Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Newt's crazy but children should be responsible for cleaning schools

Image: Japanese schoolchildren engaged in cleaning their school. From the Journal of Educational Controversy blog.

While Newt Gingrich is close to being a lunatic, and disconnected in large part from the real world, the idea of children being the school custodians ("Child labor: Newt gets it right" from the Manchester Union-Leader) is not crazy.

It's what they do in Japan. In Japan, children being responsible for cleaning their schools engenders an understanding of picking up after yourself, personally and within your community.

Many years ago I read a story in the New York Times Magazine, "Where Children Rule" (1997), about how schooling is organized in Japan. The article convinced me that's how we should do things in the U.S. In the meantime, I continue to pick up litter from the streets and sidewalks of my community.

It's a shame that Newt raised the issue the way that he did, because now this kernel of a good idea, brought to us by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, will never get any traction in the U.S. because of its association with Gingrich.

From the article:

A bell rings, and the students at Takihara Elementary School gallop off the grass playing field from their lunch break and head for class -- armed with brooms and mops and rags. The hallways resound with squeals and shouts as the boys and girls empty the trash cans. In the bathrooms they scrub the white toilets and chase one another with wet rags and generally rearrange the dirt.

Since Japanese schools have no janitors, it is up to the students to wash the windows and scrub the floors themselves. So every day for 20 minutes, the kids get out the washrags. Even the first graders join in. ...

Elementary schools in Japan, Singapore and South Korea are renowned as the best in the world because of their brilliant academic performance. Yet, particularly in Japan, the important thing is not so much to produce smart children as to produce good children, responsible children, disciplined children. The entire program aims to teach children to work together and to cooperate in solving problems. And by and large it works. As a Tokyo resident for the last two and a half years, I don't always find it a very attractive or interesting place to live. It's too crowded and too boring. But I'm convinced that Japanese people today are, by and large, the nicest and most responsible people in the world. Not the friendliest, not the happiest, certainly not the funniest, but the nicest. And at least in part, that is because of the school system.

Kathleen Parker, the columnist syndicated by the Post, suggests that while Newt is crazy, the idea of children earning "incentives" for working at school be explored, and this be open to all children, not just lower income students. See "Let them clean toilets."

I think she misses the point. Children should be responsible for cleaning the school and around the school in order to learn how to work together, to learn that when somebody litters other people have to pick it up, and that if they act responsibly, others aren't forced to clean up after them.

They shouldn't be paid for it, and they shouldn't expect rewards for it, other than learning the value of work and doing a job properly.

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