On the basis of the Central Council of Education’s October report, the education ministry has revised the course of study at elementary and junior high schools to introduce moral education as an official subject beginning in fiscal 2018 and 2019, respectively. The ministry stresses that the focus of moral education, which has been taught since 1958 as an informal subject, should change from reading of related materials to teachings that encourage thinking and discussion by schoolchildren.

The revised course of study also says that moral education should not lead to imposing certain ways of thinking on the schoolchildren. However, a close examination of the plan reveals contradictions and problems. Grading of the students in moral education — even in descriptive forms — carries the inherent risk of casting children’s ways of thinking into a mold.

The Abe administration has cited serious cases of school bullying, including one that led to the 2011 suicide of a junior high school student in Otsu to justify the introduction of moral education as a regular school subject. The updated course of study calls for teaching schoolchildren about “treating a person free of one’s own likes and dislikes” and “treating a person without prejudice and in a fair and equitable manner,” for first and second graders, and third and fourth graders, respectively. One wonders why teaching such virtues requires upgrading moral education to a formal subject.

According to the revised course of study, the goal of moral education is to “nurture children who can think how to live and act on the basis of autonomous judgment” and “live as independent beings together with others.” But at the same time, it lists 22 keywords such as gratitude, common courtesy, public-mindedness, understanding right from wrong, honesty and sincerity as items to be taught in moral education classes. Care needs to be taken so that the classes do not result in unilaterally imposing such virtues on the students but encourage them to think on their own.

The ministry’s plan takes up such issues as “information morality,” “sustainable development of society” and “relationship between progress of science and bioethics.” Discussions on these matters will hopefully enhance schoolchildren’s understanding of these issues and contribute to developing their abilities to think deeply about other matters as well.

But the plan’s call for education of “love of one’s country” is problematic. It says the moral education should nurture “independent-minded Japanese” who, among other things, “respect tradition and culture, love the country and their native region” and contribute to creating a “culture rich in individuality” and “a peaceful and democratic country and society,” and “respect public values as well as other countries.” It does not appear designed to teach children to think critically about their own country. The aim of such education should not be to instill in children a blind love of their nation.

Textbooks used in moral education classes will be screened under a standard to be developed by the education ministry — a process that could result in the texts reflecting moral values endorsed by the government. Textbook publishers might exercise self-censorship to pass the screening. Once moral education is introduced as a formal subject, the ministry might change the course of study in the future to more strongly reflect values convenient to those in power.

The Diet should scrutinize the direction of moral education, and concerned citizens should state their opinions to the ministry, which is accepting public comments through March 5.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.