School Ground Cleaning

MB used a small hand hoe to clear the weeds around his School playground.

Today was Sunday, Mothers day, and also the day for going to my son’s elementary school at 7:00 a.m. to participate in the periodic grounds keeping event. You see, here in Japan the schools have no “janitors” or things of that nature. There is no one to mop the floors,  or clean the toilets, and no one to weed the grounds or cut the grass. These tasks are either done by the students and teachers themselves, or by the PTA.

And it’s not like lawn mowers are very common in japan. Most people I saw were pulling grass and weeds out of the ground one plant at a time with hand tools. Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers, Grandparents. I saw all of them present. Not to mention teachers. All of the teachers were there too, pulling weeds along with everyone else. Even the principal was out there with a weed whacker.

Weed whackers were definitely popular with the men, who attacked the sasa grass on the steep hillside behind the school so that it wouldn’t choke out all the flowering bushes. With the hundreds of people that were there the work went really fast. It took only a couple of hours. After we were finished the school provided cold tea to everyone and people talked with each other (most are neighbors after all) or talked with the teachers. One teacher asked if she could bring her class to take a look at the house while I’m working on it. Of course I said, “Yes.”

But the thing I was thinking the whole time while I was clearing weeds with my little hand hoe was, “This would never happen in the US,” and I thought about how sad that was. Because when the kids and the teachers and the parents all get together to do something like this for the school, there is a real sense of community, and a sense of ownership and responsibility for the school itself. I have a feeling that in the US, if our school could not afford grounds keeping , either a) the gounds would be left to grow wild, or b) the kids would go door to door selling candy bars to raise money to pay BOLI wage landscapers to do it.

That would simply never enter into the equation. Japanese Schools by and large, once built, are maintained by the kids, parents, and teaching staff (except, of course, major things like electrical, plumbing etc.). Last year, the girls preschool was entirely repainted by parents! complete with cute little murals on the walls of children playing.

Another thing I have never heard in Japan is that the School can’t afford something critical to the regular curriculum (such as teachers, or music classes, or supplies), or otherwise had any sort of budget problems, which is something I was CONSTANTLY bombarded with when MB attended public school in the US. I know they run on a tight budget here, much tighter than American schools, but they really do a great job of using their money well, and it shows. MB is in a class of 13 students with a head teacher and an assistant teacher. That’s a nice teacher-student ratio, and in our city it is like that in every school. Granted, a lot of that has to do with the low birthrate in Japan, but I digress.

I am not saying the Japanese education system is perfect at all. It’s rigid, top down, everyone-is-the-same, factory schooling of the same type you might find in any government run schooling system. Intended to make cogs for the machine, rather than self realized individuals. But I am willing to give credit where credit is due. And in the area of teaching kids about the importance of building and maintaining a community and of instilling a sense of responsibility for it. The Japanese education system does very well.

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