Corona Virus /Japan School Closure Documents

Just wanted to share a few documents as souvenirs of my last few days as a teacher in Hiroshima Prefectural public high school.  These may be of interest to anyone who is interested in the recent unilateral school closings instituted by Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe last Thursday evening, and effective tomorrow (March 2, through the end of this month).

These closings, which were initiated at the highest level of Japanese national government came as a surprise to everyone, both Japanese and non-Japanese.  But as an American expat, the breadth and scope of such a policy being instituted from the top-down was and is unimaginable in an American context.

The closest American analog I can think of would be the closures that have taken place in certain States or local jurisdictions after natural disasters– Hurricane Katrina, for instance, in Louisiana, or perhaps Sandy in the Northeastern U.S.  But, to my knowledge, if there were blanket school closures in these instances, they were initiated at the State level, if not the local (e.g. city or county level).  It begs the question: does the executive branch of the U.S. government have the power to close schools across the United States?  This is a question that I won’t be able to answer here definitively.  Somehow I doubt it.  My instinct, given the contentiousness of “states rights” along educational lines, is that even if a U.S. President tried to make a move like Mr. Abe’s last week, that it would meet resistance if not outright defiance from some jurisdictions on ideological if not practical grounds.

One of the most glaring problems that these school closures have left is the problem of what working parents are supposed to do with their elementary-school-aged children, who are suddenly at home for the next month.  Will they get parental leave of some kind?  Will the state intervene again to provide care or those students who may need it?

The documents I have linked to this post provide a bit of a backdrop against which we can pose these bigger labor questions, and evaluate this specific school-closure policy in the face of an admittedly dangerous disease.  They could also serve as a useful body of evidence in a critique of authoritarian, centralized, top-down, bureaucratic education systems, which are kind of “a thing” here in Asia.

A brief outline of each document follows.

1) 保険だより  Dated 2/2/20 This is the periodic (monthly? twice-monthly?) newsletter of the school nurse’s office.  Last week, when this was released the school was getting over a bout of the flu.  Several students in each class had been absent.  And so this helpful brief outlines proper “manners” for dealing with cold and flu symptoms.  It recommends gargling as well as frequent hand-washing, and wearing masks.  These are all common sense habits, really.  But they are being more frequently referenced in public these days, like on the train, I’ve noticed.

2) Special Events 教育長より Dated Reiwa 2/ 2/ 27  This message from the Superintendent of Hiroshima Schools advises caution in the carrying out of large events in the prefecture– meant to include in particular things like graduation ceremonies.  March 1st is the date for the majority of graduation ceremonies around Japan.  This doc is similar to the School Nurse’s newsletter in content, but it has the force of a policy memo.

It recommends limiting the face-to-face interactions of participants, making preventative measures like alcohol disinfectant spray available, and limiting the number of participants to those directly participating in events.

*It was the evening of 2/27 that Mr. Abe made his announcement of the school closures.

3) 臨時休校について (連絡)Memo Regarding the Temporary Closure of Schools

This doc came down the pike in the middle of the day last Friday 2/28 along with the letter (Document 4) to be sent home with students.  In gives the dates 3/3 to 3/19 of the initial closure.  Closure is the wrong word though– teachers are still expected to be at work.  There will be no club or sports meetings.  Students are to check the school homepage twice daily for any updates, but emails will also be sent through the emergency email system.

4)  Dated 2/28  This is the offcial letter from the Superintendant of Hiroshima Prefectural Schools outlining in broad strokes the information provided in greater detail by our individual school in number 3.  It’s labeled 通知– “Notice” interestingly– not 連絡, “communication” or “memorandum,” which I take to mean that it is merely an official communication of the Prime Minister’s announcement of the previous evening.  The details are left to the individual school to work out within the framework set out by those actors higher up the bureaucratic chain– in this case stretching all the way up to the top!

So, that wraps up this batch of documents.  It hope it was at least a little enlightening.

All schools in Japan told to close until April over virus outbreak | The Japan Times

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s surprise school-closure request came as the number of confirmed COVID-19 virus patients surged, exceeding 200 across Japan as of Thursday

Source: All schools in Japan told to close until April over virus outbreak | The Japan Times

From Teaching Tolerance:  Who Decides What’s “Civil”?

This is a fantastic short article geared towards teachers.  It’s also a great reminder of what a wonderful resource the website, Teaching Tolerance is.

