E-journal of All India Association for Educational Research (EJAIAER)

 

    VOL.20                            Nos:  3 & 4                 September & December, 2008

 

PHILOSOPHY ON THE RESTORATION OF SCHOOLS IN JAPAN:

THE VISION, PRINCIPLES AND ACTIVITY SYSTEM OF THE LEARNING COMMUNITY

 

Manabu Sato

ANOTHER LANDSCAPE

Let me start by describing a “landscape,” which is not well known outside the circle of school teachers and is set against the backdrop of a raucous clamor about the school crisis and a quick succession of top-down school reforms: as of March 2008, roughly 2,000 elementary schools and 1,000 junior high schools across Japan were tackling school reform calling for the establishment of learning communities. Together, they represented about 10% of total public schools in Japan.

 

This landscape presents a remarkable contract to one that the Education Rebuilding Council, an advisory body to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who cried out about the crisis of public school education and about a decline in academic standards and the leadership quality of teachers, and the Central Education Council of the Ministry of Education are creating by mobilising the mass media. This illustrates that a revolutionary change in public schools is taking place where the Education Rebuilding Council, the Central Education Council or the mass media have no roles to play. As an educator who has been involved in the preparation and organisation of this “silent and long revolution,” I will introduce in this article the philosophy for school revitalization that calls for the creation of learning communities. I may add here that, in the school reform that involves the establishment of learning communities, the vision and the philosophy of reform are preceding its practice, while its theoretical elucidation is falling behind the progress in its implementation.

 

Why is it that so many schools are actively participating in the school reform that embraces the creation of learning communities? Why is it that this reform is prompting so many teachers to rise up to its challenge? And why is it that this reform achieves success that can only be called “miraculous?” I have presented the vision and the philosophy of reform, designed a strategy for its implementation and pressed for change by visiting schools throughout the country, but even I have no answer to these core issues. But there are many things I have discovered, learned and drawn lessons from through the course of my study on school reform. In this article, I will attempt to integrate these fragmentary lessons and describe the philosophy that lies at the heart of school reform in theoretical language, where possible, rather than in the language of practice. In other words, it is a description of what is being done behind the scenes to support school reform. This reform envisioning the creation of learning communities has rarely been attempted in Japanese education and it is characterised by the fact that it is guided by philosophy, thought and theory.

 

The vision of schools as learning communities goes back to 1896 when John Dewey founded a laboratory school as part of the University of Chicago. The idea of the learning community spread to many parts of the world (Note 1) in the new education movement that began in the 1910s and, after the Second World War, it was woven into the educational reform based on progressivism in the form of “open schools” in the United States in the 1970s. Today, it is discussed as one of the visions for schools in the 21st century.

 

The idea of the learning community was first discussed in Japan’s academic circles and in education research in 1992 when I published Learning as a Practice in Dialogue: In Search of Learning Community (Yutaka Saeki, Hidenori Fujita and Manabu Sato, 1995) and was first practised at Ojiya Elementary School in Ojiya City in Niigata Prefecture (Note 2), a project in which I participated and cooperated. The idea was transplanted to Minami Junior High School in Nagaoka City in 1996 when the principal of the Ojiya Elementary School, Mr. Kenichi Hirasawa, was transferred thereto. In 1998, the Chigasaki City Board of Education founded a learning community as a pilot project after its officials visited the two schools.

 

It was the establishment in 1998 of a pilot school, Hamanogo Elementary School that was dubbed a “pilot school for the 21st century,” that served as the starting point for the spread of learning communities across Japan. Mr. Toshiaki Oose, manager for school education in the city’s board of education, played the central role in the preparation for the creation of the school. He drafted a ten-year school reform plan incorporating my vision, philosophy and methodology for learning communities, got it passed by the city council and, with the support of the mayor, the head of the board of education and the city council, created Hamanogo Elementary School as a pilot programme, facing the challenge of managing the institution as its first principal. (Note 3). The establishment of this school was a historic event: no public school had ever been created based on its own reform idea and vision of education before. Following are the vision and the philosophy as embodied specifically in Hamanogo Elementary School as a learning community.

