Freedom to choose textbooks vs law on supplying free textbooks to public schools

Defiant local education board sets regrettable precedent

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 23, 2012) (Retr. online version: Feb. 24, 2012)

In the Yaeyama district of Okinawa Prefecture, the site of turmoil over the selection of a civics textbook for local middle schools, the local board of education in the town of Taketomi has given final confirmation that it will stick to its idea of choosing a textbook independently.

This is an unusual case in which different school textbooks are to be used at public schools in the same district. We must call it a regrettable development for a local board to deviate from the rules set under the system of choosing textbooks at public primary and middle schools.

The law on supplying free textbooks to public schools with state funds obliges local municipalities within a wider district designated by the prefectural board of education to adopt the same textbooks. The rule exists to facilitate joint study of teaching materials by all teachers within a district.

The council tasked with choosing textbooks for schools in the Yaeyama district, comprising Ishigaki, Taketomi and Yonaguni, made a recommendation last August for local municipalities to adopt a civics textbook published by Ikuhosha Publishing Inc.

But Taketomi chose a textbook published by Tokyo Shoseki Co., becoming the lone municipality to defy the recommendation. The municipality would not concede even when the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry called for it to adopt the same textbook as the other two municipalities.


No free books for town

The ministry has stated that Taketomi’s decision runs counter to the law, making it impossible for schools there to be supplied with free textbooks.

As a consequence, sympathizers in the town are said to be willing to bear the cost of purchasing 22 copies of the civics textbooks needed for local students.

Since the law was put in force in 1963, there has never been a single case in which textbooks to be used at public schools were not supplied free of charge.

The town of Taketomi intends to call on the ministry to supply the books it wants for free. But it would only be reasonable for state funds not to be used to that end.

The Okinawa prefectural board of education also bears heavy responsibility. In principle, the prefectural board should have led the local board to follow the law. But the prefectural board can be said to have failed to approach the local board in the proper way, thus prolonging the turmoil.


Making a suitable choice

The Ikuhosha textbook has passed the ministry’s strict textbook screening of its contents. Therefore there is nothing wrong for the local council having chosen it.

The people in the Yaeyama Islands, located close to a national border, have been compelled to live in tension since a Chinese fishing boat collided with two Japan Coast Guard vessels in Japanese waters near the Senkaku Islands in 2010.

One reason the Ikuhosha textbook was picked out by the Yaeyama district is said to be its solid description of matters related to the territorial issues facing Japan.

On the other hand, within the prefecture there is deep-rooted resistance to Ikuhosha textbooks, whose authors include former members of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform.

From the next round of textbook adoption onward, Taketomi should not repeat the same violations of the rules. If a similar problem arises in other local municipalities with a larger number of students, this kind of confusion may become more serious.

Since this issue surfaced, there have been calls for a review of the system of having the same textbook adopted across wide districts comprising several municipalities. There have even been calls for textbooks to be chosen by each individual school.

But if the unit by which textbooks are chosen is narrowed down excessively, there is a danger that such a unit would become susceptible to pressures from certain forces.

Any study on the possible revision of the relevant system should be conducted in a prudent manner.


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