In the United States, the general population tends to neglect the needs of education, choosing to focus more on gun rights and military spending than teaching young people the skills needed to have successful lives. In the land of opportunity, opportunity is hardly given to those who do not have the access to educational programs and government help. In a 2013 report by CNN, 70 percent of people born into lower income households will remain low income throughout their lives. We believe that education is the best means of escaping poverty, but we invest so little time and money into our educational system that it ends up failing students. Students in impoverished neighborhoods often lack access to good books, decent technology, and most importantly, teachers, who do not have the energy or the wherewithal to properly teach classrooms of students who could give a damn about the Pythagorean theorem.
There has to be a way of helping children and instilling a love for learning back into the U.S. educational system, and naturally, pop culture has offered some perspective on this tension. Yüsei Matsui’s Assassination Classroom provides us with some answer of how to help students in a society that chooses to help some and fail others.
Assassination Classroom is a 2012 manga that started airing as an anime in 2015. The basic plot focuses on a classroom of kids who are tasked with killing their genetically modified teacher before graduation or else he will destroy the Earth. However, this plot summary only holds at the surface level of the story; as the teacher, Koro-sensei, displays many of the qualities that most of us would want in an educator. He is invested in each student and cares enough about their well-being to even get involved in their personal lives. Because of his super speed, he is able to give each student personal attention by taking them on excursions across the world or tailoring tests to fit their strengths and weaknesses.
Having a teacher like Koro-sensei is impossible, but the lessons that he and the other characters in Assassination Classroom provide are invaluable. The show gives us hints at improving our own educational system that is dominated by test taking and unnecessary educational standards for students. Koro-sensei gives his students a near impossible task — killing him — and pushes them to reach that goal. The students fail a lot, but instead of making them feel inadequate, Koro-sensei uses these shortcomings as a learning tool to strengthen his students. Even though they may disappoint him, he does not give up on them as so many of their former teachers did.
The show provides us with examples of different teaching styles and gives a critique of each one. The principal of the school, Gakuho Asano, believes in drilling success into his students. He creates a hierarchy in the school by placing 5 percent of the students on the bottom rung of the social ladder. It motivates the other 95 percent of the student body, but it creates a destructive form of thinking that promotes discrimination against some based on intellect. Furthermore, it sets up a certain portion of the student body for failure. It is similar to the social climate of the United States in that we believe that those who work hard will succeed. However, some people face incredible odds in comparison to others. Instead of trying to help with guidance programs, we blame the individual for their faults and failures.
Another teacher, Akira Takoaka, uses fear as his motivating factor for the students. We learn that fear is necessary in education, but through his defeat, we understand that those who solely use fear will never succeed as a teacher. We also see teachers who lie and put up a front, which the students easily see through. The show displays that a certain level of authenticity is needed in teaching. Teachers have to walk a fine line between letting students into their lives without giving up too much information about their personal life.
Koro-sensei is the middle ground, the teacher who you hate to love. In his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire discusses which teaching method works the best in creating effective, thinking, well-rounded students. The first method, the “banking” method of teaching, is the system that exists in a lot of schools. Teachers set up a power dynamic between them and their students, declaring only themselves as the omniscient, knowledgeable person in the classroom. Gakuho Asano would be the best representation of the “banking” method. On the other hand, Koro-sensei establishes an open form of mutual education where the student learns from the teacher and the teacher learns from the students. The learning is not one-sided. Kids feel as if they are not being spoken down to, but communicating with the teacher and each other.
In the span of two seasons, we see the growth of the students as both intellectuals and as assassins. Education is no longer a bore, but something to be attained. It motivates each student to pursue their goals. It seems like a sappy ending to a story, but we want to know that there is some hope in education. The failure of the educational system is that people see no future in it. What Assassination Classroom teaches is that education is much more than just a means to an end. School teaches valuable skills about interacting with others and learning about the self that one would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
We could learn a thing or two from Assassination Classroom. It is a hilarious tale of growth, but be prepared to shed a tear or two as you finish the series. To all who intend to go into teaching, emulate your practices after Koro-sensei and see how far you go with your students.