Declaration Calling for the Promotion of Sovereign Education as It Should Be: Nurturing the Qualities to Maintain a Democratic Society
On June 17, 2015, the bill to partially amend the Public Offices Election Act and other acts was passed into law (promulgated on June 19 of the same year). This led to the lowering of the minimum voting age at public elections from 20 to 18. Through this amendment, efforts for implementing education for sovereign citizens (sovereign education) have been quickly expanded, such as the introduction of a new mandatory subject tentatively known as "Citizenship" at high school [10th to 12th grades; Students 16 to 18 years old].
The term "sovereign citizens" here means a body in which political authority is vested. Not only the electorate but also children and students therefore fall among the sovereign citizens. Accordingly, the "political literacy necessary for sensible citizenship," required by Article 14-1 of the Basic Act on Education to be learned by children, is broader than just expertise regarding the political system or the electoral system. It must also include the qualities needed to maintain a free and democratic society and constitutional democracy. In order to assume such role, it is necessary for people to understand the principles and rules of law that serve as criteria for making judgments when appropriately coordinating a diverse range of values, while also being necessary to develop the skills to be able to have rational discussions among people having a diverse range of values. In addition, it is also important to cultivate a willingness and attitude of trying to use the acquired knowledge and skills in everyday life, such as in school or in the local community. To do so, it is essential to provide a learning environment where open and vigorous statements and discussions are allowed.
In order to develop such skills and abilities, the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) declared in its "Declaration on Action for Human Rights 2009" in November 2009 that it would promote "law-related education for citizens" to build the capacity to understand the principles and rules underlying the constitution and law, and to cultivate inner resources which enable the autonomous adjudication of disputes. Since then, the JFBA has engaged in numerous activities in support of education to achieve implementation of this "law-related education for citizens." In this context, the "inner resources which enable the autonomous adjudication of disputes" means the ability to form a consensus while clarifying the issues in dispute in the course of engaging in rational discussion, which is required when sovereign citizens make political judgments or participate in politics, and which therefore requires learning through sovereign education. In this way, children can acquire the qualifications and abilities necessary to help them pursue their own happiness by exercising the right to express their own views (Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child) and the right to freedom of expression (Article 21 of the Constitution of Japan, and Article 13 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child). Eventually, in regard to such abilities, the right to learn (Articles 13 and 26 of the Constitution of Japan, Articles 28 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child) shall be more strongly assured.
However, the sovereign education which is now to be implemented in schools across Japan does not appear to be free of certain concerns. The first issue is the contents of the learning: According to the handouts which were given by the Special Committee on Curriculum Planning on May 25, 2015 during the deliberation process on the summary of the relevant issues and which were subsequently released by the Central Council for Education in August 2015, some schools in Japan have tried to provide citizenship education, which has been a statutory subject in the United Kingdom since 2002, aiming "for people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life." In such handouts, it is described that a school has conducted such education program based on the background of "the deterioration of normative consciousness or social morality, the lack of the spirit of dedication and public-service, as well as the declining trend of normative consciousness and good manners." Without a doubt, learning about social systems such as the political system or the electoral system is a necessary part of sovereign education; however, after going through the process of accepting the proposals for the introduction of the new school subject, tentatively known as "Citizenship", it is concerning that the acquisition of such knowledge could be portrayed itself as the target of teaching. Further, an attitude of blindly accepting such knowledge might be encouraged or taught in the classroom as "normative consciousness" or "public spirit." If such sovereign education is widespread in schools, rational discussions would be disturbed, and it could then no longer be expected that the qualities of citizens that allow them to critically examine the current system in light of constitutional values, as well as the rules and principles of law, would be developed. The second point of concern is the teaching practice and the learning environment: In the notice from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) dated October 29, 2015 (Notification from the MEXT Primary and Secondary Education Bureau No. 933, 2015), it is stated that it is necessary for teachers to instruct students in a fair and neutral manner, while avoiding expressing their personal ideas and principles, and schools are notified about measures to restrict or ban political activities by students both inside and outside of school. This notification by the MEXT could lead to an unfavorable impact on schools to such a degree that teachers could feel intimidated enough to avoid talking about actual political issues in class, or students could unreasonably be restricted from being able to exercise their right to free expression and discussions on actual political issues both inside and outside of school. If so, as in the case of inadequate educational contents, students can hardly be expected to acquire the necessary qualities of citizens or to use them in real life.
Therefore, when implementing sovereign education in schools, it is vital that the government carry out the following measures in regard to the contents to be learned, the educational practice, and the learning environment:
Regarding the contents to be learned, as the concept of the "Significance of the Constitution" has been advocated in the report from the Law-Related Education Study Group of the Ministry of Justice dated November 2014, significant emphasis should be placed on learning about the principles of constitutionalism. Moreover, more focus than ever should be placed on learning about the fundamental values of laws, such as "Happiness, Justice, and Fairness" which are described in the current teaching guidelines as being the basic perspectives in discussing topical issues of contemporary society. Further, in order to develop rational discussions with others who have different values, it is recommended that students be taught the skills to learn the techniques that rely on only facts and logic (i.e. the technique adopted by lawyers in debates (legal syllogism)), and be able to apply such techniques to political and moral debates in general (e.g. discussion techniques such as the "Toulmin model");
Regarding teaching practices, first and foremost, the pedagogical discretion of teachers must be respected. It is an effective educational method to allow teachers to express their own views without reservation, except to the extent that their statements are intended to support or oppose any particular political party. In addition, the practice of requesting teachers to give notification or ask for approval to use supplementary or supporting learning materials should be discouraged. The second point is to more frequently utilize the expertise of lawyers as external experts who possess skills in the principles and rules of law, and argumentation techniques. More active promotion of the participation of lawyers in classes should be recommended by using the program proposed by the JFBA to dispatch lawyers to schools. It is also advisable to organize diversified classes through cooperation with teachers and lawyers in various regions; and
With regard to the learning environment, it is recommended that more current issues from real life should be chosen as the topics for discussion in school and classrooms by making use of the time planned for special activities, etc. This will enable the everyday lives of students to be a place for democratic discussion. In addition, students should also be encouraged to make open and vigorous statements and engage in discussions about the issues and political reality in the real world. From this perspective, measures such as (i) the uniform ban on political activities in classrooms or at school, (ii) the restriction or banning of political activities beyond the minimum extent necessary inside and outside of school (after class or on school holidays), and (iii) toleration of school regulations specifying that any political activities should be reported, should all be reconsidered because of possible unconstitutionality or illegality in terms of ensuring freedom of expression.
The JFBA hereby proposes to the government that the aforementioned measures should be accelerated in the future sovereign education in order to fully develop skills and abilities needed to maintain our free and democratic society and our constitutional nation, while highly respecting the independence and autonomy of children.
Being aware of the increasingly important role of sovereign education, the JFBA hereby expresses its readiness to make every effort to ensure that a democratic and open society can be passed to our next generation, by continuously promoting the program to dispatch lawyers to schools, working with schools for preparing classes and learning materials, conducting training within the JFBA, and continuously implementing "law-related education for citizens" as part of the educational activities both inside and outside of the JFBA.
October 7, 2016
Japan Federation of Bar Associations