Wednesday, May 30, 2012


"がんばれ!" (Ga-n-ba-re) In the shivering winter cold playground, I heard my classmates cheering with this word behind me when I was about to quit doing double circles with my jump rope.  While most of my friends already show the beautiful double circles with their jump ropes at least 10 times in a row, my rope always ended up tangled in one of my feet within 3 times.  My tear held really tight right behind my eyes.  A six years old girl's teeth are tightly together covered by closed lips.  Did I say, "I can't do it."?  Did I throw my jump rope away and collapsed on the ground?  Did I wish to say or do these?  These actions were not options in our school.  One of the three school mottoes was "Perseverance".  I kept telling myself, "Ga-n-ba-re!" until I finally cleared my rope.  Then, I called out "Ga-n-ba-re!" to another friend who is still jumping endlessly.  That is one of the normal P.E. scenes.  If not for P.E., you would hear this word from every teacher in daily basis and you would see this word in your notebook if your work is not decent in schools in Japan. 

Imagine the similar scene in your school when you teach.  As a teacher, you wouldn't be surprised that quite a few kids are whining how difficult this task is, complaining why they have to do it, then, concluding, "I can't do it."  For instance, easy things like memorizing math facts, young children get overwhelmed really quickly.  During independent reading time, "It's too hard," a boy cries with his just right book in his hand. 

According to Google Translate, definitions of this word are here; try hard, insist, persist, insist on, stand firm, hold out, try one's best.  Anther expression of Perseverance is 根気 (konki) in Chinese characters, which is as same as the school motto.  Kon means a root.  Ki means spirit.  As you can see, perseverance is built like a tree.  Sturdy and healthy foundation grows into incredible tree as a result.  Needless to say, perseverance is a part of the culture in the East.  Chinese perseverance is even more strict.  臥薪嘗胆 (Ga-shin-shou-tan) expresses its severity.  A story behind it is that one soldier from the losing army finally escaped from the danger, and found a little cottage.  He slept on the hard fire logs that give his back tremendous pain.  The pain reminds him of the revenge for his father.  He also licked the liver of the bear so its bitterness kept reminding him of the shame of loss.  This life style continued until finally the soldier revenged his enemy. Many stories like this  extreme example told me that perseverance is not just a word, but one of the ways of people's lives in Eastern countries.  People in Asia, at least as I know, have literally survived in the bitter, violent, and unfair history of many more centuries than the American history after Columbus. 

On the first day of my internship in Idaho, Barbra told me, "There is no such word, "Ganbare" here in the U.S.," half jokingly.  Barbara was familiar with Japanese culture and language because of her missionary experiences.  I wasn't so certain what she meant over 20 years ago, however, I began noticing what she was telling me as I increased students' contact time little by little.  A lack of perseverance is what I hear in the American children.  For over two decades.  I hear the same thing over and over.  Kids 20 years ago grew up to be parents of kids now.  What are we, teachers, doing?  Many scholars suggest to import curriculum from Asian countries because they score really high in math year after year.  Perhaps there must be some success stories.  What I would like to argue is that direct import might not be a solution because we don't have the same culture and background history.  Their curriculum fits in their style doesn't mean it fits in ours right away.  There should be some accommodation and adjustment to make it work.

I have learned that a kitchen timer works for students with less attention span in most cases.  Kids seems to show better academic performance for a certain time when they know that the ending is coming. Unlimited perseverance is a torture for them, however, limited perseverance motivates young students in my previous classrooms.  Basic math fact drills can be done with a kitchen timer.  The latest technology enable to put both of them together. gives your children pure drills for a limited time every day.  The program will stick with young children until they master four basic math operations.   Perseverance is still the requirement, however, you don't have to practice it in the same way other countries do.  You don't have to sleep on the fire logs.  You don't have to feel the pain.  We melt good things in the pot.  We are good at it since Columbus.