|

Hey bureaucrats, leave those kids — and teachers — alone

by

A while back I attended yet another symposium on the ever-popular theme of internationalization in education and employment. It was a high-powered event, with corporate backers, a classy venue and guest speakers flown in from abroad. The place was packed.

One speaker was an executive from one of the top research universities in the United States (and the world). I am working from memory, but he said something like this: “Every month I get visited by a delegation from China. Each one asks the same question: ‘We have $10 billion and want to replicate [name of institution] in China. What should we do?’ I give them all the same response: ‘It’s actually quite easy but you probably can’t do it. Because you have to be willing to invest a lot of money in really talented and creative people and not tell them what to do.’ ”

The speaker was followed by a Japanese bureaucrat who talked about higher education. Again, I am working from memory, but he prefaced his remarks with a disclaimer: “I have never taught at or held a position of responsibility at a university, but in the course of my career I was appointed as vice-principal of a junior high school for three years.”

Perhaps he was just trying to appear humble, but it was hard to listen to anything that followed; the contrast was so depressingly stark, particularly when you consider that he had almost certainly been air-dropped into the vice-principal post from an elite perch at the education ministry, rather than having put in years of service in the trenches of middle school education. Even more depressing was the knowledge that the foreign speaker would jet back to the heady task of funding brilliance while the bureaucrat would soon be back at his desk in Kasumigaseki, doling out modest amounts of money to just about everyone while micro-managing what they did with it.

People often use words to mask their areas of insecurity. If you have ever found yourself at a party trying to politely disengage from someone who insistently describes themselves as “emotionally stable,” it’s probably because their very need to do so suggests they have issues. The late political scientist Samuel Finer noted a comparable phenomenon with political names: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a totalitarian hellhole, and Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party is — well, you get the picture. Anyway, once you have seen a certain number of conferences and programs about “excellence,” “globalization” and “innovation,” you start to wonder how deep this particular seam of insecurity runs.

Japan’s government has been flogging various forms of these agendas for rather a while. Yet, according to recent surveys, the number of recent college graduates who want to work abroad or start their own companies has actually decreased. Perhaps no policy can counteract the powerfully rational desire to seek a predictable, safe job (government service being a dependable favorite). Or perhaps the string just needs to be pushed a different way: Maybe a new exam will do the trick. Committee of experts ahoy!

To look at educational policy in action, you can’t help but wonder if insularity and mediocrity might actually be the goal. Not just any mediocrity, mind you, but high-quality, world-class mediocrity that performs well on standardized tests. Everyone says they want to encourage creativity and innovation, but “not telling them what to do” makes it hard to justify your budget if you can’t measure performance through objective, predictive systems that can squeeze the fun and creativity out of just about any learning (or teaching) experience.

I have a bias, of course, having spent the past decade in Japan’s law school system watching ambition, initiative, community service, innovation, creativity, internationalization and just about any other positive-sounding aspirations unintentionally (I hope!) stymied by perverse regulations and the hugely burdensome requirements of the national bar exam.

The bar exam is intended to filter out people who fail to achieve a pre-assumed “correct understanding” of the law. It involves a lot of memorization for the students, and requires all law schools to teach to a government-sponsored set of common curricular goals. This essentially puts the government in the position of telling law schools what is worthy of student attention in subjects such as constitutional and administrative law. Granted, I seem to be the only person who finds this even conceptually problematic, but the requirements of the exam render innovative thinking about law a waste of time for just about everyone involved. Perhaps the whole point is to ensure that anyone likely to challenge the conventional wisdom is branded a failure and kept away from the cockpit.

Anyway, mediocrity may not be all so bad; after all, it’s probably a lot easier to control than excellence and creativity. Encouraging people to have realistic, mediocre ambitions may well be a factor in Japan’s social order, and perhaps even contributed to its past economic success. Americans famously tell their children that anyone can become president but, of course, it’s usually a lie. Most Japanese learn pretty quickly that they are objectively average (just like most people in the world!), with evidence supporting the proposition — over and over through the constant cycle of standardized exams. If you have ever listened to a Japanese parent talk about their child’s prospects — with the child present — you can see how many people might accept their lot from an early age: “Hiroshi will never get into a school like Keio, because he is only getting X on his exam scores.”

As for the “telling them what to do” part of the educational process, that exerts itself long before university. Compulsory schooling has probably always been as much about control as quality. In the past it played a key role in the nation’s unification, modernization, militarization for war and mobilization for achieving the postwar economic miracle.

The Americans administering Japan during the postwar Occupation regarded educational reform as critical to democratizing the defeated nation. They introduced a U.S.-style system of elected school boards. These were easily dominated by vote-mobilizing teachers’ unions and by 1956 were replaced by the current system of more pliable appointed boards at both the municipal and prefectural level.

As often becomes the case with deliberative bodies in Japan, much of the actual control has come to be exercised by the jimukyoku, the bureaucracies that perform the administrative functions of each board. These are staffed by promising young teachers from the top educational faculty of their prefecture’s national university.

While designed around prefectural and local governments, the system has evolved into one that minimizes the autonomy of individual boards. Prefectural governments make personnel decisions about local schools, and the national government has a range of direct and indirect means of imposing policy.

For example, local school boards are supposedly free to choose the textbooks used in their schools. Restricting this freedom involves turning the constitutional right of children to be educated on its head and using it for control: Textbooks must be free, but since they are paid for with tax money, they must also be certified for “quality.” Moreover, it is more economically efficient if as many schools as possible use the same text. Quality and efficiency can thus be used to ensure schools use only a limited range of similar texts.

In 2013 the government ordered the school board of the town of Taketomi in Okinawa to use a right-slanted text it had previously rejected. The rationale was that schools in neighboring towns were using it so they should too. In reality the dispute was about how approved textbooks characterized the conduct of the Japanese military during the Battle of Okinawa, a sensitive subject in the prefecture.

The government also provides detailed curricular guidelines that schools are required to follow. Although not “law,” the Supreme Court in 1990 helpfully found that a teacher’s failure to follow the guidelines was analogous to a breach of law and thus suitable grounds for firing them.

So, students are told what to do by educators who are told what to do by bureaucrats who are told what to do by other bureaucrats: Respect other people’s views; the Constitution is wonderful; eat all your school meals; we need to change the Constitution. Everything is a certain way and much of it will be on the final exams. The multiple-choice questions have only one correct answer but you can be creative on the essay so long as you write it the expected way — the way you learned at cram school.

Somewhere along the line, children and adults alike may rationally conclude that it is just easier to stop asking “Why?” and learn to live with ambient cognitive dissonance: “Why do schools force their students to make human pyramids?”; “Why is it wrong for me to copy-paste big chunks of other people’s work into my Ph.D. thesis?”; “Why does my scientific research institute have so many ex-bureaucrats on its board of directors?”

