The Sun Also Rises

 What an inspiring country!!!!

IMG_3007Guess where I’ve been the last couple weeks. Let me give you a hint: There is virtually no litter, no profanity, no violent crime, no graffiti, and no public smoking. And I’m not talking about just those civil middle class folks (although this country claims that 90% of its people are middle class). Even the homeless people who sleep in the parks make sure to pack up their gear and move to the shadows before the businessmen and tourists pass through in the morning.

Here’s the giveaway: At this moment, I’m riding a Bullet Train (Shinkansen) zipping along at about 170 MPH.

Yes, I’m in Japan! The zoo of the Faithful Elephants, the gardens, the glitz of Ginza, the Cat Cafe, the Owl Cafe; it’s like one big theme park. And everyone is soooo nice. It’s like the Midwest on steroids, if you know what I mean.

Some of you might have been a bit offended (above) by my use of the word, “businessmen.” C’mon people; get with the 21st Century! Here in Japan, there is an order that transcends political correctness. There is beauty, more than beauty, a divinity in the structure of a functional, orderly society. Everywhere we look here in Japan, we can see quiet women enjoying their supportive roles keeping themselves attractive to their soul mates, covering their alabaster skin from the harmful rays of the sun, donning false eyelashes, minding their children and patiently awaiting their men’s return from the bars after a grueling day’s toil and labor at the office.


Even the children here adhere to a strict code of obedient cheerfulness. We found that whenever we lost our way in Tokyo’s throngs, all we need do is find a flock of teenage girls, cheerfully clad in their school uniforms. We ask them the way to such-and-such and presto, they change course from their appointed destination to lead us 10 blocks out of their way to our trivial tourist spot. They giggle as we walk along while showing off all the English vocabulary they’ve learned through rote school lessons. I swear on a stack of Geisha Memoirs this actually happened to us on our way to Sunshine City, a popular shopping mall in the heart of Tokyo. Yes, the name of the mall is “Sunshine City” where we found the Pokemon superstore. Is this a great place to raise a kid or what?!

At this point, you all should be thinking, “Golly gee wiz, what can we do to make America great again like Japan? Well Wally, we have our work cut out for us; after all, as they say, the U.S. Is not Japan. First of all, Japan is 98% Japanese and the Japanese are very restrictive when it comes to immigration. One race, one culture, one language, one edited history; there’s a lot to be said for that. But don’t despair. Things at home might be bleak, but not hopeless. There is much to learn here from the Japanese. Take for instance the great Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. You couldn’t ask for better walls to keep out the…. well, you know. “Something there is that absolutely loves a wall” (or something to that effect). We can do this America! Haven’t the Euro American people, from whom our culture derived, had a love affair with walls that goes way back? Think “Londinium.” Think “Hadrian.” Think “Oxford.” Think virtually any medieval European city. Think 6-lane expressways that encircle ungodly urban neighborhoods. If we build it, they won’t cross it. And if they don’t come, we can make America great again. Just build a freakin’ wall, for cryin’ out loud!!! If we elect the right politicians, we won’t even have to pay for it. That’s a promise!

You’re probably wondering, “Great idea, Todd! But gosh, what about our schools? How can we use our education system to whitewash all this diversity-adversity and make America great again?

Excellent question!!! I’ve been talking to several Japanese people (at least the ones who are smart enough to speak American) about what goes on in schools over here, things that could be easily modified and applied cheaply and efficiently to American classrooms. If we skip all the theory mumble-jumble and simply train our new teachers to teach like Japanese teachers they could mentor others (just like running a Relay) and in no time we can turn things around and make American schools great again. This will be huge; you won’t believe how great this will look once it gets rolling. And it won’t cost us one cent because you won’t believe who we’re going to make pay for it. Just wait and see!

Of course, the main obstacle in the way of making America great is that we’re losing touch with what it means to be an American. Yes, there are things (American things) that all true Americans need to know and not know. We shouldn’t be thinking about things we shouldn’t be thinking about. If we did, we’d end up apologizing to everybody, and besides being a distraction, that would just be … well… un-American. So let’s be strategically selective about things we put in our textbooks, in our common core standards, and on our standardized tests: Include only things that make us nothing but proud to be American. Here’s just one example: Ok, maybe it’s true that slaves were used to construct the White House, but they were cheerful, well-treated slaves. That’s all we need to know. (See how easy that is!)