In the piece, we are reminded of the intersecting meanings of being “civil,” meanings that may have to do with a mutual respect, but also may be couched in colonialist stories about “savages.”  So, in just one word, students and teachers alike might find a radical connection between Black History in the 20th century– the so-called “Civil Rights Movement”– and the anti-colonialist struggles of indigenous people in the Americas.  Brilliant!

I am reminded again of Wayne Ross’s  conceptualization of K-12 social studies curriculum in terms of a focus on “dangerous citizenship.”  My hunch is that this configuration of citizenship education has applications even more broadly across curriculums.  What I am trying to get at, I think, is the necessity of historicisation of curriculum, or the necessity of teachers’ bringing a historical awareness to their lessons– whatever they are teaching.  It’s a historicity that need not be confined to social studies, but one which includes things like etymologies (in the literal, linguistic sense of the histories of the meanings of words) as well as the historiographies of curriculum– the changing ways in which teachers and students have thought about their lessons over time.  Such a historicisation is the big first step in bringing the focus of public education back to the progressive as well as more radical social reconstructivist aims that have guided it since the beginning.

When acts of protest are met with calls for civility, it’s a good idea to give students some historical context about the concept.

Source: Tolerance.org Who Decides What’s “Civil”?

Analysis: Tracking the NEA’s and AFT’s $43 Million in Donations to PACs, Advocacy Organizations, Nonprofits — and the State Engagement Fund? (The 74)

The 74 Million is an independent news blog dedicated to the 74 million primary and secondary students in the United States.  A lot of their coverage tends to be skewed towards rhetoric around “school choice,” and so I’m a little bit skeptical.  But there also seems to be a strong racial justice core to their reporting.  The most interesting and useful coverage I’ve seen have been Union Reports like this one, which shed light on the connections between teachers unions (NEA, AFT) and shady groups like Democratic Super- PACs and the so-called “State Engagement Fund” described below.

I guess, what is so disappointing about characterizations of America’s largest Teachers Unions in purely vehicles for cashflow (not that this isn’t an accurate portrayal, because I think it is) but it ignores the humanity of the teachers these organizations purport to represent.  I don’t think the problem is with unions as such, but certainly the way the AFT and NEA seem to be operating at the highest levels is gross and tends to feed into the stories we have been told for generations about unions’ corruption, mob connections, racism, sexism and so on.  Do teachers need to remake their unions and union culture before they can remake their schools, communities and society?

Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the full archive. The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers are known as labor unions, advocates for teachers and public school employees, and political powerhouses. But they also are grantmaking institutions. During the 2018-19 school year, the two national teachers unions directly donated $43.1 million […]

Source: Analysis: Tracking the NEA’s and AFT’s $43 Million in Donations to PACs, Advocacy Organizations, Nonprofits — and the State Engagement Fund?

Paper Cranes to Fort Sill – In Solidarity with Detained Asylum Seekers

Dream Action Oklahoma (affiliated with United We Dream, the nation’s largest immigration youth-led network) is organizing a coalition of groups in Oklahoma for a large peaceful protest at Fort Sill on Saturday, July 20, 2019. This past March, Tsuru for Solidarity, a direct action, nonviolent project of allied organizations within the Japanese American community, gathered in Crystal City, Oklahoma in collaboration with pilgrims from allied national organizations and networks. Crystal City, a former WWII internment camp in Texas, housed over 2,000 persons of Japanese ancestry. The gathering was to protest conditions at the nearby South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. 30,000 tsuru(origami cranes) were strung on the fences surrounding the detention center to demonstrate solidarity with those detained, including unaccompanied children separated from their families. Last month, the Dept. of Health and Human Services announced that up to 1,400 unaccompanied migrant children would be transferred from Texas to Fort Sill, Oklahoma—another former WWII internment camp that held 700 persons of Japanese ancestry, including 90 Buddhist priests. Tsuru for Solidarity has been invited to participate and a Buddhist memorial service will be part of the day’s events. Fort Sill, a military site, is a historic concentration camp that was used to imprison indigenous people forcibly removed from their lands. It is a place where native children were forcibly taken from their families and placed in re-education schools. It is a site where over 700 American men from the Japanese American community, including 90 Buddhist monks, were imprisoned during WWII.  Concentration camps are used to indefinitely detain minority groups in violation of human and civil rights and without due process. Fort Sill is being prepared to once again become a concentration camp. Concentration camps are now being used across the U.S. on a scale not seen since the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans. It’s time for us to reclaim our moral center and our human commitment to one another. We are interconnected. What happens to one of us affects all of us. Speak out, show up, and get involved. Please join us in this movement.

