Hi Blog. Launching a series on what I see as a very serious issue (training people to be “patriotic” at the early stages of education, with “love of country” tests already happening in Kyushu and Saitama grade schools), here is an introductory article from The Economist (London) on Japan’s reform of its Basic Education Law (Kyouiku Kihon Hou).
I don’t quite share its analytical framework or its rosy conclusions, but it’s a decent primer on the issue. Further links to this issue on debito.org included after the article. Further links to this issue on debito.org included after the article.
Below that follow two more Japan Times articles showing the most recent policy push in its genesis, back in 2002 and 2003.
I’m sure I’ll be saying this many times in the course of analysis and argument from now on, but what of the international community and mixed-roots children getting their education in Japan? Will they have to make a choice about their national identity (one, not both?), or just be excluded altogether?
Moreover, given Japan’s history of so much emphasis on Yamatoism as part or national identity, what sorts of guarantees do we have that this will not fall back into old patterns which ultimately devastated this country a world war ago? Might sound a bit alarmist at this stage, but public indifference is what permits policy creep.
Debito in Sapporo
The wrong answer
Dec 19th 2006 | TOKYO
From The Economist print edition
Instilling love of country is not the main challenge for Japan’s schools
SOMETHING has gone terribly wrong with Japanese education—or so say the Japanese. They fret that Japan has slipped down the international rankings for high-school literacy, mathematics and science. In the OECD’s last assessment of 15-year-olds in 41 countries, Japan remained a healthy second in science, but had fallen from first to sixth in maths and from eighth to fourteenth in reading ability.
Parents are also worried about the resurgence of bullying and suicides among schoolchildren. Facing probable defeat in next summer’s upper-house election, the fledgling government of Shinzo Abe has been casting around desperately for something—anything—to prove that it really is listening to people’s concerns. Education is seen as a handy distraction.
The kind of reforms the government has in mind, however, are not designed to help young people make critical judgments in a fast-changing, information-driven, global environment. Instead, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, the New Komeito, have rewritten Japan’s post-war education law with the aim of boosting patriotism among the young.
Bunmei Ibuki, the education minister, also believes elementary schools have no place teaching foreign languages such as English. The first requirement, he insists, is that pupils acquire what he calls a “Japanese passport”—ie, a thorough grasp of the country’s history and culture, and perfection in their own language.
Parliament’s lower house has approved legislation which, besides stressing the importance of parental guidance, requires schools to instil “a love of one’s country” in children. The opposition parties boycotted the recent lower-house vote, but the ruling coalition’s majority in the upper chamber has allowed the bill to scrape through and become law.
Because it was used in the past to fan the flames of militarism, teaching patriotism has long been taboo in Japan. With its heavy emphasis on morality and nationalism, the new legislation bears some resemblance to the Imperial Rescript on Education of 1890. In the decades up to the end of the second world war, children were forced to memorise the rescript and recite it, word for word, before a portrait of the emperor. Following Japan’s surrender, the allied occupiers ended the practice, appalled by its demands for juvenile self-sacrifice in the name of the emperor.
The paradox is that Japan does need serious education reform. The school system and curriculum were designed 60 years ago, when a generation of children from farming communities were being trained for long, uncomplaining hours on production lines. In the intervening years the economy has changed out of all recognition. Yet the education system—with its continued emphasis on facts and figures and drilling of mental arithmetic—has remained stubbornly rooted in the past.
Its continued economic success suggests that Japan’s teenagers are paying less heed to all this, as they quietly master the creative skills needed to prosper in a modern world. In this context, perhaps those perplexing slippages in formal grades, mirrored in other post-industrial countries, ought actually to raise a cheer.
RELATED LINKS ON DEBITO.ORG
Attitudes of LDP Kingpin Machimura on Education Law’s reform
Witch hunts for educators who don’t follow patriotism directives
Enforced patriotism ruled unconstitutional:
OLD JAPAN TIMES ARTICLES (2003 and 2002) AS HARBINGERS:
FEW SCHOOLS COMPLY
‘Love of country’ curriculum hit
By GARY SCHAEFER The Associated Press
The Japan Times: Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Few schools in Japan are complying with government guidelines suggesting that students be graded on how patriotic they are — and those that have face opposition from teachers, parents and citizens’ groups.