 

Schools as learning communities:

The learning community is a concept that envisions the evolution of schools in the 21st century into places where children come together to learn and grow, where teachers learn and grow as professionals and where parents and citizens learn and grow by participating in educational activities. In order to fulfill this vision, students learn how to work together in classrooms, teachers build collegiality (Note 4) in their offices where they creatively challenge the issue of how to conduct classes and critique and learn from each other, and parents and citizens take part in classes and work jointly with teachers (classroom participation). Schools as learning communities are guided by three ideas: public philosophy, democracy and excellence.

 

Public philosophy:

Schools are organised based on a public mission and accompanying responsibilities, and teachers are professionals who are responsible for carrying them out. They are responsible for fulfilling each schoolchild’s right to learn and for bringing about a democratic society. Public philosophy also means that schools are open as public spaces. In other words, it is a concept that schools and classrooms are open to everyone inside and outside and that a variety of ideas and views on life are freely discussed through interactive communication. (Note 5)

 

Democracy:

The purpose of school education is to build a democratic society, and schools themselves must, therefore, be democratic social organisations. Democracy is more than a mere political process. Democracy here means a way of associated living as defined by John Dewey. In schools organised on democratic principles, each schoolchild, teacher and parent participates in their management as a protagonist with his or her own role and responsibility.

 

Excellence:

Activities to teach and to learn require a pursuit of excellence. Here, I am not talking about excellence in comparison with others. It does mean that we do our utmost and pursue what is best. The pursuit of excellence in competition with others results in a sense of superiority or inferiority, while the pursuit of the best through utmost efforts brings deep humility and modesty to teachers and learners alike. Teaching and learning activities are built essentially on the pursuit of excellence in this sense, which I am advocating as “learning to stretch and jump.”

 

Methodology: Building of Activity System

The learning community I propose rests on a relationship in which people listen to each other. To listen to what others have to say is the starting point of learning. It is often characterised as an active behavior, but its essence actually lies in “passive activeness.” It is said that the ancient Greek language had a voice of verb which combined the active and passive voices. Learning, like this Greek voice, is an activity that takes place in the space between the two ends of a spectrum. The same thing can be said of teaching as well. Deborah Meier, a distinguished teacher, said in her book published in 1955 that “teaching is mostly listening.” In fact, good teachers go out of their way to listen to what each child has to say, however “inaudible” his or her voice may be.

A priority on listening is important in order to build schools as public spaces. John Dewey, in the last part of his book ‘The Public and Its Problems’ published in 1927, stated the following on the superiority of the ear as a necessary condition to establish public philosophy:

“The relationship between the ear and vibrant thoughts and emotions is far closer and more colorful than the one between the eye and them. Vision is a spectator, while hearing is a participant.”

The above passage clearly expresses a relationship in which the passivity of listening brings out participation. As John Dewey pointed out, vision enables one to be absorbed in speculation while listening forces one to participate as an interested party.

 

A relationship in which people listen to each other is critically important in building a community because such a relationship creates a language for dialogue between them, preparing the way for building a community based interactive communication. Schools as learning communities that I propose are organised on a group of activity systems. They are so constructed, when the proscribed activities are followed, as to allow public philosophy, democracy and pursuit of excellence to be acquired and practiced spontaneously - an operation system that supports learning communities. Activity systems in classrooms are organised to support schoolchildren’s active, cooperative and reflective learning. They require the establishment of a relationship in every classroom in which schoolchildren listen to each other. The activity systems, in classrooms of schoolchildren above the third grade in elementary school, require that children organise a collaborative learning system in groups of four of both genders,  they establish a relationship in which they do not teach each other but learn from each other, (if they have a question, for instance, they are typically expected to ask “What am I supposed to do here?”),  they lean to stretch their limits.

