3.22.2007

The List Is Thousands Long...

Okay, not really. But here's your daily dose of "WTF"...

New York Social Diary's "The List"

[via BoingBoing]

The Thing About Teaching...

I've been (sort-of) teaching for what...about six months now? I'm pretty sure that makes me an expert on the subject. So here's my biggest frustration with teaching a foreign language thus far: the hugely varying apptitude of my children for learning...and the lack of a relevant course of action to raise the class mean in that regard.

What am I talking about? I'm talking about the fact that today I had my last class of 1st Year English for the academic year and noticed that while some of my kids can actively go through a piece of text a pick out the verbs/nouns/etc., another large portion of my class can't even read.

This is alarming. What's more alarming is that in the Japanese education system there's not much that can be done about it. In my 2nd Year classes I'd often be amazed at my students lack of English skill, but due to their general aversion to learning I chalked it up to lazyness and missed homework assignments. However, upon final review of my 1st Years for the year I've discovered that there's a huge subset of kids who drop under the radar, unable to read basic words in English like "on" and "this", and who graduate into their second year doomed to sink further and further behind.

Now I don't know that this is the case for other courses, I can only speak for English. But I can imagine that the same thing happens in science, math, and even Japanese. It's because the children are not held accountable for their grades or examination performance, they are simply passed on to the next grade as long as they show up for school (and sometimes they don't even have to do that, see "hikikomori"). Japanese students are simply expected to memorize things and pass their high school entrance exams, everything else is pretty much ceremony, routine and other BS with the underlying purpose of instructing them on how to become "Japanese" (ie- fit in to Japanese society).

I know in the West we hear a lot about the Japanese education system and how the children are better educated and whatnot...but I can tell you right now, a Japanese kid wouldn't survive a day in an American school. And no, I'm not talking about school violence, I'm talking about the fact that they'd be expected to express their opinions and do their homework, otherwise they wouldn't be advanced to the next grade.

Now this isn't new. I've known for some time that many of my kids aren't stellar at English, and I don't expect them to be...but I think that they should be able to read "on" and "this", and I think they should be held accountable for their performance. I've offered my time to tutor students after school only to be met with "that sounds like a good idea" and no follow up, or "after school the students have club activities."

Okay, I understand that. But during school they're essentially failing English. What are we going to do about that?

3.21.2007

Japanic! Jams (7.0)

Another Japanic! Jams...

Today we have two tracks from self-proclaimed "funk thrash" band The Futures. I'd really call them more "psychodelic thrash" or something like that. Either way they rock pretty hard, and they're from Japan.

We also have a track from Bullets To Broadway, a new punk band featuring members of Teen Idols and Rehasher (with ex-members of LTJ on backup vocal duties). They're pretty sweet and feature dueling male/female vocals, something I dig in punk and which really doesn't come up often.

Next we have the adorable love song "87" by Sissies, a Plan-it-X band. I'd heard them before, but I just picked up their complete discography and I'm definitely in love with this band. Really gritty Fifteen-style punk with a sort of riot grrl edge to it. Good times.

Lastly I've included the final track off Daft Punk's Human After All, Emotion. This is a ridiculously repetitive dance track, but I simply love it. I'm planning to see Daft Punk when I come to visit the US this summer, so I've been listening to them a lot lately.

Enjoy.

1. The Futures - No. 4
2. The Futures - Toluen
3. Bullets To Broadway - Paychecks
4. Sissies - 87
5. Daft Punk - Emotion

[hosted at sharebigfile]

3.20.2007

I'll Try To Be Brief

I wanted to comment briefly on the whole Hillary 1984 video thing.

I'm kind of amused with the way the media is handling this one. Every news article or mainstream news-affiliated blogpost that mentions this video seems to make the proclamation that this is some kind of paradigm shift in politics, that somehow this one video has catapulted us into some new domain of campaigning. Some say this is for the better, enabling grassroots, nay, individual impact on the presidential campaign, and some seem to see it as the start whistle for the largest mudslinging contest in the history of the presidential race.

