School and Suicide


Christopher Carr

Christopher Carr does stuff and writes about stuff.

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57 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I think Japan is filled with all sort of semi-unique to unique cultural problems and a lot of really unique barriers to fixing those problems.

    I lived in Japan from 2002-2003 and the same problems I hear about now existed then. Young men did not want to become salarymen because of the long and crushing hours but there was no way to rebel so young men just ended up dropping out and becoming freepers/freelancers. Young women did not want to be housewives so they just stayed in their lowish-level or career jobs (many of my female students were dentists, lawyers, engineers, etc.) and did not get married.

    And Japan is the country with a unique word for “working to death”.

    But it still remains traditional and hidebound even if they realize that they have problems. Attempts at liberalization and reform always meet with a stern no from elders. A few years ago the government tried to introduce casual Fridays during the summer so there would not be an energy crisis from too much AC. The bosses turned off the AC but refused to allow casual wear so it was still dark suits with ties perfectly done.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Japan also likes to overstate its own uniqueness and especially so to foreigners living there.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Christopher Carr says:

        All cultures like to overstate their uniqueness but Japan probably could do so with a straighter face than most. Even when it considered itself part of the broader Buddhist-Confucian world of East Asia, it did so in it’s own manner by putting warriors rather than scholar-gentry on top of the Confucian caste system. It also probably has one of the most friendly towards suicide attitudes in human history.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Christopher Carr says:

        Being the second largest (by population) rich country in the world makes you an outlier in many ways. Add that to a culture that arose largely independent from the Mesopotamia/Mediterranean axis and being on the losing side of only one war – but one heck of a loss, and only just now fading from living memory – and that’s a whole lot of uniqueness baked into the nation cake.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Kolohe says:

          She is an utterly fascinating nation for all those reasons.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe says:

          Japanese culture might have arouse independently of the Mesopotamia/Mediterranean access but it was very dependent on the Chinese-Indian Dharmic-Confucian Access. Without the influence of Buddhism and Chinese thought and art, Japanese culture would be unrecognizable today. A lot of what we consider essential elements of Japanese culture like Zen Buddhism or Tea drinking come from elsewhere. Many of their ethics and values are derived from Confucianism more than anything else.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

            Right, but that’s different than the Greco-Roman-Persian-Arabic-Celitc-Germanic-Scandavian-Aboriginal culture that underpins most the rest of the rich* countries. Of course, there were direct or indirect lines of communication across the whole length of Eurasia and close island chains for millennia, (e.g. ‘Arabic’ numbers are actually Indian) but the focal points essentially define ‘East’ and ‘West’ in the common parlance and I think can be considered distinct traditions.

            (not counting countries rich off of resource extraction. Due credit also to Singapore for being ‘rich’ and also to South Korea and Taiwan, depending on how one figures PPP).Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Christopher Carr says:

        You know (with no small degree of hubris) I would consider myself to be somewhat of an expert on Japan, and I really don’t think a Japan therefore suicide syllogism really applies in this or in any other case, despite what happens in the samurai movies that are popular in the West.

        If there’s one thing I’m tired of with regard to Japan it’s that Westerners in Japan or discussing Japan making these sorts of arguments – Oh, Japan! Unique! Therefore strange behavior x! For an example, please see that crappy Bill Murray movie. This is both lazy in that it attempts to avoid explanation by deferring to cultural mysticism and it is also deeply dehumanizing.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Christopher Carr says:

          I really can’t see the point of your article. Is it about suicide in Japan or is it about school being used as a daycare provider for many people. If it is about the latter, you could have written it without the link to the suicide spike in Japan on the first day of school. The anecdote you told about daycare in Japan was good enough. People usually assume that the point your trying to make as a writer is at the beginning of the essay, story, or book. Since the Internet really doesn’t encourage deep reading, this is really true for Internet writing. The fact that you entitled your argument Schools and Suicide is further evidence that you wanted to talk about suicide.Report

          • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to LeeEsq says:

            and schools.

            Going forward, I’ll keep in mind that I should dumb down my writing on the Internet because my readers are inevitably too stupid to understand anything that deviates too far from the five-paragraph essay. 😉Report

            • Avatar Krogerfoot in reply to Christopher Carr says:

              I really can’t see the point of your article.”

