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.