The point I wanted to make with this post, however, is that once again the traditional media outlets fail to recognize the importance of the interent, or it's relevance. They're just mad that these days they don't get to tell us what to think anymore...that some bored college kid or out-of-work marketing specialist with access to Final Cut can assemble a decent political add and broadcast their message to the public for free, circumventing the media's previously unchallanged control of that form of communication. They're also morons, because it's been happening all along, they just didn't notice it.

So they think they can turn this one video into a huge news story, when it's simply a daily occurence on the internet. I mean think of the proliferation of those hoax 9/11 conspiracy videos on YouTube and similar sites. I'm sure you've watched one. You could have seen this type of thing coming a mile off. The Hillary vid has been up for nearly 2 weeks and the mainstream media just picks up on it now? I saw it posted in a blog at least a week ago. I couldn't care less about it then, and aside from the media frenzy surrounding it, I couldn't care less about it now.

What is it with the mainstream media and their need for every story they present to be life-threatening or heart-stoppingly important? I think in the end that's the appeal of the internet media...regular people are constantly presenting their opinions (which you recognize to be biased, unless you're dense) without trying to convince you that what they have to say is the most impotant thing you've ever heard in your life. I mean the "blogosphere" is annoying...but damn, I'll take it over the traditional media any day of the week.

3.18.2007

Very Funny, Although Sadly, Very True



[via Pharyngula]

3.14.2007

Graduation



Today was Graduation Day at Asahi Junior High. Preparations for this day probably began months in advance...it was a pretty big to-do. It was also a very typical Japanese ceremony...a lot of bowing, serious faces, lack of cheer...but it was rather moving nonetheless.

However, the most exciting part of the whole day was the "farewell ceremony" that was held afterward. The underclassmen all lined up and bid their departing senpai adieu (ooh, borrowed Japanese and French in one sentence). They exchanged momentos and gifts...and nearly everyone cried. You have to remember that many of these kids have known eachother since preschool and now the graduates are going away (some moving to other cities) to attend high school. It was a big bowl of happy and sad all mixed together.

I tried to stay out of things for the most part, just play the casual observer, but I did get in there to get pictures with a few of my favorite students.

More pictures over at Flickr.

3.12.2007

Photo Update

I posted some pics from the last couple of days of school over at Flickr.

My favorite is this one:



I'm sure you can see why.

Yay for my girls...they're the reason my job is awesome.

3.09.2007

Awww

After making two really stressed out posts I thought the blog could benefit from this:


"IM IN MY HOODEE...LOOKN PRETY KEWL"

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3.08.2007

Okay, I'm Gonna Get A Bit Emotional Here

Ashley had an interesting blog post which mentioned patriotism yesterday. I've been thinking about it a lot since. And as if losing Steve Rogers wasn't enough today, my daily blog wanderings led me to this delightful image:



NOT OKAY!

This is not cool people. When I was a kid the part of saying the pledge that I always liked best was "liberty and justice for all."

For all.

Not for Christians, or Conservatives, or whoever else thinks they have some sort of claim or birthright to this country. In fact, before the mid-20th Century our pledge didn't even have that nonsense about "under god"...that was added to "combat communisum."

For all.

Which personally I don't believe means just Americans. In the spirit of our real Statue of Liberty I believe "for all" means for everyone in the world, all people should be welcome in our country.

I remember when I watched the movie Jesus Camp the thing that made me the most sick (out of all the twisted crap that happens to kids in the movie) was this clip:



The selfishness of Christians (a group who claim to have a monopoly on morality) just makes me so sick and sad and tired. Their imagined entitlement, their imagined sense of persecution when they are not only the majority, but the group in clear control of our government's policy.

What happened to:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


Yet these sick individuals want to turn our country into a mockery of that. They want to erect an actual fence, a Great Wall, to keep people out. They want the laws of our land to reflect the laws of a tired, old book that only they choose to follow. They've already built an idol (breaking their own laws) that disgraces our beautiful Lady Liberty. They pledge allegiance to their own flag so that they don't have to consider people who disagree with them to be their brothers and sisters, their countrymen, in the process forgetting that the liberty they're abusing is the only reason they're allowed to do that.