“Fostering love of country” was added as a curriculum goal for sixth-grade social studies classes under guidelines first approved by the education ministry for the school year that ended last month.
Patriotism here is often associated with the jingoism trumpeted by Japan’s militarist government and forced upon students in the decades leading up to this country’s defeat in World War II.
The nonmandatory guidelines suggested that teaching patriotism would encourage children to take pride in their history and culture.
But according to a recent survey by a Japanese newspaper, less than 200 of Japan’s 24,000 public elementary schools are complying. Parents and citizens’ groups are protesting, and a spokesman for the nation’s largest teachers union said in an interview that he questioned the constitutionality of the guidelines.
“The freedom of belief is guaranteed by the Constitution and applies to children as well,” said Shinji Furukawa, a spokesman for the Japan Teachers’ Union. “We think it is very serious that this language has been included in the guidelines before the matter was debated by the Diet.”
Japan’s Asian neighbors, which bore the brunt of its past military adventures, have frequently criticized Tokyo for allowing wartime atrocities to be whitewashed in officially sanctioned textbooks.
Officials have defended the patriotism guidelines.
“The advisory council’s view was that it was important in international society for students to develop a sense of identity as Japanese,” education ministry official Yuiichi Sakashita said. “The idea is to teach kids to understand and appreciate their country and its history and traditions.”
The old curriculum for sixth graders called on teachers to foster a “love of Japan’s history and traditions.” The new version adds “love of country” to that list, Sakashita said.
A board of education official in the city of Fukuoka, where 51 elementary schools started giving grades for “love of country” in the last school year, said the decision had “nothing to do with nationalism.”
“We’re not grading students on how much they love their country,” Mamoru Shibata said. “It’s basically about how much interest they’re showing in their studies about Japanese history and culture.”
Such explanations have done little to placate critics.
“I think students are already taught enough about taking pride in their history and culture,” said Noriyoshi Mukoyama, principal of Tokyo’s Seisho Elementary School, one of the many schools that hasn’t added “love of country” to its report cards.
“I didn’t see any need to give a grade for that,” he said.
Schools implementing the grades have significant leeway in deciding what constitutes patriotism, since the ministry guidelines provide few specifics.
The very idea of having such classes is upsetting some parents.
“Who’s to say what patriotism is? How do you grade it?” asked Hiroaki Nakane, 49, whose daughter is a fifth-grader in Fukuoka. “The whole thing sounds like a return to the militaristic thinking in this country before the war.”
The matter is particularly complex for minorities, particularly the large Korean community. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945, and many ethnic Koreans in Japan descended from workers brought here forcibly as laborers.
“How is a Japanese teacher supposed to grade a Korean on love for country?” said Lee Han Eun, 32, who runs a Korean citizens’ group. “We’re worried that this is part of a broader trend toward nationalism — not just a question of report cards.”
The Japan Times: Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Contrived crisis in education
By KIROKU HANAI
The Japan Times: Monday, Dec. 23, 2002
Educational reform is becoming a political issue in Japan. At the center of the controversy is the Education Basic Law, which took effect in 1947 when the Constitution was established. Earlier this year the Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education minister, published an interim report calling for a revision of the law.
The reform groundwork was laid last year when the National Conference on Educational Reform, a private advisory group to former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, released its final report saying the law should be rewritten. The central council is set to issue its own final report next spring. The education ministry plans to send a revision bill to the 150-day regular Diet session that opens in January.
The education charter, established during the U.S. Occupation, has been criticized by conservative politicians and educators as being out of touch with the “domestic situation.” This is the first time, however, that the government has moved toward amending it.
Conservatives say the fundamental education law, already more than 50 years old, should be updated. In my view, though, there is no need whatsoever to change it now or in the foreseeable future.
Revisionists include former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who told the Yomiuri Shimbun Sept. 10, 2000, that the law had been enacted integrally with the Constitution, noting that the Imperial Rescript on Education and the Meiji Constitution also had been closely intertwined.
