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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Diet handed 'patriotic' education bill

Proposed change of '47 law has foes, including teachers, fearing Big Brother


By AKEMI NAKAMURA and HIROKO NAKATA
Staff writers

The government submitted a bill to the Diet Friday that will revise the Fundamental Law of Education for the first time since its enactment in 1947 to include fostering "patriotism."

Drafted during the Allied Occupation, the present law does not mention patriotism because the word was associated with Japan's wartime totalitarianism and militarism, according to scholars.

Conservative politicians have long sought to emphasize the concept in school curricula, but Japan "has been sensitive about patriotism, mainly due to memories of the (totalitarian) education before and during the war," said Hidenori Fujita, a professor at International Christian University in Tokyo.

"Patriotism" as stipulated in the bill, however, goes beyond the usual definition of love, loyalty and zealous support of a nation, by requiring people to cultivate "an attitude that respects tradition and culture, loves the nation and homeland that have fostered them, while respecting other countries and contributing to international peace and development."

Against a backdrop of problems at public schools, including bullying, truancy and a breakdown in classroom discipline, the ruling bloc has been pushing for a change in the so-called educational constitution for the past six years.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters that he hopes all the parties will have a productive discussion to get the bill passed by the end of the current session, scheduled for June 18.

"Times have changed over the past 60 years. That's why we are considering the importance of education again," Koizumi said.

While it remains unclear whether the bill will clear the Diet during the current session due to time constraints, experts say that if the amendments are enacted, they may have a profound affect on the public education system.

Kimiko Nezu, a teacher at Tachikawa No. 2 Junior High School in western Tokyo, said she could easily lose her job under the revised law.

"Refusing to rise to sing the national anthem (at school ceremonies) would be a violation of the law, so teachers like me could be fired," said Nezu, who has ignored instructions from the Tokyo metropolitan board of education requiring all teachers to stand and sing "Kimigayo" at school ceremonies since October 2003.

Nezu and 32 other metro-area public school teachers who refused to rise from their seats at graduation ceremonies in March were slapped with penalties ranging from pay cuts to three-month suspensions by the school board.

"This situation will likely spread to other regions in a few years once the revised law is enacted," she warned.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito, agreed on the amendment bill earlier this month after lengthy debate. Its provisions also stress the importance of educating children at home and lifelong education.

Language dealing with religious education remains virtually unchanged in the bill. It stipulates that education must be tolerant toward religion, general religious knowledge and the status of religion in society. It also states that public schools must not teach any religious doctrine.

Still, the article with the new definition of patriotism remains the most contentious part of the bill.

If the bill is passed, other laws on education and academic guidelines for elementary and junior high schools are expected to be revised to incorporate its principles, education ministry officials say.

Although many educators are skeptical of the changes, such opposition is not universal. Seishiro Sugihara, a professor of education at Musashino University in Tokyo, said the legal revisions could improve public education.

"Patriotism has been mentioned in academic guidelines (for elementary and junior high school social studies) but (schools) have not emphasized it very much," he said. "With the revised law, however, (Japan) can nurture patriotism as other countries have done."

Sugihara said developing respect for the country and tradition may help children become more interested in society and increase their sense of right and wrong -- elements he believes schools have neglected.

Sugihara said he is disappointed the proposed changes do not stress the importance of religious education, because general religious knowledge could also help students develop peaceful views on the world.

Such arguments do not sway critics, who fear children may be coerced into patriotic displays and that this could affect how they are evaluated by teachers, said Hiroshi Nishihara, a professor of law at Waseda University.

"(Under the revised law), the state might decide what kinds of attitudes are 'patriotic.' If such a situation arises, it might try to force students to accept its judgments on other issues," he said. "Children would not be allowed to be critical" of the state, he added.

Although Nishihara voiced concern that the new law could revive the militant nationalism of the past, Musashino University's Sugihara called such fears "ridiculous" and said they were the legacy of a mind-set born under the Occupation.

For non-Japanese studying at public schools, the revisions may be difficult to accept.

Lim Young Ki, 29, a third-generation South Korean resident in Japan, said that although he thinks foreigners living here should feel an affinity toward the country, emphasizing patriotism at school may make foreign students uncomfortable.



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