 

Teachers are expected to organise classes according to their children’s responses toward learning. And they are required to consistently listen, connect and return, to speak at a lower pitch and choose words carefully, to pursue creative teaching by spontaneously responding to children.The responsibility to fulfill each child’s right to learn in classrooms does not lie exclusively with homeroom or subject teachers. It should be shared with all the children in the same classroom and all the teachers assigned to a particular grade as well as with the principal and parents.

 

In school management, all meetings have to be abolished except for the monthly faculty meetings and weekly meetings for each grade. In their place, meetings to discuss specific case studies (in-school seminars) based on classroom observation must be firmly placed at the heart of school management. At in-school seminars, teachers should be free to choose their own research theme for presentation and common topics should be avoided. Furthermore, at least once a year, teachers have to open their classes to their colleagues and present their case studies either at one of the in-school seminars or grade-specific meetings (In this way, more case studies than the number of teachers in an entire school will be produced in one year). All teachers who attend the presentations are required to make at least one comment. The main purpose of case study seminars is not to pursue superior teaching but to enable each and every child to learn and enhance the quality of learning. Accordingly, case studies to be presented at seminars should focus not on teaching materials or teaching skills but on the facts about learning as experienced by children in their classrooms and about their learning from each other.

 

In the relationship with parents, classroom observation, usually held once an academic term, should be replaced by “learning participation” in which parents and teachers work together to create a better classroom and they organise activities in which they share the responsibility for educating schoolchildren. The “learning participation,” participation by more than 80% of parents throughout a year should be targeted. Opportunities should be provided for local citizens to work with teachers and design the contents of classroom teaching.

 

There are three sources of origin for the vision and philosophy of my proposed school reform for learning communities, its methodology and the group of activity systems that put them into practice. First, it is my personal experience of failures and partial successes during my 28-year efforts at school reform. Since I became a professor at university, I have been engaged in the challenge to reform schools from the inside by visiting schools throughout the country twice a week, observing classrooms and working with teachers. I have visited over the years almost 2,000 kindergartens, elementary schools, junior and senior high schools and schools for the handicapped, which resulted in over 10,000 case studies of classroom practices. Most of my ideas on school reform as well as on classroom improvement came from my encounters with the children, teachers, and principals in these schools.

 

The second source is many examples of successful school reform inside and outside Japan. We had many instances of school reform in the Taisho Period’s liberal education in pre-war days and the post-war democratic education in Japan. I have visited roughly 20 countries for my research and learned from advanced reform examples in these countries. In particular, I have learned a great deal from what Deborah Meier did in New York and Boston in school reform and what Loris Malaguzzi, an Italian, accomplished in leading infant education in Reggio Emilia.

 

The third source is theories that support reform. Educationists often attempt to prepare and guide school reform with pedagogic theories, but it is impossible to make such an attempt with pedagogy and its related disciplines. It is true that pedagogy and other related disciplines have made great contributions to improvements in education, but school and classroom reform is part of social reform and also part of a cultural revolution, requiring theories from other disciplines as well from the humanities and social sciences. Of course, it is impossible for one scholar to cover all these academic areas. It is only by integrating those theories from a variety of disciplines that school reform can be prepared and achieved. My proposed school reform through the creation of learning communities is based on the theories represented by the following people in a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences: for philosophy, John Dewey, William James, Mitchell Foucaut, Gilles Deuleuze, Donald Schon, and Michael Holoquist: for cultural anthropology, Marcel Mauss: for cultural critique, Lewis Mumford: for psychology, Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner: for political philosophy, Charles Taylor, Amy Gutmann, and Syozou Fujita: for social philosophy, Hilary Putnam, Richard Bernstein, Robert Bellah, and Zigmund Baumann: for poetry and philosophy, Paul Klee and Syuntarou Tanigawa: music and philosophy by Hikaru Miyoshi: theories of drama by Koharu Kisaragi: for ethics, Nel Noddings: for pedagogy, Joseph Schwab, Paulo Freire, Loris Malaguzzi, Lee Schulman, E.W. Eisner, Yrjo Engestrom, and Magdalene Lampert: for educational sociology, Richard Rorty, Andy Hargreaves, and Geoff Whitty.

