Academic journal article Texas International Law Journal

My Parents, My Sensei: Compulsory Education and a Homeschooling Alternative in Japan

Academic journal article Texas International Law Journal

My Parents, My Sensei: Compulsory Education and a Homeschooling Alternative in Japan

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

During the 1980s and through the early 1990s, Japan's accelerated rise to economic power caused many in America to focus on one of the perceived roots of Japanese success: their unique and highly disciplined public education system. Western unease at the rate of postwar Japanese economic expansion-coupled with sensationalized observations of the Japanese school system's instruction methods-helped to generate a popular perception that Japanese schoolchildren were "the product of an inhuman regime of forced-march study" and that "Japanese education is dehumanizing and unfair, both to Japanese children and to the American economy."1 Those who saw the Japanese education system in less hyperbolic terms tried to understand the direct and indirect connections between Japan's economic success and their schooling methods, and many advocates of school reform in the United States sought to uncover the "secrets" of Japanese education so that their own students might one day experience the academic awakening they felt their own postindustrial society had not yet delivered.2 And while the recent economic slowdown in Japan has dampened the fears of a Japanese "takeover" of the United States,3 there still remains an interest in this country in learning from the Japanese education system, if not from the desire to see the United States stay competitive with the Japanese economically then certainly from envy at Japan's continued dominance in international academic standards.4

Yet while the Japanese school system maintains an impressive position in terms of international standards and statistical results,5 not all parents in Japan desire to see their children educated by the state. There are those who, while recognizing that the state has a legitimate interest in overseeing the education of its populace, might not agree with either the methods of instruction or the environment in which it is provided and therefore do not want their children to attend public school. Some parents are concerned about the growing problem of ijime (bullying) in Japanese schools.6 Other parents want to spend more quality time with their children, who are usually required to participate in time-consuming, afterschool activities.7 Some parents may have recently read of nineteen-year-old American novelist Christopher Paolini. Mr. Paolini, who wrote his bestselling novel Eragor9 at the age of fifteen, was homeschooled by his parents and has become an example within the homeschooling movement of the potential of alternatives to the public school system.9 Still other parents in Japan take a dim view of what some have called the structural-functionalist view of Japanese school socialization10 and opt for a more individualized orientation to the socialization of their children.

Homeschooling as an alternative to public schooling in Japan is not a clearly defined right that parents have to exercise. Japan-along with other industrialized nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom-recognizes the right of a child to an education as fundamental,11 and its constitution and laws accord with this international recognition that education should be compulsory and free.12 Manifest in the Japanese government's interest in the educational development of its populace is its willingness to enact measures that will prevent parents from neglecting their duty to see their children attend school. The compulsory education laws in Japan are part of such measures. These compulsory education laws, however, represent legal barriers to the parent in Japan that chooses to take his or her children out of public education and school them at home-not because the laws are so restrictive, but because they are so vague: for example, the compulsory school requirement for handicapped children is subject to individual interpretation by prefectural boards of education-not necessarily unusual, but as shall be discussed later, can lead to wildly different applicative results. …

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