Political intervention in education

In August 2011, a school textbook selection council for the Yaeyama islands area of Okinawa Prefecture selected a textbook compiled by Ikuhosha Co. as the civics textbook for junior high schools in the area’s three municipalities. Following the decision by the council, which includes education administrators and educators from the three municipalities, the boards of education in Ishigaki City and Yonakuni Town decided to adopt the Ikuhosha textbook, which is tinged with a conservative perspective, especially on security issues and the no-war Constitution.

The board of education in Taketomi Town decided to adopt a different textbook compiled by Tokyo Shoseki Co. The board’s action is not illegal because the law on local education administration stipulates that the power to select school textbooks lies with each board of education. Another law, however, on the free distribution of school textbooks, says that the same school textbooks should be adopted in municipalities belonging to a school textbook selection zone, which covers several municipalities. Under the law, the central government shoulders the cost of purchasing and supplying textbooks to elementary and junior high schools.

The education ministry has disclosed that on the strength of a relevant stipulation in the Local Autonomy Law, it will demand that the Taketomi board of education reverse its decision. If the demand is officially made, the municipality is legally obligated to obey it. But no punishment is provided for failure to do so. It is reported that if the town does not accept the demand, the ministry plans to file suit to have a court confirm illegality on the part of the town.

The ministry’s move smacks of political intervention in education. The ministry should drop its move because Taketomi Town is not harming the central government in connection with the law on the free distribution of textbooks. The town has distributed copies of the textbook adopted by its board of education by using money donated by interested townspeople.

The law’s stipulation that the same textbooks should be used in a textbook selection zone is apparently for the sake of convenience and efficiency in the purchase and distribution of textbooks. The education ministry would be wrong to put convenience and efficiency above a board of education’s educational considerations.

Instead of forcing the board of education to use the Ikuhosha textbook, the ministry should focus on questions raised about the decision-making process of the textbook selection council and criticism of content in the textbook. Because the selection council’s textbook researchers did not recommend the textbook, the council head changed the council’s rule to allow it to select unrecommended textbooks. Regarding content, the Ikuhosha textbook has been criticized for downplaying the importance of the role played by the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, failing to mention Okinawans’ suffering from the heavy U.S. military presence and the relocation issue concerning U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma, and praising nuclear power.

The Taketomi board of education has done nothing unjust or unreasonable. The education ministry should respect the sentiments of local residents and refrain from imposing the Ikuhosha textbook on the town.