 

Many of the principals and teachers who are now promoting learning community-based school reform have been inspired by their visits to pilot schools to observe their classrooms in action. Many of them have read my books and are aware of examples of school reform also through television, newspapers and magazines, but these alone did not motivate them to launch their reform efforts. More than anything else, it is the very existence of these pilot schools and what is being done there that stirred them. Every month, hundreds of teachers visit Hamanogo Elementary School in Chigasaki and Gakuyo Junior High School in Fuji. And pilot schools across Japan attract hundreds of teachers and sometimes close to 1,000 of them to the open day they hold once a year. It is estimated that, on a cumulative basis, hundreds of thousands of teachers have visited these pilot schools over the past eight years.

 

SHARING A VISION

What is it about the pilot schools that galvanizes teachers to take on the challenge of reform? Is it a series of their miraculous successes? There is no denying that their achievements are “miraculous.” By adopting the Hamanogo style of reform (for elementary schools) and the Gakuyo style of reform (for junior high schools), those schools, however unruly their pupils were before, have seen troubles between teachers and pupils and violence among pupils dwindle to zero or almost zero after a year of reform, with the result that the pupils, without exception, are actively participating in learning. And after two years of reform, the rate of truants (those who fail to attend school more than 30 days a year) at these schools has dramatically dropped, from 5% to roughly 1% (or to zero in cases where truancy was low in the first place). Similarly, a remarkable improvement can be observed in the academic standards. In the first year of reform in schools that are promoting the establishment of learning communities, pupils with low academic standards showed great achievements and two years later, those with higher academic standards also did better, enabling these schools to evolve into the best or one of the best in their cities. Why are the series of these miraculous improvements happening? I am not sufficiently aware of the reasons myself, although I planned and designed the vision, philosophy and methodology of the reform.

 

There is an interesting episode. Immediately after Gakuyo Junior High School in Fuji published a book on what it had done to reform itself through the establishment of a learning community, several thousand teachers visited the school from all over Japan. Few of them were interested, however, in learning how the school tackled the issue of reform. For most of those teachers, the main purpose of visiting the school was to find out with their own eyes whether what was written in the book was true or not. Who would believe that the school, which had been known for a long time as one of the most “difficult” in Shizuoka Prefecture, succeeded in the first few years of reform in eliminating all disruptive behaviour, in dramatically reducing the number of truants, from 36 to 4, and in enhancing its academic standards to one of the best in the city from the lowest. It is only natural that there was a stampede of teachers who wanted to find the truth first hand. What is more important to recognise here is that it is not the results that might be called “miraculous” in those pilot schools that have caused the learning community-based school reform to spread at an explosive pace. Visitors to the pilot schools all agree how impressed they were by schoolchildren who were humbly learning from each other as well as by the performance of their teachers. Also, they all express hope about the vision of reform that has been translated into reality in these schools.

 

The first surprise that awaits visitors to the pilot schools is their quiet atmosphere. They find the children and teachers behaving naturally, speaking and acting gently and connecting with each other smoothly. Running through the entire school life are the teachers’ and children’s responsive and caring attitudes and the practice of cooperative learning based on the relationship in which people listen to each other. The noises, loud voices, excessive tensions and the oppressive sense of irritation, as if people are always burdened by something – all characteristics of typical Japanese schools — are gone from the pilot schools for learning communities. The fact that they are quiet does not mean the pupils are not studying actively. Just the opposite is true. In fact, both the children and teachers at these schools are surprisingly serious about learning. They pay close attention to what is said or even whispered in the classroom and are sensitive even to slight changes in others’ thoughts and emotions. The more people learn, the more modest they become. The more intelligent they get, the quieter they become. The public spaces in learning communities are learning spaces created by listening pedagogy in which people listen to other’s voice. They are also echoing spaces in which changes in people’s thoughts and emotions, however slight, resonate across the classroom (Note 6).

