教科書検定 押しつけは時代遅れだ

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 19
EDITORIAL: Do not impose government’s viewpoints on school textbooks
(社説)教科書検定 押しつけは時代遅れだ

School textbooks are not tools for the government to indoctrinate young people with its views and opinions.

The education ministry on March 18 announced the results of its screening of new high school textbooks to be used from spring next year.

This year, the ministry applied, for the first time, new rules about the authorization of textbooks to those used at high schools.

Besides changing the guidelines for editing textbooks, the ministry also revised its screening standards to require publishers to ensure descriptions on issues about which the government has announced an official position reflect that view.

These changes were made in response to demands from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The outcome of the screening of high school textbooks reminds us of what happened last year, when new textbooks for junior high schools underwent the process.

The ministry instructed the publishers to describe Japan’s territorial disputes with its neighbors in line with the government’s position. In one case, an article in a textbook about war reparations had to be rewritten after the ministry criticized the text for failing to reflect the government’s stance on compensation for wartime forced laborers from China.

Notably, the ministry demanded that the descriptions on controversial topics, such as the Self-Defense Forces, the Constitution and nuclear power generation, be in line with the positions of the Abe administration.

The ministry, for instance, took issue with one textbook’s description about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “proactive pacifism.” The original text described Abe's foreign policy principle as one that has "changed the government's interpretation of the Constitution" and provides for "the SDF to operate in wider areas."

The ministry contended that the passage could cause a misunderstanding. Since proactive pacifism is a doctrine, the ministry said, the goal it is designed to achieve should also be mentioned.

Consequently, the text was revised to say that the doctrine is intended to enable Japan to “make active contribution to ensuring peace, stability and prosperity in international society” by changing the interpretation of the Constitution with regard to the SDF’s activities.

Acquiring knowledge about the government’s official positions on various issues is not harmful for students. But treating the government’s views as the right answer to think about these issues is tantamount to imposing specific opinions on young people.

The administration’s approach to textbook screening is more and more coming to resemble the prewar system of government-designated textbooks.

The government overestimates the influence of textbooks on young people’s thinking, in the first place.

Textbooks are not the only sources of knowledge for children. By visiting a library, for instance, they can easily find written works presenting different opinions and viewpoints from those of the government.

The education ministry is now working on new official curriculum guidelines.

It is planning to create new subjects, including a comprehensive study of modern world history and civics education about the rights and obligations of citizens and voters.
These subjects will be aimed at helping students develop the ability to think about things from diverse viewpoints and angles, according to the ministry.

Textbooks for these subjects should be designed to show that the government’s views and opinions are relative to the standpoints of various players, including opposition parties, citizens and other countries.

It is questionable whether the current textbook screening system will be suitable for the goals of the new subjects.

The current system is based on the assumption that textbooks are traditional printed books.

But an increasing number of textbooks show the addresses of websites that offer good reference materials.

The ministry checks the content in these websites during its textbook screening, but the pages of a website are updated constantly. It is impossible for the government to keep track of all changes in the content of the websites mentioned in textbooks.

The current textbook screening system, which tends to nitpick over specific terms and phrases in the text, is already outdated.

The government should shift its education policy to allow a wider range of teaching materials, expand the discretion of teachers in how to teach classes and increase opportunities for children to think from diverse viewpoints. The government should start taking steps to reinvent the textbook screening system in line with these principles.

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