Exasperated mom says cute animal characters are showing young students exactly what not to do in life.

Japan’s strong work ethic is one of the cornerstones of the country’s society. Regardless of how unglamorous or low-paying a job may be, there’s an expectation that you’re supposed to put adequate effort into it, and the end result is a considerate and orderly way of life.

Still, no matter how modest the reward may be, no one expects people to work without getting anything in return, right? Except for, according to Japanese Twitter user @kaasankyoha, the authors of this ethics textbook being used at her daughter’s elementary school.

The lesson shown in the photo features a cast of cute animal characters, one of whom is named Ponta. The text reads:

“Ponta and the others said, ‘Even if we don’t get any reward, we want to keep working.’

Because, after all _____.”

Students are supposed to finish the statement, but @kaasankyoha herself was baffled by the writing prompt. “Ponta!” she warned in her tweet, “You and your friends shouldn’t work for a company that doesn’t pay the workers a salary!”

Other Twitter users also voiced their objection to the book’s scenario, seeing it as the first step on the slippery slope by which working unpaid overtime is often normalized in Japanese companies.

“So they’re teaching kids to become wage slaves under the guise of ‘ethics’ now?”
“Terrifying.”
“Sounds like a story my shitty boss would write.”
“Poor kids are getting brainwashed.”

One commenter even wrote an ending to the story.

“Ponta kept working with no reward, until he met the sad fate of living a life of always being hungry because he had no money to buy food with.”

So just what kinds of responses are the book’s authors hoping for from young learners? According to the photos below, which show the teaching notes for the book, Ponta and his friends have been cleaning their town, and the moral of the lesson is that even if they’re not given any sort of direct reward, their efforts are creating a clean community that everyone can enjoy, contributing to greater happiness for Ponta and the other residents as a whole.

Considering that Ponta and his friends aren’t presented as being waste disposal professionals, it’s possible that they’re actually acting as volunteers, or that they started the project with the promise of some sort of reward that was neither monetary nor essential. This is, after all, an ethics textbook, not an economics one, and in making a scenario that young kids can wrap their heads around, some simplification is to be expected.

Perhaps the problem is the textbook’s use of the word shigoto suru, which usually refers to compensated work. Though it can also be used to indicate an unpaid endeavor (like in niwa no shigoto, “household gardening”) that’s generally its secondary definition, and so perhaps a different phrase would have better framed Ponta’s tale as an example of the importance of charitable generosity and seeing beyond your own individual benefit.

Man, ethics and language can be tricky subjects, can’t they? At least kids and their parents can expect simple questions with cut-and-dry questions in more concrete subjects, like math…or can they?

Source: Twitter/@kaasankyoha via Jin
Featured image: Twitter/@kaasankyoha

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he probably frustrated his teachers by always bringing economics into discussions in non-economics classes.