Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pitfalls of Japanese Education Studies 2

3  Divinization of schoolteachers:

While schoolteachers (or teaching job) tend to be more or less romanticized in teachers' colleges and university departments of education in every country, this “romance” was additionally emphasized by the past political movement to the point of “divinization” in Japan. 
Although such political surge was already over, Japanese education scholars cannot break away with its reminiscence, which has seemingly created blind spots in their consciousness. So I suppose that “divinization of schoolteachers” is the key concept to best explain the past and the present of education studies in Japan.
Below is the brief summary of the background.

Although nationalism had governed the pre-war Japan, leftist thoughts were the prevailing political trend in the intellectual world for several decades after the end of the Second World War in 1945. Universities were dominated by socialist and communist ideologies, and the education scholars, of course, joined this bandwagon. 

They set forth their political position by supporting the teachers' unions which were among the biggest dissident forces. Some influential scholars practically played a role of think tank for the unions and, in so doing, they tried hard to inflate the image of schoolteachers in papers and lectures with the view to facilitate the unions' activities.
The mainstream media were also supporting teachers' unions, and accordingly the mass opinion was sympathetic to them. In this climate, the education scholars were able to enjoy the life of “champagne socialist” or act like a star, as long as they argued that teachers were “great”, “holly” or whatever.

The prime example is the argument that “schoolteachers are the agents of truth” made by Dr. Seiya Munakata[i], the most influential scholar of the time. Although this is a childish insistence, it was accepted as some consensus in the circle of education studies, partly because he was one of the star scholars, and probably in part because it was comfortable and convenient for the community of school educators as a whole. 

In this way, the arguments of such star scholars of this period dictated the direction of the Japanese education studies[ii], in which admiration of schoolteachers should be encouraged and discussion on the facts inconvenient to their “divinity” should be avoided.
Thus the divinization of schoolteachers factually became an unwritten policy or mission of education scholars in Japan, while objective observation and fact-based research failed to take root among them.

In the early 1990s, however, the fall of the Eastern bloc gave a big blow to the leftist trend in the overall political debate. It paralyzed the arguments of the socialist and communist intellectuals, undermined such political movements and disillusioned the left-leaning mass opinion in Japan. The image of the teachers' unions has also changed from groups of social justice to national nuisance. The frisky education scholars fell silent accordingly, and their influence has been damaged considerably since then.

Most of those star scholars who had a good time before 1990s have already retired or passed away. So you may think that the scholars of the following generations should think twice or forget about those old scholars and embark on the objective and fact-based research.

However, they never question or reconsider the legacy policy. They still cling to it in patience, maybe because of some senior-respect practice in the circle of education studies, maybe because they have too much pride to revise it, maybe because it is closely connected with their rights and interests,  ...

On the other hand, they must be fully aware that the old arguments of their predecessors would only invite derisive laughter from the general public under the present circumstances, in which schoolteachers are frowned upon due to their own misconducts and inability. Therefore, they don't dare to speak out that “schoolteachers are the agents of truth” now.
Japanese contemporary education studies are stuck in this way.

Reactions of the scholars to this dilemma can be classified roughly into two types: some scholars aggressively criticize the things which are threatening to the teachers' divinity, others construct some psychological walls to protect their own world from such inconvenient facts and confine themselves to their favorite works.
Neither will solve the dilemma. Rather, both reactions seem to have enlarged the blind spots in their consciousness, as below.

[i] Dr. Seiya Munakata’s Wikipedia page is <> (only in Japanese)

[ii] Some argue that those star scholars had aggressively agitated nationalism before 1945 and made a quick turn to pacifism or anti-nationalism after the end of the war.
See for details: Isao Nagahama, Kyoiku no Sensou Sekinin [Educators’ war responsibility]

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