              This strikes me as an odd thing to say after commenting multiple times on it.

              Actually, speaking of reading comprehension, I sort of assumed the haircutting/daycare anecdote did not take place in Japan. It seemed like a fairly un-Japanese topic and viewpoint between a hairdresser and customer. Did I misunderstand?Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Krogerfoot says:

                It did not take place in Japan. I’m not sure where that would have come from, except that I was talking about Japan earlier in the article. Perhaps I should have been more explicit.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:


      Freeters (free + arbeiter). A freeper is someone who frequents

  2. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    It seems @christopher-carr, that you find public schools, and what they represent to you, to be depressing, and suicide a somewhat reasonable response to them, and that this is something you finds to be true here as well as in Japan. Which is kind of the opposite of “Japan! How weird!”

    I kind of understand this. There are things about Japanese culture that I have felt fit me better than US culture.

    And at the same time, the fact is that the Universe is uncaring. We don’t matter to it. We don’t matter to all but a statistically insignificant fraction of the more than 4 billion humans currently living on the planet. They see us as ears to hear them, eyes to see them, or resources to be tapped, but they don’t really give a damn. Except for the few who do.

    This is the task we have as humans – to find those who do care about us, and to care about them. Or perhaps to reverse that order, to take the initiative to create an “us” where there was nothing. Children have to learn this at some point. It’s a very rude shock, though.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I’ve been doing alot of teacher training lately — at the behest of the NYC DOE — and it is interesting how culturally specific their mindset is.

    Are there parents who view schoolas advanced babysitting and treat it accordingly? Absolutely. And, sadly, the collective response of the schools seems to be to demonize these parents and/or treat their kids like they come from parents/families with a differet perspective on school. This, as one with half a brain would guess, is a major failing.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Kazzy says:

      Interesting, Kazzy. I’d love to hear more about this. My experience with this mindset really began with the encounter with the hairdresser, but I started to realize more and more that these people may even make up the majority of some schools. Again, I’d love to hear your experience with this.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Christopher Carr says:

        In my public school experience, most students were fairly serious about school even if they weren’t aiming for straight As. It was shocking to find people who treated it as a joke.Report

        • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to LeeEsq says:

          It seems like you benefited from a nurturing school and home environment. I did too. Dropouts do still exist though.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Christopher Carr says:

            Yes, I know. I’m kind of on murali’s side in this argument though. One reason why education is often strained is that teachers and schools are being asked to provide services that they really should not have to be provide and are often unable to provide because of lack of training, money, and resources. Miracles are expensive but Americans want them on the cheap.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:


          And when folks with your background unilaterally drive policy, we have problems. Your experience is non-universal and arguably atypical.

          The perspective of my school when I was there was that you were relatively well-served*if you were in the honors/AP track** and you were well served if you were in the special ed track. It was the gen ed students who got the shaft largely because their parents tended not to be involved enough to push them towards the upper track or advocate to get them support offered via the sped track.

          * We had great teachers for a middle class public school. But we couldn’t compare to the offerings at independent schools or wealthier publics. I remember being shocked to learn that college classmates took AP Econ and Poli Sci. I didn’t even know that existed at the HS level.
          ** We weren’t actually tracked; we had open enrollment.Report

          • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy says:


            The perspective of my school when I was there was that you were relatively well-served*if you were in the honors/AP track** and you were well served if you were in the special ed track. It was the gen ed students who got the shaft largely because their parents tended not to be involved enough to push them towards the upper track or advocate to get them support offered via the sped track.

            I can’t speak to the special ed experience, but the honors/track was well-served at my school while the gen eds did, as you said, get less well treated.

            My school didn’t have a formal tracking system, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in practice, we were “tracked.”Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

              My school had a hard tracking system before my time but accusations of racial bias and student protests led to its elimination. I was 10 and new the term “institutional racism” and “walk out”.

              Gen ed kids were the “middle child” of out school. Consequently, there weren’t a ton. Our honors track was probably closer to most other “good schools'” gen ed and our AP became like honors+. Unfortunately, we had limited AP offerings… History, math, English, writing, and a few sciences… I think that was it.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

            Except for history, I was in the general track rather than the honor/AP track at my high school and I did not feel underserved. I suspect that the general track at my school was the equivalent to the honor’s track elsewhere though.

