Posted in cultural differences, Teaching Things

On Making Sick Kids Go to Class

If I was ever to do a “Ten Things I Hate About Japan” video, for the most part I would just spend 8 out of those 10 things complaining about the summer and the summer heat. #1: The fucking humidity, #2: The fucking heat  #3: THE HELLFIRE COMBINATION OF THEM BOTH-!

I’d figure it out. But until then, I do know one particular aspect of Japan that drives me up the wall: forcing sick kids to go to school / class.

One my students today came in- let’s call him Nashi – coughing up a lung before he even walked in the door.

“Hey, are you ok?” I asked him in English.

He responded with, “I have kaze.

Kaze is Japanese for “a cold.”

I sighed and let him in. Nashi coughed and coughed throughout the whole class. He could hardly breathe. Every single time he tried to talk he would have a fit. On top of that, his twin sister – let’s call her Natsu – was in the beginning stages of his sickness getting passed to her. Both of them proceeded to spend most of that class time DYING from coughing and coughing and coughing.

For some reason their mom prepped Natsu with a water bottle, but Nashi got nothing! I actually stopped the class about ten minutes in to grab some water for him so he could at least attempt to get through class without coughing his voice raw.

This is a class of four students, so that meant 50% of my class was sick. Because I’ve been in very similar situations before, I’m predicting the other two kids are gonna get sick. Both of them will still come to class. Fast forward to three weeks later, and I’ll be sick.

As Nashi and Natsu left I asked them, “Where is your mom?”

“Oh,” Nashi said as he sipped on the water I gave him, “she’s at home. She’s making dinner.”

And I couldn’t help it, I got a bit judgmental. So a stay at home mother just forced her sick kids into a closed in space with me and two other much younger kids? And she also forced them to go to school? I didn’t say anything, I just gave them stickers, told them to take care, and off they went.

This aspect of Japanese culture is perhaps the one aspect I cannot tolerate very well. In the United States, if a kid has a fever, they stay the hell home. At least in my generation, anyway. We don’t force kids to fight through fevers and coughing to show up to class miserable. I’ve heard that nowadays some schools have ridiculous absentee rules, but back in my day (she said like a granny) the kids stayed home to get better and then come back to school healthy. This way the germs didn’t spread around to half the school population and take out the whole class with a sickness.

In Japan, if you’re still able to lift your head and not pass out, you’re going to school. Even with fevers, I saw my high school kids come into my classroom with glazed over eyes and obvious red cheeks that signify “I am super sick, yo, someone take me home!” But they would only maybe go to the nurse’s office to sleep for an hour and then right back into the next class!

Technically, if you have a fever of over 40 degrees Celsius you should go home, but I’ve seen kids be throwing up with no temperature to match. It’s crazy to me that at so young an age kids are already being trained to kill themselves for the sake of school and then work. Health should take priority over one day of school, right?

I don’t know, maybe I am “too American” in this mindset, but I feel like science would also support my idea? Stress is considered a strong factor in keeping a sickness lasting longer than it normally would. Wounds are shown to heal slower if someone is stressed versus staying in bed. Not to mention that Japan already has a problem with stressing their children into becoming hikikomori – wherein a person wants to stay inside and never leave their house due to overwhelming anxiety.

In addition to all that, making children go to classes and school while sick is actually the opposite of the collectivist outward thinking of other people that Japan usually prides itself on.  The sickness will always spread to another person, regardless of face masks being used or not. Whether it’s the student in class or the teacher or someone on the street/in the train/on the bus, you get the idea.

So really, forcing them to go to class doesn’t really help anyone. It doesn’t help the kids, it just keeps them sicker for longer. The sickness always spreads to other kids, and to teachers. Therefore, it’s not helpful, it’s detrimental in every conceivable way.

The only argument “for it” bothers me. “Well, when they grow up, they’ll have to go to work sick too!”

But once again, science kind of says otherwise. Until you’re about 18-21 years old, your immune system isn’t developed enough to handle viruses like a fully grown adult’s body. That’s why we need kids vaccinated for the flu: they can literally DIE from strands of that yearly virus, unlike a healthy adult that can bounce back from it.

Demanding that children perform to the same expectations as an adult seems a bit of a ridiculously impossible expectation. Kids’ bodies just are not developed enough to handle the bombardment of illnesses and stress all at once.

I don’t really have any solutions to give here, I’m just a foreigner with an outsider perspective, but I worry, I really worry about my kids. Be they Nashi and Natsu who are only nine years old with colds to my high school teens with obvious flu-like symptoms, I worry about what kind of message they are learning from being forced into class and school with a sickness.

Because perhaps the thing that bother me the most is the underlying message, that your well being doesn’t matter as much as what you’re supposed to accomplish. Sacrificing your health, your wellness, your mental strength, all for the sake of…what? What does it really do for kids but set them up to feel like their wellness and health don’t matter? Not in comparison to the things they’re supposed to get done. Tests, exams, tests, exams, studying, studying, studying, all for the sake of the exams!

I don’t know, it just seems like prioritizing exams and tests over kids health is such a bad way to go all around. Once again, I’m coming from a different generation and from another country, so maybe I’m wrong. Still, I think it’s not just a cultural difference at play, there’s also a kind of cultural dissonance too. I’m sure that the kids will be alright, but I worry what it does to them.

After all, I’m a teacher, that’s kind of part of my job.

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Author:

Life in Japan suits me, so I write about it.

One thought on “On Making Sick Kids Go to Class

  1. I taught at the university level in China, and it was totally the same case. Most memorably, I remember sending a kid home with food poisoning, even though she was desperate to stay in class. There’s definite room for improvement in the expectations inculcated by the academic behavioural system.

    Liked by 1 person

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