The Asahi Shimbun (http://www.asahi.com/english/national/K2003050800188.html) This is the first installment of a three-part series on freedom of speech and patriotism in Japan.
An elementary school student in Fukuoka brought home a report card boasting straight A’s in social studies-except for one category. The lone blemish came because the student had not shown sufficient “love for Japan.”
The student’s uncle, a lawyer of Korean ancestry, noticed an explanation on the new topic in his nephew’s first-term report card.
“In addition to having feelings of love for our nation and placing importance on history and traditions of the nation, an effort is made to possess a consciousness as a Japanese living with the hope for a peaceful world,” the explanation read.
Boiled down, it basically means students are being graded on their level of patriotism.
Elementary school students at 172 public schools in 11 prefectures are now evaluated on this new category, according to a national survey of sixth-graders’ report cards conducted by The Asahi Shimbun.
The patriotism category is apparently in response to new curriculum guidelines introduced in the 2002 school year that included the fostering of “feelings of love for one’s country” as an objective for sixth-grade social studies.
A mother in her 40s living in Maruoka, Fukui Prefecture, said she was stunned by the new report card brought home by her child.
“Why does `love for one’s nation’ have to be included at this stage?” she asked. “If evaluating the feelings of children spreads without the knowledge of parents and even the children themselves, it would be a throwback to the days before World War II.
“I am worried that the children will not speak out because of concerns that criticizing the central government or those in authority would lead to a lower grade,” she said.
The lawyer in Fukuoka questioned how it was possible to evaluate 11- and 12-year-olds on their love for their nation. The schools don’t seem to have a clear answer.
The lawyer asked the principal of the Fukuoka elementary school to eliminate the wording about patriotism, but the principal refused, saying the wording followed the education ministry’s guidelines.
The nephew’s “B” grade in patriotism was based on an overall evaluation of his interest and eagerness, according to the principal.
Sixty-three elementary schools in Fukuoka, or almost half of all that exist in the city, included a mark for “love for one’s nation” in their report cards. One teacher in charge of a sixth-grade class did not notice the peculiar wording of the new report card during a staff meeting when the draft of the report card was discussed.
But after the teacher realized what the draft report card meant, discussions were held with fellow sixth-grade teachers. They concluded that since it was impossible to grade the patriotism of students, everyone would be given a “B.”
At other Fukuoka schools, efforts have been made to establish evaluation standards.
One elementary school in central Fukuoka is considered a model for others. The school set up an experimental class in social studies last June and allowed principals and teachers from other schools to observe. The topic of the class was the attempted Mongol invasions of Japan in the 13th century.
One student brought up the example of the Koryo dynasty in Korea and said that fighting to protect what was important was better than becoming a vassal state. Others said the problem could have been resolved through diplomatic negotiations.
The 37-year-old teacher wrapped up the talks by saying, “Regardless of whether you are in favor of or opposed to war, you all had the same feeling of wanting to protect Japan from invasion by a foreign nation.” Therefore, the teacher said, all students had feelings of love for Japan.
Grading on the category could be done by observing the students’ attitude, comments made and classroom notes, the teacher said.
The teacher also said that “feelings of love for one’s nation” could be fostered through research into the history and traditions of Japan, and that such love was similar to the love of the community and region where one was raised.
That line is similar to those espoused by Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and education ministers, who have argued that current legislation contains “no provisions on love of country and respect for tradition and culture.”
The Central Council for Education in March called for such provisions to be included in the Fundamental Law of Education.
Teachers and parents, however, argued the government is simply trying to push through nationalistic reforms without thorough debate. Although the revisions have yet to be made, opponents fear it is already too late, considering the implementation of the curriculum guidelines.
The education board of Gyoda, Saitama Prefecture, created a committee that, together with teachers, came up with a revised report card that included “love for one’s nation” for all 15 elementary schools.
Another sixth-grade teacher who did not realize the change in the wording until after the draft was approved felt the patriotism reference should be eliminated, but said raising the subject a year after it was implemented is next to impossible.
In the spring of 2002, teachers from the three elementary schools in Ujitawara in Kyoto Prefecture met to compile a new report card. A principal at the meeting said: “If any change is made to education ministry guidelines, we will be held responsible for explaining why the change was made. Therefore, no change in the guidelines was attempted.” (IHT/Asahi: May 8,2003)