Stop. Just asking “Why?” all the time can get annoying, and many of those to whom the question is directed may themselves have stopped thinking outside of the comfy, safe box that the system puts them in. How else can they respond except with some unsatisfying variant of “That’s just the way things are”?

Recently leaders have rightly taken to bragging about “Cool Japan” and the global appeal of their nation’s manga and anime. Perhaps they could spend some time reflecting on the likely correlation between the globally acknowledged creativity in such forms of expression and their relative freedom from government control. Such unbridled creativity could help Japan stay ahead in a world where it is becoming harder to compete in areas such as engineering skills and heavy industry.

Unfortunately, creativity may be fundamentally incompatible with the bureaucratic urge to quantify and control. Moreover, despite optimistic talk about innovation, entrepreneurship and recreating Silicon Valley in Japan, the forces behind this creativity-smothering urge will likely grow stronger.

For example, educational laws were recently amended to make individual university faculties weaker in relation to their deans. Supposedly about enhancing top-down innovation, it is a change that renders academia more amenable to centralized control. A proposal has also been floated by the LDP to subject schoolteachers to a national licensing requirement — another exam! Most recently, the government has announced that national universities should start preparing to shrink or even abolish their liberal arts faculties. Nothing innovative comes out of those disciplines, right?

Apparently Japan should have more engineers who can make things such as smartphones and robots. Perhaps the robots will become smart enough that they can take over innovation as well. They will certainly have the advantage of being numb to the relentless accumulation of small, petty, boring, illogical requirements that are such a powerful factor in stifling creativity, not to mention the human spirit itself.

Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. The views expressed are those of the author alone. Law of the Land appears on the second Monday Community Page of every month. Your comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • montaigne1

    Nice article. As far as me, you’re preaching to the choir.

  • kyushuphil

    Colin P.A. Jones nicely gets the institutional rot.

    He doesn’t, however, mention perspectives from the humanities.

    If teachers felt more free, or more morally impelled, to have students write essays — lots of essays, essays feeding off of each other — they would not be “expressing themselves” so much as getting more insights into and appreciation of each other.

    And if the essays were indeed tools to see more dimensions of those around us, everyone would soon, too, be quoting lyrics from hard rock songs, drivel from girl pop groups, noir novels such as by Miyabe Miyuki and Kirino Natsuo, and essays by Haruki Murakami.

    The failure to quote more widely, more humanly (which affects our Mr. Jones, too) comes from a three-fold assault on Japanese society: 1) the patriarchy, which not only infantilizes women, but, worse, more infantilizes men; 2) the consumerism, which infantilizes all; and 3) the inane, ritualized regimentation of schools, which of course also feeds the infantilizing.

    Essays. Lots of them. Quoting off of each other. Quoting more largely, more widely, for people learning to locate themselves among good other people.

  • Literary Guy

    The problem with this essay is that it is written in the vacuum of assumed superiority by someone who has presumably passed through the halls of education in the US made available to the privileged. For example, the essay begins with a contrast between the “good” speaker from the US, and the “bad” speaker from Japan. In all likelihood, the “good” speaker is from one of those elite institutions such as Harvard, Yale or Columbia that reproduce privilege in the US and typically border slums whose situation they make worse by depriving the local communities of tax revenues. The “creativity” and “innovation” purportedly fostered in such US education seems completely incapable of slowing down the growth of the military-industrial complex, or even good old naked aggression throughout the world. The fact that “No Child Left Behind” is an attempt to instill greater nation-wide testing throughout the nation is never mentioned. If names inadvertently reveal insecurity, how about US boasts of freedom, democracy, equal opportunity and tolerance? Do not these also reveal the contrary–an increasingly paranoid, oligarchic society that sees threats and the need to establish dominance all over the world?

    Is ignorance the main criterion necessary to spout unsupported generalizations about Japan’s education system? How does working at a law school enable the writer to comment comprehensively on how education works at ever level in Japan? Is primary education more rigidly taught than in the grossly unequal schools in the US, which are increasing subject to funding-linked testing, and which are severely segregated with many students never making it through high school?

    I realize that this is an editorial, somewhat in the Maureen-Dowd School of ranting without the need to support statements with research, but still, you would like to see a modicum amount of evidence supporting one or two points.

    Consider the following paragraph, which seems really nothing more than imperialist, ethnocentric blather:
    Anyway, mediocrity may not be all so bad; after all, it’s probably a lot easier to control than excellence and creativity. Encouraging people to have realistic, mediocre ambitions may well be a factor in Japan’s social order, and perhaps even contributed to its past economic success. Americans famously tell their children that anyone can become president but, of course, it’s usually a lie. Most Japanese learn pretty quickly that they are objectively average (just like most people in the world!), with evidence supporting the proposition — over and over through the constant cycle of standardized exams. If you have ever listened to a Japanese parent talk about their child’s prospects — with the child present — you can see how many people might accept their lot from an early age: “Hiroshi will never get into a school like Keio, because he is only getting X on his exam scores.”

    Jones seems to be alluding to the class system, which is again needless to say immensely more rigid in the US. Even the quickest glance at the gini index ranking should prove this beyond dispute, but hey, don’t let facts cloud your stereotypes.

    As we move to the US occupation, we might want to mention that the US heavily suppressed Japan’s teachers as it went into full-scale cold-war mode, doing everything it good to protect and extend the established bureaucratic control. If there is a lack of creativity in Japan, perhaps it should be connected to living in a client state where true attempts at democracy, such as the resistance to the new military base in Henoko, Okinawa, are thwarted in Washington. Those are the bureaucrats and corporate elites we should be targeting.

    In sum, this editorial should please its target readers, foreigners eager to read a condemnation of Japanese education that indirectly supports the superiority of their own educational systems, based on assumptions that their personal educational experiences are somehow typical and not a reflection of comparative advantage. If you believe this essay demonstrates a high level of creativity and exceptional talent, by all means throw in with the author.

    • CPAJ

      Thanks for your extensive comments

      One of the fascinating things about writing critiques of Japanese systems is that readers often assume that I am (a) American and (b) that criticizing something about Japan means praise for the American corollary. Both assumptions are mistaken.

      Most of the time I am actually just writing about Japan, though I sometimes make comparisons to America (or other countries) when it seems relevant or interesting. In this article I believe I made one comparison to a particular institution in the United States and a negative comparison to the lies told to American children elsewhere. I refer to the American occupation because it is the starting point but that is about it. More often than not, the “superior vs. inferior” comparison seems to be taking place in the mind of the reader who approaches the text with a huge set of assumptions (as you have) about who I am and why I am writing. But these all exist entirely outside the text of what I actually wrote.

