The brutal crimes committed by teenagers here recently have shocked the nation. In discussing the issue of juvenile violence, however, we seem to be making a basic mistake: that only those who have the right to vote are “adults.” Considering various aspects of human physiology, it is unrealistic to say that a person is socially mature only after he or she is granted the franchise. In ancient Japan, sons of the warrior class celebrated their coming of age at the age of 15, while daughters married when they became 13 or 14 years old.
Teenagers are far more sensitive and emotional than grownups and have almost unlimited potential for development. What they lack are social experience and the so-called common sense that comes with it. But their adolescent sensibilities reject the uniform, semicompulsory “education” that is supposed to socialize them. Most adults who are accustomed to uniformity do not realize this. They do not understand that the information children receive through “education” is out of tune with their sensibilities and emotions. The disharmony is accentuated by the glut of information in our society.
History is full of anecdotes in which teens’ brilliant inspirations jolted the straitjacketed adult society. Suffice here to cite only three examples: French poet Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), French novelist Raymond Radiguet (1903-1923), and French mathematician Evariste Galois (1811-1832).
The message for Japan is this: Our education system — created in the Meiji Era to develop elites like bureaucrats in order to build a modern state — continues to teach our children in outdated ways, stiffling their budding sensibilities and emotions.
One salient feature of human existence in our modern society is the growing friction between individual aspirations and social mores, or the conflict between two types of reality, personal and social. Teaching children how to deal with these conflicting realities is not the job of teachers but the responsibility of parents, particularly fathers.
Schools and classrooms are not sanctuaries for children, but part of the real world. It is the father’s job to teach his children to anticipate conflicts with others and how to deal with them. Generally, the mother is not fit for this job because she lacks tough love and a hard-headed sense of responsibility. The father is in a better position to discipline his children in ways that may at times seem cruel to them. In reality, however, most fathers stay on the sidelines because their position in the family has all but collapsed. It is tempting to blame mothers who effectively control the home as housewives. The truth is that both father and mother have lost sight of their parental responsibility, leaving children’s education entirely to teachers.
A child who does not suffer physical pain grows into an unhappy person, according to Konrad Lorentz, an authority on animal behavior. This is true of animals in general, not just humans. Animals teach their offspring the hard way. There is no reason why human parents alone should be exempted from this responsibility.
Children usually resent their fathers for scolding them severely. However, this is a manifestation of true parental love, a way of teaching them the importance of patience. Evangelist Toyohiko Kagawa wrote that children have the right to be scolded by adults. In a similar vein, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said a slap in the face from a parent is children’s first grateful lesson in life. However, most of today’s adults are neglecting their duty to scold children.
Children who get scoldings learn the virtue of patience. Those who cannot bear scoldings are unable to control themselves both in mind and body and are therefore prone to misbehavior. Patience is part of the basic human experience, as when we must withstand bad weather, suppress anger and sorrow or do hard work. But there is a silver lining to patience: a sense of satisfaction that comes from enduring hardship. This capacity for endurance is something that can and should be acquired, as Lorentz noted. Yet adults, including parents, are not doing what they should.
French philosopher-mathematician Adrien Marie Legendre (1752-1833) said children always want to know in black-and-white terms what is right and wrong. The young generation had lost their sense of morality, he observed, because they had “destroyed themselves” under the crushing moral burden that adults shifted onto them.
That holds true today. The crimes committed by adults, including politicians, far exceed those perpetrated by juveniles, not only in number but in gravity as well. Adults make an exception of violent crimes committed by juveniles, on the ground that they are under voting age. That is nothing but self-deception.
The fact is that grownups are sticking to the same old ways of education, instead of trying to know what children really want. They blame children for chaos in school and in society. They are evading their responsibility. If today’s children are abnormal, it is not themselves but adults who are to blame. Shaking up Tokyo’s universities and other schools would be one way to change our mind-set.
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