During the school vacations, TV stations broadcast special programs for kids in Japan. Replaying animated SF stories are the most probable plans. Then programs introducing UFO abductions and supernatural incidents follow. The UFO programs usually include reports originated from the United States. For Japanese kids, the UFO programs are the one of the few chances to watch ordinary American citizens speak, draw, or drive on TV. Other Americans on the TV screen are actors, singers, and fashion models. They are not ordinary people.
The interviewees explain what they witnessed. They often sit in the couch to give overall story. Then the interviewer asks for detail. They stand up for a piece of paper and a pen. They came back to the couch. They draw what they saw. The paper appears on the screen. Big sound follows and a commercial shows up. When the TV comes back to the witness story, one of the interviewees usually opens up the door of his pick up truck right in the middle of the dusty road. This is where they demonstrate how they acted, flipping their drawings in their hands.
The drawings of the extraterrestrial beings are extremely clumsy with no exception. Whatever they draw does not have any beauty that bears our appreciation. Aliens are drawn as if they were made of wires. When there are multiple number of aliens, they never overlap with each other. They appear to be floating in the air, even when the witnesses holding the paper explain that the alien strode to them on the ground. The witnesses do not seem to care about the rule of perspective. No one draw any overlapped background objects such as trees, UFOs, cars, or mutilated cows.
The drawings of the floating UFOs are totally awkward, too. Despite the witnesses’ comments, they are never drawn flashy. The supposedly illuminated windows look like a row of strange pitfalls. It never looks like a vehicle which can move at the speed of light. Again no background provided to the poor UFOs.
When I first visited Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong’s house, it was filled with Mrs. Armstrong’s friends from LA. They are active, cheerful, and intelligent midwives. They played games, watched movies, went shopping, went skiing and talked. One of them found an old recorder in a room allocated to her. She was able to play it. So she played it to everyone in the house. It was okay. I mean that she played it well. Mrs. Armstrong told us that no one in the family could play it. She said that she had been given the recorder. Mrs. Armstrong asked me if I could play the recorder.
Through nine years of Japanese compulsory education, music class was mandatory. No matter if I liked it or not, I was forced to practice the recorder for the first three or four years. Though I did not become able to read music notes as quick as to play the instrument simultaneously, I at least became to be able to read them and memorized them. I played a couple of songs with the recorder. They were amazed to hear me play them well.
Whenever someone asked me about the differences in educational systems between the United Sates and Japan, I gave the person these two examples. There must be numerous rather subtle differences between the two systems, which I have no intentions to study. The most significant difference I am conceived with is the existence of the mandatory curriculums that students have no say in their choices. Even if a student prefers history to art, he has to take both.
When all the students must know the same things, children’s individual opinions are not quite valued. They clam everything they need to remember to finish courses. Critics point out that the process will diminish the joy of learning. Changes according to the criticism are being made. However, they are insignificant.
All the students in Japan take basically the same classes in the compulsory education programs. This is not like what I heard about the educational system in the United States. American students can study at home. They often study with thick books on each subject that they read. In the classrooms, their teachers tend to give them to express their own opinions. If a student likes a particular subject, he can somehow choose to spend more time studying it. The system potentially cherish students with own interest and creativity.
Probably almost all the Japanese know that the capital city of China is Beijing. The Japanese can tell you instantly that 9 times 9 equals 81. To us, the Japanese, the United States is a mysterious country which can send human being to the moon, where store attendants can not calculate the change immediately. This can hardly happen in Japan.
The skill to draw a realistic picture of an alien does not either make one a millionaire or earn a Nobel prize. Memorizing only a few tunes and playing them with the recorder do not help much in supporting ones’ lives. However, the knowledge and skills that did not appear attractive when we learned could enrich our lives in the long run.
The American system of education is supposed to offer to the students more joy of learning than the Japanese counterpart does. Yet there weren’t many high school students I can remember enjoying their high school classes. They, in general, lacked discipline. If the students are left alone with a bunch of study materials, how many of them will willingly study for their own sake? When they find out that learning can be fun and that knowing how things work is inspiring, they can be too old for that.
Comparison of the education systems between the two nations can be compared to mass-production and hand-made manufacturing. Mass-production lines produce identical products with a certain level of quality. Quality can be maintained high. But if one product fails for a purpose, bringing another million does not help. Whereas, hand-made products are not quite uniform. They include the superior and the inferior. If one product does not fit to a position to send a rocket to the moon, there’s always another one to try on. But it seems that disturbing lemons tend to emerge to drag down the average quality.
The Americans that I told about this comparison sighed and said to me, “You are too generous to the spoiled kids, Sho.” I would reply, “Oh yeah? The Japanese are very polite, you know.”