As group of 16 elementary school teachers from Osaka, Japan, walked through Washington's Seaton Elementary School on Rhode Island Avenue last week, one of the teachers, Takeshi Tobe, stopped and gave a befuddled stare at a roomful of students in a remedial reading class.
Then Toba turned and spoke to his interpreter: "In Japan," the interpreter translated, "the saving of face is very important. Don't these children mind being sent to the special reading class . . . in Japan it is not allowed to shame a child and make him feel inferior. Parents says, 'how dare you send my child to that class?'"
"In Japan," another teacher from Osaka added through the interpreter. "a child in school represents his whole family and for him to fail is to shame his family."
Stewart Henley, the principal of Seaton, said Washington schoolchildren are not forced to attend remedial reading classes but those who need help with reading generally volunteer to join the class. Henley said other students who are embarrassed about reading poorly, and are reluctant to publicly admit that they have a problem can be persuaded to join the class by teachers.
Henley added, "We have the problems of parents living through their children and dreaming for success here, too. Some parents don't read well. Parents are parents in Osaka and Washington."
The Japanese who toured Seaton yesterday are part of a troupe of 30 teachers who were selected by the school board in the Osaka region to make a brief study of schools in Los Angeles and Washington. While the elementary school teachers in the group walked through Seaton and talked with teachers, counselors and administrators, the junior and senior high teachers watched classes at Dunbar High School.
As they toured Seaton, the teachers from Osaka also asked how teachers were hired and fired.
When told that a teacher would be fired if the principal and a board of evaluators found fault with the teacher's work, the Japanese shook their heads and said that if such a thing happened in Osaka the teachers' union would go on strike.
In Japan, they said, teachers can be fired only for taking drugs or drunken driving.
The teachers said jobs in Japan are becoming harder to get because unemployment is increasing in the country and teaching, a steady-paying government job with security, is becoming more attractive.
Principal Henley told the group that teaching jobs are also becoming hard to get in Washington.
He said unemployment here and the drop in student enrollment, has resulted in the school system hiring few teachers in the last three years while not replacing teachers who die or resign.
It was also learned that the Osaka system is facing a problem with which Washington schools have had trouble - discipline.
Nobuo Hanada said there are few discipline problems at elementary schools in Osaka but he said junior and senior high schools are experiencing a rise in class-cutting and physical attacks on teachers.
Teachers in Osaka may not hit children, Henada said. They may ask pupils only to stand in the corner.
"As the years go by," Hanada said through an interpreter, "the problems with discipline are increasing, especially for those students who can't catch up."
The visiting teachers said what most surprised them about Seaton, was seeing parents acting as teacher-aides in classroom. The Japanese said that would never be allowed in their country because parents would begin to interfere and start offering opinions on teaching. Parents are allowed in Japanese schools only once a month, they said.