      As the product of an utterly mediocre Canadian public school, I can assure you that whatever assumptions you have made about me and my Ivy League privilege and the inherent superiority of just about anything about the United States are almost certainly wrong. If you are interested I have written an entire book on the failings of American democracy and why the US constitution should not be a model for anyone. I generally do not get into such things in this column because: (1) it is supposed to be about Japan and (2) a basic limitation of print media is you only get so many words to play with. Your comments on the American obsession with words like “equal opportunity” and “democracy” are sport on as far as I am concerned, but that wasn’t what the article was about.

      The point I was trying to make was that Japan’s leaders say they want
      entrepreneurs and innovation: is it not possible to question whether
      this goals can be achieved through an educational system that seems to
      stifle creativity and innovation at every level, without a prolonged
      detour into the subject of class inequality in the United States and the
      destructive influence of the Military Industrial Complex?

      (By the way, in addition to having taught at the graduate and undergraduate level at a Japanese university for a decade, but I also have six years’ experience as an undergraduate and a graduate student at both private and national universities.)

      • Perry Constantine

        Brilliant response and brilliant article.

      • Literary Guy

        I will confess that my first response may not have been carefully presented in a way to explain fully why I find this analysis, or diatribe, objectionable. Let me preface this additional critique by saying that I fully agree with one of the basic tenets of Jones’ argument: the Japanese government, while giving lip service to ideas such as creativity and innovation, continues to wield too much power, especially over university education, stifling the very creative solutions it claims to be supporting. I also am not questioning the educational credentials of Jones.

        So what the problem? To put it simply, this critiques shares some of the fundamental traits essays on Japaneses-ness, or nihonjin-ron, which have been thoroughly discredited Tessa Morris-Suzuki among many others. One such traits is ahistoricity and the substitution of purported national culture as primary explanatory factors. In this case, the unsubstantiated claim is made that Japanese education has changed little from the 1950s, or even the early Meiji period (“played a key role in the nation’s unification …”). Anyone who has read Benedict Anderson would recognize that this is a universal truth of every modern nation, but Japan, Jones claims without evidence, has remained unbelievably stagnant. So readers learn that Japanese education has always been about control and producing high-level mediocrity, again a claim often used to describe the ideological apparatus of all modern education systems. The difference here, however, is there seems to be almost no resistance, unless one reads against the tone of the article.

        “Somewhere along the line children and adults alike may rationally conclude that is [sic] just easier to stop asking “Why.”” So, we have a nation of people who have stopped asking why, a nation, in other words, of automatons. Here is the “creative,” truly outstanding conclusion of the writer who can see what no Japanese can possibly fathom: Japan is a land of robots! In fact, the actual robots appear destined to become more innovative than their creators, the Japanese engineers whose minds have been numbed by their Orwellian education system.

        Jones says that he is not making a comparison, and I have just leapt to erroneous assumptions. He’s right insofar as I did assume wrongly he was American. I was not wrong, however, in detecting a mostly implicit comparison with US education. The comparison rises to the surface on three occasions: “the foreign speaker would jet back to the heady task of funding brilliance (at one of the top research universities in the US and in the world), whereas the Japanese bureaucrat would scurry back to micromanaging his insular, mediocre underlings. Japanese education has sunk to this low, we are led to believe, despite the best efforts of the US at “democratizing the defeated nation” after the war, efforts that were quickly defeated. The difference isn’t just a system–it goes to the very soul. Although America may not be the land of equal opportunity it advertises, parents at least instill hope in their children. Japanese parents, on the other hand, appear to happily conclude in crushing the creative ambitions of their children. Unbelievable as it may seem, they appear eager to drill into their children, “you are average.” Again, this is based, it appears, on anecdotes.

        So forgive me if I feel obliged to point out that the US stamped out Japanese Communism, ran a strict regime of censorship, and crushed opposition while it was learning Japanese in the ways of democracy. While the head of the top university may indeed by funding brilliance, he is doing it it one of the most unequal nations in the developed world. American’s effuse praise of their children, designed to convince them that they are special in every way, has also been linked to a culture of narcissism.

        So while Perry Constantine may find this article “brilliant,” and Frido may feel assured that the West is “decades ahead” in its shinning creativity and innovation, I find this article trite and falling squarely within a typical Orientalist rhetoric that sees the “East” as stagnant, obsequious and herd-like. Every modern society has to struggle with questions of local autonomy and central authority, and the Japanese bureaucrats do have the upper hand.

        There is a wide variety of education in Japan, however, and despite the unsubstantiated claims in this article, many teachers at every level are dedicated to fostering creative thinking in their students, and succeeding in doing so. Cram schools, despite their names, often offer individualized instruction reserved for the “gifted” in systems like the US. All of these questions are subject to debate, and are in fact being debated vigorously in Japan. People do ask why, they do not fall into mindless obedience, they cannot be replaced with robots. A scholarly article would address prior research or at least align itself with a school of thought. The fact that this piece simply appears to spring forth from Jones’ own creative mind should give pause to readers who value scholarship and intellectual debate on education in Japan.

      • CPAJ

        In point of fact you DID challenge my educational credentials, both by assuming what they were and then questioning my standing to write about the subject of education.

        Much of the rest of what you are saying is, again, a product of your own creative imagination rather than what I actually wrote. Just as in your initial comments you appear to have made a bunch of extra-textual assumptions about what sort of person I am and how I think about things. As I pointed out and you acknowledged, many of those assumptions were wrong. But maybe the second round of assumptions will be correct; is that the thinking?

        A scholarly article would indeed address prior research. This is not a scholarly article.

      • Literary Guy

        I think I took the time this second time around to carefully address my criticism to detailed content in the article, demonstrating through specific references how the article does compare Japanese education with US education, and how it does make unsupported, far-reaching generalizations about Japanese education and society across time, generalizations that are easily identifiable as standard tropes of nihonjin-ron. We both appear to agree that this falls far short of the standards of a scholarly article, which leaves open the question of journalistic standards. I would aver that at least mentioning a scholar in the field or acknowledging the presence of conflict among scholars should be a minimum requirement for writers interested in avoiding simplistic denunciations that invite ethnic/racial interpretations. Obviously, we disagree.

      • CPAJ

        Well, the only ethnic/racial interpretations going on seem to be yours. Sorry I didn’t mention whatever scholarship you felt was important. Welcome to the academy.

      • Literary Guy

        Now that at least one other person has devastatingly criticized this piece, also painstakingly pointing out its unmistakable origins in Orientalist ideology, mine is no longer the “only ethnic/racial interpretation.” I feel like translating this article and posting in on my fb page just to offer Japanese an opportunity to respond to your views.

      • CPAJ

        Please do. One of the things about writing under your real is name is being willing to defend it and be responsible for it.

