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Thursday, Oct. 31, 2002
DEBATE SWIRLS AROUND 'PATRIOTISM'
Education law is facing radical changes
By ERIKO ARITA
The concepts of patriotism and cultural awareness, not contained in the 1947 Fundamental Law of Education, are likely to be added to the de facto "education constitution."
Members of the Central Council for Education, a government advisory panel tasked with recommending education policies, basically agreed during a general assembly Wednesday to accept a draft report stating that children should bolster their Japanese identity and acquire "love for the nation and respect for tradition and culture of our country."
The draft came from a subcommittee that has been working on possible amendments since February.
The draft, expected to be officially accepted by the council Nov. 14, says the education law should be revised to nurture "tough" Japanese who can carve out a new era. It also says the current law's emphasis on self-esteem and peace should be maintained.
The draft will be hammered into a final subcommittee report to be submitted to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry before the end of the year.
Controversy abounds, however, over the wording of the patriotism-related provisions. In addition, some subcommittee members still are unsure a revision is needed.
Some members say the term "patriotism" should be explained carefully to avoid accusations of ethnocentrism.
"The idea is not acceptable if it means that we only think of our own country," Eiichi Kajita, president of Kyoto Notre Dame University, said in an Oct. 17 subcommittee meeting, noting how nationalism under the guise of patriotism once led Japan to war.
Subcommittee members later agreed to include wording in the draft that love for one's country should not be mistaken for narrow-minded nationalism or aggressive totalitarianism.
Questions were also raised by some subcommittee members on why the fundamental law needs to be revised in the first place.
"Some people argue that education in Japan is in crisis because of the current law. But I think it more problematic that the principles of the current law have not been realized in the current education (system)," said Reiko Kuroda, a subcommittee member and a professor of biological physics at the University of Tokyo.
The proposal to revise the law came in 2000 in a report by the National Commission on Educational Reform, which operated under then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.
In the wake of the proposal, education minister Atsuko Toyama asked the Central Council for Education in November 2001 to discuss what form the law should take.
Critics argue that the drive toward amending the law has come from rightwing politicians with an ideological agenda and that no public debate is taking place.
According to a recent survey conducted by a nationwide umbrella group of PTAs, some 84 percent of parents know very little about the law.
Hidenori Fujita, a professor of education sociology at the University of Tokyo, was on the national commission. He said the proposed revisions reflect the ideological aims of rightwingers in the Liberal Democratic Party.
"I am sure that if the word 'patriotism' is included in the law, it would promote the use of such ideological education materials as the controversial history textbook compiled by a group of nationalist historians," Fujita said, adding that many view the revisions as a step toward planned constitutional amendments advocated by these LDP members.
Supporters of the revisions point out that due to the process in which the current law was drafted after the war, it lacks indispensable principles such as patriotism and respect for tradition.
Seishiro Sugihara, an education expert and a professor at Musashino Women's University, said "patriotism" was not included in the 1947 law due to strong pressure from the U.S. Occupation powers, which also ordered that "tradition" be omitted.
"In a sense, to contribute to society, it is natural that the word 'patriotism' is included into the law as a principle of education," Sugihara said.
But Kenichi Nagai, a professor emeritus at Hosei University, questions this view.
He said the minutes of the committee meeting in which the law was drafted state that members concluded the term "culture" was synonymous with "tradition."
It is thus likely the committee did not include "tradition" in the fundamental education law voluntarily as it did not want modern education to be defined by the prewar education principles that drove Japan to war, Nagai said.
The current subcommittee failed to reach a consensus on another controversial revision topic -- reviewing a ban on religious education in public schools. The subcommittee will continue to debate this issue with regard to the freedom of religion and the separation of government and religion as defined by the Constitution, according to the interim report plan.
The ministry has said it hopes to submit a bill to the Diet in 2003.
New Komeito, a coalition partner of the LDP, is cautious about the planned amendments, so it is unclear if the bill will be submitted to the Diet.