Without a doubt, the teachers who participate in the Keizai Koho program and NCSS publishing efforts receive many benefits from both activities. But after reviewing the Tora no Maki lesson plans, I wonder whether other educators, too, can benefit from these teachers’ efforts. Although the goal of the Tora no Maki series, to bring Japan into the K-12 classroom, is admirable, the publications as they exist may in some cases do more harm than good.
My criticism of the publications should take nothing away from the Keizai Koho program. I cannot quarrel with the idea of giving teachers a first-hand look at Japan and encouraging them to develop lessons. Participants in previous Keizai Koho and other teacher excursions to Japan surely could use the lessons in the Tora no Maki series to good advantage. But for the teacher who never has been to Japan, thelessons lack sufficient context. More troublesome, if teachers follow the lessons too rigidly, they may end up fostering rather shallow thinking and promoting stereotypes.
The lack of historical and cultural context on Japan results in part from the decentralized U.S. system of education. Few teachers have access to a detailed course of study that includes specific guidelines for teaching about Japan. Standards documents such as the NCSS “Curriculum Standards for Social Studies,” used as an organizing framework for Tora no Maki, provide generic statements and leave the specific content to the local schools. The NCSS document authors, for instance, present detailed descriptions of ten thematic strands, but purposefully avoid any specific historical and cultural content. According to the Foreword, “state and local decisions will augment and enhance the framework these national standards provide” (xvii). (note 1)
1. National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (Washington, D.C.: 1994).