Current concerns (4) – Debating patriotism in education

The debate revolves around the newly revised basic education law that makes patriotism an underlying principle to the national curriculum which has raised opposing voices saying that this is deja vu and a U-turn back to the militaristic elements of education during pre-war days leading up to WWII. So take your pick of viewpoints posted below … is this Animal Farm, an ominous vicious cycle? Or is there a legitimate perspective that it’s time to put away self-hatred and self-defeating negative perceptions of the “loser” of WWII and to inject some love for Japan, ie patriotism. Is love of country equivalent to militarism, do you think???


Background news

The revised basic education law aimed at instilling patriotism in classrooms took effect Friday as scheduled.

The first revision to the Fundamental Law of Education, which took effect in 1947 in an effort to back up the postwar pacifist Constitution through education, was enacted by the Diet on Dec. 15.

The 18-article education law introduces the idea of respect for the public spirit in its preamble and calls for developing “an attitude that respects tradition and culture and loves the nation and homeland that have fostered them,” as a goal of education.

It also contains new clauses on lifelong learning and education at home.

Abe, a staunch conservative, has placed the revision of the 1947 fundamental education law at the top of the agenda for the extraordinary Diet session. Under the revision, school curricula would include instruction on “patriotism.”

But critics accuse ruling bloc lawmakers of ignoring that the 1947 law, drafted by the Occupation, was enacted to root out the narrow nationalism that characterized the prewar curriculum.

Source of news: New ‘patriotism’ education law takes effect Kyodo News Saturday, Dec. 23, 2006 published in The Japan Times (C) All rights reserved



Two opposing viewpoints on why patriotism should and shouldn’t be introduced into compulsory education. They were editorials at Asahi Shimbun…worthwhile reading.

Debate on patriotism/ NOBUKATSU FUJIOKA: Holistic patriotic education
still missing

Is it necessary to provide Japanese children with education aimed at fostering patriotism? The answer is yes.

Let me illustrate my point by depicting a classroom scene. In Japanese schools, children are taught simple but structured Japanese history lessons for the first time in the sixth grade. The following scene describes the first lesson. The teacher asks a student: “Do you know how many of your ancestors were living four centuries ago, when Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate, was in power?” The student appears confused because he does not understand the question.

Watching his reaction, the teacher gives out a work sheet to each student with a family tree, at the bottom of which appears the student’s name. It shows two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on. With each generation (about 30 years) the number of ancestors doubles. Thus, theoretically, four centuries ago, a single child can be traced back to about 10,000 ancestors.

But going further back into the past, the calculation hits a paradox. The total number of ancestors of a single child would exceed the total population of Japan at the time. This is because we mistakenly assume that we do not share the same ancestors. Actually, the farther back we go, the more our ancestors overlap.

Thus the child makes new discoveries. Contemporary Japanese are distant relatives who share the same ancestors. In any given period of Japanese history, the child discovers that those ancestors had constructed and paved new paths to walk upon. History is a constant relay of culture and tradition, and the child finds himself at the receiving end of this continuous process. His thoughts take him to his network of ancestors, and to the fact that he would never have existed, if there had been a single missing ancestor.

Although this is an introductory lesson to the history of Japan, it is also a moral lesson to teach children to respect their parents. It is also a lesson of discovery about life, and about his own uniqueness. Furthermore, I see it as a basic lesson in patriotism, a sentiment that grows naturally from simple love for one’s hometown, which is an attachment to the land where one’s ancestors had led their daily lives.

Basic patriotic education is by no means exclusively related to the realm of history education. Properly organized Japanese-language instruction can also open the door to it.

When children learn the beauty and richness of the Japanese language and master it as their native tongue, it will provide them with a foundation for all intellectual activities and love for their country. As mathematician and best-selling author Masahiko Fujiwara put it, “One’s mother land is one’s mother tongue.”

Listening to the debate on patriotic education, I get the impression that both proponents and opponents are under the illusion that patriotic education is an independent subject or a discipline in itself. But patriotism is not something that a teacher can instill into children simply by telling them to love their country. One cannot present patriotism to children like a birthday cake that comes out of a box. It cannot be taught like showing them how to solve a quadratic equation, either.

The essence of patriotic education lies in the orientation of an overall educational plan. It manifests itself in scattered fashion in various subjects and educational areas. Children are encouraged to develop an interest in Japan, its people and its rich and unique culture in a natural way, and to nurture pride in and cherish their country.

Of course, I do not mean to deny the significance of making direct reference to “patriotism” as part of civics lessons taught in junior high school. But the core is only meaningful when it is surrounded by substantial periphery.

In fact, government guidelines for junior high school teaching state the goal of social studies as “deepening students’ understanding and love for Japanese land and history.” The goal of Japanese-language education is “to encourage students to develop an attitude of respect towards the language.” So actually, the current curriculum already had set goals that matched the goals of patriotic education.

However, what was missing was the philosophical direction to advance such ideas to nurture patriotism as a whole.

Initially, after World War II, the U.S. occupational forces honored the Imperial Rescript on Education, which stated the basis of moral education and social norms, and upon which the Fundamental Law of Education came into effect. The latter set basic educational policy in areas not covered by the former.