I remember the last two words that rolled off my tongue every morning of elementary school, right before we used to sing the words of Woody Guthrie together in a cheery voice. This land is your land, this land is my land. Before we sang we said the pledge. Those two words.

For all.

I believed them. Turns out most people in my country just lie through their teeth at that part.

Damn You Google News...

This is not how I wanted to find out.

I wish there was a news aggregator site like Google News that you could customize to block certain types of content...like spoilers (or all WingNutDaily articles). This actually came up back at Super Bowl time too, many of my friends here in Japan were scared to use the internet on the outside chance that they'd see the result before we could watch the game.

Alex...I'm looking in your direction on this one. I'm sure something like this must exist, I'm just too lazy to look for it.

Also, back to the point of this post:

Cap
1941-2007

"I hope it's just one of Marvel's publicity stunts"

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3.07.2007

Japanic! Jams (6.0)

Welcome back to Japanic! Jams...this week we're doing another spotlight on one band.

This time around it's The Carrie Nations from that Belle of the South, Georgia. Named after some fake band in a Russ Meyer movie, these guys played some of the best punk rock I've ever heard. Unfortunately they called it quits last year, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't own their album, Be Still, available from Plan-it X Records and almost any hip punk rock distro.

These guys take the whole nonsense lyrics thing to a new level. Beck would do well to listen and learn. The words may not make much sense at first, but it's about the way they sound together, about the images they create in your brain. The more you listen the more you'll begin to see that they're not really all that meaningless. Plus the music kicks ass the the energy is undeniable.

Here's some tracks off Be Still for your approval. If you like them be sure to buy their album, it'll set you back like 6 bucks tops.

1. Hell To Pay
2. Girlfriend
3. Former Babies
4. Top Gun

(Note: The above song called "Top Gun" is often labeled as "Fireman's Bakesale"...which is part of the opening line. However on the album it's very obviously titled "Top Gun"...and if you listen you'll see why.)

[hosted at sharebigfile]

3.06.2007

Scambaiting

I think I was introduced to scambaiting by Eugene Mirman, but this guy is clearly the master of the art.

Read his current scambait; for anyone who has ever received one of those stupid, but hilarious Nigerian scams.

More About My Kids

It's the end of the school year here in Japan. School runs from April to March...I'm not sure why, it just does. Actually, spring does seem like kind of a better time to start school. School seems less depressing after winter than it does after a nice, long summer vacation. But I digress...

I wanted to talk about a few more of my kids because my 3rd Years will soon be graduating, and honestly it makes me pretty sad.

At Asahi Junior High I love all the kids. There are only 59 of them, so I have a relationship with nearly every kid...in that we've had a conversation or two, or shared a laugh. None of them act up in English class, regardless of whether or not they actually like it. I really appreciate this.

Again, I do have a few favorites though, so I thought I'd share some of my favorite 3rd Years.

Sayuri
Sayuri is extremely friendly, and was the first student to actively engage with me when I first came to the school. As you can imagine with only 59 kids they can be kind of quiet and shy, but Sayuri always made sure to say hello to me or smile at me or whatever, and you can't imagine how much of a difference this makes when everyone else (adults included) is trying their hardest to ignore you. Since then she's become the person I most often eat lunch with. The Asahi students aren't as ready to speak English to me as their Kanagi counterparts, but Sayuri understands English really well.

Anna
Anna is quiet and smiley. In fact if I only look at her funny I can make her laugh. She's pretty great at English, but she constantly plays it down and panics when I try to have more advanced conversations with her. She's also the target of playful bullying from the rest of the kids because she's prone to hysterics. It's especially cute to watch the boy who clearly has a crush on her give her a hard time.

Masumi
Speaking of crushes, Masumi originally used to joke around with me all the time, having probably the best English of all the kids, but now she's more or less paralyzed because she's developed quite a crush on yours truly. What can I say, I have a power over 14-year-old girls. She's extremely sweet though, and she gave me chocolate on Valentine's Day, so I can't complain. She gets called a "yankee" all the time, which is a label Japanese people give other Japanese people who act "Western." I just like to think of "yankees" as the kids who haven't sacrificed their personalities to fit in.