 

What is most impressive to visitors to the pilot schools is not the miraculous successes they have achieved through school reform. Rather, it is their quiet atmosphere, the way children and teachers communicate with each other in a gentle and spontaneous manner, the teachers who, without exception, have opened their classrooms and are humbly learning together with the colleagues and from their pupils and the fact that these schools have actually been created. What does all this really mean? The teachers are looking for a vision for school reform and hope for realising that vision in school reform. In talking about school reform, people tend to say that they do not have sufficient staff, time, money or resources. But what is conspicuously missing in school reform is a vision for reform in which teachers can place their hope. We can say here that school reform aimed at building learning communities has won the overwhelming support of teachers, children and parents by turning a vision into reality.

 

MACRO-POLITICS OF REFORM: HOW TO RESPOND TO PRESSURES FROM OUTSIDE SCHOOL

Chigasaki City, where Hamanogo Elementary School, the first pilot school to undergo a learning community-based school reform programme, is situated, lies near Fujisawa City, the hub of the charter school (private schools founded with public funds) movement in Japan. This elementary school is not only a pilot school that represents the vision for learning communities in the 21st century but is also one that now has an added role of defensing public schools and opening up various possibilities. The name “pilot school” derives from the school Deborah Meier and others established in Boston at the request of the city’s teachers’ association and the board of education as the base for reform in public schools to counteract the spread of charter schools. The school reform aimed at building learning communities, as the name suggests, has developed in opposition to the ideology and policy of neo-liberalism, which advocates controlling schools by making them compete under market principles and privatising public education.

 

In 1995, in fact, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives proposed in its vision of schools for the 21st century that, through the “free choice” of parents, two-thirds of the current functions of public schools be transferred to the private sector and local volunteers and that public education be slimmed down to one third of what it was at that time. In 1999, the fifth working group of the “Design for 21st century Japan” committee, an advisory body to the then prime minister Keizo Obuchi, made a proposal for splitting the function of school education into two parts, “education for the country” and “education for the individual,” and restricting the role of public education to “education for the country,” thus slimming down the role of public education. And the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy set up by the then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi continued to propose the scrapping of the central government’s financial contributions to compulsory education (the abandoning of the government’s responsibility for public education), the implementation of the school selection system across Japan, the introduction of charter schools and sharp reductions in the number of teachers in public schools and their salaries. Further, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went ahead with the revision of the Fundamental Education Law and has begun a reform programme  that will enable the prime minister to directly control schools through the Education Rebuilding Council.

 

Those who advocate neoliberal ideology and its policy by working through the mass media used the instances of declining academic standards and bullying in schools to create a “manufactured crisis” and, through it, a mass hysteria, repeatedly criticising the way schools were run and bashing teachers. Those teachers were scapegoats for everything that was wrong with education. Moreover, the principles of market mechanism under neo-liberalism have served to dissolve the public nature of education and to make the work of teachers non-professional.

 

One of the most serious problems created under neoliberal ideology and its policy is the transformation of the nature of teachers’ work from responsibility to service, turning the relationship between teachers and parents into that of service provider and service recipient. As a consequence, teachers sacrifice themselves to their endless work, becoming frustrated and exhausted, while parents have become increasingly unhappy with the quality of their services. The greatest obstacle that stands in the way of creative teaching today is parents’ mistrust and criticism of teachers and their dissatisfaction with teachers. But should the relationship between teachers and parents be that between service provider and service recipient? Indeed not. Education is not a service but social responsibility that adults have to their children. Teachers and parents must be bound together by their responsibility toward their children’s education. It is impossible to form a relationship of trust and partnership between teachers and parents without placing the education of their children at the center of their relationship and sharing its responsibility together. The transformation of the nature of education from responsibility into service has placed the dignity of teachers and teaching as a profession in crisis. Teaching is now considered as easy work that anyone can handle and the trust in and respect for teachers have been collapsing. What is particularly serious is that the dignity of teachers has been hurt: teachers have been told to go to department stores to learn how to greet other people and to prep and cram schools to “improve” their teaching skills. This is because of excessive “crisis” reports of the mass media on declining academic standards and bullying in schools and because of sensational reports by TV gossip shows on thoughtless remarks and actions of a handful of teachers. Neoliberal ideology and its policy have transformed the teachers’ responsibility into accountability.  Accountability originally was a concept that meant requesting a service commensurate with the taxes paid -an idea of balancing costs and benefits. The control of schools through accountability and the principles of competition has brought about widespread “management and assessment by numerical targets” in schools. This system of “management and assessment by numerical targets” is effective when an organisation that is being assessed is in a state of devastation, but it serves only to promote its degradation when it is functioning well. “The management and assessment by numerical targets” brings positive effects to an organisation when it has a single and simple purpose but only negative effects when it is a complex organisation with multiple purposes. However, the boards of education in villages, towns and cities in almost all prefectures have introduced numerical targets at their schools as a result of the transformation of responsibility into accountability. Consequently, the work of teachers has been confined to achieving simple and tangible goals such as improving academic standards, reducing bullying and truancy and sending more of their students to better schools. Moreover, they are pouring a great amount of work into displaying their achievements and compiling assessment documents. Thus, today’s teachers find themselves torn between two strong demands: on one hand, they are kept busy providing service to parents and tax payers and holding themselves accountable for it, while, on the other, they are increasingly integrated into the system of numerical targets and bureaucratic assessments of those targets demanded by the local boards of education. What is missing in the two assessment-based relationships is the responsibility to each child and appreciation of teachers as professionals.

