By Mike Guest
Watanabe: First, I’d like to welcome you all to this meeting. As senior teacher, I’ve been asked to create this working group on student morality by the Prefectural Board of Education, who seem to be worried about the alleged decline in student morals and want us to do something about it within the context of English education. (Aside) Hmmm I seem to remember my teachers saying the same thing when I was a student, but whatever…
Anyway, although other teachers will be addressing this issue within their own departmental working groups, a separate report of suggestions and plans from us in the English department will be sent to the Board, so feel free to offer your ideas.
Saito: I think the answer here is obvious. Morality means following rules. Therefore the more rules we create, as long as we rigidly enforce them, the greater the amount of morality.
Watanabe: Umm, what kind of rules do you have in mind, Saito?
Saito: Any arbitrary rule will do. How about this? Whenever a student speaks English in response to a teacher’s question they have to stand and move away from their desks to the right, starting with a lateral step of 80 to 100 centimeter’s length. This will demonstrate respect for others, particularly those who create arbitrary rules and have the ability to punish those who violate them.
Watanabe: Saito, I think you are talking about some artificially imposed idea of ‘manners’. Morality means something more than that.
Hayashi: He’s right Saito. Where is love of country in your proposal?
Watanabe: Love of country? What’s the connection? Can you elaborate, Hayashi?
Hayashi: Come on, Watanabe sensei! Are you really Japanese? Morality is basically patriotism. Patriotism demonstrates care for others — as long as they are our fellow countrymen that is. Love of nation leads to moral acts.
Watanabe: Such as?
Hayashi: Well in terms of English teaching it means helping our students explain Japanese culture, the Japanese way of thinking, and Japan’s positions to foreigners so that they will agree and come to appreciate the beauty of our country. (Eyes well up with tears). I can think of nothing more moral than sacrificing the ‘fun’ part on their homestays for the betterment of Japan.
Watanabe: Umm, I’m not sure there is a single Japanese way of thinking or a set ‘Japanese position’ on most issues, nor that students should be fodder for national propaganda.
Kobayashi: I think you are all missing the point. Morality means respect for life. Students have to learn that life is precious.
Watanabe: And how do you intend to teach that, Kobayashi?
Kobayashi: Well, we tell them in our classes that life is precious and that we must respect it in all forms. (Silence)
Watanabe: And this will be achieved merely by telling them that this is so?
Kobayashi: Well, I’ll tell them to say it in English. And… I also think it’s important to remember that each person has his or her own morals. Who’s to say who’s right and wrong?
(Long, awkward silence)
Saito: We are. We’re the teachers.
Watanabe: Kobayashi, I know you mean well but I don’t think that really helps us in our current situation. After all, some students recognize no moral authority at all and many simply do not understand the nature of the social contract, how to interact in society.
Yamamoto: Ladies and gentlemen, you are all avoiding the inevitable. Morality is connected to grammar. Proper grammar leads to greater morality. Look at our own language. Back when everyone said “taberareru,” the correct form, we lived a peaceful co-existence in Japan based on respect for our fellow man… and syntax.
Saito: Hear, hear!
Yamamoto: But now kids, and even (shudders) some adults, say (gulps) “tabereru.” And with this increase in sloppy grammar it is no coincidence that we see a rise in drug usage and threatening hairstyles. In fact I was talking about this just the other day with the girls at the Pink Thrill club. They all agreed that morals loosen when prepositions do. Or at least I think that’s what they said. I’d had a few too many that night. (Takes a long drag on his cigarette and blows the smoke across the meeting table).
Nishimura: Well I came of age in late sixties and we had some pretty radical ideas about morality and I think a lot of them are still valid. Morality is something that is imposed by the man, man. So, I call for counter-morality, morality that seeks to destroy the corporate industrial morality that oppresses the human spirit.
Watanabe: More concretely, Nishimura?
Nishimura: Like, I envision Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd jamming in the background while the students stage a sit-in, where they take back the streets from Big Oil, turning it into a people’s street.
Yamamoto: Nishimura, you know what that leads to don’t you? It might start with street protests but it ends with uncouth grammatical contractions.
Hayashi: Not to mention interracial marriage.
Watanabe: Nishimura, I’m not sure that’s a viable option in our current situation.
Nishimura: Fascist! Just wait until Narita airport expands into your backyard!
Hayashi: Communist! Nishimura, are you really Japanese?
Saito: Well Watanabe sensei, what do you say? As the senior teacher here and as head of this working group I will gladly submit to your authority on the topic.
Watanabe: Well, I agree that morality is not something that can be imposed from above or taught as a series of discrete facts. When we do that the students are not learning morality they are simply obeying orders to avoid punishment and not really dealing with any moral notions at all. In fact, I believe it retards their moral development. Confusing morals with arbitrarily chosen manners or rules, or conflating it with patriotism, is just a form of bullying, or in the latter case, is just chauvinism masquerading as ethics. Morality implies that the individual acts from a consistent, principle-based ethical foundation and is not purely driven by self-interest, momentary caprice, or simply by acceding to authority.
For moral development, young people have to engage human nature, understand complex relationships, decision-making and its consequences and have to actively engage these. English case or situational examples exposing them to moral dilemmas in complex characters and situations and asking for descriptions, explanations, opinions and so on might help them to reflect on the notion of right and wrong at a deeper level and thereby provide a strong foundation for moral principles. By presenting such issues in English and having our students deal with them productively, perhaps our students can not only further their English skills but become engaged at a deeper cognitive level too.
Saito: I agree with whatever you say, Watanabe sensei.