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HONOLULU — Japanese-U.S. cultural relations are filled with ironies. Perhaps the greatest is that many of the thousands of foreigners hired by the Japanese government during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) are far better known in Japan than they are in their own countries. A second fascinating irony is that Japanese teachers, widely respected as a major reason for success of Japan’s educational system, have been the products of teacher-education enterprise that is largely American in origin.

An important reflection of both is Marion MacCarrell Scott (1843-1922), a native Virginian who spent most of his 79 years far away from Virginia. The great bulk of Scott’s life was spent in three places — San Francisco, Japan and Honolulu — where he made significant contributions to the educational systems of each. Yet today his name is best known in Japan.

Leaving Virginia as a young man, Scott journeyed to San Francisco at a time when that city was rapidly growing as a result of the Gold Rush of 1848 and California’s reputation as a land of opportunity was at a height. Upon his arrival, Scott taught at the Washington Grammar School, quickly rising to become the school’s principal. Before long, the talented young man was appointed a member of the State Board of Examiners, whose responsibilities included not only the writing but also the administration of a test to those wishing to become teachers. Scott’s name will rarely be found in any of the major American biographical dictionaries, but it is commonly listed in those published in Japan. This despite his having spent only three years (1871-1874) in Japan, during which time he was a major figure in establishing Japan’s first teacher-training institution, the Tokyo Normal School.

The enlightened recognition by the Meiji oligarchs that widespread educational opportunities were essential to the nation’s modernization highlighted the need for a more formal mechanism to train teachers. What form these new arrangements should take, however, was a matter of considerable dispute.

The forces that were contending in the larger framework of Japanese modernization — Western ideas, orthodox Confucianism and nativism — were reflected in the great educational debates of the day. The Western faction was dominant in the early days of Meiji, but was replaced by a group reflecting Confucianism in a conservative reaction beginning around 1880. Nativist forces were never strong enough to carry the day, but one ignored them at considerable risk.

Thus throughout Japan’s modern history, the national government focused special attention on the education of public-school teachers, recognizing that broad educational progress was dependent on an adequate supply of competent, well-trained and politically reliable teachers.

It also needs to be emphasized that teachers in Japan have traditionally played far broader roles than mere conveyers of knowledge. Indeed, they have always been viewed primarily as shapers of character development, and this is a major factor in understanding Japanese teacher education.

In addition, the normal schools also played an important secondary role on Japan’s road to development. There were not enough universities to supply the nation’s human resource needs, and as Herbert Passin, a leading student of Japanese education, has pointed out: “The normal school . . . was the target not only for aspiring educationalists, but for ambitious provincial youth hoping to get ahead in the world as well.

“Since the universities could take so few students, many aspirants turned to the normal schools as their stepping stones to government, politics and business. . . . [Indeed,] the class of 1887 of the Fukuoka Normal School . . . produced many famous educators, but also a prefectural governor, some mayors and a number of military officers.”

The Tokyo Normal School, Japan’s first modern teacher-education institution opened its doors to 54 male students (out of about 300 applicants) in September, 1872. An American educator, Marion M. Scott, was appointed foreign instructor at the school by the Ministry of Education, which was impressed by his experience as an educator in the United States.

Scott, who wielded great influence in shaping the school, stressed a methodology of teaching that discarded the old individual tutoring-reciting methods, and he was probably the first to introduce the methods of the great Swiss pedagogue, Johann Pestalozzi, into Japan. He also imported American-style textbooks, teaching materials and even school furniture, so that a typical Japanese elementary school bore a striking resemblance to those found in Boston, Chicago or San Francisco.

In 1873, Scott established an “attached” elementary school where teachers in training could observe real classrooms and put into practice the pedagogical principles that they had been taught. Scott was personally responsible for teaching 24 teacher trainees, whom he divided into six groups, each of which was responsible for instructing a group of 15 pupils from the attached elementary school. Since Scott spoke very little Japanese, his instruction was in English, but his students taught in their native tongue.

The initial teacher-training program was only of a year’s duration, and the first year’s graduates were not assigned to elementary schools as originally planned. Instead they served as teachers in the newly created teacher-training institutes, providing short “crash” courses for even less qualified teachers from other parts of the country. In 1873, other normal schools for men were established in Osaka and Sendai and, in the following year, Aichi, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Niigata prefectures.

The following year saw the establishment of the Tokyo Women’s Normal School, which was not only the first teacher-training institution for women, but also served as the national government’s organ for the education of women. Rapid expansion of teacher-training schools was characteristic of the early Meiji period, and by 1876 there were a total of 95 normal schools scattered throughout the country. This rapid expansion, however, could not be sustained, and by 1877, in the face of a serious financial crisis, the national government was forced to close many schools, leaving many prefectures without institutions for teacher training.

The Tokyo Normal School was responsible for more than merely training teachers; it was also in charge of the formulation of regulations; for the course of study for elementary schools and the editing of textbooks. Many of the graduates of this institution received graduate education in the U.S., while others directly became educational leaders in the new public schools that were set up throughout the country.

Seeing that he had pushed his work as far as it was likely to go, Scott left Japan in 1874, returning to San Francisco to continue his work in the education field. By 1881, however, he decided to relocate again, this time to Honolulu. His reasons for leaving northern California are shrouded in the mists of time, but he may well have missed the everyday contact with Japan and the Japanese, and hoped that he might recapture some of it in Hawaii with its large Japanese population. Whatever his motivation Scott, spent the remainder of his life in Honolulu, where he earned the respect and love of his predominantly Japanese-American students.

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