According to the Economist this week, bullying is rife in Japanese schools where the whole of a mixed class of about 30 sometimes gangs up on one person, boy or girl. It is the biggest cause of suicide for Japanese between the ages of 10 and 19. Teachers sometimes take part in it. The Japanese department of education have tried innumerable solutions since the 1980s but to no avail. How would an anthropologist solve the problem?
A class of 30 is not really a class but a fickle crowd, so he would divide it into three or four separate groups with — strictly — no more than seven members in any of them. Once a group exists it naturally forms a rank order and a leader emerges. Due to the long-laid evolutionary balance of genes and hormones, any group with seven, eight or more members is liable to contain two contenders — usually males — for leadership and political dissention inevitably will occur.
Given an occasional problem by the anthropologist-teacher — say, a maths problem — the satisfaction of each member having a social role under a leader and with a joint challenge soon supersedes the previous bully situation. The teacher could then set up a final contest between the groups — yet another natural activity of early human groups. It would also introduce three or four slightly different cultures into a class that, until then, only had one. That can’t be bad for Japan more generally, can it?