It’s been a huge disillusionment. I never want to work in private education again. I don’t think I want to work in the public system either, though – although at least there you’d have union protection and get a little bit of protection from sudden whims and directives from the administrators. A private system could work if education is priority one, but here priority one is increasing enrollment and then pitching a case for higher salaries. Ye gads. There’s so much here that needs to be fixed before they should even think about going on a recruitment blitz. As things are right now, I wouldn’t send my children here if I had them, even if I would get a significant employee discount.
But you know, D. put it best the other day when he was asked to say a few words at the closing ceremony. (He returns to Canada on the 29th.) He said, choking back emotion, that S.G.’s greatest asset was its students. I couldn’t agree more. True enough, most of the students have the benefits of wealth and/or good breeding, but that doesn’t make each one any less special.
For those who don’t know D., let me add that the sight of D. becoming watery-eyed was deeply moving, and a tribute to the students as well as to his dedication to teaching. (My eyes might be watery when I leave too, but that’s because it’ll be raining when they decide they’ve had their fill of me.) Some people are very private about their emotions, and what they do choose to exhibit speaks volumes about the particular situation.
Generally speaking, I’m usually more charitably inclined towards my situation than I am at this moment. There was a long stretch of time through April and May during which I was confident and vital. Now I’m diffident and lifeless.
I’m re-reading Paul Lutus’ essay on symmetry, while paying special attention to the human implications. In the third section, he fittingly describes a common problem in large institutional systems (emphases supplied):
On reading this essay, some may believe the Symmetry Principle, and its presence in nature, argues in favor of socialism. On the other hand, a dispassionate reading of recent human history shows, to be blunt, that socialism doesn't work. How can both be true?
The answer to this question lies not in arguments for a strategy of coöperation and self-sacrifice with the expectation of reciprocity — that obviously works. What doesn't work is a system that tries to impose symmetry from above — a so-called "top-down" system. It turns out that symmetry only works between individuals — a "bottom-up" system. It doesn't matter how many transactions there are, nor how big the overall system is, it only matters that the essential logic be played out between individuals, each one acting on a reasonable expectation of reciprocity.
To put this another way, symmetry doesn't "scale well". The consequences of symmetry scale just fine, indeed an entire society may be built out of many small coöperative transactions, but it's not possible to build a grand top-down social scheme out of the symmetry idea — at least, not one that works.
Some insightful readers may see what appears to be a flaw in this argument — a system that works perfectly well between individuals should be able to work at a larger scale as well. To reply I need to explain the difference between bottom-up and top-down systems that rely on reciprocation.
In a bottom-up example of symmetry, a favor either is, or is not, reciprocated — there is no ambiguity about it. Either the other person picks up his end of the log, or he doesn't. Either both oars are in the water and the boat moves in a straight line, or only one oar is in the water and the boat moves in a circle. No explanations, no excuse, no promises, coöperation either exists or it doesn't, in the most tangible physical sense. And, without sentiment or mercy, cheaters are either reformed or expelled.
In top-down symmetry, because of the issue of distance and the number of players, symbols come to represent reality — language begins to stand for actions, and the time delay between sacrifice and reciprocation becomes longer. Once it is possible to replace actual coöperation with the symbolic kind, the same people who cannot meet their obligations in bottom-up symmetry naturally find their way to the highest rung of the top-down form, where they proceed to make the same promises they couldn't keep when they were at the bottom. The critical difference is that, once the narcissists have floated to the top, they get into a position to forever escape personal accountability for their inability to deliver on their promises. This explains the abnormally large percentage of narcissists in high social positions, as well as their reputation for ruthlessness and stupidity.
- Paul Lutus, The Symmetry Principle: Human Symmetry
This applies to this well-meaning dictatorship in many ways. We’re not simply encouraged to be congenial, genki, and self-sacrificing – these values are dictated to us. We autonomically recite a pledge every morning that begins, “I will work selflessly in my life for others,” and the reciting of such is meant to make you forget the futility of your situation and throw yourself into your work, as if that is all there is to your life. Every time I read that accursed homily, I feel its true purpose – to inspire people to put up with things that they shouldn’t at a salary that isn’t commensurate with their responsibilities.
Clearly, we’re all in it for ourselves. There is no such thing as altruism – like many others, I came to this conclusion independently – for me, it was knowing that even people who are “altruistic” expect something for being such, even if only recognition for their “selflessness” and/or a feeling of importance! (Why is “thank you” such an important couplet of words?)
But wait! This seeming downer – that there is no true selflessness – doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Over the long term, we can enter into mutually beneficial relationships with others, where each participant ultimately does serve their self-interest by helping others who will in turn help them (sometimes in unexpected, roundabout ways, I must acknowledge).