However, at the order of the occupational forces, the Diet later passed a resolution to annul the Imperial Rescript on Education, resulting in the hollowing out of the fundamental principles of Japanese education.

In any country, love for one’s country occupies an important place in education, since it can be crucial to the country’s existence. In postwar Japan, in particular, masochistic history education has been rampant, and it depicted Japan as an atrocious and inhumane nation. The result has been that children came to hate this country, and lost their pride and confidence as Japanese.

In order to overcome such negative feelings, it is very important to advance patriotic education as a basic philosophy.

The revised Fundamental Law of Education that came into force in December filled the gap of the original law by advocating “respect for tradition and culture and to cultivate love for Japan and one’s hometown” as the goal of education. I support the revised law, which agrees with the purport of this essay.

* * *

The author is professor of education at Takushoku University.(IHT/Asahi: May 21,2007)

Debate on patriotism/ KAZUISA FUJIMOTO
Asahi Shimbun 05/21/2007

The “patriotic education” being pushed by the current government actually lulls people into accepting the state’s dictates without question, robbing them of their right to decide for themselves what is right or wrong.

Philosophically speaking, what is a nation, and what should it strive to be?

These very difficult questions have plagued thinkers and political scientists in all eras and all cultures of humankind since time immemorial.

No one has ever come up with definitive answers that satisfy everyone. That is the main reason this problem must be debated over and over again; there is no set answer readily accepted by all.

However, the sort of patriotic education that professes to “nurture a love of one’s country” in individuals assumes all people should love their country without question, and with no room for argument.

It excludes from discussion the idea of questioning what this nation should be, treating it like a matter that brooks no discussion, a taboo that must not be questioned.

What is the purpose of education? One aim is to help individuals learn to view their lives objectively and to encourage them not to be content with given conditions but to strive for a better life.

If that is true, then education that not only tells people to unconditionally accept the government’s idea of political and social frameworks, but also tries to force them to do so, is self-destructive.

Many educational experts and journalists express skepticism over the government’s insistence on patriotic education.

Setting aside the true intent behind the trend, my main fear about patriotic education is that it robs people of the ability to question the existing power structure and systems.

Education like this does not deserve to be called education. It is brainwashing.

In “1984,” British novelist George Orwell depicted a totalitarian state in which every citizen is under constant control by “Big Brother.” Everyone has learned to take the situation for granted, accepting it as “natural” or even “ethical.”

Despite living in a world of terror, they believe that the totalitarian control is in their best interest.

When the book was first published in 1949, it was seen as critical of communism, which at that time was a reality in the world.

But Orwell said his true intention was not simply to condemn communism. Rather, the novel was meant to criticize the totalitarian domination that can prevail in all forms of controlled society, including capitalist societies, where it develops even more subtly than in communist societies.

The novel describes the terror of citizens whose minds, bodies and thoughts are completely–unconsciously–controlled by the establishment, so that they no longer have the ability to question the systems and rules that govern them.

Big Brother, the enigmatic dictator of their totalitarian state, says he is not satisfied with passive slavery. “You must love Big Brother. It is not enough to obey him: you must love him.”

Back in present Japan, how can we be sure that the “social and moral education” that is being advanced under the guise of patriotism, will not eventually lead us right into a dystopian world like the one depicted in “1984”?

Who can say for sure that patriotic education is not an attempt by our leaders to control and exploit our minds and thoughts and deprive us of our ability to question state power? Is this any different from the communism that proponents of patriotic education are so critical of?

We must re-examine patriotic education. This is not an issue of rightist or leftist political inclinations, but rather a basic problem that affects each of us every day of our lives.

What happens when the state, an artificial political system, absorbs love, which is the most important of human emotions? And what is a nation?

To begin with, can a nation be an object of love? These questions need to be asked over and over again.

A nation is not a monolithic entity that someone can force us to love unconditionally.

It is a multilayered, complex presence comprising various people, histories and environments. Reducing such a complex entity into an object of love undermines the possibilities for a nation to change, and amounts to co-opting it into a form that benefits only an elite minority.

Proponents of patriotic education say Japan needs more patriotism to protect its social stability and security. They claim people are becoming selfish, morals are declining, security is deteriorating or hostile countries are becoming threats.

But twisting patriotic feeling for such reasons could have the opposite effect of enabling the abuse of state power once again.

When that happens, society becomes irrational. Order guided by fear soon gives rise to a reign of terror and will eventually lead to the state’s self-destruction.

When fear and terror arise, the government must not turn the situation into a question of morals or way of thinking merely to hide the economic and political systems that are to blame.

Instead, it should encourage rational criticism and intervention against faulty systems and power structures.

Spirit and loyalty alone cannot mend a broken mechanism. Patriotic education, which hides the real problems and makes people stop thinking, destroys both a nation and the people who live in it.

* * *

The author is associate professor of philosophy at Waseda University’s School of Culture, Media and Society. Now he is engaged in research program in Paris.(IHT/Asahi: May 21,2007)

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