            I agree that many schools have a tendency to focus too much attention on the honor’s track while leaving all the other student’s to their own devices. This is bad.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Christopher Carr says:


        The reality is that the understanding of both the purpose of school and the relationship between family and school varies widely from culture to culture (and even among subcultures). A buzzword in education right now is “family engagement”. Engage with families, engage with families, engage with families… when families are engaged, student outcomes are higher. But many cultures de-emphasize the relationship between families and schools. Parents parent and teachers teach. And this isn’t even necessarily because parents are disengaged from their children’s lives… it is simply a different mindset. In fact, sometimes it comes from a true veneration of teachers. “Who are we, non-educators, to weigh in in the school room?” But a predominant mindset among American educators is that parents who care come to PTA meetings and schedule extra conferences and read stories to the class and those who aren’t doing that just don’t care about education. So we either write those parents off OR attempt to engage with them as if they are the PTA cheerleaders and wonder why our efforts fall flat.

        Now, I realize that describes a different cultural divergence than the one you are describing here. Frankly, I’m less familiar with it but I do know it exists. And my hunch is that it is largely systemic insofar if you were someone who was more or less institutionalized during your schooling, you are likely to carry that forward into your understanding of the purpose of schools.

        But, yea, more broadly, views on the purpose of schools and the relationship between families and schools vary widely. You have everything from radical unschoolers who think that schools are nothing but a corrupting force to people who just want to get their kids out of their hair but off the streets for 8 hours a day to parents who would sit next to their kid in class if they could.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

      And, sadly, the collective response of the schools seems to be to demonize these parents and/or treat their kids like they come from parents/families with a differet perspective on school. This, as one with half a brain would guess, is a major failing.

      Hold on, it does seem to me that parents who treat school as just something which sequesters their kid away for the first half of the day are in fact bad parents. And it is because of parents like these that teachers are regarded as little more than glorified babysitters. And such attitudes stand in the way of professionalization and improvement of teacher quality. More importantly, such attitudes are the reason why children often fail in school. Parents like these are the problem.Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot in reply to Murali says:

        There’s a lot of territory between entrusting education to educators and regarding teachers “as little more than glorified babysitters.”

        Actually, I realize how it must sound to hear an American mother refer to school as a way to get your kids out of your hair for six hours a day, but this is not meant to be taken completely literally. Not to lecture anyone on US culture, but remarks that might sound cynical or flippant in other cultures are ways that Americans signal that they’re not taking themselves too seriously. It’s entirely possible to value education and appreciate teachers while still joking that you’re just glad to have the house to yourself on weekdays.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Murali says:

        I’m all for parental responsibility, but to extrapolate a bit on my conversation with the hairdresser, I guess my reaction was a combination of pity, surprise, and, yes, a little bit of disgust, not only at her but also at the idea itself of children as burdens. She didn’t seem like she was joking when she said it, and if she was, it wasn’t particularly funny given the nuances of the situation.Report

  4. My kanji is a bit rusty, so I didn’t read the linked-to articles,* but have a few disjointed thoughts on your post.

    1. How radically increased is the suicide rate on the return to school? Is this a significant and measured increase or a case where suicides are higher profile or slightly more frequent?

    2. If there is a strong correlation between first day of school and suicide, then there’s probably a there there. But suicide is complicated. One of my pet peeves is when people say, “x happened, therefore he killed himself” or “she felt y, therefore she killed herself.” I realize you’re not saying that, but sometimes commentators indulge in such facile causal claims.

