“They need to know how to dance. Social dance is just a way to communicate with others,” says Saitama, who was a choreographer in an English-language English-language high school and now teaches dance at Tokyo’s Higashi-Okinawa International Children’s College.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States has a high number of high school students from foreign countries with lower than average SAT scores.
“In Japan, there are many people with a high SAT test results — it’s very typical,” Saitama says. “In the U.S. it’s probably even more.”
The U.S. is in desperate need of a new approach to educating young Japanese, experts say, as a new generation of young men and women enter the workforce.
“They need to get the message from their own cultures that learning and understanding can make everyone better. That’s the message we have to get across to them — it’s not only OK, it’s the best way to do,” says Shiho Handa, a leading cultural studies researcher in the U.S. and Japan.
The U.S. has tried a series of education initiatives that focus heavily on science. The Obama administration is reportedly trying to create new guidelines for American schools, modeled after Japanese guidelines.
And it’s still not clear how American schools could implement Japanese standards across the board — although some experts are calling for more research.
“How do we ensure that the values they are taught are universal?” says Handa, referring to Japanese expectations for social dance.
But what about Japanese schoolgirls, who are also forced to attend dances under the supervision of teachers who are often unqualified?
A common complaint among American parents is that Japanese girls attend dance classes because they are told to.
“Why is it that Japanese school girls go to dance class? That’s strange,” says Shiho Handa. “They are forced to do that.”
But in fact, the problem goes back a century, to the time of the Meiji Restoration.
Saitama, who was born in Osaka in 1924, says her mother was taken by her paternal grandparents to an English-language school the age of six. She remembers the staff telling her the school’s mission was to teach girls how to talk to men and how to communicate with foreign countries. He recalls one school assistant who said she was “not interested in the boys
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