Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why Do They Do It?

Atop the chapel at Tamagawa Seigakuin

“Why do they do it?” I thought to myself as I read a Daily Yoimuri article earlier this week (January 20). The headline, “Parents rush to submit kids’ entrance exams” and the photo of a long queue of parents (mostly mothers) waiting to turn in admission applications for a private elementary school in Tokyo grabbed my attention because Bernie had gotten up early that very morning in order to be at Tamagawa Seigakuin before 6 o’clock. His eagerness to get to school so early was because the school staff would begin accepting applications for the upcoming junior high entrance examinations from 6 o’clock that morning. (Later, I was surprised to learn that the first parent had arrived at 4:30 a.m., besting both the staff and Bernie.)

I could understand why Bernie wanted to show appreciation and encourage the school office staff in their sometimes thankless work, but I was confused about why parents would brave the cold and dark morning (and not just at Tamagawa Seigakuin, but all over Tokyo—indeed, all over Japan) to turn in applications that are, mind you, only to take entrance exams.

“Aren’t all applications accepted that are submitted within the specified application days?” I asked Bernie, to which he responded affirmatively. “And do they affect their test scores at all? Like, the first so many parents get extra points added to their daughters’ scores so they have a better chance of getting into the school?” I queried further.

“Not at all. There’s no lottery and the order applications are submitted means nothing at all,” he assured me.

“So why do they do it?” I was back to my original question.

“Standing in line means absolutely nothing,” he answered, then paused and added, “Unless it shows a child her parents’ love and support.”

In fact, that’s exactly what the newspaper reporter had concluded after interviewing several principals. They, like Bernie, had declared that there is no advantage for a parent to stand in line and that application order has no effect whatsoever on the results of entrance exams. “Parents form such lines at schools … because they are indicative of the love they feel for their children …” the reporter wrote, wrapping up the article.

As a mother, I certainly made many mistakes as I helped raise our two children (and I’m not immune from mistakes today). But as often as possible I did whatever I could to show my love to Benjamin and Stephanie and to encourage them. Looking in from the outside, someone might have concluded on occasion that my attempts were foolish and meaningless. But I’d rather be guilty of such silliness than of even once allowing my children to doubt my love.

So now I know why these parents do it—for love. And I say, go ahead and stand in those lines. Just be sure to bundle up, please.