What to tell children when teachers go astray
On May 9, a dozen police officers converged on an elementary school in Kasuga, Fukuoka Prefecture, and arrested the principal. Imagine the scene from the children’s point of view. What lessons would they draw from it? That individuals do wrong but society stands firm? Or that all adults, even those in direct charge of their lives, are rotten?
“Teacher, how can you do such awful things?” Shukan Josei (June 17) imagines horrified children asking – not only in Kasuga but in a number of places across the country where “crimes and scandals” involving teachers have occurred lately.
Ikuhiro Matsubara, 57-year-old principal of Otani Elementary School in Kasuga, was arrested on suspicion of possession of stimulant drugs. Police say he admitted the charge and has been cooperative. The vice principal promptly called an emergency assembly and gravely told the children, “The principal did a very bad thing.” Well, yes. The school, after all, was sufficiently concerned about drug abuse among fifth- and sixth-graders to have incorporated the issue into its curriculum.
Matsubara had been well thought of. He was a music teacher, and a popular one. He composed songs. Two schools in the district adopted his compositions as their school songs. What should they do now? A flurry of debate followed the arrest, one PTA faction demanding the songs be changed, another insisting that the songs were good, even if the composer was not, and should stand. The eventual decision by both schools was to keep the lyrics but change the melody.
It’s not easy to change a school song. “It takes six months to learn it properly,” explains a school board member. “We’d have to have a new one by September if the children are to be able to sing it at graduation next March.”
If misery loves company, Matsubara has some. Shukan Josei covers three other arrests of teachers around the same time, suggesting a spreading moral contagion, though without statistical backing. In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, junior high school teacher Shingo Kinoshita, 56, was charged with embezzling PTA funds to feed his pachinko habit – a total of 638,000 yen over two years, since paid back.
Another episode seems in some respects more sad than criminal. Still, stalking is stalking – it’s too much to ask the victim to make allowances for the state of the stalker’s soul. (We, however, can make such allowances, and accordingly withhold the stalker’s name and school.)
“Mr T,” 58, taught at a junior high school in Saitama Prefecture. Single, he set his sights on a female teacher 30 years his junior. He plied her with phone calls, left flowers and gifts for her on her desk in the teachers’ lounge, invited her out, proposed marriage. He was warned repeatedly – by colleagues the harassed young woman confided in, and finally by the police – that his behavior constituted stalking, a criminal offense. Each time he promised to desist, but his feelings apparently got the better of him.
Witnesses describe him as a handsome and powerfully-built man – he coached the school basketball team. They say that his behavior, though harassing, was never threatening or malicious. We can infer something of his emotional condition from the fact that for the past 10 years he’s been singlehandedly caring for his invalid mother.
But word was getting around the school, and parents were upset. “I can’t trust him with my daughter,” said one.
In April, the teacher he stalked was transferred – whether or not in connection with the case is unclear. “Mr T” was arrested on May 14.
In any other setting, this would be a matter involving the perpetrator, the victim and society. The fact that it occurred in a school adds another dimension – the children’s. School is many things, but one thing it should not be is a place where children learn too soon how sordid adult life can get.