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Learning to Be Adolescent

Learning to Be Adolescent: Growing Up in U.S. and Japanese Middle Schools

Foreword by Thomas P. Rohlen
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 258
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  • Book Info
    Learning to Be Adolescent
    Book Description:

    The organization of middle schools and the practices of middle school teachers in Japan and the United States differ dramatically, Gerald K. LeTendre demonstrates in this compelling comparative study. Based on his long-term observations in Japanese and American schools and on analyses of curricula and classroom practices, the author describes what teachers, administrators, and counselors in each country believe about adolescent development. He explores how these beliefs are put into practice and how they affect adolescent development.In both nations, LeTendre observes, school personnel are extremely concerned with volition: the developing willpower of young adolescents. But while both Americans and Japanese believe that nurturing a young person's ability to use his or her will is crucial, they take very different approaches to dealing with expressions of will. LeTendre also finds conflicting expectations and theories about adolescent development within each system, and he investigates how these can lead to confusion and contradictory rules.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14777-3
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    Neither quite one thing nor another, middle schools have received less public and scholarly attention than either elementary or secondary schools within the world of American education. Researchers and officials alike have had difficulty defining its particular essence and mission. The middle school seems to be a kind of afterthought, filling a space created by the maturational distance between sweetly smiling grade school children and fully developed high school students. Historically, too, middle schools were never a clearly conceived institution. As the need for additional schools arose, more and more school districts decided it was appropriate to separate out certain...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xix)
  6. A Note on Names
    (pp. xx-xxii)
  7. 1 What Is Adolescence?
    (pp. 1-17)

    What does “adolescence” mean? When does it begin? How long does it last? These are the kinds of questions that Japanese public middle school teachers asked me when I began to study how teachers counsel young adolescents in the United States and Japan. I was surprised to find that most Japanese teachers had no clear idea what adolescence was and that many failed to recognize the English loanwordadoresensu. While developing my pilot interviews at Stanford University, I relied on Japanese professors and graduate students to read and critique my interview questions. These scholars were not only fluent in English...

  8. 2 Oak Grove and Kotani
    (pp. 18-36)

    Over the past ten years I have conducted extensive fieldwork in four U.S. and Japanese middle schools: Wade, Pleasant Meadows, Furukawa, and Aratamachi. The schools are of roughly the same size (see table 2.1) with about eight hundred to nine hundred students each.¹ Wade and Furukawa serve low-income areas, and Wade has a sizable minority population. These two schools have the reputation as the tough schools in each district, that is, schools that teachers believe have many problems and are difficult places to work. Aratamachi and Pleasant Meadows are located in middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhoods and are considered desirable places...

  9. 3 The Common Problem of Responsibility
    (pp. 37-57)

    Dear Mrs. Lee,

    You may not know this, but while you are not here, our class loses control. They talk out of turn, and yell across the classroom. Miss Boyd, our substitute, receives no respect, but she does receive much back talk and defiance. Not only are the kids in our class disrespectful to the substitute, they are also disrespectful to each other. Insults and profanity are common. Unless action is taken immediately, Miss Boyd may quit!

    There are many ways to improve the behavior of the class. The most direct way to impose stricter punishment, such as double detention...

  10. 4 Puberty and Sexuality—Hormones, Energy, and Rebellion
    (pp. 58-77)

    In chapter 3 I analyzed how Japanese and American teachers dealt with the common problem of responsibility, a dominant theme on both sides of the Pacific. The topic of this chapter, puberty, was not. Puberty was a major topic for U.S. teachers but was rarely mentioned by Japanese teachers. This does not mean that Japanese teachers did not see or believe in puberty. Rather, they thought puberty was an important but limited phase in the natural development of youth. For Americans, puberty was an extended, difficult phase that gave rise to problems for young adolescents and educators.

    In studying how...

  11. 5 Toward Maturity: Self-Control and Academic Goals
    (pp. 78-98)

    In a culture that emphasizes the autonomy and self-reliance of the individual, the primary problems of childhood are what some psychoanalysts call separation and individuation—indeed, childhood is chiefly preparation for the all-important event of leaving home. Though the issues of separation, individuation, and leaving home come to a head in late adolescence, they are recurrent themes in the lives of Americans, and few if any of us ever leave them entirely behind.¹

    While considering such matters [youth and rebellion], I was reminded of the story of Momotarō, so beloved of Japanese children. For all his closeness to his parents,...

  12. 6 Managing Crises
    (pp. 99-118)

    American middle school students are often perceived to be at risk.¹ They are susceptible or vulnerable to crises that may arise in their lives, particularly because they are making important transitions to adulthood. Japanese middle school students are variously described as prone to rebellion but energetic and earnest; the middle school years are considered an intense period which places significant stress on young adolescents but offers the opportunity for growth. In both Japan and the U.S., the mature adult is expected to be able to deal with challenging situations, and teachers in each nation organize events that support students in...

  13. 7 The Disruptive Adolescent, Defiance, Delinquency and the Family
    (pp. 119-141)

    In the United States teachers believe that puberty destabilizes young adolescents, while at the same time they expect them to begin to control their behavior. The Oak Grove teachers appeared willing to give young adolescents the benefit of the doubt (such as in the examples from Hattie Sonval and Janice Leitskov’s class) when disruptive behavior appeared to be directly caused by hormones. But in other cases, the Oak Grove teachers held students responsible for their actions. If teachers thought the behavior was defiant, it received a particularly harsh response. Problems like theft or persistent patterns of antisocial behavior were linked...

  14. 8 Creativity and Self-Expression
    (pp. 142-161)

    Both American and Japanese schools instruct young adolescents in art, aesthetics, and the creative process. Teachers hope to promote adolescent creativity within certain areas, while regulating it in others. The middle grades are a time in both nations when young adolescents learn what modes of self-expression are tolerated or even encouraged (e.g., playing the trumpet, painting with oil paints) and what are prohibited (e.g., listening to vulgar song lyrics, painting gang symbols on school walls). Conflicts over student clothing or dress styles arose in both countries when adolescents attempted to create an image that was perceived as dangerous or defiant....

  15. 9 How Adolescence Gets Institutionalized
    (pp. 162-177)

    In previous chapters I presented various story lines connected with young adolescents in the United States and Japan and examined how they affect the day-to-day functioning of the schools. Some story lines have a specific impact on how Japanese and Americans decide how to organize the school, what behavior is appropriate, and how the school personnel should respond when problems arise. So far, most of the analysis has been focused on observations and interviews, with brief references to school policies or procedures. In this chapter I present an analysis of policy documents to show how adolescent story lines are institutionalized...

  16. Conclusion: Adolescence, Self, and Life Course
    (pp. 178-188)

    What does adolescence tell us about our beliefs in the self, about our very identity as human beings? In everyday parlance, we use “adolescence” to gloss a range of physical, emotional, mental, and social changes (and of course expectations and beliefs) which are crucial in defining adulthood in American culture. Although Americans generally encourage individuality from infancy on, a strong story line in our general culture holds that after puberty the child can make decisions for him- or herself. The adolescent is expected not only to be responsible for his or her actions, but to make big decisions, express preferences,...

  17. Appendix 1: Field Sites
    (pp. 189-193)
  18. Appendix 2: Glossary of Japanese Terms
    (pp. 194-196)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 197-228)
  20. Index
    (pp. 229-234)