Principle, Praxis, and the Politics of Educational Reform in Meiji Japan

Principle, Praxis, and the Politics of Educational Reform in Meiji Japan

Principle, Praxis, and the Politics of Educational Reform in Meiji Japan

Principle, Praxis, and the Politics of Educational Reform in Meiji Japan


"Scholars of modern Japan agree that education played a crucial role in that country's rapid modernization during the Meiji period (1868-1912). With few exceptions, however, Western approaches to the subject treat education as an instrument of change controlled by the Meiji political and intellectual elite. Principle, Praxis, and the Politics of Educational Reform in Meiji Japan offers a corrective to this view. By introducing primary source materials (including teaching manuals, educational periodicals, and primary school textbooks) missing from most English-language works, Mark Lincicome examines an early case of resistance to government control that developed within the community of professional educators. He focuses on what began, in 1872, as an attempt by the newly established Ministry of Education to train a corps of professional teachers that could "civilize and enlighten" the masses in compulsory primary schools. Through the Tokyo Normal School and other new teacher training schools sponsored by the government, the ministry began what it thought was a straightforward "technology transfer" of the latest teaching methods and materials from the United States and Europe. Little did the ministry realize that it was planting the seeds of broader reform that would challenge not only its underlying doctrine of education, but its very authority over education. The reform movement centered around efforts to explicate and disseminate the doctrine of kaihatsushugi (developmental education). Hailed as a modern, scientific approach to child education, it rejected rote memorization and passive learning, elements of the so-called method of "pouring in" (chunyu) knowledge practiced during the preceding Tokugawa period, and sought instead to cultivate the unique, innate abilities of each child. Orthodox ideas of "education," "knowledge," and the process by which children learn were challenged. The position and responsibilities of the teacher were enhanced, consequently providing educators with a claim to professional authority and autonomy - at a time when the Meiji state was attempting to control every facet of the Japanese school system. Principle, Praxis, and the Politics of Educational Reform in Meiji Japan analyzes a key element to understanding Meiji development and modern Japan as a whole." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


What is an educational system, after all, if not a ritualisation of the word; if not a qualification of some fixing of roles for speakers; if not the constitution of a (diffuse) doctrinal group; if not a distribution and an appropriation of discourse, with all its learning and its powers?

Michel foucault, "The Discourse on Language"

One morning in September 1872, fifty-four students converged on the Kanda district in central Tokyo in preparation for the opening day of classes. They gathered at the old Shoheiko--once the preeminent school for orthodox Neo-Confucian studies under the Tokugawa bakufu (1600-1867)--in a lecture hall now shorn of tatami mats and outfitted with wooden floors, desks, benches, and a blackboard. They constituted a select group, having gained admission only after passing a highly competitive entrance examination that attracted more than three hundred applicants.

Their teacher for the coming year was himself specially appointed to his position by the Ministry of Education. He was not a descendant of the venerated Hayashi Razan, who had founded the Shōheiko more than two centuries earlier; rather, he was an American educator named Marion Scott. Scott would not be lecturing on the Confucian classics on this or any other day during his two-year tenure. He and his students were assembled for a very different purpose: to inaugurate a new type of educational institution in Japan-- the Tokyo Normal School--and with it the new profession of primary school teacher.

An important landmark in the history of Japanese education, this event occurred in a period whose very name has become synonymous with modernization. Like so many of the other educational reforms hastily implemented by the early Meiji government, it symbolized a clean break with the past, another giant step on the road to . . .

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