Everyone, including citizens of the East, knows that “West is Best.” The countries of Eastern Europe and Asia couldn’t do without McDonald’s and other staples of Western culture, including our music and fashion. And the progress continues. Last year The Wall Street Journal informed us of the wonderful news that corporate giant Frito Lay is planting massive fields of potatoes in China. Why? Because the Chinese can’t live without potato chips! How did that huge country with its billion and a half undernourished peasants possibly manage until now without these delicious crispy morsels of deep-fried salted starch? It’s only right that Americans share the benefits of obesity with the world.
But the West, and particularly the United States, whose standing as the world’s economic superpower is being challenged by the East, has had a problem. Despite obvious American superiority, the Eastern countries were speedily demolishing the United States in academic achievement. In a few short decades following its defeat in World War II, Japan took our technology and improved it while making it more affordable. Their students rapidly advanced in math and sciences, while our students were declining. An increasing percentage of students in U.S. university math and science programs were coming from the East. Panic ensued as all of our efforts to narrow the educational gap with the East were failing.
Then, Western educational experts came up with a brilliant idea. Knowing that the East gobbles up every Western trend and practices it with even greater vigor and success, all we needed to do was export the anti-bully policies that had been making our schools miserable! Once they got involved in the fruitless, all-consuming pursuit of eradicating bullying from their schools, their academic progress was doomed to spiral downwards as well. If we couldn’t raise ourselves to the level of the East, at least we could bring them down to ours! Of course it didn’t really happen this way, but it may as well have.
Why has the West been stagnating academically while the East has been flourishing?
I don’t mean to oversimplify. The truth is that there are many things that can contribute to declining academic accomplishments. I will discuss, though, the single most important development.
Why was the institution of school created? To teach academics. That is the reason school exists. In order for our society to have strong academic accomplishments, academics must be the number one priority. However, beginning about three decades ago, academics took second place. The primary purpose of school had become to make sure that children feel good. First came the “self-esteem” movement. Several decades ago, educational researchers discovered that successful students possessed high self-esteem, so they figured, “If we can raise children’s self-esteem, academic success will follow.” They began intensively teaching children that they should feel good about themselves regardless of their accomplishments.
As part of this effort, teachers had to become very careful about how they address their students and grade their work to avoid making them feel bad about themselves. Parents, who tend to do a pretty good job of destroying their children’s self-esteem at home, eagerly embraced the idea that schools should be required to raise their kids’ self-esteem, and felt justified attacking teachers who hurt their children’s feelings.
Next came the “anti-bully” movement, catalyzed by the series of school shootings – epitomized by Columbine – that made us aware that so many kids who kill others and themselves are victims of bullying. Educational scientists determined that kids can’t learn as long as they are being bullied – and recent research claims that about 90% of students experience some kind of bullying in school – so they made eradicating bullying our number one goal.
Unfortunately, neither of these movements work very well. True self-esteem comes from real-life accomplishments, not the other way around. Our youngsters have spent their entire educational careers being convinced that they are entitled to feel wonderful about themselves simply for being alive. Then they come to college where there is less emotional coddling, and many of them discover they can’t handle the pressure.
When a school takes on the responsibility of making kids stop bullying each other – which literally requires getting them to behave like saints – not only is the school doomed to fail, the bullying situation worsens. Why?
It’s quite simple. If you and I are kids in school and you upset me, then I inform the school that you bullied me, are you going to like me? Of course not. You will hate me and want to beat me up after school, or you will try to get me in trouble for bullying you in some way. So the next incident – and probably a worse incident – is created. With the teacher and principal playing investigators and judges between us, my parents and I want them on my side. You and your parents want them on your side. So the hostilities become more frequent and intense. The more bullying that goes on between students, the less the students can learn. And the more time a school spends on eradicating bullying, the less it spends on teaching academics.
To make the situation worse, anti-bullying laws turn schools into easy prey for lawsuits. Individual schools have had to pay as much as four-and-a-half million dollars to parents for failing to stop their child from being bullied.
My Own School Experience
I was lucky to go to school in the “good-old-days,” when academic achievement was still the number-one priority of school. I was educated in a small Jewish religious school, the Lubavitcher Yeshiva of the Bronx (a K-8 school), in the 50’s and early 60’s, and corporal punishment was permissible.
