Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Moral Education and the DPJ

In Japan, feelings tend to run high on the subject of moral education. During World War II and before, it was a vehicle for nationalist propaganda [1], and to postwar critics, it came to represent the powerful state’s intrusion into the private sphere. Many postwar educators rejected the idea of teaching moral education at school entirely, or demanded that control remain with teachers, schools, or municipalities, not with the national government [2]. In the opposing camp, traditionalists claimed that increased individualism made families and communities increasingly unable to provide moral guidance to children. Under these circumstances, advocates argued, the national government’s involvement was not only natural, but necessary [3].

For the past decade, the trend has been towards greater involvement by the national government in moral education. In 2002, the government funded the printing of a new national moral education textbook (the first since World War II), and distributed copies for every elementary and junior high school student [4]. Until that time, the Ministry of Education had issued loose teaching guidelines, but left teaching materials entirely to the teacher’s discretion. In practice, even after the release of the new textbook, teachers and schools had considerable freedom as to whether or not to use them [5], but the government heavily promoted them, and surveyed schools to monitor implementation [6].

Other laws and regulations further deepened national government involvement. In 2006, the Diet passed the new Fundamental Law of Education, which elevated moral education’s position in the curriculum as a whole. And new national curricular guidelines that come into effect in 2011 attempt to move the changes from the law books into the classroom [7].

As the LDP government’s 2007 Basic Policy for Economic and Fiscal Reform makes clear, many law and policy makers connected national moral education with Japan’s economic revitalization [8]. The underlying assumption was that individual choices and moral behavior were partially to blame for economic stagnation, and moral education could correct the imbalance.

However, the DPJ’s electoral victory in August 2009 may mark the decline this view. During the DPJ-appointed Government Revitalization Unit’s hearings on budget issues, national expenditure on moral education came under fire. The committee recommended cutting these costs (which fund the national textbook series) by one-third to a half [9]. Some reviewers took issue with the textbooks from an ideological perspective, while others merely felt that in times of budget crunch, the textbooks should not be a priority, and that municipalities and schools could build moral education curricula and design teaching materials on their own [10]. As a result of the hearings, the textbooks will no longer be distributed. The most recent edition will be posted online, and teachers can print out the pages they want to use [11].

In the greater scheme of things, the DPJ’s changes to moral education are modest. But these modest changes demonstrate the DPJ’s stance that the issues Japan faces are structural and societal, not individual. Redirecting resources from moral education towards social programs is part and parcel of this broader agenda.

1. Doutoku Kyouiku no Kenkyuu 1, Bukkyou Daigaku Tsuushin Kyoiku Repooto, July 24, 2006 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

2. Muroi, Osami, Kokoro no Nooto no Kyouikuhou Kyouiku Gyouseijou no Mondaiten, , Osaka Kyohouken Nyuusu, October, 2003 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

3. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Mirai wo Hiraku Kokoro wo Sodateru Shien Katsudou no Juujitsu, November 1, 2007 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

4. Kokoro no Nooto ha Fuhitsuyou ka, Fukuoka Education Network, January 14, 2010 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

5. Uebu demo Shishou nashi, Kanaloco, March 16, 2010 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

6. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Kokoro no Nooto no Katsuyou Joukyou ni tsuite, May 19, 2003 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

7. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Shougakkou Gakushuu Shidou Youryou Kaisetsu Doutokuhen, September 19, 2008 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

8. Keizai Zaisei Kaikaku no Kihon Houshin 2007 ni tsuite, pp. 38-40. June 19, 2007, [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

9. Kyouiku Shiwake ni Najimanai, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 30, 2009 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

10. Kitei Rosen Doori, Doutoku Kyouiku ha Shukugen, Sankei Shimbun, November 17, 2009 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

11. Uebu demo Shishou nashi, Kanaloco, March 16, 2010 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from: