Those Who Don’t Learn…

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… from history, are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

I believe that is a quote from Santayana (not to be confused with Santana). Many times Japan has been slammed by other countries for their presentation of history in school textbooks. Usually the complaints are a bit misguided. One time a big fuss was made over a textbook and a little research found it was being used in a small number of schools. It was not reflective of an official government opinion, nor was it far reaching. Another time people were upset because of omission of events; however, every textbook falls under that banner. It is impossible to list every event that occurs. While the omitted items might provide some insight into priorities, they are far from damning.

This week, a hot news story broke that will undoubtedly bring more criticism. The national government requires a certain number of hours of world history education, but many schools have not been requiring their students to follow this curriculum. Thousands of seniors are being required to make up those instruction hours between now and graduation (in March).

How did this happen? There is an official college entrance exam produced by The University Entrance Exam Center – 大学入試センター (which I believe to be a government agency.) Students wishing to enter universities first take this test and then, if they scored high enough, take the school’s independent entrance exam. This test allows students to choose which sections to attempt; one selection being between: Geography, Japanese History, and World History. The schools in violation made the decision to follow the testing standard instead of the curriculum.

We are facing similar circumstances in America as standardized tests become more important: how did your kids do on the WASL this year? If schools receive praise, attention, funding in connection with test scores, you can bet they will use that as their guide. When I worked in sales a high percentage commission was assigned to getting support contracts. Since we had improved our support staff to an acceptable level, I had no ethical qualms about selling support. By the end of the year, every one of my clients had support contracts, the company made a lot of money (and would continue to make that money every year), I got a fat bonus; and yet, I was in trouble. My boss complained because support contracts were not as important as new product sales. He didn’t care for my (delicate) explanation that my bonus structure clearly explained the companies feelings about relative importance of each type of sales.

Oh, almost forgot the amusing aside: one choice on the test allows Politics or Ethics. No wonder certain public figures have been getting called before the courts. 🙂

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3 Responses to “Those Who Don’t Learn…”

  1. びっくり Says:

    Friday night I got an update on the news. At least 400 schools and 76,000 students are affected. Kids will have to take make up classes after school, on weekends, and during winter break (as if they weren’t overloaded after hours already.) Some schools are thinking about pushing out graduation, but the new school year starts about two weeks after the previous year ends.

    History textbook companies are getting hammered with orders; however, this happens to be the last year for the official textbook (wouldn’t you know it), so they don’t have stock to meet demand.

    The initial story break has caused a lot of follow-up by news agencies and school boards. Naturally, other dirt gets turned up in the process: some schools have apparently reported false history grades to universities on behalf of students.

    Last night a very defensive education official was on the news telling people to lighten up.

  2. kevenker Says:

    Usually when you see odd behavior it’s due to odd incentives. Your willingness to sell support contracts and your boss’s displeasure with that are a case in point.

    I’m not sure why those in power always fail to realize that people will always optimize themselves to the system. You need to really think about the system.

  3. びっくり Says:

    Last night I heard that two prestigious schools in Tsu were hiding their lack of history classes. So the scandal reaches here in Mie Prefecture as well.

    I just finished talking to one of the teachers here who attended one of these schools about 40 years ago. She said they didn’t offer her all of the history classes she needed and she had to study at home alone. Perhaps this isn’t something new and might explain why so many of my adult students were interested when I would tell them about history.

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