By JEAN PEARCE
A recent column question dealt with a problem that faces many parents today: Their children have completely lost interest in school. These are often bright, motivated students who are dissatisfied with the system. Foreigners tend to feel that Japanese kids are too occupied, that something is planned for every moment, there is no time for play and their entertainment comes only from comic books and TV. There are hundreds of other suggested causes but so far, no solutions. The Japan Times recently featured an article on plans for a "free school" in Fujisawa to provide an alternative education which would free children from oppressive controls and allow them to think, act and learn on their own. Such projects face tremendous barriers because there is no provision for them within educational directives, but the desire for them is increasing throughout Japan. It is not always easy to find out what is happening in one's own area, but the place to start is always the same, your ward and city offices. Take along an interpreter if required.
I also heard from Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist organization, which has opened Education Counseling Centers to help troubled parents and children. They report that children's refusal to attend school has become a major problem. Extensive bullying is cited as a major cause, and there has been plenty of recent evidence to support this view. Parents must learn too -- instead of being ashamed of their dropout children, they must stop worrying about what society thinks and concentrate on what their children need. This counseling is free and open to everyone. There is no need to be a member of Sokka Gakkai. There are now 28 centers and 800 trained counselors throughout Japan. While counseling is generally focused on parents and children up to 18, in recent years teachers, too, have been seeking help. During 1998, 1,707 teachers at public grade schools were reportedly laid off because of mental illness. One would presume the number is higher now. Other studies indicate that as many as one in five teachers has completely lost control of his/her classes. The centers offer counseling for these teachers. For more information, phone (0426) 91-8226. English-speaking Sekita-san is there on Monday afternoons only. For consultations, non-Japanese speakers will need to bring an interpreter.
Individuals also had useful suggestions to make. One came from a Japanese husband with an American wife. She suggested that he read the column about dropout kids, and for a very good reason. He has been teaching high-school English for 36 years. He started a riding stable 18 years ago after he retired from equestrian competitions in order to teach neighboring children to love and ride horses. Shortly after, a girl who had dropped out of school joined the classes, learning to ride and compete in events. He reports she gradually gained confidence and became able to cope with her life. He decided to open Namiashi Gakuen, or Horse-walk School, with a dormitory where kids could come and work with horses. Over the past 15 years, some 80 kids have been enrolled in his school. He has 20 horses and ponies and at present there are 10 kids involved in his "horse therapy." His book, "Namiashi Gakuen," in Japanese, has introduced his work -- and his success -- to many parents of troubled children. All his students have returned to school.
The facilities are not only for troubled children. Kaminokawa Horse Park is also a riding club, one that is more reasonably priced than most, with a beautiful location in Tochigi Prefecture. It features well-qualified instructors and outstanding horses with both an indoor and outdoor arena, a jumping area, a clubhouse with showers and a play area for young children. Handicapped and blind riders are welcome. The school sponsors several horse shows during the year. Additionally, homestays for American high school students can be arranged, and for Japanese, there are classes in American English conversation. For more information, contact Corinne or Koji Shinozaki, phone (0285) 56-3214, fax (0285) 56-0536 or e-mail, email@example.com.
As you can see, help is available, though it may be difficult to locate. Just don't give up!