Friday, May 16, 2003

A friend sent a copy of this review the other day. JAPANESE HIGHER EDUCATION AS MYTH_
by Brian J. McVeigh.
M.E. Sharpe: Armonk, NY, 2002, 301 pp., $25.95 (cloth)
You can read the interview here.

Having not yet read the book, I am only reacting to the review, but the content is too interesting to pass up. My guess is that this will take several entries to work completely out.

First, let's begin with the quote in the review, "There is a dark spirit plaguing the Japanese university classroom. It is the ghost of opinions suppressed, voices lost,
self-expressions discouraged, and individuality restrained. The ghost is
malevolent, and in its vengeance demands silence, self-censorship, and
indifference from the students it haunts."

Though this ghost haunts university classrooms, it isn't confined to them. Children are plagued by this kind of supressed creativity and expression from the beginning of their formal education careers. One could make the argument that the seeds of this supression come from an even earlier age, when they beging to interact with society in general, including the media.

I have seen bright, cheerful five-year-olds begin school and become quiet, passive, sad people within a very short period of time. The causes of this kind of behavior change are probably numerous, and worthy of address at another time. I do not believe, however, that universities alone could create the kinds of students I have seen in my 12-year tenure in Japanese higher education.

The quote above does not suggest that all students graduate from university with the personality of a beaten dog. I was very pleased when I went to a rally in March for one of the candidates for Governor of Mie Prefecture. Several students from the department in which I teach were there, volunteering in the campaign. My guess is that this was the first time that they had done anything like stand in public in support of an issue or a person, but as a result of their increased awareness of events surrounding them, they decided to participate. Until this time, the students were busy sacrificing their young lives to university entrance exam preparation, and so had little time to be aware. But after having entered the university, their time for these activies increased. University for these students has been a calm between the confinements of school life and the servitude of working life. It gives them four years to be away from home and at the same time be free of the strictues that employers will place on them.

Granted, not all university students will use this period in nearly as constructively. But neither are they all being stripped of their personhood by ghosts.

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