“Enduring Contexts”: Akiba

Akiba’s contribution to the “Enduring Contexts” project was based on her article on bullying in Japanese middle schools: Motoko Akiba, Kazuhiko Shimizu, and Yue-Lin Zhuang. 2010. “Bullies, Victims, and Teachers in Japanese Middle Schools“, 54(3): 369-392.

One of the very interesting aspects of attempt to (ac)count (for) widespread bullying (いじめ ijime) in Japan is that the MEXT statistics suggest that the incidence of bullying is actually declining. Akiba et al. thus cite official statistics as showing that reported cases dropped from approx. 60,000 in 1995 to approx. 20,000 in 2005. Magical, that! This has got to be one of the all-time rare instances of the recognition, naming and consciousness of a social problem to lead to a reduction in incidence. It seems to me that most social ills that I can think of increase in reported incidence as they are recognized by society, the media, and the state as a category of social ill. Hate crimes would be an interesting example of such a development that a former PhD student of mine, Bern Haggerty, has written about.

There probably is a literature or at least some writings on why we would see the drop in reported cases of bullying in Japan, but the two explanations that come to mind would be that MEXT also created a category of violence in school that may be ‘attracting’ some of the reports of bullying, and that there are no incentives for principals to report on bullying in an accurate and truthful manner, especially with the introduction of school choice down to the middle school level in many Japanese jurisdictions.

Compared to these official statistics, Akiba et al.’s figures of around 30% of middle school students in one school district reporting victimization are obviously much higher. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation: the per grade population of Japanese students must be on the scale of 1 million so that a 30% victimization rate in middle school would suggest around 3 mio victims at that level of schooling alone. That calculation makes me wonder a bit about self-reported victimization/perpetration as it seems so enormous.

One of the clearest findings in Akiba et al. is the higher rate of victimization and perpetration of physical violence for boys than for girls.

I am less convinced by some of the causality implied by Akiba et al.’s article which Motoko Akiba also included in her presentation to the Enduring Contexts meeting.

They discuss a causal relationship between negative valuation of schooling and bullying (victimization and perpetration), but it seems to me that the causal direction has to be going in both directions for this. For example, status as a teacher’s pet (presumably high value of schooling) may lead to victimization, but that victimization of a teacher’s pet might reinforce this victim’s high value for schooling as well.

When I raised the issue of causal directionality in the discussions, Victor Kobayashi (correctly, in my mind) suggested that we ought to think about (and analyze) bullying in relational terms, i.e. as a relationship between perpetrator, victim, and also teachers, esp. the homeroom teachers that Akiba et al. focus on in their analysis.

The focus on homeroom teachers immediately begged a comparison with owner-operators of juku. As is the case with homeroom teachers, jukucho take/bear a special responsibility for the development of students beyond their scholastic progress. For some jukusei enrolled in a small juku past their transitions through the educational system, their link with a charismatic jukucho may be the strongest social link and bond with anyone in education. A measurement of that link with a jukucho, especially for students who maintain a strong social tie with a juku (this would clearly be much more common in smaller juku than in the highly competitive urban corporate juku) would make for a fascinating control variable for Akiba et al.’s analysis, though the data obviously do not exist for this.

In a survey, I would expect that we would find a greater proportion of students in middle school reporting a strong bond with a jukucho than with a homeroom teacher.

The juku comparison also came to my mind because I have asked jukucho about bullying directly and have always been told that there is no bullying in juku. I have discounted some of that response as a PR claim (I suspect, for example, that bullying incidents that occur in transit between school and juku would be blamed on schools, not the juku by most parents), but have taken the explanation seriously that jukucho can threaten expulsion from the juku in a way that school principals or homeroom teachers cannot. Akiba et al.’s finding of the significance of a strong bond with homeroom teachers suggest that low rates of bullying in juku (if there were data to support this claim) could be associated with strong social bonds with juku teachers. A comparison between owner-operated and corporate juku would be illuminating in this regard.

“Student guidance” may also play a role in shaping social relationships in some juku.

One of the empirical findings that Akiba reported is the decline of incidents of bullying across middle school grades (i.e., less bullying in 9th than in 7th grades). Could this be linked to the kohai-sempai relatonship? I.e. sempai are not bullied (lower incidence for grade 9) and may not consider their interactions with some kohai bullying and thus don’t report them as such.

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