      • Literary Guy

        アメリカ人弁護士が見た裁判員制度
        (The Jury System as Seen by an American Lawyer)

        This is a book by you, right?
        In the preface to another book, you write:

        「私は、いまでも正真正銘のアメリカン弁護士である。」
        “I am an authentic American lawyer.”

        Yet, you are NOT American, right? Your nationality does not matter in the long run, but it is disconcerting to find you claiming two blatantly contradictory things: In English, you write that the assumption that you are American is wrong, but in Japanese, being American is part of how you advertise your books. Did I miss something?

      • CPAJ

        Actually I am not, because your assumptions about nationality and how they shape outlook are inherently self-limiting. I was born in the United States, grew up in Canada, have American legal training and have spent much of my professional career in Japan. So just about any simplistic statement you might care to make about about my nationality is both correct and incorrect at the same time.

        Sorry that doesn’t work with your binary world view, but that is actually why I used the term アメリカン弁護士because it referred to the qualification (a properly qualified Japanese person could have written the same sentence, see) rather the nationality. アメリカ人弁護士 is what the publishers wanted to use for the title, and hey, it’s also technically correct too, so whatever.

    • Frido

      Interestingly, the author never mentioned those U.S. elite institutions you named in your comment. It was a Chinese delegation that asked how “to replicate [name of institution] in China”. However, Harvard, Yale nor Columbia have been mentioned. Of course, an arbitrary institution would not have come into that education officer’s mind, and the context lets us assume that an elite university would nicely fit in that variable. Interestingly too, a delegation of China, a country with a communist-impregnated constitution where uniformity belongs to the foremost qualities, asks for elite – we should lean backwards and savor the inherent contradiction.
      I am perfectly fine that you defend the current educational system in Japan, it gives us Westerners a big relieve because you are decades away to invade our domain of being creative and innovative. Your misconceived persistence on traditional values ensures my income and the prosperity of my children and
      hopefully grandchildren – thank you!
      Jokes aside, my frank advice is that you should learn to distinguish an analysis from scolding, equality from conformity, and security from inertness. I am really afraid of the creative and innovative potential of Japan. Imagine the creational force of the manga & anime sector transferred into engineering, medicine or physics. The likes of you are gambling away the future of your country for the sake of continuity and stubbornness.

      Frido from Berlin (Germany)

      • Literary Guy

        You truly do belong to a superior race, decades ahead of the rest of us.Be careful not to neglect cleaning up the undesirable elements that might drag you down. May your work set you free.

      • Steven Rogers

        Despicable and racist comments “literary guy”. You ought to know better.

      • Literary Guy

        “it gives us Westerners a big relieve because you are decades away to
        invade our domain of being creative and innovative. Your misconceived
        persistence on traditional values ensures my income and the prosperity
        of my children and
        hopefully grandchildren – thank you!”

      • Steven Rogers

        I think that you are better than this. Your have reacted in a way that is wrong. Rather than address the arguments made, you responded to two words only; “Berlin” and “Germany”. The son is not responsible for the actions of the father. You ought to consider the effect that they have on others and delete your comments.

      • Literary Guy

        You’re probably right, so I have taken your advice. Frido’s claim of cultural/racist superiority is banal and offensive, but you’re still right.

      • Steven Rogers

        Respect

    • Toolonggone

      Japanese education is getting more critical attention than ever thanks to MEXT’s obsession with test, bench-marking, and global ranking. They are behaving just like the US DOE and other western countries like Great Britain, Sweden, Australia for invasion of privatization.

      • Literary Guy

        This type of comment at least forms the basis of a comparison that might shed light on a phenomenon that is happening everywhere, rather than search for answers in Japanese “culture.”

      • Toolonggone

        When it comes to national control of curriculum, the answer will more likely be found in institutional process or mechanism for reference of ‘culture.’

  • xperroni

    “enhancing top-down innovation”

    I cannot imagine a person who understands both “top-down” and “innovation” honestly buying that idea.

    • zer0_0zor0

      The author is criticizing the notion as disempowering the faculty and entrusting certain unspecified decisions to the deans.

      It’s not clear what the differentiation of responsibilities between “faculties” and “deans” is, though, and what he means by “weakened”. A little more detail about the actual laws would have been useful.

      • CPAJ

        Article 93 of the “School Education and National Universities Act” previously stated simply that universities have to deliberate unspecified “important matters” at faculty meetings (教授会). This means that each university faculty that has its own faculty has had a significant amount of autonomy (though I assume there is a difference between individual institutions). The amendment to Article 93 changes this by making faculties bodies that can “give opinions” to the dean (of the university) on more specific range of matters, including “such other matters on which it is necessary for the dean to receive the opinion of the faculty.” (this is why I try to avoid these details in the article!). So the intent to turn the faculties from decision-making bodies into advisory bodies is fairly clear.

        Since academic freedom is (supposedly) guaranteed by the constitution and this freedom is (again, supposedly) interpreted as including “university autonomy” (大学の自治), it is rather astounding that they can simply mandate how all universities – private and public – should be organized by statute. But then surprise at this is already overtaken by the more recent directive to national universities to consider shedding some of their “useless” liberal arts faculties as well. What this means for academic jobs for non-Japanese scholars and instructors will be interesting to see, since those jobs seem to be heavily concentrated in the liberal arts.

      • zer0_0zor0

        I think I can understand the concerns, especially in light of the attempts to promote moral educations and and white washed history textbooks at secondary and below.

        It is conceivable that the crony capitalist LDP could appoint cronies as deans and attempt to undermine academic freedom, but that is not a foregone conclusion, as it would obviously violate the Constitution, as you point out.

        The actual difference in meaning between

        deliberate unspecified “important matters” at faculty meetings (教授会)

        and

        faculties bodies… can “give opinions” to the dean (of the university) on [a] more specific range of matters, including “such other matters on which it is necessary for the dean to receive the opinion of the faculty.”

        is still not clear. It opens up the possibility to narrowly constrain the later, however, obviously not as open as the previous “important matters”.

        Liberal arts faculties are being downsized or eliminated at many institutions in the USA as well, part of the tailoring of education toward the market, as opposed to its more traditional value. Culture, in short, is not something for the plebeians at public universities to be studying…as they have to graduate and serve the interests of the oligarchy, first and foremost, in a globalized neoliberal economic order in which the TPP plays a central role in securing the interests of transnational corporations over and against the nation state.

        Accordingly, since it must be assumed that there is a globalization aspect to the reforms, I doubt it will effect foreign faculty whose classes are related to that. It is likely to affect Japanese faculties whose work is perceived as a threat to the globalized neoliberal order, including the study of history, classical literature, and culture, including traditional Japanese culture. It will be interesting to see how that works out.