Source: Paper Cranes to Fort Sill – In Solidarity with Detained Asylum Seekers

Tsuru For Solidarity June 2020 Direct Action in Washington DC

Tsuru for Solidarity is a non-violent, direct action project of Japanese American WWII camp survivors, descendants, and allies fighting to end detention sites and support front-line immigrant and refugee communities that are experiencing injustice and oppression.

Source: Tsuru For Solidarity June 2020 Announcement – Tsuru for Solidarity

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Revolutions

There was a fantastic review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s ouvre in the summer edition of Dissent by Sarah Jones.  This was by no means the first time the author’s name has come up for me.  She has been in the background of my political consciousness for some time, peeking out most recently with this piece and and the interview of Kim Stanley Robinson that was on the antifada earlier this year.

So, I was excited to dig into a copy of The Dispossessed, Le Guin’s 1974 SciFi classic last weekend after wrapping up the sometimes sentimental collection of short stories by Toshio Mori in Yokohama, California.  It is always reassuring to me to be reminded that brilliant artists such as Le Guin have always been wrestling with ideas like the abolition of state-violence, sexual liberation, and radical forms of education and government.  I expect to continue being inspired by what has started off as a genre-defying bit of genre-fiction.

Le Guin’s work is distinctive not only because it is imaginative, or because it is political, but because she thought so deeply about the work of building a future worth living.

Source: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Revolutions by Sarah Jones in Dissent (Summer 2019)

It’s Register to Vote Day in the U.S.A.

What better way to celebrate the ongoing criminal investigations of the Trump Administration (now with Congressional support!  wow!) than by registering to vote/ updating my address for voting by mail?

One of the most encouraging facts I’ve absorbed recently about the charred and broken American political system is that the number of actual voters is increasing.  Obviously voting alone is not going to get us out of the mess we’re in, but it helps.  And voting by mail increases the likelihood that your ballot will actually be counted properly, since paper ballots cannot be hacked or otherwise altered without leaving some concrete evidence behind.

So, in addition to supporting your local labor union, joining a wildcat strike, worker action, be sure to register to vote and vote.

https://www.usvotefoundation.org

Preserving a More Honest History from Teaching Tolerance.org

Here’s another great, practical piece from Teaching Tolerance, which I was just reminded is affiliated with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The big thing that caught my attention and got me excited about this is the suggestion at the end that teachers should consider making their own classrooms historic sites:

Making Your Classroom the Historic Site

Funding, geography or lack of institutional support may prevent educators from taking students to an exemplary historic site—but you can still bring the best practices of historic sites into your classroom.

I think the author here was attempting to include teachers for whom field trips may not be an option, but actually, why shouldn’t ALL teachers make their classrooms historic sites?  It is an invitation to students to think critically about the institution they attend, the curriculum they study, the habits and routines they engage in.  This is actually a great way for teachers to think about their classrooms too– by deconstructing the phenomenon of the “field trip” altogether and engaging students historical minds daily in this fashion.

Source: Preserving a More Honest History

The High School Course Beijing Accuses of Radicalizing Hong Kong (NYTimes.com)

Pro-Beijing officials say a course that teaches critical thinking has created a generation of rebels. Students and teachers say it has made them more engaged with society.

Source: The High School Course Beijing Accuses of Radicalizing Hong Kong

I am just beginning to dive in to some of the details of this ongoing series of actions in Hong Kong.  But I am excited to have been able to use a bilingual interview with an activist (Agnes Chow Ting) spokesperson for the “Scholarism” group in Hong Kong for one of my English expression classes.  Scholarism eventually merged into the Demosisto group which is I believe at the center of the current actions.  It was a bit of a sensitive issue in class because there is one student who is Chinese in that class and I wasn’t sure how she would react.  Japanese media (and as a result, my students) tend to focus on the unrest as a means to criticize the Chinese government in a kind of superior jingoistic fashion.  And my Chinese student has often But I think I made it clear that the reason why I brought this text into the class was out of respect for the Chinese student activists and their connecting politics with their education in a meaningful and powerful way.

Exactly what is the connection between education and radical politics in this situation is still something I want to investigate.  Obviously the connection that this NYTimes headline suggests of a 1-to-1 process of “radicalization,” doesn’t ring true because it ignores the underlying contexts of that education as it takes place.  Anyway, more soon…