    3. I take a different lesson from this than you do

    I’m reminded of a conversation I had once with a lady who was cutting my hair. We were talking about kids, and she asked where I sent my kids to daycare. I told her we didn’t send our kids to daycare and that we were homeschooling our oldest two children. “You need to get those kids in daycare and give your wife a break!” she exclaimed. The comment immediately depressed me,

    I don’t know about your situation, but I imagine that at least for some homeschooling families, the burden falls disproportionately on the mother. I also suspect that to a working-class person, the child going to school is an opportunity to earn some much needed money for the family. That feeds into the “school is being treated as daycare” and that might be a bad idea, but it could be more about basic survival than a venal way of gaming the system. I know nothing about your hairdresser, but if that was her main job if that job (or something of roughly similar skillset) was going to be her job for much of the rest of her adult life, then her perspective needs to be judged in that light. And as Kazzy suggests, if I read him right, a parent could have a variety of reasons for supporting their child going to school and just because they like the “school as daycare idea’ doesn’t necessarily mean they have abandoned the notion that education is important.

    *A convenient excuse. I probably wasn’t going to do more than skim the articles anyway.Report

    • Avatar krogerfoot in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      If you can even skim a Japanese newspaper article, your kanji is pretty good, I’d say.

      The chart in the second link shows two very prominent spikes in juvenile suicide, one around the beginning of the school year in April and the other even larger one at the beginning of the second semester in September. It tracks suicides over the past 42 years.

      I hadn’t heard about the first story, because I am a hermit. A librarian at the Kamakura Public Library tweeted “Kids, if you’d rather die than go back to school, come to the library instead. You can read all day and nobody will say a thing to you.” She commented that messages like that were common on posters in American libraries, which is also news to me. Can anyone corroborate?Report

      • Thanks, but I can’t even skim hiragana or katakana. However, there was a time I could stumble out a rough and inaccurate pronunciation, not that I knew what the words meant.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to krogerfoot says:

        Do you live in Kamakura, @krogerfoot? I used to visit there quite often when I was living in Fukushima.Report

        • Avatar krogerfoot in reply to Christopher Carr says:

          I’d love to live in Kamakura or anywhere along the Enoden line, my favorite part of Japan, but only if I could work at home or nearby. That’s a brutal commute to Tokyo. I live near Meguro in Tokyo.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to krogerfoot says:

            When I studied in Japan, I lived in a dorm in Jiyugaoka. It was a really great neighborhood and convenient for exploring most of Greater Tokyo because you could take the Toyama line to Shibuya or Yokohama and from there, practically everywhere. I really miss the Japanese train system. It was immense. There was a also a very good tempura restaurant near the train station in my neighborhood.

            My favorite part of Japan is Kyushu though. Nagasaki is an underrated but lovely city.Report

            • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to LeeEsq says:

              I like Kyushu and Nagasaki a lot too.Report

            • Avatar krogerfoot in reply to LeeEsq says:

              Both Nagasaki and Hiroshima are jewels, and the Japanese train system is a magnificent achievement. It’s not just incredibly and precisely reliable, but it also gave the country a huge cushion during the worldwide economic meltdown and devastating earthquake. The cost of getting to work never budged, and if you were thrown out of your job, you could go to interviews all day long without fighting traffic or worrying about getting pulled over with your expired tags or whatever.

              And don’t get me started with the national health system. I’ve had to go to a huge hospital a couple of times recently for tests. I encountered the dreaded wait times: The staff had to wait a few minutes while I deciphered the forms before I could start the examination. Blood test, EKG, lung check, consultation, operation scheduling—in and out in 20 minutes, twelve bucks. It’s a socialist dystopia.

              If I could just get deli sandwiches here, I wouldn’t have anything to complain about.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to krogerfoot says:


        But are you Herman’s Hermit?Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      “it could be more about basic survival than a venal way of gaming the system.”

      This is a really good point, but I’m not sure if it addresses the problem.Report

      • My first thought was, “he’s responding to someone else than me, because I didn’t say that.” But I looked at my comment and, well, I did say that.

        If the problem is that some parents do not sufficiently care for their child(ren)’s education or that they see school merely as a form of daycare, then what I said doesn’t solve the problem. But what I meant (I think) is that we shouldn’t rush to judge parents who see school that way and we shouldn’t assume that just because they see school as a form of daycare that they don’t also value it for the education it provides.Report

  5. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    What happened to kids loving school? What happened to fun *and* educational?Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Miss Mary says:

      Budget cuts. ;).

      In all seriousness, I imagine that there really never was a golden age when most kids loved school even during the hey day of the teaching of St. Dewey.Report