March 6, 1985
To mark the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, students from across the United States are sending drawings and messages of peace to students in Japan.
A venturesome blending of old cultural values with new and foreign
ideas has given Japanese education its dynamism. A cautious insistence
on planning has given it stability.
Even in America, the idea is not as simple as it sounds: Give the
best teachers extra pay and recognition and the whole teaching
profession will be invigorated.
A careful bureaucrat, Mr. T. tells me that he sometimes writes
articles for the education journals. But because the Tokyo-based
organization he works for is funded by the government and works with
teachers, he cannot write exactly what he wants. He must find a middle
ground, he says, to please both the conservative education ministry and
the liberal teachers' union. His arguments have to be extremely refined
to be able to be of interest to these polarized groups.
Twenty-seven-year-old Yukiko Kunishige is a bright, free-thinking
woman who excelled in school until a high-school experience she
describes as "closed and narrow" ended her desire for formal education.
She skipped college, opting instead for what she calls "the reality of
If Harumi Aoki's students love to call her "a former housewife," it
is not from any lack of respect. It's because the noted poet, recently
honored with Japan's prestigious "H Prize" for one of her collections,
is teaching creative writing to a class full of Osaka housewives.
Whenever I visit Kyoto, I usually stay near the T. family, because Mr. T.--a police detective, private-school owner, interpreter, boarding-house keeper, fortune teller, masseur, musician, etc.--is the best guide to Japanese culture I know and because his wife, "Mama," is a gracious hostess.
Whenever I drop by--no matter what the hour--Mama serves me something to eat or drink and tries to make me comfortable until the sensei (the term for a revered teacher) is free from his various business chores.
Nobuo K. Shimahara is a professor of educational anthropology in
the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, the State University of
New Jersey, and a senior researcher at the National Institute of
Education, where he is participating in the Japan-America collaborative
study initiated by former Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell.
Following are the comments of a broad range of interested parties
on how, and whether, the Japanese education system should be
Following is a list of source materials for "Schooling in Japan"
and selected readings on the nation and its schools.
PAGE 31 - Commentary
As dawn breaks each morning across this nation, working parents wake up hoping that their children will be well enough to go to school, their babysitters will show up, and, above all, the school will be open.
PAGE 40 - Commentary
The latest discovery of the textbook critics is that
editors of literature anthologies change words,
omit passages, and even sometimes rewrite parts
of literary works without clearly indicating such
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