Miyuki
Miyuki is perhaps my favorite student of all. She's painfully shy around me, and as she often admits (in English, mind you) "I don't speak English." She's the one who penned the funny comic about Gabe liking maid uniforms and school swimsuits. She's only recently begun having conversations with me, mostly in Japanese, but I think everything she says is pretty hilarious, even when it's unintentional. She once answered an essay question along the lines of "Do we need more PE class?" with the response "I don't like to run. I can live without more running." In a way she kind of reminds me of myself at her age, and I think that's why I like her so much. She's really smart, but she doesn't necessarily apply herself all the time. She does give me her extra food at lunch though, and that's what's important.

So yeah, those are more of my kids. The Asahi crowd is totally different from Kanagi, which makes me really glad I'm able to experience teaching in both schools. I'm sad to see the 3rd Years go, but thinking about the fresh-faced group of 1st Years that will appear in a few weeks warms my heart a little.

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One of my funnier kids

My kids tend to not be that funny. In fact, most of them are just plain annoying when they attempt humor. However, I have one 2nd Year at Kanagi who is consistantly pretty hilarious.

As a bit of background, my 2nd Years are like a pack of wild animals. They have no regard for authority or education or anything beyond acting like total savages. During class they typically talk, pass notes, throw things...basically anything that isn't learning is okay in their book. There's a few good kids, obviously, but they tend to get drowned out by the ones who act up.

One of the good kids is Daisuke. He's a twitchy little guy with a shaved head (a hallmark of the baseball club) and terrible hay fever. He also likes to constantly play with his willy. However, he's also pretty interested in English...which makes him one of two kids in the 2nd Year who are.

Yesterday his allergies were pretty bad, I blame the 60 degree day we had on Sunday. His eyes were nearly swollen shut and he was constantly blowing his nose into an endless supply of gross tissues on his desk.

During the lesson I was standing near his desk in the back of the class. After a particularly violent sneeze he screamed, reached for his compass (no idea why he had it out in English class) and shouted "SEPPUKU!" while jabbing the pointed object inward at his gut. I chuckled...and who wouldn't. Then another kid turned to tell him that if he wanted he'd do the favor of putting Daisuke out of his misery. This other kid reaches for the compass and Daisuke shouts "I don't want to die!"

Of course I chuckled again. Seppuku jokes are comedy gold.

3.04.2007

New Band!

I started a new band here in Japan with two of my fellow JETs, Leif and Greg. We're kinda like...pop-punk? I guess. We don't have a name yet, but we have a bunch of songs.

We had our first serious practice session today and we recorded five demos. I just recorded them directly into my Macbook, but something is better than nothing...and they're not that bad.

I also forgot the words on a bunch of them so I mumbled a lot...

Maybe they are actually pretty bad. Oh well. Please enjoying them.

1. The Fight Song
2. A New Apathy
3. Friends & Fuck Yous
4. I Promised Myself I'd Never Ever Write A Song Like This
5. Cleanup: Barstool 4

[hosted at sharebigfile.com] (I hope this works better than zShare)

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3.02.2007

A Funny Thing My Teachers Do

At Asahi Junior High the staff room looks out onto the parade ground area. Once every few weeks the kids do a sort of "fun run" where they run around the parade ground and the school property. Every time this happens my teachers line up along the windows of the staff room and watch the kids run, all the while making little comments about their performance and having a laugh at their expense.

Another point to make on this post is that ALL Japanese conversation is repetative and annoying. The fun run viewing conversation is the SAME every time:

"They're running pretty fast, aren't they?"

"Sure are. X is running faster than Y. But Z is running fastest."

"Yeah, he's pretty fast."

"Haha. Look at Q...he's not running at all."

"Yep. That Q...not much of a runner"

repeat, repeat, repeat

Maybe this is why the English in the textbooks is so inane and generic...because Japanese people actually don't know how to have an interesting conversation about anything.