The Education Boiler Room

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I had a very strong work ethic. The problem was my ethics in work. Boiler Room (2000)

It`s October and as if on cue, from the very first day of the month a series of things happened. Again, this all occurred, like so much here, as if everyone in the country were referring to “page 36 Section B” of their “Being a proper Japanese citizen” handbook. October 1st and instantly the following happened:

  • Every Heater in the country switched on to absolute full power.
  • Everyone began wearing fall/winter clothing.
  • The word “atsui” or hot was substituted for the word “samui” or cold in all conversations despite context.
  • Ad campaigns across the nation switched from the Beach and sun motifs to falling leaves and snowflake themes.

I came back to MDC (“Mountain Detention Center”, my original name for this place) “school” after a two week break, a week ago.  I walked up the hill, came through the gate, deposited my shoes in the correct locker, clocked in and strolled down the basic, barren hall towards the part-time teachers room.  I was just reviewing in my mind what I would be doing in my first class when, as I pushed the door open I was pummeled by a blast of hot air that poured out of the room, over me, and into the cool 22 degree hallway.  It was as if I had just opened a portal to hell.

I forced myself to step nonchalantly into the room and embrace the heat, my jaw set tightly.  I took in the scene, as ragged and sad as ever.  At every desk a depressed and bored expression. A series of greetings, all in Japanese, could be heard coming from the keepers of those sad faces, yet no eye contact was made by anyone.  I stepped around a box of random junk dumped in the room, in the middle of the floor, by the full-time teachers and reached my desk.  I sat down, breathing deeply and looked first up at the massive industrial sized heaters bolted into the ceiling just behind me.  Then, while a steady stream of hot, oppressing wind blew down on me I looked at the other inhabitants in the room.  Black sweaters. Long sleeves.  Someone with a pink blanket across a lap.  Coats hung up on the rickety, only slightly rusted coat rack  in the corner.

Two days before it had been 28 degrees in Tokyo. That day, not much less.  Warm Weather.

Minutes before my first class was scheduled to begin, I was informed that the Full-timer I was scheduled to “Team-Teach” with was not at school but was in fact, driving around the Greater Tokyo area visiting places doing what so many teachers here are forced to do monthly: Sales.

She was visiting Jyukku.  Jyukku are the after school schools that Japanese students must attend in order to learn the things they don’t learn in school to pass standardized tests.  That’s right, incase you are just joining us, students don’t learn academics in school here, they learn how to be Japanese.  This is done by bombarding them with a variety of activities including clubs, festival preparation, sports preparation and matches, trips abroad etc. It is all based on concepts like conformity, style for style’s sake and endurance, enduring.  Minutiae and the obsession with it that dominates this place in ways you can’t comprehend unless you are here. It is expensive child care masquerading as something else.

The reason my esteemed full-time colleague was traveling to Jyukku that day, like so many other days can be summed up in two words: MONEY BITCHES

Private schools are a business, and business is booming.  It has been for a long time.  Sure, the declining birthrate has decreased the amount of bodies coming towards the schools, so schools have simply increased prices.  Some schools have attractive features that naturally bring students to them.  A good reputation, a good location, an attractive campus or an affiliation with a well-known and respected university are all things that naturally “sell” the school to parents.

But what does a school do when it really has none of these things, in fact, the opposite characteristics in many respects.  A reputation for meat heads, an extremely remote location, a campus atmosphere akin to that of a mental institution and an affiliation with a bunch of very mediocre universities, massed together under one collective well-known yet little respected banner?

What they do is pander to the fringes.  They send teachers to Jyukku to form alliances with the instructors there to convince worried or unsure parents that their child that is “slow” and has been bullied, has a place to go to.  They constantly bring parents on tours to the school interrupting class times and schedules in the hope that the mother of the spoiled brat daughter who has been “a bit of a problem in class” will see that here, anyone can be assimilated.  Resistance, is in fact futile.

This is what I was thinking about on the 4th floor in the room for my 2nd grade class.  I felt a bead of sweat roll down my back, under my belt and then disappear someplace into my nether regions at the exact moment I realized that the young man I was talking to did not understand the question “What is your name?”.  His five years of English classes everyday here at MDC were not really paying off so to speak.  The heating here on the other hand was going insane.  I mentally recognized that they had gotten the “heating problem” well under control.  Every room=a sauna.

I stumbled out of the class into what was a refreshing hallway, now cold and uncomfortable due to the wetness of my undershirt, and I drug myself back toward the teachers room.

The system is simple.  If your child has been bullied send them to us, we specialize in that.  If your child is a bully send them to us, we specialize in that.  If your child is a dunce, send them our way we specialize in dunces.  If you have delusions of grandeur about your child being brilliant despite his/her failing to get into other more highly regarded schools guess what? Yup, send ’em our way.  It is sales at its best.  Standard sales rules apply, quotas are expected to be met and excuses are not tolerated.  The teachers rooms, both of them are dilapidated and depressing chambers packed to the brim with junk and filth.  The hallways are barren and empty except for the occasional tattered poster about gum disease or some framed photo of a kitten, the photo barely clinging to the wall at an odd angle, covered in dust.  The “copying room” is also the audio-visual room, another junk storage room and interrogation room and half the time the copiers do not work.  But, they have a fleet of shiny school buses (and massive, industrial heaters) with the school logo emblazoned across the side, a wonderful traveling sales banner, to ferry the inmates oops, “students” from slightly reasonable  locations up into the seclusion of the mountains where MDC is located.

Up here you see….no one can hear you scream.

Seems like a sales pitch to me.

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