JIN-404 -- A Foolocracy Can't Fool All the People All the Time

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J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
JAPAN INC NEWSLETTER
Commentary on Japan's culture, economy and society
Issue No. 404
Thursday March 1, 2007 TOKYO

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CONTENTS:
@@ VIEWPOINT: A Foolocracy Can't Fool All the People
All the Time

My son is a fourth grader at a local school in Yokohama.
I've been eager he learn the father tongue, but have
been frustrated in this regard, because I've precious
little time to teach him and can't afford to send
him to an international school, where annual fees can
rival those of a private university in the US.

So I was pleased to hear of a plan to make English a
compulsory subject from the fifth grade at public grade
schools. The timing was perfect; my son was poised to
be one of the first to benefit from the implementation
of full-fledged English instruction in elementary school.

Then, on September 27 of last year, Bunmei Ibuki, the
Minister of Education and Science, remarked, with regard
to the prospect of incorporating English in the course of
study from the fifth grade, 'It is unnecessary to make
[English] compulsory in elementary schools.' The Minister
explained: 'If [pupils] can't even write beautiful Japanese,
they can't do foreign languages.'

Ibuki's words rippled through school boards across the
country. Teachers at my son's school informed me
that in the wake of the Education Minister's comment, the
incorporation of English education in the compulsory
curriculum was up in the air and would likely be shelved.

Let's parse Ibuki's statement. First of all, he contends
pupils can't write 'beautiful Japanese.' Beauty is a
subjective concept, and one reader's beautiful
passage might be another's longueur. Still, all
Japanese would agree Natsume Soseki is a master of
the language, and indeed excerpts from his novel 'Kokoro'
are standard fare in school textbooks. It would be a prodigy
who while still in grade school could write like
Soseki. The author of 'Botchan,' 'I am a Cat,' and
other classics would honed his prose during years
of secondary education. Ibuki should give
kids the chance to do likewise.

Next he cites this inability to write beautiful Japanese as
an indication pupils are ill-prepared to tackle foreign
languages. This is, of course, a non sequitur, for the goals
of writing prose a la Soseki and acquisition of an
international language are not mutually exclusive.

Ibuki seems clueless as to the acquisition of language in
childhood. He might be surprised to learn that, according
to the 'Encyclopedia of Education,' 'Research has made
clear that early bilingualism may well bring cognitive
advantages.'

Alas, knowledge of such research is beyond
Ibuki. After graduating from the economics department of
Kyoto University in 1960, he entered the Ministry of
Finance. In 1983 he left the bureaucracy for the political
world, winning eight consecutive elections as a candidate
from the conservative LDP (Liberal Democratic Party).
In short, he is an education minister with no background
in education.

More recently Ibuki was in the news for another
comment. At a convention of the LDP's Nagasaki Prefecture
chapter on February 25, he said 'Japan has been
historically governed by the Yamato [Japanese] race. Japan
is an extremely homogenous country.'

Here the adverb has the unintended effect of making the
statement true, negating total similarity through the
implication there exist degrees of homogeneity. Rather than
ignorance here Ibuki is guilty of insensitivity; Japan has
sizeable minorities, beginning with Koreans and Chinese
and including the Ainu, who perhaps settled the Japanese
archipelago before the Yamato race. In 1986 Prime Minister
Yasuhiro Nakasone was rebuked for making a similar
comment.

Ibuki's comment follows Labor Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa's
remark that women are 'baby-making machines' in
a speech in January.

A poll conducted by the 'Nikkei' from February 23 to 25
disclosed an approval rating of 49% for the Abe cabinet,
down from the 70% level when the prime minister
took office last September.

In view of the comments of ministers like Ibuki and
Yanagisawa, I would hope that the fall in approval
reflects an awakening to the sort of men who are
running the country. A foolocracy can't fool all
the people all the time.

Oh, by the way, Mr. Ibuki, Natsume Soseki was also
a scholar of British literature.

-- Burritt Sabin

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-- Entrepreneur Association of Tokyo - Tuesday, March 6th --

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Presentation Title: 'Creating Opportunities for Crowdsourcing'

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Date/Time: Tuesday, March 6, 7:00 pm
Location: City Club of Tokyo - Maple Room
(Canadian Embassy Complex)
Language: English
Website: http://www.ea-tokyo.com
Email: info@ea-tokyo.com
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