But being American requires more than knowing what or what not to know; our kids have to know the American way of talking, of thinking, and most of all behaving. This requires teachers to employ very specific classroom strategies. We used to call these “pedagogies” but let’s not confuse our new teachers with superfluous vocabulary (big words). These strategies should be based on common sense, not fancy ivory tower research. In fact, why do we still require teacher candidates to sit in university classrooms? Why on earth should we require adults who spend their lives in rooms full of children to even have a college education? It defies logic!

All we need is to write out some simple tried-and-true strategies and put them in a how-to manual with a slick, catchy, all-American title; something like “Teach Like a Billionaire.” We LOVE billionaires! They’re straight shooters. Instead of wasting time and money on a worthless college diploma, candidates could be teamed up with a trained classroom teacher for a few months where they could try out a great new strategy each day. They could earn a badge for each new strategy they try out in their classroom. Once they earn a certain number of badges (oh, I don’t know, maybe 49) they would earn their “classroom facilitator” classification.

I’ve got to go in just a moment; my Shinkansen is approaching the station, but before I rush off, let me whet your appetite with just a few of the best common sense strategies I’ve gleaned from conversations with real and imagined Japanese people that I’m sure will excite even you skeptics.


(Danny Choo, Creative Commons)

First of all, teachers, expand the “Don’t smile ’til Christmas” concept to cover the whole year, but do demand smiles from all students. The Japanese have made this their golden rule. Japan is proof that smiling students and stern teachers is the way for teachers to take back their classrooms. Students should enter the building silently and proceed single file to their appointed classrooms. Teachers: Have behavioral rules printed and displayed where students can constantly see them. Use the “broken window” strategy, strictly correcting and punishing even the slightest infraction so that rules are so internalized that students will be mindful of them even when you are not around. Teachers: Save your hugs for your family. Order is the key to engagement. Order is based upon honor and respect for those in authority, and respect is demonstrated through obedience, not hugs. Duh!

Second, standardize lessons by having them professionally scripted by successful businessmen and administrators. And for God’s sake, teachers, stick to the script! Do not allow students’ frivolous thoughts and inquiries distract you from the preordained lesson objectives. Keep them in-line and on-point. Demand that all students respond in unison to your scripted questions to ensure total engagement and to immediately assess comprehension. Limit any class discussion to no more than two minutes. In the rare case where a fishbowl discussion is warranted, limit these to once or maybe twice a year. And make sure to clearly set the parameters of discussions to avoid time off topic. K12 students should not be producers of knowledge; the goal should always be reproduction. Classroom facilitators recite the lessons precisely the way they have been crafted, and students reproduce the knowledge contained in each lesson. This is so orderly and so logical!

Third, stop wasting precious instruction time with frivolous “town meetings” and other so-called “community-building” activities that are void of academic content. Fifteen minutes devoted each day to such nonsense is an hour and fifteen minutes per week or forty hours per year. Those forty hours could go a long way towards raising test scores. Likewise, Teachers, stop doing administrative work that you can train your students to do. A few minutes of simple instruction at the beginning of the year to teach students how to hand in and hand back assignments can save hours of instruction time throughout the year. Every minute is important. Make “Bell-to-bell, time-on-task!” your mantra.

That’s enough for now. If you like these simple strategies, and I’m sure you do, there are more like them, many more. And you’ll be excited to learn that you don’t have to wait; there are already academies using these strategies to train and employ classroom facilitators in “independent” schools across the country. Logically, these are first located exclusively in urban schools where students desperately need to be saved from parents and cultures that deviate from good American values. But don’t despair, that’s just the beginning. In the master plan to make America great again, sound strategies such as the ones cited above, will soon come to all American schools. Trust me, you will soon notice the difference when your children come home each evening to set the table for the dinner you’ve dutifully prepared for them. You won’t believe how huge the difference will be!

I’m approaching my destination; the train’s slowing, but in a future blog I want to excite you with the financial prospects of systematically replacing university-trained educators with academy-trained classroom facilitators who, due to their lower status, will actually be happy to work longer hours for far less compensation in independent schools (independent of teacher unions; independent of incompetent, democratically-elected school boards; independent of expensive, bleeding-heart state and federal laws). If we want to have an efficient and orderly society like the one I see on this trip (It is impressive!), we simply must define and enforce what it means to make America great again. We can do this America! We deserve our own Sunshine City, and with a little business savvy, a wall, and cheaper schools, we’ll all be singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah!

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.”  From Mending Wall, by Robert Frost