The Liberal Democratic Party is reportedly seeking to propose “home education assistance” legislation to the Diet. It might sound like a bill aimed at providing financial assistance to poorer families in the education of their children or beefing up support for households of children suffering from bullying at school. It’s nothing of the sort. Instead, it’s legislation that could provide a basis for government intervention in how parents raise their children. The ruling party should give up on this idea.
In concrete terms, the bill envisages the national government setting a basic guideline on assisting “home education,” on the basis of which prefectures and municipalities would set their own policies. In accordance with the policies, local governments would carry out public awareness campaigns and provide parents with learning opportunities and relevant information, while school authorities and local residents would cooperate with the municipalities as they carry out the measures.
According to the planned bill, home education should be aimed at “having parents and other guardians make their children form habits that are necessary for their living as well as try to get the children to acquire an independent mind and achieve balanced development of their body and mind.” The bill says that assisting home education has become an important issue because of changes in the circumstances surrounding families today, such as a decline in average family size, reduction in the time family members spend together and weakening connections between families and their local communities.
At first glance, this might look like harmless legislation. But a closer look at the process that led the party to prepare the bill appears to point to what the proponents of such legislation, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, are seeking to achieve by “assisting” home education.
To begin with, the bill whose express intention is setting goals for home education could be taken as an attempt by the government to intervene in families’ private affairs. The original draft of the bill was more straightforward — it said parents need to make efforts so that their children will “acquire qualities that are needed as members of society and the state.” This reference was deleted in the LDP’s final draft — possibly because the party was afraid it might incur criticism. But the process leads one to wonder whether the LDP is seeking to make the nurturing of children who will serve the state the purpose of home education.
The final draft meanwhile dropped a clause in the earlier version that said the autonomous nature of home education should be respected. The bill appears to resonate with the push by conservative LDP lawmakers to idealize what they perceive as traditional family values — and get their ideas reflected in government policy.
The bill’s connection with the LDP’s draft amendment of the Constitution, released in 2012, should be scrutinized. Article 24 of the Constitution states the principle of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes, including the equal rights of husband and wife. The LDP’s 2012 draft calls for adding a clause to Article 24 that family members “must help each other.” This represents an attempt to impose a certain type of moral value on individuals who form a family, which would lead to the government interfering in the private affairs of families.
Similarly, the home education assistance bill represents an attempt to impose a certain role on families. In a constitutional democracy, the government is supposed to keeps its hands off from what kind of family people would like to create and what individuals do in their family life. Both the bill and the LDP’s draft constitutional amendment deviate from this principle.
Proponents of the bill appear to think that collapse of the traditional form of families — and the subsequent weakening of bonds between family members — have brought about various problems. But recent academic studies show that before the nation’s postwar rapid economic growth, Japanese parents were too busy to spend enough time with their children, generally leaving them to their own devices. This means that the LDP’s home education assistance bill is built on a mistaken premise.
Lawmakers pushing the bill may think that there should be one correct form of home education. But ideas on how to raise children are different for each family. The LDP’s bill risks denying diversity and freedom in the rearing and education of children. Stressing the importance of home education as embodied by the bill also ignores the freedom of people to choose whether to marry and to have children.