It wasn’t a commendable educational practice, but I certainly wasn’t traumatized by it. I don’t think too many other kids were, either. The parents weren’t usually concerned about it, for most of them, like my parents, were raised in Eastern Europe, where corporal punishment was standard practice.
The school operated on a shoe-string budget, and many of the teachers were not certified. However, we were pressured to hit the books, and we weren’t coddled emotionally. The teachers announced our test scores and we knew each others’ report card grades, so avoiding the shame of failure and obtaining the glory of success were powerful motivations for doing well.
I believe the school’s academic achievements would be the envy of most public school systems today, even though the school and most of the students’ families were struggling financially. I went on to Yeshiva University High School – another Jewish school with a limited budget – and it was a true academic pressure cooker, far more demanding than my elementary school.
I struggled through it for four years, and when I finally made it to higher education, college was a breeze. Neither my elementary nor high school showed any concern for our self-esteem, and they did not get involved in the social dynamics between students.
Playfighting was a regular activity during recess and the school staff apparently – and correctly – treated it as a normal part of childhood. Playfighting was tremendous fun for those of us who engaged in it, and it toughened us up. There was also some of what we would today call “bullying” going on, and some kids were certainly hurt by it, but the overall damage from bullying was probably a lot less than it would have been had the schools made it their business to stop it.
Recent research has been showing that the “self-esteem” movement has been a failure, and that anti-bullying programs usually have no benefit or make the problem worse. Nevertheless, schools continue to make self-esteem and bullying high-priority concerns, and we continue to wonder why it’s so hard for schools to improve their academic standing. Our government in its wisdom has passed the “No Child Left Behind Law,” as though a law is going to improve school functioning. Certainly there are some school districts that have found creative ways to improve their students’ learning, but the their greatest creativity has been in fudging the data to make it appear that their schools are improving.
Replacing Wisdom with Science
Aristotle explained that science is the best tool for making things – for technology. And he explained that the best tool for figuring out the best way to conduct our lives is not science, but philosophy, which means love of wisdom.
You can be conducting the most intensive experiments, but if the basic assumptions of the researchers is foolish, the results are going to be foolish. Despite all the reseach being conducted on bullying throughout the world, the researchers are getting no closer to solving the problem because they all believe that it is the school’s responsibility to protect victims from bullies.
All wisdom from all over the world – as well as traditional psychology – is about getting people to take responsibility for their own lives, handling the difficulties of life, and solving their own social problems. The basic assumptions of the anti-bully movement are irrational, yet intelligent social scientists continue to promote them while wondering why bullying continues to escalate in our schools.
It is because they have replaced widom with science – and not very good science, at that. And this is what Japan has done, too. Their violence rate is among the lowest in the industrial world, their academic achievements are enviable, and their students are among the most satisfied with their school experience, but they couldn’t leave good enough alone. They traded their wisdom for the foolishness of Western “educational science.”
And guess what has happened? The same thing that happens in every other country that embarks on an anti-bully crusade. Bullying intensified! In fact, it sounds like the Japanese are even more tormented about their failure to stop bullying than Westerners are. One Japanese school principal committed suicide because he failed to get rid of bullying in his school. Certainly no American principals take their jobs so seriously!
Recent articles in the Baltimore Sun (March 25, 2007), Japan Struggles to Rein in Bullying, and the Voice of America (March 26, 2007), Bullying in Japan Leads to Student Suicide, document Japan’s torment during the past decade or so since it’s government decided to eradicate school bullying.
For a while, it appeared that Japan was succeeding, as official reports showed a decline in bullying. However, it turns out that Japanese educational bureaucrats were doing the same thing ours have in the face of the No School Left Behind mandates: they fudged the results to avoid getting in trouble for failing to reduce bullying.
The Japanese have been torturing themselves to figure out what flaw in their culture is causing an intensification of bullying among students. But they’ll never find it! As much as we may hate to acknowledge it, bullying is a fact of life, just like colds, storms, marital strife, sibling rivalry, crime and warfare. Life on Earth is not Heaven. Bullying goes on whenever you get people living together. It happens in every family, workplace, school and company. It happens in Japan not because there is anything intrinsically wrong with the country, but because their people are alive.
“Bullycide” in Japan
A new term is coming into vogue: “bullycide.” It’s when people take their lives because they were bullied. Anti-bullying activists make tremendous political capital of these tragic incidents to lobby for anti-bullying laws. They coin a new term, bullycide, so that other people can be held legally responsible for one’s own difficulty in handling social problems.
