Hunters and gatherers
When I teach School Subjects as a topic in my English classes I start by describing three main parts to the lesson:
A) a list of 15-or-so school subjects themselves;
B) a description of how the school schedule is divided into “periods,” and a necessary brief review of how to tell time;
C) the three questions related to the topic:
1) What is your favorite subject?
2) Who is your teacher? and,
3) When do you have _____ ?
Alternately, I sometimes provide sequencing words to answer number 3, like,
After that, ...
as an easier, more convenient way to describe one’s day at school. Sequencing words are good for many other situations, as well, like talking about what you did on the weekend, or during a holiday, to describe instructions - like how to use a coffee machine, for example - or, just to tell a story.
I always tell my students what my favorite school subject was, and is. History. If you don’t know history then you don’t really know anything at all. Or, at least, you don’t understand anything at all. It doesn’t matter how good you are in Maths and Sciences, Sports or Music. History more than anything else explains how the world got to the condition it’s in, which is what we want to know.
I joke - even though I know from experience that trying to joke in a foreign language is an ill-advised and terribly risky endeavor - that my second most favorite subject was“Girls,” and after that, Lunch.
To elaborate about the Girls, I remember when I was in high school during free time just sitting in the library or, more often, in the hallways (the main foyer of my school had benches along the walls) with my male friends watching the girls float by like angels. What was particularly fascinating about them for us was that girls always walked in groups, or seemed to, anyway. And they always went into the toilet in groups. Never alone. In addition, we spent a great deal of our leisure time trying to discover some meaning in the girls’ fashion choice. I mean, what lead them to wear jeans one day and a skirt the next?
I explain to my Japanese students that Canadian high school boys usually walk with their books in their hand by their side, like hunters carrying their spears, while girls favor holding their books against their breast like gatherers carrying their babies. Japanese teenagers certainly do not do this and it’s a picture I have repeatedly tried and failed to convey. It has taken me twenty years to notice this difference in behavior and less time to figure it out. It’s a matter of a different geography of life, the architectural designs that we live among, the clothes and accessories that we utilize while inhabiting our environments, and the behaviors we adapt while inhabiting our environments.
Canadian high school boys usually walk with their books in their hand by their side, like hunters carrying their spears, while girls favor holding their books ainst their breast like gatherers carrying their babies.
I put the differences in walking and carrying style to school bags and lockers. In North America students keep all their belongings in a locker. At the end of each class they return to their lockers, change books, and walk away with the materials for the next class. Japanese students to not do that. They have lockers, but Japanese lockers are rarely adjacent to their classrooms. Instead, they are found mostly near the school entrance, designed and intended to hold their school slippers into which they change from their outside shoes when they arrive, and vice versa when they leave. They are usually little more than cubbies.
Then, Japanese students habitually tote all their books around with them all day in their school bag (part of the school uniform) slung over their shoulders, not held in their hands or against their breast. Too often too many students rest their bags directly on their desks, not on the floor, leaving just enough space for them to lay their heads down for a nap, but not enough space to open a book.
In addition, Japanese students do not usually walk from one classroom to another for the next lesson. Instead it is the teachers that usually go to the students’ classroom. After each lesson teachers retire to the teachers’ room, where they have their desks, and then head out again to their next classroom after the recess. Math teachers and Science teachers carry baskets containing all they need for the lesson. Students do not learn science by actively doing experiments. Instead, the teacher lectures them and, maybe occasionally, performs a demonstration that they watch passively. I think it’s ridiculous, but it’s a culture thing. I’m used to it. This choreography reduces instances of students - girls or boys - treading the hallways in groups. In the ten-minute break between classes students here are often tearing around like banshees burning off energy, openly flaunting the prohibition of running inside the building. One of my great fears is collisions with students coming unseen around corners and down staircases. It happened only once, but I try to be on guard all the time. Adolescents with excess energy in confined spaces can lead to trouble.