I Failed Moral Education

Friday, November 16, 2012
Peter Rivard

Hi, all,

    No news, just an "I'm still alive" status update.

    I've had a fun week. I started on Monday by failing moral education. That's a regular class here in Japan, along with math, English (of course), social studies, and the rest. I noticed two photos of a giant beetle (popular as cheap pets for little kids here) on the wall of the classroom I was teaching in, one intact and one missing a leg (actually, two copies of the same photo with a leg photoshopped out in one--no bugs were hurt in the teaching of this lesson). So, as a real-life English exercise, and because I was curious, I asked what the photos were about. The teacher explained, in English, that it was for moral education class, and that in pet stores bugs with missing parts were normally sold at a discount. So I jumped in with my honest guess that it was about a little boy slyly pulling off a leg to get the discount. Seven shocked faces (the entire class plus the regular English teacher) turned up toward me. One girl gave me a disgusted look that clearly said, "You poor, sick bastard." And then the teacher told me how the real lesson starts: a one-legged boy limps into the store and asks the shopkeeper why the bug missing a leg is worth less than the other bugs....

Wednesday I had a fun conversation with a group of jr. high girls hanging around before leaving after school, then ran into a bunch of my former elementary students from the school up the hill (I taught there for five years until last March) and walked down the valley with them for about a mile--I took the picture below where I turned back. (Click the pictures below to see larger versions.)

When I got back to the jr. high, some other elementary school kids I know were playing soccer (of sorts) in a corner of the jr. high grounds, so I jumped into net. After a while I noticed Yumi, a giant and perpetually laughing second grade girl, lying motionless, eyes closed and limbs akimbo, in a pit half filled with leaves behind the backstop/goal. Assuming she wasn't dead, I told her sister, so Yumi could overhear, "Your little sister is a weird little girl." Yuna, the sister, told me that Yumi likes playing out stuff she sees on cop shows on TV. Most kids identify with a detective, and it might be a little worrying when a kid identifies with the crook, but when she enjoys being the corpse.... And Yumi just lay there, "dead," while this conversation went on around her--not showing it but I'm sure very pleased at the attention (I have no idea how long she was lying in the pit waiting to be noticed). I really love my kids. I also got some nice photos of the foliage and mountains around school, including the panorama and view from my desk I posted to Facebook earlier this week.

Thursday, I was eating lunch in the 3rd and 4th grade classroom at Tana elementary (only five 3rd graders, so they don't get their own room) and noticed a boisterous boy with one arm under his sweatshirt, at an odd angle, creating a rather obscene bulge, teasing some girls. Now, this sort of thing isn't taken nearly as seriously as it would be in an American classroom, but I still didn't like it, so I snapped at him, "Ryo, cut it out. That's creepy." He didn't pull his arm out of the shirt but he sat down, he'd cut out the sexual harassment, and I know he's a good kid at heart so I didn't pursue it any more. Then when he got up to get seconds, arm still under the shirt, the hem lifted a bit and I saw a cast in a sling under it. Duh. Over twelve years of linguistic and cultural ignorance have given me this reflex to hold back a bit and remember there might be something going on that I'm not getting, and it served me well yesterday. I scolded the kid but not too badly and managed not to let anyone else know the dumb thing I'd been thinking. Ryo's pretty much always doing something he could potentially be scolded for, so I doubt he even wondered why I snapped at him--and when Ms. Kobayashi asked me about it later, she didn't ask why I'd scolded him but why I'd suddenly started laughing to myself in the middle of lunch a little later (when I realized how dumb I'd been). By the way, Miguel, she was the teacher we met with her husband and kid at that rinky-dink little restaurant your first night in Numata. I've done far more than my share to keep her amused over the years!

    Here's a panorama I took from Tana Elementary and Junior High (click the image to see a larger version). I've been having fun with the iPhone's new panorama feature. It occasionally messes up in stitching photos together, but overall it does a pretty good job--better than any other camera I've seen with the feature built in--and is so much easier than stitching a panorama together afterward on the computer.

And, to cap off the work week, I just heard the song of the yaki imo (baked sweet potato) truck heading into my neighborhood. Slap some butter on a couple of those babies and you're halfway to a great meal for a cold night.

Anyhoo, I'm looking forward to seeing many of you in the US this winter. Stay warm.


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