TV & Radio
Education Bill Sets Patriotism Over Individualism
TOKYO , May 29 (IPS) - Hiroo Miyamoto, 60, a retired businessman, follows with keen interest the ongoing debate on revising Japan's post-war education policy that emphasises individual rights and democracy over patriotism.
''There are a lot of social problems these days because of the lack of ethical consciousness among young Japanese who have been educated without morality or a sense of public duty. Japan's post-war education policy that focuses on individualism is wrong,'' he says.
Miyamoto's concerns are at the heart of current debates on education in the Japanese Diet (parliament) that has pitched liberalists and experts against conservative politicians who are supported by a growing number of Japanese -- 60 percent in a new poll released last week-- worried about social breakdown in the country.
An 18-point bill containing the proposed revision, that could be passed next month, at the end of the current Diet session, will highlight 'patriotism education' which is supposed to inculcate a sense of public duty and respect for the tradition and culture of Japan.
''Times have changed and that is why we are considering the importance of education again,'' said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who stressed that the new proposal would not disturb the freedom of the ''inner mind'' of children.
But hardliners in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party dislike the old education laws because they were made while Japan was under the 1945-1952 U.S.-led Allied occupation of the country. Chief cabinet secretary Shinzo Abe, favoured to succeed Koizumi as leader of the LDP in September, has argued that the fact that the old education laws have lasted more than 60 years only proves that ''we are still under the mind control of the occupation forces''.
The bill is unlikely to be opposed since it is not far different from a similar bill drafted earlier by the rival Democratic Party of Japan, which now leads the opposition in parliament.
Approving the changes in April, the government said the new bill was necessary to combat school truancy, breakdown in classroom teaching, increasing juvenile crime and social issues that proponents say can be linked to a lack of morality and public duty in Japan's postwar generation.
''Excessive individualism has resulted in a lack of social responsibility today which can be traced to a society in which people show no concern for each other and money is the benchmark for happiness. This is against the values that represent Japan,'' opined Yoshiko Sakurai, a respected writer with conservative leanings.
Others say Japan, once a nation with model students and youth, can now be described as a rudderless society. They believe that the hard-earned postwar economic success stands endangered because of unambitious youth interested solely in personal gratification and taking little pride in either their society or their country.
Indeed, a survey conducted by the Financial Services Council, earlier this month, revealed that one in four primary school children regarded money as the most important thing in life. The number of youth without jobs or not pursuing an education had reached over 640,000 and juvenile crime has reached a point where children have resorted to extortion and murder for money.
Miki Tanigaki, teacher of Japanese history at Musashino university, acknowledges the need for youth to be more aware of their own culture, but says he is worried that the revision, the first since 1947, could result in weakening the development of Japan's post-war democracy, established under allied occupation.
''The definition of patriotism remains a crucial consideration in the new bill which is still not clearly done,'' he said. ‘'While it is true that Japanese youth emulate American culture over their own, supplanting (what exists with) patriotism without understanding that the individual is a critical person, is dangerous,'' he told IPS.
Others say the talk of patriotism need not necessarily lead to a resurgence of the pre-war militarism of the 1930s. ‘' Rather, patriotism education will increase a sense of right and wrong in a society through Japanese traditions, an aspect that has been neglected,'' says Prof. Seishiro Sugihara, who teaches education at the same university.
At the core of the current debate are differing definitions of 'public'. Prof. Teruyaki Hirota, education expert at Tokyo University, says that in Japanese culture the concept of public is taken to mean giving the government and bureaucracy free rein to lead society.
Japanese pre-war society was heavily infused with Confucian ethics where filial piety and loyalty to family and country stood over individual rights, he said. ‘'There is an attempt now, by conservatives, to link the concept to narrow nationalism rather than to modern usage which is the growth of civil society," he explains.
Hirota referred to Koizumi's controversial visits to the Yasukuni shrine where the souls of 14 convcited Japanese war criminals are venerated, as well as new moves by the government to erase information in school text books about Japan's harsh colonial policies in East Asia.
Hirota says the new patriotism, as seen in the Diet, will only bring short-term benefits, if any. ‘'Indoctrinating young children with government views is not the answer. To deal with social disorder there must be emphasis on education reforms that nurture individual thinking and goals in order to meet the challenges of the changing world order.'' (END/2006)