Micro Review: Reading Japanese Education by Diane M. Hoffman

The opening Chapter, in DeCoker and Bjork’s Japanese Education in an Era of Globalization is a very helpful starting point for this collection of essays.  Hoffman begins with criticism of any “holistic” view of Japanese education which seeks to explain the entirety of a complex system by offering some “grand model.”  One such “grand model,” is the “Centrality of the Ministry of Education.”  Hoffman, doesn’t deny that their is some utility in for example a critical understanding of Japanese education in terms of a powerful centralized bureaucracy, but she is rightfully wary of any such account that mythologizes or adds excessive moral significance to such artifacts as political organization.  In this regard, Hoffman is somewhat skeptical of the genre of ethnographic research in general.  But she allows that research that seeks to understand Japanese education in comparison with other contexts is most useful when it neither erases diversity nor seeks to hold up Japan as a model.

The reminder of Hoffman’s essay describes four guiding themes or “tensions” in Japanese educational research.  She is observing patterns in existing research rather than suggesting areas for future study.  Likewise, her identification of themes or tensions don’t foreclose on alternatives.  Those four themes are as follows:

cultural versus structural effects

individual versus collective selves

education for belonging versus education for transformation

and homogeneity versus diversity.

In my experience as a teacher in Japan, and in my limited exposure to the literature on Japanese comparative education, I can see why these themes would present themselves as most evident or available means of analysis of the education system here.  First, as Hoffman echos in her essay, the Japanese nation and the Japanese cultural identity are conflated at every turn, both in and outside of academia.  But it is undeniable that “Japaneseness” is a cultural category that has had far-reaching effects even spilling over into political structures like citizenship and discourses in education like globalization.  I suppose this is the thematic substrate that I am most interested in accessing in my own writing about Japanese education, particularly in light of Hoffman’s closing salvo on “culture, power and difference in reading Japanese education,” but more on that in a moment.

The individual versus collective selves theme, is another one that I see becoming more prominent particularly in light of the neoliberal dominance of educational policy.  That is, the urge in neoliberal discourses of education to treat all aspects of educational systems as flows of capital has often bumped up against a deeper historical imperative for cooperation and a native democratic humanism that predates the arrival of liberalism in Japan from Europe.  Here again, though, the key is how best to use these categories of analysis without essentializing them or mythologizing unnecessarily.

Hoffman’s theme of education for belonging versus transformation is the one which I am least familiar with.  She mentions it specifically with regard to discourses of situated learning– from shellfish divers to violin teacher training.  This is an area of the literature which I will hopefully get a bit more exposure to as I read through Bjork and DeCoker’s collection.  It is also an axis along which it seems like it would be helpful to analyze teacher education in general.

Finally, comes Hoffman’s category of homogeneity versus diversity.  This one seems much more familiar and easily accessible to me, especially given my experiences as a foreign national working as a foreign language teacher in Japan.  But it also strikes me as a useful access point for criticism of ability tracking that is so prevalent here.

To return to Hoffman’s closing nod to “Japan and its Others” for a moment– here was another area where I thought the literature around linguistic imperialism might be usefully expanded.  Hoffman helpfully points out that power has long been undertheorized in the field of Japanese education.  I think this is particularly true when it comes to my particular professional corner of it: foreign language education, which in Japan typically means, EFL/ ESL.  It would be interested to trace the changing tides of EFL/ ESL education in Japan compared with the changing tides of the clout of Japanese Education in general in the world.  I wonder what patterns such a historical analysis might uncover.

Hopefully more to come in that vein next entry.  Now it’s time to pick up my son from Kindergarten.

 

The Mythical Whiteness of Trump Country | Boston Review

Source: The Mythical Whiteness of Trump Country | Boston Review

This is a fantastic critique from the Boston Review of J.D. Vance’s bestselling HIllbilly Elegy.  I ordered copy of this book about a year ago after Trump’s victory, but it ended up being out of stock, and I never re-ordered it.  Now I’m kind of glad I didn’t bother.  It would appear that Vance is a little light on progressive populism, and his ethnography is weighed down by a racist mythology of the Scotch-Irish settlers of Appalachia.  Elizabeth Catte rightly points to the diversity of this region, which Vance apparently erases in puffing up his “‘hillbillies’ as a unique specimen of white woe.”

Living In The Beautiful Bubble Of The Not-Quite Internet – BuzzFeed News

When I started college in 1999, the digital revolution was in its awkward infancy. That awkwardness gave rise to moments of lovely serendipity — and pockets of blissful ignorance.  By Anne Helen Petersen

Source: Living In The Beautiful Bubble Of The Not-Quite Internet – BuzzFeed News

Dorothea Lange’s Censored Photographs of FDR’s Japanese Concentration Camps — Anchor Editions

The military seized her photographs, quietly depositing them in the National Archives, where they remained mostly unseen and unpublished until 2006.

Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother photograph from 1936 Dorothea Lange—well-known for her FSA photographs like Migrant Mother—was hired by the U.S. government to make a photographic record of the “evacuation” and “relocation” of Japanese-Americans in 1942. She was eager to take the commission, despite being opposed to the effort, as she believed “a true record of the evacuation would be valuable in the future.” The military commanders that reviewed her work realized that Lange’s contrary point of view was evident through her photographs, and seized them for the duration of World War II, even writing “Impounded” across some of the prints. The photos were quietly deposited into the National Archives, where they remained largely unseen until 2006.

Source: Dorothea Lange’s Censored Photographs of FDR’s Japanese Concentration Camps — Anchor Editions

Podcast Episode 36: But WHY!!! Would You Learn a Language? by Fluent Language

A feedback question from James led us to discussing why we chose the languages we are learning right now.

From the email announcement about this podcast episode:

Do you think you’re a crazy person for learning a language?
Do you ever get asked why you would possibly spend your time doing this?
If you’re learning a language and you “don’t have to”, other people think you’re nuts.
Yep, totally bananas. And when you’re busy as hell and trying to sneak in 5 minutes of flashcards at the supermarket till, you may feel tempted to agree.
But I don’t think you’re crazy. I know how it feels when you first speak to someone in their own language and have genuinely made their day. It’s unbeatable to have that conversation in another language. It’s probably as close to space travel as most of us will come.

***

Interesting podcast and blog, which I have recently begun cluing into when a topic strikes my fancy.  Something about the comparison between language learning and space travel (the transcendent perspective both activities promise perhaps) really struck a chord with me.  From when I was very little up until I went to college I fantasized about space travel a lot, and even very seriously (to the point of visiting NASA headquarters in Washington D.C., my senior year of high school) considered pursuing a space-related career.  Eventually, through the tough reality checks provided by my undergraduate education, however, I eventually landed on English and Linguistics as a course of study.

Am I just a BAD POLYMATH?  How far do my abilities actually go to support my interests in these seemingly disparate subjects.  Or is there some kernel of who I am that has subconsciously been pursuing a common thread all along this winding educational path.  If so, what is that common thread exactly?  And what if anything does this reflective exercise I am engaged in mean for me now, as an EFL teacher, and bilingual parent?

In any event I was happy to come across this beautiful comparison between language and space travel because, on the surface at least, it seems to tie up several of my loose ends.  I have a lot of loose ends at the moment.

 

Source: Podcast Episode 36: But WHY!!! Would You Learn a Language? by Fluent Language