 

Micro-Politics of Reform: Jumping Over the School’s Inner Wall

Let’s turn our eye inside the schools. The process of school reform can be recognised by dialectics of the inside and outside. Schools can change themselves only from the inside and their reform efforts cannot be sustained without support from the outside. Looked at from this perspective, the dialectics of the inside and outside is obviously upended in the current extreme policy on school reform: policymakers are attempting to force schools to reform from the outside, citing as their reason the need to change teachers’ mentality, while they do not lend a hand when schools try to change themselves from the inside. No wonder school administrators and teachers are at a loss what to do and feel exhausted.Too many people think that school reform is easy. Schools, however, are stubborn and obstinate organisations. They cannot be easily changed. For instance, every prefecture or city, town and village designates some of their schools as “research schools” to promote and support reform and a vast number of them spend a great deal of work on their research. But are there schools today which are still continuing their research after announcing their results two or three years following their designation as “research schools”? All these schools, once the period of their designation is over, stop all their research activities and do not want to do anything until they are designated again 10 years later. No one bothers to read the research papers which required a great amount of work to complete. As can be seen from this example, school reform is not an easy task. School reform does not always lead to a higher quality of education. Neither does it improve the morale of teachers. The reality is that it does just the opposite in many cases.

 

I have helped with the reform plans of almost 2,000 schools during the past 28 years but, to be honest, there was little to show for my efforts but a succession of failures for more than 10 years at first. Obviously, I achieved some improvements in reform from time to time and accomplished a degree of success in some projects, but these reforms were no more than transient in nature and, moreover, they were isolated cases.

 

School reform is not a task which can be achieved in a few years or by partial successes or by a small group of people. It is a long-running revolution requiring more than 10 years, at least, before it is completed. It has to be a structural and overall, not partial, reform. Drastic reform executed in a short time or partial and local reform, because of its counteraction and side effects, runs a greater risk of being counterproductive.The most important thing in reforming schools from the inside is to understand micro-politics in terms of its structure. The greatest barrier that stands in the way of reform in elementary schools, for instance, is the walls between classrooms. Dr. David Tyack, a social historian of education at Stanford University, calls American elementary schools the “pedagogical harem.” He used this name because those schools usually have a male principal and female teachers “residing” in closed classrooms do not get along with each other and they communicate only with their principal. This excellent figure of speech indicates that the reform of elementary schools from the inside cannot be achieved without breaking down the “walls” between classrooms and establishing collegiality between teachers. Prof. Andy Hargreaves (who now teaches at Boston College), a British educational sociologist with many years of research on school culture, described the structure of junior high schools as being balkanised, which I think is again a superb figure of speech. Junior and senior high schools are organised on the basis of study subjects, with a group of teachers of a particular subject forming an “independent state” with its own rules. No matter how hard a principal, however capable he / she  may be, may try to reform his / her school with a strong leadership, those teachers will not budge an inch. Here, different walls that exist in a variety of school activities—subject teaching, division of duties in school administration and student club activities—constitute an established power structure that hinders the reform of the school from the inside. It is impossible, therefore, to reform schools from the inside without breaking down the “walls” between the classrooms and establishing collegiality around learning by pupils in elementary schools and, in junior and senior high schools, without tearing down the walls of teaching subjects and building collegiality focused on students’ learning. It is also necessary to understand without any illusions the nature of communication that is taking place in schools. No other place cries out for dialogue more than schools, but they are among the few places where monologue is a dominant form of communication. Principals speak almost in monologue. Teachers do the same in the faculty rooms and classrooms. So do their children in classrooms. Without transforming this monologue into dialogue, we cannot realise interactive communication, nor can we reconstruct schools into communities.

