The Rod of Love Led to a Change of Heart
By “Awake!” correspondent in Japan
FROM among some 250 students gathered at the graduation rehearsal, about a dozen boys suddenly separated themselves and moved toward the front of the hall. Forming a line, they turned around to face the rest of the students. Recognizing that these were the school toughs known for their terrorizing and vandalizing, everyone, including the teachers, became apprehensive.
One of the group, a 15-year-old who appeared to be the gang leader, stepped forward, bowed his head and began speaking in a somber tone.
“We apologize for the trouble we have caused everyone,” he said. “We realize now what we have been doing was foolish. From now on we will turn over a new leaf. Our apology also goes to the teachers who did not give up on us but continued to reprimand us even to the end. Please forgive us. We have taken advantage of all of you. . . .”
As he stumbled on awkwardly with his speech, tears came to the eyes of some of the teachers. Then the rest of the toughs came forward one at a time and declared: “I am going to change and lead a straight life.”
A Prevalent Problem
That scene, which took place in a junior high school in Kawasaki, an industrial city south of Tokyo, was dubbed a “Declaration of Penitence” by a leading Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun. Like many other schools in Japan, Tajima Junior High has been hard hit by violence in recent years. Outbursts of violence were daily occurrences. Students would kick in toilet and classroom doors, poke holes in the ceiling with mop handles, set off alarm bells and generally play havoc with school property. One teacher was beaten and hospitalized for two weeks for counseling a student about his hairstyle.
In another junior high school in Tokyo’s Machida district, delinquent students taunted and bullied a teacher whose health was impaired by the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. “That guy was easy to threaten,” said one of the boys, “because he quickly expressed a sense of fright if we pushed him.” After weeks of being chased, hit and beaten by the students, the teacher reacted by stabbing one of the attackers with a knife.
Violence in school has become such a problem throughout the country that Prime Minister Nakasone recently declared it a top domestic issue. And the Education Ministry established a task force to study the problem.
What Is the Cause?
As might be expected, the public was alarmed by such incidents of school violence and delinquent behavior. And the inevitable question is, Why such problems?
According to a survey by Japan’s NPA (National Policy Agency), more than half of those who responded felt that the main cause of the rising tide of violence in schools is none other than the permissive and indulgent parents who do not have firm control of their children.
Similarly, in a letter to the editors of The Daily Yomiuri, a 74-year-old executive from Tokyo suggested that “it is up to parents who were brought up in the postwar period to bear most of the responsibility.” These parents, he explained, were growing up when Japan was struggling to reestablish itself from the ruins of World War II. Hardship, shortages and deprivation were their daily lot. Now that affluence is upon them, they are determined not to let their children experience the same bitterness. They lavish upon them everything they could possibly want. “As a result,” wrote the executive, “they have made their children believe all their demands will be met.”
Others pointed to the education system itself as sharing the blame. “The high-pressure, cramming education is one of the major reasons for school violence,” said Michio Nagai, a former education minister. And students themselves agreed. “I was not surprised,” remarked a 16-year-old about the recent notoriety. “I and many others share a sense of frustration with the system and for teachers.”
In spite of all the finger pointing, however, there appeared to be no quick solution to the problem of juvenile delinquency and school violence. If anything, a survey by the National Association of Middle School Principals revealed that many school officials foresee the problem spreading and the end nowhere in sight.
All of this made what happened at Tajima Junior High School that morning only more intriguing. What was it that made the entire gang at this school come forth and apologize to the student body, while many other schools are turning to the police for protection?
Hitting Back at Violence
After reporting on the surprise “Declaration of Penitence” at Tajima, Yomiuri Shimbun followed up with a detailed account of what evidently led to the gang’s change of heart. It appeared under the headline “The Rod of Love Leads to Reformation of School Toughs.” Under that headline appeared an unidentified quotation: “The one holding back his rod is hating his son.”
“These students did not have a change of heart overnight,” said the report. Two years ago a new teacher, Shingi Shimoyama, was appointed to be the guidance counselor at Tajima. A meeting of the entire staff was called. According to the newspaper account, this is what happened:
“Teacher Shimoyama . . . opened a Bible and read a verse Pr 13:24 that says: ‘The one holding back his rod is hating his son.’” Then he suggested that the teachers should present a united front, and firm discipline should be administered in cases of offense such as glue sniffing, smoking, spitting, destruction of school property, and so on. The other teachers agreed and said: “We should stop condoning wrong in the name of kindness. Let us stop closing our eyes to wrongdoing just to avoid problems and say that we are being kind and merciful.”
It would be good to point out that, although delinquency is on the rise in Japan today, teachers are still generally highly esteemed or even reverenced. In most schools, classes still open and close with students and teachers exchanging bows, and stern discipline, even corporal punishment, is still accepted, even though rarely carried out.
How did the measures affect the students? Did they react in violence, perhaps threatening the teachers or beating them up? To everyone’s surprise, “the thugs took almost no time to acknowledge that Shimoyama was superior to them,” says the report. “‘A special teacher has come,’ they said. ‘Teacher Shimoyama is the only one nobody is to lay a finger on.’”
In addition to firmness, the teachers decided that they would either call or visit the students who were punished to have a personal talk with them. Such visits and individual attention drew the students and teachers together.
All the while, the gang of toughs stayed on the sidelines observing all that was going on. But the team spirit and the apparent satisfaction on the part of the students and teachers began to make them feel a little uneasy. They soon realized that throwing their weight around as if they were important was really childish and foolish, and that eventually led to the “Declaration of Penitence.”
Secret of Success
That undeniably impressive story was well-publicized in Japan. With the unique culture and background there, Shimoyama’s methods turned out to be a success. Whether the same approach would work in other schools and other countries would depend on a great number of factors. Nevertheless, what happened at Tajima Junior High School shows that when discipline is lovingly but firmly administered, young and wayward hearts can be won over.
Teacher Shimoyama, incidentally, is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Bible verse he read to the other teachers was Proverbs 13:24, which says in its entirety: “The one holding back his rod is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline.” This scripture, of course, is pointing out the importance of proper discipline in the home—the “rod” of parental authority. Though teachers and others can help, how much better it would be for parents to take to heart this time-honored Bible principle and apply it in the home.
[Picture on page 18]
The gang leader apologizes to students and teachers