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.


from Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter

From Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter

“We should not think of our past as definitely settled, for we are not a
stone or a tree,” wrote poet Czeslaw Milosz. “My past changes every
minute according to the meaning given it now, in this moment.”

So, yes, you have the power to re-vision and reinterpret your past. Keep
the following question in mind as you go about your work: “How can I
recreate my history so as to make my willpower stronger, my love of life
more intense, and my future more interesting?”

These NC heroes should replace Confederate monuments | PoliticsNC

We have a glorious capitol. Modest and elegant, the 1839 building is considered a neo-classical gem. Surrounding it is a verdant square of neat pavilions. But for now, the area is scarred by Confederate monuments. Those statues will come down eventually. Here is who belongs in their place:


1.) George Henry White A successful lawyer and businessman, the African-American from New Bern was the last black Congressman between Southern Redemption and the 1940’s. White supremacists hounded him from office in 1901. In his departing speech, White predicted that African-Americans would “rise like a phoenix” from their political disenfranchisement–a prophecy fulfilled by President Obama. His comments leaving North Carolina were darker: “I cannot live in North Carolina like a man and be treated like a man.” Let’s do him justice.

Daniel Lindsay Russell.jpg

2.) Daniel Russell The corpulent Wilmington farmer served as governor from 1897-1901. Governor Russell led the short-lived “Fusionist” movement of white Populists and the biracial Republican Party. A white Republican, Russell distinguished himself by fighting for African-American rights during the infamous Wilmington Coup of 1898, barely escaping with his life. Although his political movement was cut short, Russell’s courage was vindicated by history.


3.) Harriet Ann Jacobs Jacobs shocked the consciences of northern women with her autobiographical novel, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. The bracing text describes her struggles with sexual abuse by masters and the grueling difficulties of maintaining an enslaved woman’s dignity. Her social and artistic accomplishment is all the more profound because the words came directly from a female escaped slave, at a time when  most African-Americans were kept illiterate by force of law. Her novel is a monument in itself; her life deserves physical commemoration.


4.) Lillian Exum Clement The Capitol is ahead of the curve here. Clement is already noted on a poster lining the rotunda, and for good reason. This mountain native broke the political barrier keeping Southern women out of office, getting elected to the state House at age 26. She spent the rest of her life fighting for gender equality and social reform.

Image result for the greensboro four

5.) The Greensboro Four Never has our state had a prouder moment than on February 1, 1960. As most know–and all should–four students anchored themselves in a segregated Woolworth’s and demanded service. They kept it up for five months, and they won. A monument to these men would feature all four and be modeled on the Vietnam War memorial already present at the Capitol.

These statues would expand the story of our state. The struggle for racial justice would take its place alongside the military struggle for freedom (as memorialized in several US military monuments). More women, minorities and Republicans would join our pantheon. That’s long past due.

Source: These NC heroes should replace Confederate monuments | PoliticsNC

An Open Letter from Guam to America | Boston Review

Source: An Open Letter from Guam to America | Boston Review

Dear America,

I am glad that you are finally paying attention to what is happening in Guam. Many of you, as I am reading online, are asking for the first time, “What is Guam?” Every day growing up here, we have been told all about you. I am sorry that it is only when we are the subject of bombs that you even attempt to say the word Guam; there are so many more interesting things I wish you would want to know about us. We, on the other hand, are not as surprised by the latest bomb threat. We are quite used to hearing Guam and bomb in the same sentence. Every month or so, when another missile is tested, or rhetoric fired, we hear how North Korea, or China, or Russia could bomb Guam. I have even saved pictures of China’s infamous “Guam Killer” bombs on my computer so our Independence group can use it in Independence 101 presentations as an example of why we need to get free NOW. Yes, there are people in Guam who want independence from you. But there are also people in Guam who hear these threats of bombs and cower to the hype. They start to believe that we need your mighty military bases and beg for more, because then we would not be bombed, right? But you have been the source of all our bomb problems.

The worst bombs that have ever been dropped on Guam were yours near the end of World War II. At the beginning of the war, you left us defenseless to the Japanese, knowing full well that they were planning to invade Guam all along. You safely boarded your white military wives on ships and sent them home months before the attack, but did nothing to protect us. That’s right, the last time an invading nation that you said you would protect us from attacked, you surrendered in 2 days and left 20,000 people to suffer, many falling victim to the most atrocious of war crimes. But we are strong and we survived not just that ugly war but also the losses that came after. When you returned in 1944, you leveled our island with your bombs, leaving most families without a home to return to. We were scattered and displaced so you could build your enormous bases. And we were so grateful to you that our people served and continue to serve your military and die for your freedom in higher numbers per capita than you…

The Loneliness of Expat Fatherhood – Multicultural Kid Blogs

Parenting is tough when you live abroad, but it can be especially lonely for minority language/ culture dads. Here is a special look at expat fatherhood and why it can be so difficult.

This photo reminds me of the rides at the Myrtle Beach Pavilion in Myrtle Beach, SC, USA.  I just yanked it from the website for Multicultural Kid Blogs, where I found this article.


Source: The Loneliness of Expat Fatherhood – Multicultural Kid Blogs

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