The debate on constitutional revision has only just started. Rewriting the basic education act at this stage is like putting the cart before the horse. The argument that a revision to the act, unlike a constitutional amendment, is procedurally simple ignores the historical background.
The interim report stresses “love for one’s birthplace and country” and “voluntary participation in public affairs.” In terms of defining noble goals, these expressions pale in comparison with the preamble to the education law, which calls for the “development of people who respect individual dignity and desire truth and peace.”
The emphasis on individual dignity reflects Japan’s militaristic past when millions of young men were forced to sacrifice their lives for a reckless war. The education rescript urged the Japanese people to “come to the aid of the country in a time of crisis and promote the prosperity of the Imperial Throne.” Those men were taught to memorize every word of it.
After the end of World War II, Japan adopted the Western idea of respect for individuals, but this principle is not yet fully observed in this nation. Bureaucracy continues to wield potent power. Promotions are still based more on seniority than merit. Employees are transferred with little regard for their wishes. And they put in a lot of “service overtime” without pay. Neighbors are bound by old customs and rules that stress “group spirit.” The interim report, however, is oriented toward the state, not the individual.
In the early postwar years, there was, to my recollection, more individual freedom than now. In my high school days, when the education system was overhauled, voluntary student activity was encouraged. I enjoyed a pleasant campus life, although Japan at the time was a poor country. Students were free to organize various clubs as well as self-governing bodies. School trips were decided by vote. Few students attended cram school to enter college.
In subsequent years, however, the freewheeling mood on campus began to disappear. High schools appear to have become an “examination treadmill” with students cramming day and night to get into name universities. Vigor also seems lacking in college life, if what I observed during my three years as an instructor (till March 2001) at a newly established university is any indication.
Students there were unable, or unwilling, to set up a self-governing council. They couldn’t start up a campus festival without the help of a teacher appointed by the faculty for the occasion. Almost no students asked questions in class. They were lazy, I thought, compared with exchange students from Asia.
In recent years the government has been tightening its grip on education. In 1999, a law governing the showing of the national flag and the singing of the “Kimigayo” anthem went into effect. Since then the education ministry has been urging public schools to hoist the flag and sing the song at entrance and graduation ceremonies. According to a ministry survey, the flag and anthem guidelines were observed by public schools in 40 of the 47 prefectures at graduation ceremonies last spring. Teachers who have refused to comply have been punished.
“Patriotism” is a new item for grading in reports from an elementary school in Fukuoka City. Teachers there evaluate each student in terms of “affection for the country and identity as a Japanese.” This item, which was inserted beginning this fiscal year, has been criticized by Korean residents as a human rights violation.
School authorities say they are merely abiding by the ministry’s curriculum guidelines. But promoting patriotic education under these nonstatutory guidelines is going to an extreme because it is still undecided whether to include the idea of patriotism in the Education Basic Law.
Fanning nationalism in such a way goes against worldwide moves to expand activity across borders amid the globalization of national economies and enlargement of the European Union. There is no convincing reason why Japan should encourage hoisting the rising-sun flag and singing Kimigayo.
The interim report gives a range of reasons for educational reform, such as loss of self-confidence among students, erosion of moral values, violent crime among the young and lack of discipline in the classroom. In other words, the report sees Japanese society and education as facing a serious crisis.
The real crisis, however, lies in the government’s inability to pull the Japanese economy out of its protracted slump. It appears that politicians are trying to talk up a “crisis in education” as a way of easing the pent-up stresses of a recession-wary public. I think they are pursuing a nationalistic policy in order to deflect the public’s mistrust of politics.
People are also frustrated that the government and the ruling parties have not taken any effective action to prevent political corruption. In recent years quite a few politicians have been forced to resign over money scandals, including misuse of their public secretaries’ pay.
The interim report calls for an education that encourages students to develop a good sense of morality and ethics — a desire to observe the established norms of behavior. The urgent need, however, is to root out corruption in the political world and collusion in the public sector. That will have a far greater educational effect on the students.
Kiroku Hanai, a former editorial writer for a vernacular newspaper, writes on a wide range of issues, including international relations.
The Japan Times: Monday, Dec. 23, 2002