year as well.

At Bardswell High School in Kentucky in 2001, 118 seniors were caught copying and pasting copying and pasting from the internet, sometimes including entire stories. The punishment was to write one essay on the evils of plagiarism. No members of the National Honors Society had their memberships pulled and one of those caught cheating remained the class valedictorian. Teachers throughout the United States report that even when they catch students cheating, they and their parents don't think it is a big deal.


"It's naive to think that once a student has a high school diploma or a Harvard diploma that all of a sudden they become an ethical person. Where that leads you to is a very ugly society in the future," stated John Barrie, a Berkeley biophysic's graduate.

It would almost seem that the United States has managed to export the idea that we are a very privilaged society and that no child should have to face "damage" of failure or being left out. What they do face though, is the loss of the opportunity of actual achievement it would seem, of succeeding on their own two feet.




Photo is of Christine Pelton

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