Sorry lads, but I'm having serious writer's block just as my turn to get up on the soap box comes along...... I used to have a lot of ideas and theories on a myriad of problems with teaching English in Japan. I still have these, though I don't care so so much anymore. Thus, what to write is not coming so easily, until just recently that is.......

Below is an e-mail that I forgot I wrote. Got it back last night from one Sean McAuley, a former Karatsu ALT and all around stand-up guy. The subject matter was the challenges of teaching English in a system that doesn't value active learning (such as student centered education models). In previous e-mails we had discussed the issues of poor textbooks, the testing system, and JTEs who can't speak the language that they supposedly teach. To this specific e-mail Sean replied with a well written piece that seconds a lot of what he and I talked about four months back. I have included the link to it at the bottom of this post.

While reading this, please keep in mind that Sean and I were generalizing and that these are our OPINIONS. I don't want to hear some dipshit reply like "Why do you hate Japan?". We don't. We only hate people who volunteerily pull the wool over their eyes. And fundamentalist Christians. And pretty much the entire state of Texas minus Austin. And mimes. Anyone that quiet is obviously hiding something. Scientologists suck too. And Bush.....yeah Bush, I know you are reading this. Listen, somewhere in your home state, a village is missing its idiot. Isn't it about time for you to be running along now?

Oh yes, the e-mail....

" I'm sure I'll see you tonight before you read this, but what the hell. Just had a class and a thought. In addition to the problems of poor teacher training, poor English on the part of the "English" teachers, horrible textbooks, even worse tests, and the age at which the Japanese start formally studying English, passive learning seems to be yet another hurdle to successfully speaking English. Every subject is taught in a teacher-centered fashion with the kids lazily taking notes. Rare is the teacher who electrifies the kids; even when he does exist he still employs a passive learning methodology, albeit with flare. The point is that passive learning is completely unconducive for teaching a communication-based subject, like English. Fuck, just think if these kids had to take a creative writing class! I think most would just expire before putting anything down on paper.

And what if, WHAT IF, the system suddenly changed, or a dynamic teacher started teaching a more active learning based curriculum? I'll tell you what would happen: nothing. Though it's hardly the kids' faults, they have been conditioned to embrace this passive learning. If you take that away from them, they literally don't know how to learn. That dynamic teacher, having asked his class a question such as, "What do you think cause poverty?", would likely be met with a bunch of blank stares that all say: "What do I think causes poverty? Shit, I don't know. Why don't you tell me what to think and I'll write it in my notebook".

Hence we come to the true meaning of school in Japan; not to educate, but to indoctrinate. Not to create active thinkers, but to breed passive workers. And this my friend, is why most ALTs, with our western liberal education (it's own kind of indoctrination, though a much healthier one since in its purest forms it encourages dissent, free thinking, etc), can not function happily in the Japanese education system. That's the heart of the matter in my opinion. Your thoughts (not that any of what I just said is ground breaking....)?

Later, Joe

P.S. A lot of people will retort that these "problems" are a byproduct of Japanese culture, and that it's ethnocentric of us to judge, let alone criticize. They may be right about cultural influences shaping the Japanese education system, but they should really be asking a different question all together: Is the present culture of Japan, with all it's institutional norms, sustainable in the 21st century? More simply, is it good for Japan?"

I ask you all those last two questions.

Sean's article link: