An experts’ panel of the education ministry on Dec. 26 recommended that the ministry upgrade a current morals class, which is conducted without textbooks, to an officially designated subject and screen textbooks to be used for the subject. The ministry will introduce the subject of morals in fiscal 2015 at the earliest.

Teaching morals as a subject carries the danger of instilling a subjective set of values on children and preventing them from thinking autonomously in coping with particular situations. The move by the ministry is another blatant move by the Abe administration to increase political intervention in education.

At present, a morals class is held once a week at elementary and junior high schools for a total of 35 times a year. Although the course of study covers moral education, the current class of morals is not treated as a subject but as part of overall education activities. Therefore, students are not evaluated or given a grade.

Under the plan recommended by the panel, once the subject of morals is introduced, teachers will have to use textbooks approved by education ministry screening. They’ll evaluate students’ attitude and eagerness to learn — not by giving marks but in narrative form.

Education minister Hakubun Shimomura said that moral education is important to nurture in children normative consciousness, self-affirmation, sociality and compassion. But how can the ministry set a guideline for screening textbooks in a field related to the ethical question of how people should feel, think and act in particular situations they encounter?

There is a great danger that the guideline will emphasize a conservative, regressive set of values and impose them on children. Under such a situation, the spirit of conformism, fueled in part by peer pressure, could strengthen among children, leading them to think and behave in ways that the government thinks are desirable.

If a textbook is used for moral education, children will be deprived of a chance to think freely and critically in coping with the problems they face in their real life.

Since the revised fundamental law of education calls for nurturing a love for the nation and one’s native place, there is a possibility that the government will strive to instill a sense of nationalistic patriotism in children.

The need for teachers to evaluate students will also cause problems. Teachers may be forced to evaluate students’ attitudes in accordance with a rigid set of criteria. This could lead to suppression of children’s freedom of thought and conscience.

Moral behavior such as compassion and thoughtfulness toward others can be nurtured only through real experience, not through the study of a textbook. The most important thing is to increase the chances in which children can encounter various kinds of people and situations so that they can learn through real life experiences how to think and behave in a morally correct manner.

Even under the first Abe administration, which had the Diet revise the fundamental law of education in 2006, the Central Council for Education opposed turning moral education into a subject by pointing out that using textbooks and giving marks to children would cause difficulties. With this precedent in mind, the education ministry should place top priority on ensuring that the nation’s children are educated in the best way possible and oppose the Abe administration’s move to politicize the teaching of morals.

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