There is no place  other than schools where the importance of democracy is more desired, yet there are very few other places where democracy is belittled and undemocratic relationships dominate. For instance, teachers often talk about their students in their faculty room, but those students usually account for roughly 20% of the total in an ordinary junior high school. It is rare for teachers to talk about students except for those who often behave disruptively, do especially well or poorly in their studies or perform particularly well in their club activities. Some students receive services worth more than 10 times the taxes their parents pay while many others get services worth even less than one-tenth of their parents’ taxes. In order to reform unfair and undemocratic schools like this, the structure of communication itself has to be changed in order to transform them into organisations in which each and every one of their people participates and comes together on an equal footing as a main player. We also need to undertake a thorough review of the leadership of principals. It is the public mission and responsibility of schools to fulfill each child’s right to learn, and principals are at the center of this responsibility. It is the core responsibility of principals to bring about the fulfillment of the right to learn for each and every one of their students. A surprisingly small number of them recognise this, however. Principals who are aware of this responsibility would not allow themselves to keep themselves busy handling chores in their office or attending conferences and meetings outside their school. Instead, they would devote themselves to observing the classes, supporting the teachers and revitalising training in their school.

 

Schools that are active in research activities are not necessarily good ones. Rather, as schools become more active, many of them, instead of fulfilling each child’s right to learn, tend to become more focused on research results and improvement of teaching skills with only a small group of teachers and interested pupils actively involved. Those schools ignore the long work hours teachers spend, living an insular life locked up in the small world that is their school. That many of these schools exist means that school reform is not taken seriously. Teaching is an intellectual job based on high levels of education. At the same time, it is complex work that requires sophisticated and specialised knowledge and practical insight. It is not taken for granted in the school reform aimed at creating learning communities that an improvement in teaching skills will inevitably lead to the fulfillment of every child’s right to learn and to a guarantee of the kind of learning that will enable them to stretch their limits. This cannot be achieved without teachers and pupils working together. Schools usually try to reform their classrooms by holding “research classes” about three times a year, but in schools where I have cooperated in carrying out a learning community-based reform program, a sufficient accomplishment of classroom and learning reform is considered difficult, if not impossible, unless teachers conduct roughly 100 classroom observations and case studies, each lasting an hour and two hours, respectively, each year. This illustrates how difficult school reform really is and how complex and sophisticated classroom reform is.

 

