New Education Law Fosters Discriminatory Behavior - Educator
Sunday, December 24, 2006 Posted: 08:38 AM JST
Masaru Okazaki, school teacher and author of "Gakko Saihakken!" (Rediscovery of schools), writes in an Asahi opinion piece that schools' increasing focus on scholastic ability fosters discriminatory behavior. "Today," Okazaki writes, "schools tend to apply one yardstick to rank children: scholastic ability. This creates disparities among children that could foster discriminatory behavior. This is a product of competition-oriented educational reform that attaches great importance to grades. Ranking schools by test scores is nonsense. It is also degrading to children."
Children are unnecessarily loosing their way, believes Okazaki.
"Children these days seem obsessed with how they are viewed by others. At the same time, they fret about being isolated. They appear to be at a loss over how to develop ties with others.
That is why I, as an elementary school teacher, prefer to put more emphasis on recognizing each child's merits from different angles. School is where children can meet and spend time with friends on a daily basis even if they are not good at academics or sports. By having many yardsticks with which to measure character, children can recognize each other's good points and develop ties by interacting with friends."
The educator fears that revisions to the Fundamental Law of Education will make things only worse.
"The revised law does not include the phrase "esteem individual value" that appears in Article 1 of the former law, which states the aim of education. Instead of referring to the diverse character of individual students, it emphasizes the importance of necessary qualities as builders of the nation and society. Overall, I get the impression the revised law is trying to standardize children despite the fact that every one is unique.
Exposing children to even harsher competition by applying a single benchmark to evaluate their scholastic achievements does not offer a solution to dispel the anxiety of children that I mentioned above. On the contrary, it will only aggravate the situation.
Article 4 of the revised law calls for the advancement of education in accordance with the ability of children gauged by a prescribed standard instead of their ability as individuals. I fear this could lead to a situation where children are held responsible for their achievements or failures.
By using a single yardstick to measure achievement, some children would inevitably be labeled "losers." As such, they would lose the ability as adults to think independently, blindly follow the state, depend on the elite and be content to live within their means. Such beliefs seem to underpin the revised law."
Okazaki's ideas are not shared by everyone in Japan. Yoshiyuki Kasai in an article in the Yomiuri Shimbun attributes Japan's education problems on a lack of discipline and patriotism. Although he never mentions the new education law, his message is clear: it is needed.
Kasai blames "the laissez-faire approach to school education" for "a decline in children's basic learning ability" This, according to Kasai, "is the real root cause of children's lack of imagination, and their inability to act on their own judgment." He believes that classes should "based on ability".
According to Kasai, teachers are to blame for the lack of discipline:
"What, then, should be considered the background against which the drop in educational standards has occurred?
Undoubtedly, one of the factors is the anti-regime and antiauthority atmosphere that has pervaded educational arenas for the past 50 years.
For instance, during the Cold War, the majority of members of the Japan Teachers' Union (Nikkyoso), favored the socialist camp, denying all values of the free economy system and democracy.
Instead of teaching students to be proud of their country and its history, Nikkyoso has continued to negate patriotism, including the national flag and national anthem. The union has gone as far as turning its back on traditional values, such as a respect and love for one's ancestors and parents, and the sense of propriety and respect inherent in the teacher-student relationship.
At times, teachers themselves have undermined school discipline and order by disobeying headmasters' directions, as well as taking part in political walkouts, abandoning his or her students in the classroom.
It was therefore a natural course of events that students--repeatedly witnessing the questionable behavior of their teachers--found it increasingly difficult to distinguish right from wrong.
Self-centered parents and youngsters who lack self-restraint are the fruit of sowing seeds in such soil.
Given that teachers slight that which is superior to them, students in turn mimic this behavior by taking example at an authority closest to them--their classroom teachers. Thus, the actions of Nikkyoso are akin to spitting into the wind.
As a result, discipline and classroom norms have declined to the extent that ordinary teachers nowadays, who wish to teach unfettered, are finding it beyond their powers to redress the current situation, faced with students lacking discipline or respect.
It can therefore be said that teachers today are having to pick up the bill for the negative legacy left behind by the previous generation."
Although there are clearly some very ego-centric parents and children, some scary thoughts hide behind Kasai's ideas. He chastises teachers for disobeying headmasters' directions, without clarifying the statement. Does he really believe that teachers should always obey the orders of the headmaster, regardless of what the orders are? Should people always follow orders without considering whether it is right to do so?
Hierarchy and organization perform important functions in human society, but they can be, and frequently are, misused. Educator's role, besides teaching the basics, is to make students responsible people with respect for others and society. That includes an awareness that protest is sometimes required and undying loyalty is not always the best policy.
Whereas Okazaki is an educator and author who has studied the problems of Japanese education deeply, Kasai is chairman of Central Japan Railway Co. In that role he probably has far more influence than Okazaki, as policy issues are often decided in Japan by big business and LDP politics.
At the end of his article, Okazaki gives a dire warning:
"I believe the revision would betray public faith in compulsory education and aggravate the nation's already troubled education system."
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