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Sunday, May 28, 2006

MEDIA MIX

'Patriotism' a useful tool for the government to meddle in education


"I Am a Patriot" was a song released by "Little Steven" Van Zandt in 1984. In it, he sang that he loved his country because "my country is all I know." It's worth mentioning as the controversy over the use of "patriotism" in the revision of the Fundamental Law of Education continues to make headlines.

The Japanese government says it wants to make patriotism and "public spirit" official goals of education, since it believes that many of Japan's social ills stem from the emphasis on individualism found in the Constitution. The government also wants to revise the Constitution, but that requires a national referendum, and since Japan has never held one before it will take a while to hammer out a method for carrying it out.

The purpose of the education law is to promote the ideals set forth in the Constitution, so it doesn't make sense to revise the law before a new Constitution is passed. The government doesn't need to seek the people's permission to amend the education law, which the ruling coalition would like to do during the current Diet session.

The revision amounts to nothing less than defining a desirable form of morality. Though it contains no overt coercion with regards to moral instruction, the revision also contains new stipulations that give the central government greater control over the day-to-day execution of educational policies.

However, the media has fixated on Article 2 of the draft, which attempts to define patriotism, though the word itself (aikoku) is not used. Before and during the war, love of the nation and reverence toward the Emperor were inculcated by means of the Imperial Rescript on Education, which all schoolchildren had to memorize.

The gist of the Rescript minus any mention of the Emperor has essentially been resurrected for the revision. Conservatives have always liked the Rescript. They just thought it was implemented poorly. This time, they expect teachers to instill the values of the Rescript in tender young minds more naturally, without resorting to corporal punishment.

According to Tokyo Shimbun, one of the reasons given by the government for changing the education law is that the text written in 1947 at the order of the occupying Americans was "bad Japanese." (This is also one of the reasons given for changing the General Headquarters of the Allied Occupation-overseen Constitution.) Still, it's at least comprehensible. The current revision is incoherent and illogical, reflecting the babble of special interests that have contributed to its wording. The patriotism controversy is essentially a fight over terminology.

But it's also a red herring. Article 2 is a very small section of the law. Nobuyoshi Takashima, a professor at Ryukyu University, writes in the weekly magazine Shukan Kinyobi that the national media have not bothered to explain much of the rest of the law to the public and implies that the media aren't interested in it, or if indeed, they even understand it.

More important than the new Article 2 is the old Article 10. The current law says that "education cannot be subjected to 'improper control' (futo-na shihai)." This stipulation was put in place by the Americans to pre-empt the kind of indoctrination that the Rescript represented. It has been used by the Japan Teachers Union to keep the authorities from interfering in their work. In essence, it prevents the government from sticking its nose in the classroom.

The Asahi Shimbun said the ruling Liberal Democratic Party wanted to remove this stipulation but left it in, probably because teachers would protest its excision. However, the LDP added a phrase that said decisions about "improper control" could also be subject to "other laws," which presumably means that it will become easier for the government to legally enforce directives that teachers find objectionable. The government wants to put a stop to lawsuits over its control of the curriculum and teaching methods; for instance, its approval of text books.

In order for the government to reverse what the education ministry has referred to as students' "deteriorating morality," which it implies was brought about by the current education law, it apparently needs to be able to dictate all aspects of education in the schools itself. And according to the new law local governments will be compelled to "make efforts" to carry out central government policies. These efforts will then be evaluated by the central government. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, in fact, has already put such a system in place. Starting last April, teaching staff no longer have a say in directives handed down by their principals.

In a survey carried out by the Asahi, more than half the respondents said they are in favor of revising the education law. The same percentage said they didn't see any problem with promoting patriotism in schools. These results seem to indicate that most citizens understand only the patriotism controversy and thus equate the revision with an emphasis on loving one's country. And what's wrong with that? As Little Steven said, it's natural to love your country if that's the limit of your experience.

But to politicians patriotism is a tool and means whatever they want it to mean. It's the same with any abstraction. When the prime minister defends his visits to Yasukuni Shrine, he claims no one can dictate his conscience. But several years ago a high-school student from Miyazaki sent the government a petition protesting the deployment of Self-Defense Forces to Iraq because it violated the Constitution. When asked to comment, Koizumi said nothing about the young man's conscience, only that his teachers had obviously not explained the deployment properly. Under the revised education bill that would never happen.



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