Thursday, 19 September 2013

Japanese education - Racism: the white man's burden

It's easier to sanitize one's own past than
reflect on it...
Happy Manchus, Chinese and Japanese
co-operating during Japanese occupation
I was having a coffee with a Japanese English teacher friend the other day.  He was saying that he is doing a unit on Gandhi at the moment from the Ministry of Education authorized textbook that he is using.  The chapter dealt with Gandhi in South Africa, being evicted from the train as a coloured person and his subsequent struggle with authorities to gain rights for Indian people in South Africa.

It's a great case study of civil rights and leadership;  I've actually taught it myself.
But... it highlights a mindset that dominates the ministry's attitude to history: wrong is done by other people. There is no self-reflection, let alone reflection, in the ministry's approach to history. The point of looking at Gandhi or Martin Luther King is supposedy to globalize the kids and provide moral education that discrimination (outside Japan)  is bad. It's a great opportunity to combine English with history and civics   e.g. questioning laws that are wrong, having a  sense of what constitutes unacceptable treatment of other people, having courage to act when there are problems that are ethically wrong,  effective means of protest; assessing and encouraging  principled leadership.  But I can guarantee with 100% certainty that there will be nothing that has anything to do with encouraging active citizenship.

The text books  serve to confirm perceptions of white racism and Asian / coloured victims. Which no doubt has been and remains a problem.  Racial theories popularized in Europe were well received in Japan and were used to legitimize poor treatment of racial "inferiors"   School education here completely avoids local unpleasantries like the treatment of Okinawans, Ainu and Zainichi Koreans.  Unpleasantries, controversies, and empowering students to be active citizens are not suitable for ministry sanctioned classroom discussion.

Incidentally, last year I looked at the same case study of Gandhi and  I did try to make it socially relevant.   I asked students to discuss whether they thought Gandhi was doing the right thing. All agreed.  I asked them if they had been there, would they have joined in. They had to weigh up pros and cons  - with little hesitation most said no on account of it being dangerous.  I asked if there was anything that they felt would be worth protesting about (keeping in mind there is a major nuclear problem happening). Most students said no.  Those who could think of something worth protesting about tended to say something along the lines of a hypothetical situation where their families were attacked and they wanted revenge, not a broad social principle.  

All that said though, perhaps it's generational....the generation that's only known recession...

This semester I'm teaching Japanese history... I am sure it will be as much of an eye opening experience for me as it is for the students...

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