  • Toolonggone

    Fabulous article. You have every reason to be skeptical about the troupes appeared in the government-led reform policy, such as “creativity,” “innovation,” and “globalization.” Colin is spot-on. Japan is slowly following the US and other western countries as the national government is beginning to chase the rainbow of ‘education-economic growth’ in the illusion of ‘global competition.’ Their sudden announcement of national English language assessment test for junior high school from 2019 just reminds me of US DOE’s endorsement of Common Core Standards in 2009 (and its subsequent disastrous PARCC test) without field test.

  • tisho

    Good luck in the fight against bureaucracy.

  • wind

    Some constructive criticism by NJs of the Japanese educational system may have some place up to a point – depending on whether or not genuinely motivated for the well-being of the country. But when it gets to NJs congratulating each other over knocking the system in its entirety, and getting into drivel such as the country of Toyota, Shinkansen, Nintendo, plenty of cool VR stuff, the Daiba and other neat modern architecture/landscaping,and tons of medical research and technology breakthroughs etc. lacking “innovation”, we’re well into the Theatre of the Absurd. Not to mention the increased unlikelihood that anyone we might want to positively persuade would either pay attention or care.

    • Literary Guy

      If the article were to actually engage with criticism by critics within Japan, the very appearance of the “us” vs “them” binary you describe would disappear. When a writer starts from the premise, “I know something that none of them has noticed,” his hubris begins to show.

      • CPAJ

        The problem with any article written in what is (in Japan) essentially a minority language, is that it necessarily involves the minority discussing the majority. So in that sense an “us v. them” element is probably unavoidable, simply because of the nature of the audience and the medium.

        I spend at least as much time engaging with Japanese critics in Japanese for Japanese audiences and have even been on an education policy-related Japanese government panel. So, assumptions again…

      • Literary Guy

        The criticism is of an article, a way of framing an issue; it has nothing to do with your engagement with Japan or Japanese in your personal/professional life. Criticism of your methodology in this article is NOT an assumption, and is not repudiated by the fact that you publish things in Japanese, as many of us do. The article purports to explain government control of Japanese education and society from Meiji to now without ever mentioning a single Japanese person by name, or ever suggesting on-going conflict/debate within Japanese scholarly society. You suggest that Japanese do not ask “why,” and conclude by hinting that their robots may become more innovative than their engineers. So, no, “an us vs. them” element is not unavoidable; it’s your chosen method of categorizing Japanese people in this particular article, an article that I doubt you would dare present in Japanese for a Japanese audience.

      • CPAJ

        I actually don’t recall writing the History of Educational Development in Japan, as you seem to be recalling the article, but good luck with deconstructing it that way. Just remember: word count.

        As for categorizing Japanese people, I don’t recall doing that at all, other than suggesting that their response to what the system imposes on them is probably quite rational in a way that is actually comprehensible to Western people who take the time to appreciate the context in which people have to live their lives.

        My views on Japan -Japanese law in particular – are formed almost entirely from talking to and interacting with Japanese people. Whatever you may think about my criticism, I have heard far harsher words from educated, intelligent Japanese people (scholars even!). “If only MacArthur had stayed a few more years” being a recent example.

        One of the admirable things about most Japanese people (as I have actually written in the past) is that they are actually open to criticism. So your assumptions about what I would dare to present to a Japanese audience are (again) wrong because I have been making pretty much this sort of commentary to Japanese audiences for quite some time now.

      • Toolonggone

        >You suggest that Japanese do not ask “why,” and conclude by hinting that their robots may become more innovative than their engineers.

        Of course, there is an exception to this statement: some Japanese individuals do indeed ask ‘why questions’–especially those young and fresh out of school and wet behind the ears. You should see some of those who can think outside the box if you shift your attention from conventional Japanese workplaces–or ministry bureau that forces you to put into same-old group mentality–a.k.a. ‘company-as-family’ mantra. Many of those belonging to J-institutions eventually give way to its cultural logic that hammers the head of ‘nail’ sticking out. That’s reason why you see an exodus of young(and sometimes mid-career) Japanese people from Japanese corporate world.

      • CPAJ

        No, I suggested that robots would be immune to inane constraints that humans find frustrating.

        Yes! People seeking less regulated environments where they can be innovative! My point exactly! I was writing about regulation, see….

      • ytuque

        “The “us” vs “them” binary you describe would disappear.”

        That is an absurd assumption. The Japanese will always consider a non-Japanese as one of “them” as opposed to one of “us.”

      • wind

        Well, if they were to go by some of the writings and comments churned out of the JT on a regular basis, who could blame them?

      • Toolonggone

        You sound like ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ dichotomy is something derived from foreign soil–and immune to Japan. Sorry, that’s not the case.

    • Greg Estelcherry

      An inability to think creatively, a lack of innovation, the passive acceptance of received wisdom passed down by assumed authorities without being questioned, are indeed problematic issues. However, I am not referring to the Japanese educational system when I write this but Japan’s Western critics.

      Why? This article perpetuates the conventional, conservative, predictable Orientalist narrative that Japanese (or perhaps other Asians) are regimented, controlled by inflexible, top-down edicts, reaffirming the smug belief that we (Westerners) stand at the vanguard of expansive, critical thought, but they don’t. Is there any person alive who has not come across this staid stereotype ad infinitum?

      Perhaps rather than hammering home the same old hand-me-down narrative, Western critics should apply a little creativity or critical thinking when discussing the alleged vices or virtues of Japanese education.

      We could start by looking at the facts. One of the world’s highest literacy rates, for a language with a complex orthography at that. Regular top-level rankings according to the most widely regarded, most reliable measures of educational achievement, including fields such as creative problem solving (Does any of this sound ‘mediocre’?). Regular and widespread praise for innovative teaching methods used by Japanese educators coming from educational experts from around the globe.

      Or we can just ignore all that and stand by our prejudices because we just ‘know’ that education in Japan is authoritative top-down transmission of ‘correct’ knowledge.

      Or we could observe and experience. I wonder how many children Colin PA Jones has in the Japanese system? I have three, studying at all levels, all having attended different schools. The classes are not uniform, there are numerous pedagogically creative and stimulating methods regularly employed. I’ve attended countless parent participation classes, PTA meetings, parent-teacher sessions. I’ve lead teacher training, I’ve conducted classroom observations at various levels, I’ve seen my kids’ hands-on projects, I’ve read their essays (despite what KyushuPhil says), I’ve supported their numerous interactive, progressive and stimulating school assignments. No, not every lesson is a paradigm of educational virtue (English, for example, can lag behind) but it occurs far more than enough to obviate the claim that a lack of creativity or invention is endemic to, or emblematic of, Japan.
      Or we could ignore all that and simply assume that Japanese teachers all follow uniform top-down edicts and allow for no creativity or innovation because, well, because a lot of people say so.

