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A fighting story

How the Japanese let their children fight

A friend sent me a DVD of a research project spearheaded by Arizona State University professor Joseph Tobin that compared preschools in three different cultures. . .

In 1985, Tobin and Professors David Wu and Dana Davidson documented through video and later in a book a day in the life of preschools in Kyoto, Japan;Kunming, China;and Honolulu, Hawaii...
But the scenes that most mesmerized me were those that featured a little boy named Hiroki.

Hiroki was an adorable, smart, and very ill-behaved four-year-old who attended the Komatsudani preschool, located on the grounds of a three-hundred-year-old Buddhist temple on the east side of Kyoto. He started his school day by pulling out his penis and waving it at the class during the morning welcome song. Often the first to complete his work, he yelled responses out of turn, sang aloud when everyone was quietly completing their workbook exercises, and imitated cartoon characters. Hiroki went on to use crayons to illustrate that he had a blue, a green, then a black penis. . .

Hiroki pushed and poked the boy in front of him while they were waiting in line to get their work checked. He spent the rest of his day making wisecracks, throwing around classroom supplies, and hitting, punching, stepping on, and wrestling his male classmates. But his behaviour wasn't what unsettled me - I'd been around plenty of naughty children. What bothered me most - and apparently many of the American and Chinese observers who watched this footage - was that the teacher didn't intervene;she seemed to ignore him and his outbursts. They boy got a brief, quiet talking to by the head teacher, but he kept being bad, bad, bad.

His teacher and other administrators later explained that his was a deliberate strategy for dealing with Hiroki's behaviour that they'd developed after many meetings and "trial and error. " It was working, they claimed. Hiroki was behaving better than he had the year before...

It wasnt that adults didn't intervene. If a child's health was in danger, teachers would jump right in - it was just that they often chose not to for smaller skirmishes.

Extracted from the book published by Macmillan

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