Redefinition: Reflection and Careful Consideration

Behind the fact that so many schools have risen to face the challenge of school reform and achieved the results that can only be called miraculous is the redefinition by teachers of some of the educational concepts. I have proposed the redefinition of the following three concepts as a basis for school reform, the first of which is learning. It is defined in learning communities as a practice of dialogue with the world in which one finds oneself, with others and with oneself. It is a cognitive (cultural), interpersonal (social) and existential (ethical) practice.The concept of “teacher” is also redefined in my proposed school reform aimed at creating learning communities: they were previously defined only as “teaching professional.” In learning communities, they are defined as “learning professional” as well as “teaching professional.” Furthermore, the professional competence of teachers has been defined hitherto in accordance with the principle of “rational application” of scientific knowledge and techniques, in other words, a capability of putting scientific knowledge and techniques into practice. In learning communities, however, it is redefined as an ability to reflect upon teachers’ own practices and to learn from each other’s practice (Reflective Practitioners, Donald Schon, 1983). The concepts of public philosophy and democracy, as defined in the context of deliberative democracy rather than participatory democracy, are deepening through the process of search for school reform aimed at creating learning communities. So is the reform of curriculum. Schools that are going ahead with a learning community-based reform programme have been trying to design and implement a curriculum around three basic themes: education in scientific discourse, in artistic skills and in citizenship. The implementation of these themes is expected to lead to the development of a new curriculum structure in the near future. It is true, however, that the more progress this learning community-based school reform now practised thousands of schools across Japan makes, the more it comes face to face with the harsh reality that surrounds education in Japan: how to develop insight and leadership in school principals, how to resist the education policy that categorises teachers as non-professionals, how to deal with a rapidly deepening crisis over children’s disruptive behaviour in school, how to roll back the tide of increasing control by bureaucrats over education, how to integrate the reform currently pursued individually by schools into an overall education policy, and how to develop and nurture teachers who underpin school reform on the inside. These are some of the questions we have not been able to answer clearly in our efforts at school reform through the creation of learning communities. I hope to discuss them in greater detail in the future.

 

NOTES

Note 1: The idea of the learning community goes back to ancient Greek “Akademeia” and medieval monasteries and universities. “Discipline” in the sense of learning originally meant a community of “disciples” or learners. (See “The Prelude: Toward Pleasure of Learning” of my book, Pleasure of Learning: Toward Dialogue (Seori Shobo Publishing, 1998)..

 

Note 2: For the historical background of the learning community reform at Ojiya Elementary School and its philosophical meaning, refer to “School as An Apparatus” in Insight That Crosses the Boundary co-authored with Akira Kurihara, Yoichi Komri and Toshiya Yoshimi (University of Tokyo Press, 2000).

 

Note 3: For the establishment of Hamanogo Elementary School and its initial reform efforts, see Creating School: the Birth of Hamanogo Elementary School in Chigasaki City and its Practices (Shogakukan Inc. 2000) and Changing School: the Five Years of Hamanogo Elementary School (Shogakukan Inc., 2003), both co-authored with Toshiaki Oose.

 

Note 4: The idea of collegiality was proposed by Judith Little. She conducted research on many factors that led to successful school reform and examined how each factor contributed to its success. She demonstrated that solidarity among teachers as colleagues and professionals played a decisive role in school reform. Her proposal that puts priority on solidarity among teachers is insightful and I

have translated the idea into the Japanese word, “Do-ryo-sei, the English equivalent of collegiality. The word has entered into the lexicon of Japanese teachers and has commonly been used by them.

 

 

Note 5: For the concept of “public philosophy” and its political philosophy as employed in this article, see my contribution Politics in the Public Arena: John Dewey between the Wars in Shisou, a monthly philosophical magazine, of January 2001,(Iwanami Shoten).

 

Note 6: For what Deborah Meier did as principal to reform her school, Central Park East in New York City, and her mission school in Boston where she campaigned for the support of public schools, refer to her book The Power of Their Ideas (Beacon Press) and my book Teachers’ Challenge (Shogakukan, 2003), and “The Great Challenge of a Small School in Boston.”(Shogakukan, 2003)

 

Note 7: Yuusuke Maki uses an excellent metaphor to describe his idea of community by saying it is a group like an orchestra where individually different people come together to form one entity, and not like a group of packed corals that is made up of things of the same quality. If learning is born of differences between individuals, then a learning community should be like an orchestra, according to his book The Sound of An Air Stream (Shikuma Shobo Publishing).

 

Note 8: David Berliner, an educationist at Arizona State University, warns that the so-called crisis in education reported on frequently by U.S. newspapers is a crisis manufactured by the mass media. A similar situation exists in Japan, with its mass media playing up “the crisis” more excessively than in the United States. .