Scholars claim Bill will invert Japan's postwar gains

August 25, 2006

Legal scholars are at the forefront of a campaign to block the Japanese Government's proposed Bill on education, arguing that it breaches the constitution.

As the coalition Government gears up for the Bill in the next parliamentary session next month, the 700-member Japan Educational Law Association (JELA) is seeking to join forces with teachers' unions, parents' organisations and provincial educational boards that are outraged by moves they say could lead to state control of education.

The academics argue that the Bill, which identifies as key educational objectives ideals such as "developing the attitude of love for our country" and "respecting the tradition and culture", violates the "academic freedom" and the "right to receive education" guaranteed by the country's postwar constitution.

Moreover, a requirement to teach "patriotic attitudes" is an infringement of the constitutional right to "freedom of thought and conscience", the JELA has stated. "Children will be robbed of their (independent) minds by the authorities," warned Hiroshi Nishihara, professor of sociology at Waseda University and a leading voice at the JELA. "This is a violation of 'the rights of man'."

This is precisely what the current law, enacted in 1947, sought to prevent. A year after the peace constitution democratised Japan, guaranteeing individual freedom and equality for the first time, the law firmly established the purpose of education as the "development of individuals' personality", rather than inculcating loyalty to the state, as the imperial edict of pre-war Japan had attempted to do. The new Bill stands the original legislation on its head.

Sumiko Ichihara, professor of education at Dokkyo University, said the Government's intention was to give a patriotic slant to all subjects taught at school. "All antiwar teaching material (that criticises Japan's past militarism) will be banned in history lessons," she said.

"It's a frightening prospect," said Yosuke Yotoriyama, assistant professor of education at Niigata University.

The proposed law gives the Educational Ministry the powers to intervene in private as well as state-run institutions, including universities, academics have claimed. "We are heading right back to the prewar-style education system," said Rokuro Hidaka, sociologist and former professor of Tokyo University.

The Government maintains that the Bill is constitutional, downplaying its nationalistic elements and ignoring the academics' criticism. Moreover, in the absence of in-depth coverage of this Bill by the local press, public awareness remains low. Educational and legal experts in Japan and overseas have long warned that revising the 1947 law would pave the way to rewriting the postwar constitution that binds Japan to "forever renouncing war as a sovereign right" and "never maintaining" military "forces as well as other war potential".

"Clearly, the Government wants to have military forces," said Professor Hidaka. "This is why they want to have an educational tool that takes the place of the imperial edict."

Teachers and parents, although fearful of the sweeping educational overhaul that the new Bill could bring about, are too fractured to be effective as an opposition force.

The academics are trying to mobilise both groups to form a united front by September.

"I don't know if we'll succeed in blocking the Bill, but we have to do all we can," Professor Yotoriyama said.

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