The Diet has started discussions on a government bill to revise the Fundamental Law of Education. First and foremost, the bill represents an attempt to lay down a legal basis for using education as a means of instilling “love of nation” in students. While love of nation is something that should grow spontaneously in the heart of each citizen, the bill carries the danger of giving the state the idea that it has leeway to determine the “correct” love of nation that schools should teach students.

Thus the state could impose a particular attitude toward the nation on students, infringing on the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of thought. It would change the basic character of the current law, or the “constitution of education,” which embodies the postwar soul-searching over how to avoid repeating the mistakes that grew into the ultranationalist, state-centered education system of World War II and before.

The bill, crafted by the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito, avoids the phrase “love of nation.” Instead, Article 2 of Section 5 includes, as an education goal, “cultivating an attitude that respects tradition and culture, and loves the nation and the homeland that have fostered them.”

The Democratic Party of Japan has also made its own proposal to revise the law. The top opposition party has included the following phrase in the preamble of its proposed bill: “cultivating a heart that loves Japan, respecting ancestors, turning one’s thought to offspring, respecting tradition, culture and arts.”

Those who have drafted the government bill and the DPJ proposal seem to believe that a singular love of nation and a singular tradition exist that every citizen will readily subscribe to. But there are no such things. The meanings of love of nation and tradition differ according to each individual. That’s why it is wrong to insert such concepts into law.

Both proposals emphasize the importance of public mindedness. Explaining why the bill is necessary, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told a Lower House plenary session that more than a half-century since the Fundamental Law of Education was enacted, the conditions surrounding education have changed, making a sense of morality, a spirit of self-reliance and a public spirit more important.

This sentiment seems to imply that current law attaches too much importance to individual rights and is responsible for such problems as bullying and violence at school, juvenile crime, self-centered behavior and a lowering of self-motivation. Such a claim is far-fetched. It is more logical to think that these problems have occurred under the pressure of societal changes such as urbanization, the advent of a consumption-oriented and information-oriented society, the aging of the population and the decrease in the number of newborn babies.

The general social trend created by these phenomena has weakened or destroyed the power to educate children, which was traditionally held by the family, schools and communities. The LDP, which has held power for about 50 years, bears no little responsibility for these societal changes.

Mr. Koizumi told the Diet that education authorities will not step inside the hearts of students and will not impose a love of nation upon them. He also said that this does not mean love of the powers that be. But he forgets that a law, once enacted, has its own inertia.

Once love of nation is written into law, it will gain its own momentum and lead education authorities to impose what they think is the correct love of nation on children. Mr. Koizumi also made it clear that teachers cannot refuse to teach love of nation by citing the constitutional guarantee of freedom of thought and conscience, because teaching that love will become a legal duty if the bill passes the Diet.

Article 10 of the current Fundamental Law of Education says education should not be subjected to improper control and should be carried out with direct responsibility to the people. The government bill replaces the last half of the phrase with the following phrase: “education should be carried out in accordance with provisions of this and other laws.” Insertion of this phrase would serve as a rationale for more state control over education.

Love of nation may be a palatable concept to some people. But they need to give due consideration to the dangers that will arise from inserting the concept into law. The current Fundamental Law of Education contains important elements that would contribute to solving the problems that Japanese society is facing — love of truth and justice, respect for labor and cultivation of a deep sense of responsibility.

Adherence to these virtues by society as a whole would do much more to improve the situation in which many Japanese now find themselves than a revision of the law.

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