It seems like bullycide may be especially common in Japan, and is a major motivator for the government to fight bullying. I don’t intend in anyway to belittle the horror and sadness of these incidents. My heart goes out to these unfortunate victims and their families. What really irks me is that these kids have taken their lives for nothing. Had these kids received the proper help, they never would have killed themselves.
Have the Japanese Lost their Marbles?
In any country with tens of millions of students, it is inevitable that several students a year will take their own lives because they couldn’t handle the misery of being bullied. I recently read that residents of the Far East, because of their cultural values of honor and personal responsibility, are six times more likely to commit suicide than Westerners. Yes, it is horribly tragic when it happens, but it is inevitable nonetheless. No country is immune.
It is a shame, though, that the Japanese have to undermine esteem for their own culture because they have adopted the foolish Western belief that children are legally entitled to go to school without experiencing bullying.
When you have such a large population as Japan’s living in crowded conditions with relatively little violence, and without an intensive police state to force them to behave, it can only be due to a culture of wisdom. In fact, Western mental health practitioners have increasingly been making ancient Eastern wisdom and procedures an integral part of their professional practice. So why would Japan abandon its traditional wisdom, envied by the West, and replace it with modern Western foolishness?
It’s because when it comes to bullying among children, logic flies out the window. We are so concerned with protecting children’s welfare that we refuse to see the simple truth that hits us between the eyes.
Anti-bullying psychology experts universally insist that bullying happens because “schools do nothing to make it stop.” This belief is repeated in the previously mentioned article, Bullying in Japan Leads to Student Suicides. “[the Bullying Group of Eastern Japan] asked why teachers only seem to lecture against bullying, but never do anything to stop it.”
The article documents the intensity with which Japan has been battling bullying in school:
“Tadashi Mochizuki, the director of the Ministry of Education, says the issue is taken seriously. ‘We do not allow to bullying [sic] in schools,’ Mochizuki says. ‘In Japan, we recognize the cycle of school bullying; therefore, we implemented guidance manuals for teachers, the school board of education, and every school, in cooperation with parents and local committees.’”
Isn’t it amazing that despite the schools’ heightened attempts to get rid of bullying people still think that the schools are doing nothing to stop the bullying?
Later, the article says,
“Experts on bullying say the fact that [bullying] appears to be increasing and growing more violent suggests that the next generation is absorbing the message that it is acceptable to mistreat those who express different views, or even look slightly different.”
Didn’t the author of this article read his own words – that Japan has been intensively sending the message that bullying is not acceptable? How did students receive the message that bullying is acceptable when they have been taught otherwise throughout their school history? Doesn’t the author see the contradiction?
No, he doesn’t. Because when it comes to bullying, logic flies out the window. Every social policy has its opponents. When it comes to drugs, many people argue that declaring war against it is likely to cause more harm than good. Many argue that fighting terrorism will cause more harm than good. Many argue that “No Child Left Behind” will cause more harm than good. Many argue against universal health care. Many argue for legalizing abortion. Whether or not they are right on any of these issues is a matter of debate.
But at least the debate exists. But when it comes to waging war against bullies, there is no debate. Not one person anywhere in the world even suggests that anti-bullying policies may not be a good idea. Even the intelligent Japanese, after seeing that bullying has been escalating in their country during the very period that they have been fighting it so intensively, can’t entertain the possibility that their campaign against bullying is the reason bullying has been escalating in their country.
The article tells us that Asao Naito, a Japanese expert and author on bullying, says, “it was the influence of Western values that changed Japan’s perception of bullying, and made it a moral issue.” Does this Japanese sociologist so despise his own heritage that he believes his country is less moral than the West?
Japan has been doing it right all along!
Certainly no country is perfect, but with its low level of violence despite its extremely high population density, the Japanese culture, if anything, must be more moral than that of the West. When Westerners feel humiliated, they go on a shooting rampage. When the Japanese feel humiliated, they take their own lives. If Eric Harris, Dylan Klebald, and Cho Hui Seung had been as “immoral” as the Japanese, a lot of American parents would be spared immeasurable grief.
The traditional approach of the Japanese has actually been the correct one: not to intervene in bullying. The Japanese used to encourage kids to be tough and to learn how to handle social problems on their own. This resulted in a minimum of aggression, a cohesive society, and a mature population that could handle social pressures. It’s unfortunate that the Japanese gave up their own traditional wisdom in the misguided belief that the Western approach is better.