An old high school buddy of mine (I’ll admit we’ve lost touch IRL; the second-last time I saw him, he was conducting a sociology research project on the 80) is working on a one-of-a-kind project in Bangladesh. He too is party to the symmetry principle – when he goes to remote parts of the country to help people and documents such, he gets fame, recognition, and a (well-deserved) feeling of satisfaction. He may have other, less obvious yet more profound and/or meaningful motivations too. But by doing what he is driven to do by his own motivations, he is increasing the amount of comfort, security, health, and happiness of others. A vivifying feeling of importance and one less potential case of malaria is a terrific trade in my opinion.
In this sense, Kengaku no Seishin may have a point when it says, “The light that I seek is found not around me but within myself.” But like the Golden Rule, Kengaku no Seishin encourages blind, unthinking compliance. It’s not a coincidence that the school founder’s portrait hangs next to the transcript.
I think in some ways we’re all guilty of symmetry-evasive behaviour – even today, I shied away from volunteering for another day of day duty even though I was encouraged to do so because unlike the other foreign teachers, I had four days instead of five, probably due to simple mathematical coincidence. Understandably, my name annoyingly kept coming up (“Rilliamu… Rilliamu…”) as a possible replacement for another person’s shift. But yet on some level I felt exploited – one person wasn’t getting any day duty (and he was due to be called for it), nor was the forthcoming hire. (I think this was a mistake – for all we know, she could very easily be the senior foreign teacher next summer – heck, I’m going to be the unofficial one in less than a week – and it would help her and others if she knew experientially what to do!) The Japanese teachers only had a few instances, none of them more than once nor all of them even once, though this is because many of them are going away for professional training. The final sticking point was that I will be putting in days on the weekend just after Obon – in a sense, I was kind of cutting my vacation short, copious as it is. I did volunteer to take a weekday from this teacher, but that was a non-starter – it was the weekend that was the problem. Well, I just sat back and let things go. Our meetings put me into fight-or-flight mode anyway, and I wasn’t inclined to be charitable. I had day duty today and got to have all the bumps and jolts that go with being first. I feel perfectly justified in having hung back.
I’ve been taking a lot of notes over the past few days, many about things to blog. After dumping the pointless items, here’s what’s left:
- Parking my bicycle next to the oldest beaters I could find (when I went to pick up the rental car before going on the big trip this past weekend) wasn’t the greatest idea, it turns out. When I went in last night to get my bike, I discovered a yellow paper wrapped and stapled around the handlebars of all four bikes. It didn’t look like a parking ticket, though. Sure enough, S. read it and told me that it was saying that a city employee thought my bike abandoned (most likely because of its association with the other beaters, which looked like they hadn’t moved in months, and at least one even had a flat tire), and that I’d need to move my bike. This was a close call, because the next time the employees come around (and see the yellow papers) they take the bikes!
- We were supposed to just take what we needed out of the staff room… just what we needed, that’s all… just what we need for the next two months. Which is just, like, um… everything! I’m more bemused than annoyed, as I don’t think even the Japanese teachers were aware that it was going to have to be a “clear everything off your desk” kind of thing. We foreign teachers have moved into our cooperating teacher’s homerooms, and I’ve still got stuff all over M-sensei’s classroom that I need to sort and put away, because neither I nor anybody really had the chance to recover organizationally from this past term before the move.
- Things are a little bit more laid back now, though not as much as they were in the March-April intersession. There’s lamentably no sign yet of the 90-minute lunch breaks! On the other hand, one teacher did manage to watch some Island League baseball on his cellphone. It was one of those rare moments of humanity that I greatly appreciate witnessing.
- YMCA camp’s been cancelled!! Apparently the camp had a food contamination issue, and some children got sick. Now I’m really glad I didn’t buy a staff shirt! (They may buy me one anyway for the sports festival, though it will remain the property of the school after I leave.) But much more importantly, this must be a real downer for the kids, who’ve been looking forward to this for months!
- D., honouring a longtime S.G. foreign teacher tradition, is giving away some of his things… books, games, that sort of thing. In the midst of his
- One of our day duties is to put chlorine tablets in the pool. The demonstrations and explanations added some hilarity to our day:
Hy-sensei: “Here is the chlorine room.”
Mk: “There is the chlorine room.”
Me: “Gee, I think I understood him that time.”
We also had to put the storehouse keys somewhere else as we wouldn’t have access to the main building at certain times. We ended up putting the keys in a certain room, and the keys to that room somewhere accessible. Um, why not just put the keys in the accessible place in the first place? “Security reasons.” Yes, we’ve really got to watch out for those chlorine and cleaning supply thieves – they’ll stop at nothing! =) Anyway, everyone was in on the joke, so I’m not picking on the Japanese teachers by any means, who were probably already bending the rules so that we wouldn’t have to play “pass the key” all the rest of this summer.
Alright, I’d say it’s time to start getting ready for bed. I’m still behind on my sleep, and tomorrows another big – albeit low-stakes – day. You just never know what surprises lay on the road ahead. Best of all, I don’t have to recite Kengaku no Seishin. =)