      And, speaking of cognitive dissonance, one could point to the scores of Japanese excelling at, and renowned in, various creative arts and enterprises. Check any skill or enterprise (architecture, cooking, writing, music, medical innovation, the list goes on) and see if Japanese are not prominent among the expert practitioners. Note also the incredible number of invention patents tendered by Japanese. Funny how they achieve this in a system that apparently does not foster creativity or innovation. Or maybe we can just repeat the status quo expat mantra that the Japanese are not creative until we convince ourselves of our own superiority.

      Finally there is Colin PA Jones’ dubious representation of the bodies overseeing education policy (I would describe most of what he says here as based on rampant, even false, assumptions). While national educational policy guidelines exist, a simple glance at the guidelines and suggested curricula and content would immediately reveal not only that there is a lot of room for variation and individual school/teacher interpretation (which can be immediately observed simply by observing what goes in a few different schools) but also that the guidelines are just that, guidelines. The reality is that teachers and schools are given a great deal of lassitude in terms of curricula, materials, and teaching methods.

      Colin PA Jones also associates the fact that textbooks, from which schools have a choice, must meet standards with the notion that children are thus being ‘robbed of a right to education’. In short, wut? Does Colin PA Jones believe that there should be no regulative authority to which educators be accountable for teaching materials? Is it in the best interests of our children if any old sap can throw a textbook in their faces without answering to an overseeing body. Is it not the norm of civilized countries on planet earth to establish some regulations for quality control? Oh, but we know the Japanese, being Japanese and all, will just use that as a pretense to exert authority.

      Colin PA Jones also seems rankled by the fact that the government oversees the national bar exam. He believes that the government administering the licensing exam implies that they are telling law students what is and is not important for them to know. What a load of double-speak. It is standard that national licensing bodies, which in Japan include law experts and professors, as well as practicing lawyers, set the bar (no pun intended) to maintain accountability and standards. What Colin PA Jones either isn’t telling you or doesn’t know is that while bureaucrats may administer licensing exams the actual contents of the exams are created by university professors, researchers, and practicing legal experts. Does Colin PA Jones really wish to argue that such people should NOT set the standard for determining legal licensing? Does he find it equally problematic that legal practitioners, experts and academics are thereby influencing what law students learn?

      One senses that Colin PA Jones’ musings are not the product of the critical thinking with which Westerners are supposed to be so well-endowed but rather are the product of tortured speculation and old-fashioned slippery slope assumptions.

      • Literary Guy

        Greg,
        Thank you for this well-informed critique of the stereotyped proclamations on the Japanese education system offered by Jones. I’m glad to see someone else detect the stench of discredited Orientalist views in the article, a feeling that you need to wash your hands after reading it along with the chummy self-congratulatory tone found in many of the “choir” that support it. It’s great that you also position your views as related to you experiences in the Japanese education system, offering a nuanced perspective that acknowledges complexity and diversity, as well as success.

        Even the photograph accompanying the article, with a caption suggesting that Japanese education is mired in endless regimentation, offends. Of course, your criticism “assumes” that Jones is a Westerner, just as I assumed in my critique that he was an American, which he upbraided me for as a wrong-headed assumption until I pointed out that he has sold two books premised on the fact that he, in fact, is American. He may now similarly take you to task for assuming a connection between his Western upbringing and his views of Japan; it turns out, you see, he’s really a global citizen preemptively exempt from any charge of ethnocentric chauvinism.

        Great rebuttal of this unsupported sweeping condemnation of Japanese society, a powerful refutation of a rant fueled by assumptions of Japanese conformity and servility, notions easily traced back to early twentieth-century Western racism aimed at Asians.

      • Greg Estelcherry

        Thanks LG.

        You know what fuels me? Colin Jones and his ilk might entertain populist notions that they are somehow ‘fighting the man’ but the actual end result of their Orientalist discourse is the perpetuation of racial stereotypes. So when my kids visit their western home and extended family the local assumptions are that they have no creativity, lack critical thinking skills, are intellectually passive, don’t know ‘real’ history, and, in general, are drones.

        All because they are being educated in ‘Asian’ schools.

      • CPAJ

        So let me get this straight: racist stereotyping in your native country and extended family are perpetuated by people writing in newspapers in other countries, rather than anything happening in your country/family?

      • Greg Estelcherry

        Notwithstanding the false dilemma you created in the clause beginning with ‘rather than’, the short answer is yes. Published opinions of an assumed scholar or authority living in the country in question will naturally be contributing to the (Orientalist) discourse. I think this is fairly obvious.

      • CPAJ

        Is it obvious? I don’t even know what “Orientalist discourse” means, so I doubt that it is obvious to anyone else?

        The corollary of that would be an identifiable trend of MORE racial stereotyping in your country/family due to availability of foreign newspapers over the Internet. Nobody would have been able to read the Japan times (or most of what anyone in Japan was writing in any language for a local audience), so the negative influence would be reflected in an increase. In other words, your family/home country would be less inclined to engage in negative racial stereotyping 20 years ago than they are today. Is that a reasonable inference from what you are saying?

        And as someone well informed about Japan, would you say that the reverse is true: that you see commentary by Japanese people writing for the Japanese community in America, for example, having an impact on how America is perceived in Japan?

      • Greg Estelcherry

        If a Japanese person in America, who is assumed to be an authority on a subject in America, publishes a Japanese article about said topic, we can easily assume it will have some impact upon readers in Japanese.

        As such, your article, intended for an English-reading audience, can contribute to the groundswell of popular beliefs among English readers who are interested in Japanese education.

        I am assuming that that is the purpose of writing the piece.

      • CPAJ

        That was not the question I asked (and of course you ignored the other one).

        I asked would Japanese people writing in Japanese IN AMERICA have the same impact on the stereotypes people in Japan have about America?

        The follow on questions to those go something like “and those influences are an identifiably significant factor independent of portrayals of America that people see on Japanese TV, movies, etc., just like someone writing for the Japan Times is going to have an influence that is identifiable as a separate factor in whatever stereotypes about Japanese people may be perpetuated by Family Guy, the Simpsons, The Last Samurai, Saturday Night Live, etc. etc.

        I am just trying to understand how influential I may be in reinforcing stereotypes.

      • Toolonggone

        Regarding the first paragraph, it is her/his choice to publish Japan-related article in first language or not. Even s/he does not choose to do that, readers will learn later when it is eventually translated into Japanese by third persons.

        Also, I’m sorry I have trouble figuring out what question you are responding to. Isn’t it something like:

        “Is perception of stereotype on Japan or any culture proportional or responsive to the use of language s/he chooses?” Or to put it more bluntly, “Will one’s stereotype toward Japan become lower if the exactly same article is written in Japanese instead of English?”

