Musings about Japan and life as a human, a cosplayer, a minority, a music lover, an English teacher.

Update: Potentially Offensive Hangman

So a friend made me aware after I asked about Hangman that as recently as July, an English teacher (who is American) received criticism for playing Hangman with his class at a middle school where a student committed suicide two years before…by hanging himself.

I went to look up the article, and found it here: The source is from The Mainichi Daily News, but suspiciously the article doesn’t exist anymore on the original site.

I find the details of the story very one-sided. First of all, was this same English teacher at this school in 2008 when the student killed himself? The article says that the teacher used the game “regardless,” making it seem as if he was there when it happened or was at least aware that it happened, and that he didn’t give a crap and decided to play it anyway. If this is true, then I understand. It does say that the student’s friend pointed out the resemblance between the drawings in the student’s notebook and the drawings by the teacher in class, so the teacher was likely there.

But I also have an issue with another point: A Japanese psychologist says that if such instruction such as games like Hangman are going on in the classroom, “it shows great carelessness” and that, for the students, it is “similar to power harrassment,” even if the teacher meant no harm.

I beg to differ with those choices of strong words. See, there’s this thing called ‘culture.’ And there are different kinds of culture. And the vast majority of us grew up only knowing one culture.

And then there’s a phrase called “intercultural miscommunication.” It acknowledges that people who aren’t familiar with another culture may make mistakes. It’s not because they don’t care; it’s because they don’t know. I can’t speak for the English teacher at that middle school, but I can say for myself that I didn’t know it was going to be a problem.

Is it really that much like “power harassment”? Making it sound as if a teacher is forcing ideas into students’ heads? Harassment is aggressive. I’m not sure this English teacher was being aggressive, unless the kids were saying, “No, we can’t play Hangman! It’s bad!” and the teacher did it anyway. I don’t think a teacher would force students to do something that the students truly insist is a bad thing to do.

In addition: Was the homeroom teacher present? IF the homeroom teacher was present, he or she should have stopped the teacher. If the homeroom teacher WASN’T present, the students should have stopped the teacher.

And this point makes me question whether Japanese students have a right to speak out in class. I’ve always heard of Japanese education as being one where the students are expected to sit and listen while the teacher rambles on. When I took classes at Rikkyo that were mixed with Japanese and exchange students, whenever the teacher asked for someone to answer a question the people raising their hands were ALWAYS the international students. The Japanese students remained silent.

I don’t see this happening at my elementary schools; whenever I ask a question there is always at least one person who raises their hand willingly.  And if I do something strange or make a mistake, the students are quick to correct me. It’s exactly the same as when I was in elementary school. What is it that happens between elementary and middle school that makes the kids stop speaking out?

Going back to Hangman, I did a few more Google searches on the game in Japanese. Guess what I found? A Japanese site of English activities…featuring Hangman.

I think the problem in this case is not necessarily the game, but the time at which this teacher decided to use the game in his class. If a teacher used Hangman at a school in ANY country where a student hanged themselves, there would be just as much outrage.

Generally speaking, I don’t have a problem with this game, but I understand why someone else would. The question is, what can we do to make more people aware that this game can potentially be offensive? And why do some consider it so offensive while others see nothing in it?

One thing I do know is that the 5th graders I taught in class today were way more focused on “_ o o _  S t o r e” than on the limbless body hanging next to it.


One response to “Update: Potentially Offensive Hangman

  1. AnnaTrouble November 26, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    There are some schools here in my neck of the woods that banned Hangman altogether. Luckily, I’m not an ALT, so I still get to play it with my students. So far, no complaints. Maybe because the most infamous middle school suicide in Tochigi was committed not by hanging but my bleeding to death? Oh well…

    Bookmarked your blog, will be back.
    Have a great weekend!

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