Saturday, February 16, 2008

Drapetomania, School Refusal and Hikikomori

I learned a lot of things in one day, and got up this morning to read something I was just too tired to finish reading last night.

When I read I don't mutter, so when I gasped aloud I knew I had read something worth quoting somewhere, to someone:
The hikikomori studied and interviewed for Zielenziger's book were not autistic, but bright intelligent people who have discovered independent thinking and a sense of self that the current Japanese environment cannot accommodate.

I'll get to links and references in a minute. An unschooling mom (Meghan, in California) sent me a copy of a movie, a faux documentary, that was on TV I don't get. I didn't watch it when I first got it, but yesterday I watched This is Spinal Tap and started thinking about the value of documentary-for-fun. So I pulled out that tape of "The Confederate States of America." It's a fake documentary done by a fake British Broadcasting system with a fake Canadian historian adding lots of commentary. It's all part of the one big fiction. There are commercials, because it's done as a TV documentary that breaks for commercials, but the commercials are part of the false over-all.

In the program and one of its commercials, they talked about a disease called "drapetomania," and I looked it up, figuring Wikipedia might say it was created for that documentary. No, it was, in the 19th century, a real, medical "mental illness." Drapetomania caused slaves to flee captivity.

So I thought I would look up "school refusal," which I thought would lead to a Japanese term and phenomenon. A few years ago, I spent some time with a Japanese unschooling mom who translated some of my writing (and prefers anonymity) and she said that in Japan they lock kids up in mental hospitals for "school refusal." But it turns out School Refusal was a European disease that spread to the U.S. Somewhere in there as I read, though, I came upon "Hikikomori," which can cause school refusal in Japan.

I'm just pointing out the tip of an iceberg. I don't intend to examine, map or calculate the size and weight of this iceberg. The fact that it exists is plenty for me.

During the slave period in the U.S., it was considered a mental illness to want to escape. Today, 150 years later, there are diseases to describe school children who wish they weren't required by the government to be in school, and it's a disease not to want to leave your house to go out and mingle with the culture at large.

If you don't want to read any more, I don't blame you.
If you do want to read more, I'll make it easy:

C.S.A. the Movie
School Refusal in Children and Adolescents, in The American Family Physician.
School Refusal on wikipedia, which led me to their entry on Hikikomori
which led to
Japan's nervous breakdown, by Michael Zielenziger, excerpts from his book Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created its own Lost Generation. One quote:
Unable to work, attend school, or interact with outsiders, they cannot latch onto the well-oiled conveyor belt that carries young boys from preschool through college, then deposits them directly into the workplace-a system that makes Japan seem orderly and purposeful to outsiders, even as it has begun to break down.
Unschoolers, I hope it will lead you to spend extra time with your children today, in peace and joy.


Schuyler said...

David went to high school in Tokyo at a private school after he refused to go back to boarding school in the UK. He says that many of the Japanese students there would probably be classified as Hikikomori now. David is fascinated by the links here and figures he probably suffered from School Refusal. Well he ran away from boarding school a lot. Spent some time with a bottle of vodka and some porn magazines in a tent in the English countryside while the police hunted him down on one of his escape attempts. Unfortunately for him his partner in crime got freaked out and called his mom on the first night out.

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of this:

Which was the context when I heard of school refusal in Japan before.

(Since this blog is all about these connections, thought I'd share :) )

Sandra Dodd said...

Very cool!!!
"Tokyo Shure was founded in June 1985 while school-refusing children were increasing. Keiko Okuchi founded it as a space where any child can be her/himself and make with support of parents of school refusing children and other citizens. Nowadays, Tokyo Shure is known to as one of the oldest free schools."

Thank you, Talya! I hadn't known about that at all.

Sandra Dodd said...

There is some discussion at

AAFP "diagnoses" school refusal

~Katherine said...

I just got a new rss feed reader for my desktop (RSSOwl.. love it) and I'm moseying through the blogs I have been following to read what I missed the first go round.

Hikikomori. I knew that was familiar. No lie, the university textbook defined it is a psychosomatic *disease* that people in some modernizing cultures contract. I remember now. There are similar "diseases" classifications I find just as strange, all listed psychosomatic.

It's all in somebody's head apparently. Tee hee. Who's head? That's my question. :D

Most of them seem to stem from some sort of newish (100-150 years give or take) standard that people have taken to balking at.

I just find it entertaining in a mirthless sorta way but if I keep too long at it... well I start feeling sick. Hmm.. but it may be psychosomatic. P~~~


Related Posts with Thumbnails