One promising thread that I was able to pick out from the intro to DeCorker and Bjork’s collection, Japanese Education in an Era of Globalization: Culture, Politics and Equity, was their aim to critique views of Japanese education which elide complexity in favor of a treatment of the Ministry of Education policy as THE driving force in the education system here. They don’t mention specific authors they wish to critique, who come at Japanese education from this standpoint, but a review I read in the History of Education Quarterly (a journal which is a little light on Japanese Ed. history) takes this view. Of course, MEXT is undeniably a powerful entity in the creation and implementation of education policy and curriculum here. Furthermore, it is an organization with a more than 130-year history, which is to say, it is not undeserving of study. However, I think it will be more useful to look at present-day education in Japan through a historical lens that de-centers what has been the central education authority in Japan.
Why do I think it is important to decenter the center in this case? Well, apart from having a contrarian streak a mile wide, it has been my experience that teachers have the greatest influence on what education amounts to. While they are beholden to the dictates of organizations like the Ministry of Education on paper, the realities (for better or for worse) off classrooms are always deviating from these norms. I realize that it’s not nearly so easy to get a picture of what actually happens in classrooms as it is to follow the paper trail left by a government ministry dedicated to dictating what ought to be happening in classrooms. But the counter-examples that are available will be instructive for teachers who may see their social-reconstructivist aims as being at odds with the curriculum from above.
The example of Hiroshima Jogakuin, the Protestant missionary school for girls, which was very much subject to the Ministry’s war-time dictates, and came under increasing scrutiny due in larg part to its employment of American staff (including head teacher, Nanny Gaines). The activities of these foreign teachers in Japan and the support they received from their Japanese counterparts is I think a great model for present-day curriculum involving the cooperation of Japanese Nationals and non-Japanese native English speaker teachers (NESTs).
But that will have to wait. And I will have to pick this thread up again a little later on.
This is a great piece by Héctor Tobar, a Journalism professor at the University of Oregon. By telling a personal story about his growing up in Los Angeles and the effect that had and interweaving some education policy talk, Tobar illustrates the important connection between bilingualism and political power. Policies like the one in effect until recently in California literally silence minority communities.
This is part of the broader picture I’m beginning to see of bilingualism as a type of resistance that is radical in its unifying power and transgressive in its rejection of dominant culture. Of course, in my local situation, in Japan, the power structure is turned upside-down. So, my struggle, strangely enough is teaching my children English against the background of Japanese majority culture and language. But, of course, globally, Western European (White), colonial, English-speaking is the giant. I suppose everywhere you go will have its own unique language situation with various kinds and levels of dominance and resistance being played out. In North America its pretty much English versus all-comers. And this California law is recognition of the diversity of the United States and a victory for what might be called linguistic justice.
When I first came across Bilingual Monkeys, I didn’t know it yet, but it was the beginning of my efforts to pay a lot closer attention to my son’s language learning. This is a short reflection I wrote for that blog. Thanks as always to Adam Beck for his editorial support and for maintaining such a cool website.
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.
My son, Oliver, was born in a suburb of Hiroshima, Japan in the fall of 2013 while I was still busy wrapping up my masters degree at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. This is the story of our second trip back to my hometown, Asheville, North Carolina. Published on the great bilingualism blog, Bilingual Monkeys.
From the horror of Hiroshima to the terror of Paris, the world is mad. It’s hard to imagine that this madness can ever really be overcome, at least not until the human mind evolves into a higher state of health and wisdom. But where does that leave us now, in these violent times?