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Austin Cline

Nationalism & Education

By February 25, 2005

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To what extent should public schools promote nationalism and nationalist values? That's something American schools have been struggling with, as demonstrated by the debates over the Pledge of Allegiance, but it's also been affecting Japanese schools - where the implications are far more serious.

The Economist reports:

The draft revisions, which include platitudes about modern learning and better teaching, say that Japanese schools should foster a sense of aikokushin among pupils. This word could be translated as “love of country”, but to most Japanese it has other—and liberals would say darker—connotations. Many Japanese are indeed discovering things to love about their country these days, but aikokushin, say worried liberals, implies devotion to a particular idea of Japan: as a uniquely entitled nation supported by hard-working but unquestioning citizens.

The proposed patriotism clause also distracts attention from the serious need for real educational reforms in Japan. The quality of teaching varies greatly. Discipline is a huge problem. Unpopular pupils stay at home for fear of being bullied, and many classrooms are unmanageable.

It's interesting how much of the above could, with minor rewriting, also be said in reference to American public education: teaching that America is a "uniquely entitled" nation with hard-working and unquestioning citizens. All that is missing is the notion that America's patron is God, leading a Christian Nation on a path to aid in the salvation of the world. I wonder what the Japanese will end up doing?

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