      • Toolonggone

        I don’t see any reason why you have to be ‘western’ critic to rant on institutional manufactured ‘conformity and obedience’ in Japanese society. What if critics are non-westerners or Japanese on the same topic? Are they equally subject to condemnation of western racism–in your imaginary figure of ‘liberal fiction’?

      • Bruce Chatwin

        LG, I feel like I should wash my hands after reading the chummy, self-congratulatory correspondence between you and Greg Estelcherry in this forum.

      • wind

        Excellent counterpoint. As I feel nothing but gratitude to the Japanese educational system for a life-changing high school exchange more than 20 years ago now, it is a joy to read of your children’s successful experiences from start to finish.

        Some curiosity about CPAJ however landed an excellent interview on youtube about child custody law. I felt none of the concerns with the writing above, on the contrary, he was soft-spoken, even-handed in seeing this highly charged issue from the interests of all stakeholders involved, aptly brought up the law and the facts where needed, and all around came across as being of help on an issue many people care deeply about – not riskily stirring a pot with little or no apparent consideration for the tact and diplomacy of which he does seem capable. Perhaps certain frustrations got the better of him. At any rate, it’s that other CPAJ I would like to hear from in future columns, as goes for the other high-profile NJs writing in our online paper. But if there’s more indulging of lazy, passive mediocrity that you so rightly described and that I am so relieved to have left behind, I am sure we can innovate an alternative!

      • CPAJ

        Thank you for taking the time to try to understand me before judging me.

        I was actually quite clear in this piece that “I have a bias.” At the same time, I am surprised at how quickly people have jumped on this as stereotyping Japanese people as robotic or even uncreative (if characterizing the average Japanese person as “average” is stereotyping, then mea culpa!).

        I DID suggest that many Japanese people may simply be engaged in perfectly rational behavior in deciding not to challenge the way things are (which is not the same as accepting it). That does not make them either robotic or uncreative. Even a system of education that seems to discourage creativity in favor of test results does not make people uncreative or robotic.

        If there are no incentives to asking why or acting (as opposed to being) creative – which also often also involves acting “differently”, then it may be perfectly rational not to act that way. Even more so when there are actual disincentives (I know Japanese people who, as children, were hit by teachers figures for asking “why” too often; those people are by no means robotic, uncreative or unintelligent – just circumspect).

        I am very much focused on rules and how they affect behavior. If you are subject to conflicting rules, as sometimes happens in Japan, it may be perfectly rational to not think about the conflict and simply try to get by as best you can. Law schools, for example, are by government regulation prohibited from spending too much time teaching bar exam subjects. They are also evaluated by the government based almost exclusively on their bar exam performance. Why do these conflicting mandates exist? It doesn’t matter – they just do.

        My understanding of how things work in Japan is formed almost completely by what Japanese people say and write about their own country and system. Perhaps I get an unbalanced view because they tend to be lawyers and other law people who may by nature tend to be critical. But I can assure you that there is a lot more scathing, undiplomatic commentary by Japanese people – lawyers, scholars, former bureaucrats, ex-judges, take your pick – on how things work in Japan in Japanese than anything you could ever hope to read in English in the Japan Times.

        So while appreciating that “tact and diplomacy” are indeed often desirable traits, in the context of this particular article I am left with the questions “towards whom?” and “why?”

      • wind

        Thank you so much for your response. I do respect the value of asking the question “why”, and thus I support your encouragement of people in any country doing just that. Perhaps we respectfully disagree on where that need is more pressing.

        I guess the reason why my initially hostile reactions to Americans or Canadians critiquing Japan without either citing the names of Japanese who agree with them (and I appreciate your mentioning that they exist and in possibly greater fervour) or explicity alluding to similar problems back in North America (which in responses to others you have done also), is related to my continuing unapologetic hostility and bitterness with North America’s War on Smart. In contrast I find Japan, more like Europe where I was also brought up but unfortunately don’t have the citizenship, far more respectful of people who would rather visit a 16th century castle than chime in about some freakin’ game (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs for crying out loud!), and where people WILL be reliably aware of stuff like whether or not America was involved in the American Revolution:

        (youtube link, Bill Maher America stupid country, from c to shining c minus)

        I’m always like “Who is anyone from that sprawling, ugly, ignorant, moronic morass to lecture about culture, education, or innovation to ANYBODY, least of all in this interesting country?” I’m always like “Why do North Americans seem to be infinitely more judgmental than say, Europeans or Japanese, when Europeans/Japanese have better healthcare, better transit, better food, better-dressed residents, and staggeringly more interest and familiarity with their own history and of other countries?” Of course there are some exceptions, such as glorious historical sites in the US and folks who frequently recite the entire US Civil War in their sleep, but on the whole I’d say the struggle against ignorant, passive mediocrity is substantially more discouraging in the Dudebro Rulez twins than in just about anywhere else.

        But, it’s my responsibility to tell the difference between the people who want to make a positive difference and those who just criticize other societies for the sake of criticising other societies, and you certainly strike me as someone who has taken the time to learn the facts on the ground, which I respect, just as I agree with other commenters who said your writing could have cited more facts/laws/quotes and names from other people here, much like your great interview on child custody laws. And I shouldn’t let my dislike of North American culture feed a need to unreasonably disparage North Americans here in Japan.
        Appreciative of your interest in other people’s viewpoints, and looking forward to your next columns, CK.

      • Toolonggone

        That’s really odd. “An inability to think creatively, a lack of innovation, the passive acceptance of received wisdom passed down by assumed authorities without being questioned” is exactly the reason why critics are everywhere for us to serve for our needs, regardless of who they are or where they are from.

        You seem to expect that ‘the picture’ will be somewhat different in terms of lesser negativity, should there be a different author–let’s say, a native speaker of Japanese who was/is public school teacher or education researcher. H/She may not agree with everything Colin Jones says here. But it is doubtful they would see positivity in current climate of education policy–which is tied into economic revival/nationalism, as they are seeing MEXT propose more specific guidelines to micromanage teaching instruction or curriculum content. See, for example, English language education reform and Japanese language arts.

        I agree that some teachers have leeways in teaching and instructional practice. But teachers are public servant, and they are essentially subject to regional/national government order. They are constrained into MEXT’s top-down order on instructional and professional guidance. I don’t see any sign of difference in Japanese education system under government’s ever strong-arming of education reform that disregards the national plight of working condition and widening inequality.

      • Greg Estelcherry

        Popular characterizations of the ‘top-down’ approach in Japan are generally exaggerated. Many critics, unaware of how the system works, tend to imagine a military scenario – like the General calling the Field Commander from headquarters telling him to have the men retreat from the front immediately – and having it obeyed without question. Or the Governor calling the prison warden with an executive order to stop the execution of the prisoner at once, resulting in immediate compliance and obedience with the edict.

