Reckless politicization of textbooks

The education ministry has revised a handbook on the government curriculum guideline concerning the handling of Japan’s territorial issues with neighboring countries in textbooks for middle and high schools.

The handbook, which serves as a guideline for textbook writing, says for the first time that the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan and the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are Japan’s own territories. Although the handbook has no legally binding power, the revision will put great pressure on teachers to teach the territorial issues only along the government’s line.

The revision represents an attempt on the part of the Abe administration to impose the government views on particular issues on children. The handbook revision carries the danger of preventing children from nurturing a habit of finding out different parties’ views and logic on a dispute and of trying to find a solution that is acceptable to all the parties concerned.

The ministry on Tuesday notified boards of education across the country about the revision, which will be reflected in middle school textbooks to be used from fiscal 2016 and in high school textbooks to be used from fiscal 2017.

Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura expressed the hope of upgrading the handbook revision to a revision of the curriculum guideline itself, which would have a legally binding power.

The revised handbook says that textbooks must mention that Japan incorporated the Takeshima islets and the Senkaku Islands into Japanese territories on the grounds that are justifiable in terms of international law. As for the Senkaku Islands, it says that textbooks must make it clear that Japan has an effective control over the islands and that no territorial dispute exists over the islands. Regarding the Takeshima islets, the revision says that textbooks must mention that since South Korea has illegally occupied the islets, Japan has repeatedly protested to South Korea.

If textbooks are treated just as a means of instilling government views on the territorial issues into students, they will likely stop thinking deeply about the issues and refrain from considering how the government and Japanese citizens can find ways to solve the issues. Another problem with the revised handbook is that it does not mention the fact that in the past, Japan, China and South Korea made efforts to prevent the territorial issues from flaring up.

Merely drilling the government’s official views into students will ultimately serve only to increase tensions with neighboring countries. What is needed is comprehensive understanding of the issues in question, including understanding of the other parties’ stances and rhetoric and of Japan’s past mistakes, if any, in handling these issues. By gaining such understanding, ordinary citizens could influence the government to seek solutions to the issues in a rational and reasonable way.

The Abe administration is determined not to approve textbooks whose descriptions do not conform to the government’s view on patriotism. It will also require textbooks to include the governments’ unified views or finalized court rulings, if any, on certain issues in Japan’s modern history that the textbooks cover. It also plans to make morals a regular subject. The Abe administration’s education policy will only nurture a narrow-minded nationalism in our young people, which will harm Japan’s interests rather than help them in this age of globalization.