        Unfortunately these Hollywood scenarios are compounded by people making unwarranted associations between ‘Asia’ ‘authority’ ‘regimentation’ ‘passivity’ etc. such that some impressionable folks think that the decision-making process in Japan must ipso facto be a series of heavy-handed edicts commanding immediate compliance from those further down the edu-chain without really knowing what they are talking about.

        In reality, this pop version of decision-making is far from accurate. First, you can look at the MEXT guidelines yourself. They do NOT say things like, “In June of 1st year high school all schools must teach the Russo-Japanese war and support Japan’s victory” but rather in a less compulsory manner such as, “In 2nd year high school, students should/are expected to be able to understand the historical development of modern China, and have a grasp of the decline of European colonialism and the causes”.

        In moral education sections, yes, we can see a call to instill pride in ‘our country and understanding Japanese identity and culture’. But it’s left in general terms. It’s not like some MEXT backroomer is calling up local high schools and telling the principal to teach X or Y.

        The local board of education, the next-in-line, is generally made up of a combination of bureaucrats, educators, and field-related experts/veterans, generally a motley lot. These boards will often contain a number of progressive and left-wing folks. They are not a bunch of mindless LDP assigned shills. They will narrow some textbook choices for the area, try to coordinate regional policy so that there is not too much quality difference between schools, and try to make sure that no one is waaay out of line.

        Next comes the school principal. She or he has very little impact upon what actually happens in a classroom. (Those familiar with Japanese decision-making processes will be aware of this). The notion of the principal banging down a fist and ordering teachers to teach this content or use that method is fanciful.

        Next will be a committee of higher-ranking teachers, usually subject heads, who, with the principal, will make decisions about what might be done to speed up X, or increase Y. This will passed down to regular subject teachers who may or may not apply it to their own classrooms.

        So, the idea of the strict dictatorial edict being rigidly rubber-stamped down the line by Big Japanese Authority into your child’s teacher’s classroom and ultimately into your child’s brain is just fanciful. The idea that individual teachers will always mindlessly echo the party line, if there is any such explicit command, is equally nonsense. Many won’t, and don’t — hence the diversity in actual classroom contents and practices. in short, the process gets filtered down to the point where flexibility and interpretation are given sway and checks and balances can be administered. Again, exceptions exist — but they are just that, exceptions.

        Colin PA Jones is trying to get readers to believe that MEXT bureaucrats are infiltrating the contents of classrooms and professions across the nation. Look at his criticism regarding the bar exam (essentially, a national licensing exam) as an example. The content of licensing examinations is determined after selecting a variety of problems and tasks collected from subject academics, professors, and practicing professionals (it’s highly likely that Doshisha Profs have been asked to make potential contributions too) after which a steering committee made up of similar academics and professionals will shape it into a feasible test form. Actual bureaucrats will then rubber stamp it and prepare to carry out the administration of the exam.

        The reality of the top-down process in Japan is far removed from the way in which it is often portrayed.

      • CPAJ

        Yes! This was a great comment!

        Authority in Japan is highly diffuse, and in my mind is a key factor in it not becoming a totalitarian system. But it can be authoritarian without being totalitarian, right? Low level bureaucrats telling teachers what and how they should teach is
        still bureaucrats telling teachers what and how they should teach. I don’t think I even came close to describing the MEXT or their role in the way you seem to have taken it, but then there are so many words that could be devoted to providing the context you describe.

        In any case, having just this weekend watched teachers in four elementary school
        classes teach exactly the same content in exactly the same way, at exactly the same time, some sort of control seems to be exerted.

        And the MEXT did just “suggest” that national universities get rid of a bunch of faculties. Just like they “suggested” that law schools reduce their class sizes, teach to the same common curriculum and essentially stop doing many of the things that they told them to do ten years ago.

        Your comments on the bar exam may be off point, because that is all handled over at the MOJ. Arguably the big problem with the law school system is that it involves overlapping regulatory jurisdictions: the way the MEXT ordained law should be taught (i.e., NOT for the bar exam) did not match the way the law was tested by the MOJ (which is run by prosecutors, who will also be some of the key professionals involved in finalizing the exam; the multiple choice part in particular I am told, involves a high degree of bureaucratic involvement).

      • Bruce Chatwin

        One senses that Greg Estelcherry’s musings are not the product of critical thinking but rather are the product of a personal crusade motivated by jealousy and a compelling need to demonstrate that s/he is the smartest person in the room.

      • Greg Estelcherry

        Thread’s over. Bruce wins.

      • Toolonggone

        Well, I don’t know about. But it seems to be fallacious native speaker disbelief on English language discourse–in Andrew Holliday’s term.

  • Clickonthewhatnow

    But… the teachers ARE bureaucrats. Rules, baby, rules. And when it doesn’t make sense, if it’s in the rules, do it anyways. Heck, half the students are already bureaucrats. Because the rules say so!

  • zer0_0zor0

    The answer clearly is not a more neoliberal approach, which appears to be the elephant in the article, so to speak.

    Japan’s law schools are dysfunctional because the legal system is dysfunctional. Of course, you can blame the bureaucrats for the fact that the damages in civil suits are too low to enable the system to serve the deterrent function it’s supposed to–and also to provide adequate income for attorneys and enabling litigants to pursue cases and the law to be upheld. The real problem for that, however, is in the neoliberal wealthy class represented by the LDP that don’t want to enable the plebeians to have equal access to the legal system, because that would subject the LDP oligarchs to being held to account by the judiciary, and weaken their power in a corrupt system of crony capitalism.

    Maybe the article makes a reasonable point or two, but it neglects the fact that the status of higher education in the US is also deteriorating, with the exception of the most privileged schools. And at secondary and below that privatization is taken a toll. So is centralized control in China and (purportedly) Japan really worse, overall, for the people? This article doesn’t provide enough information to answer that question.

  • Ben

    a very well-written piece. i think the problem stems from the concept that the defined ‘experts’ know what they’re doing. i’ve seen it countless times myself. the pervading sense is that there are masters, and if students do as the master does, they too will become masters. asking about cases where the students turn out better than the masters always provokes the same response: a solid stare, followed by a few quick blinks as the brain is reset and the same line is then repeated – the students must do as the master instructs or they won’t be any good.
    this sense also actively stymies any possibility of improvement. if a student fails, they themselves will firmly place the blame on themselves, they just didn’t follow the guidelines well enough. the possibility that the guidelines may not be suitable doesn’t even exist as a concept. suggest methods be experimented with and you are automatically wrong, you don’t understand how things are done in japan. why is the way things are done so set in stone? because japanese students “won’t be able to understand”. what is so important about understanding? why not give them the skills to figure things out for themselves? stare, blink-blink, “in japan, we don’t teach like that.” sigh.