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2008年12月29日 (月)


(Mainichi Japan) December 28, 2008

Tokyo Education Board's ban on votes, show of hands goes too far



The Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education's blanket ban on showings of hands and votes in staff meetings at metropolitan high schools, announced in an April 2006 notice, is causing a stir in Japan.


No such notice has been issued in any other prefecture, and educators are complaining that the move is resulting in a loss of freedom of speech.


As I see it, the notice is a prime example of the Tokyo Board of Education's hard line which, under the leadership of Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, pursued things like widespread punishment for teachers who didn't stand for the singing of Japan's national anthem, "Kimigayo." I think it goes too far. The education board should rethink the notice, which is stifling for educators, and devote itself to its role of providing an environment that revitalizes schools with cooperation between school workers and administrators.


The education board's notice was sent out under the name of then director for education Masahiko Nakamura, under the title "Making school management appropriate." It said that planning and coordination meetings held by principals and vice principals -- not staff meetings -- served as the nerve center of school administration.

"Management by means of holding a show of hands, votes and so on at staff meetings is inappropriate, and is not to be carried out," the notice said.

In the past staff meetings at some schools had turned into decision-making bodies that overrode school principals' views with majority votes. The notice was designed to promote the type of school development that principals were seeking.


In 2000, before the notice was sent out, the former Ministry of Education revised an ordinance in order to boost the authority of principals, and designated staff meetings as "subsidiary organs" to facilitate the work of school principals. Prefectural education boards across Japan revised their regulations accordingly. However, a Mainichi poll carried out in August showed that only the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education went as far as to send out a written ban on a show of hands and votes.


Nobuo Dohi, 60, principal of Tokyo Metropolitan Mitaka High School, is seeking a withdrawal of the ban. At a meeting of school principals in November last year, he stressed that the measure was having a negative effect at schools. He had presented his claims to the media in May, saying a mood was spreading among school workers that whatever they said was pointless. He had asked the metropolitan education board to hold an open discussion on the issue.


In response, between June and September the education board asked principals and vice principals at 260 metropolitan high schools -- excluding Dohi's high school -- what they thought about the situation. Altogether, 245 schools (94 percent) replied that the measure had no effect on freedom of speech. No schools answered that the measure did affect free speech.

On Nov. 13, the metropolitan education board compiled the results of the survey. It concluded that the measure "is not depriving people of freedom of speech."


Educational analyst Naoki Ogi, who sides with Dohi, writes off the results of the survey.

"It's like a pistol-armed robber making a victim raise both hands and asking, 'Are you scared?' It's not worthy to be called a survey," he says.


Opinions on the issue are divided. At a meeting of the education board on Nov. 27, Yutaka Takehana, former Tokyo vice governor, said, "The notice is not something that's making orders like 'Don't hold staff meetings,' or, 'Don't listen to the opinions of school workers.'"


Screenwriter Makiko Uchidate says," It's mistaken to think that not being able to hold votes or a show of hand is the equivalent of a crackdown on opinions."


"There are hundreds of ways to establish communication (between principals and school workers)," adds Tsutomu Kimura, president of the National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation, who chairs the education board.


But I want people to stop and think about this. Are there any other organizations that make a point of spelling out bans on a show of hands and votes? The metropolitan education board meeting regulations actually go the opposite way, stating that a show of hands and votes are conceivable procedures.


I don't think the feelings of Dohi are that far removed from society in general. Even in the metropolitan education board's survey, opinions matching those of Dohi could be seen -- five schools admitted, "An atmosphere has emerged that there isn't any point in staff presenting their opinions, and they've stopped speaking out." The stance of teachers managing by themselves had also disappeared, according to another report.


A teacher in his 40s from a metropolitan high school, whom I met during my coverage of the issue, said that atmosphere of meetings had changed because of the notice.

"In staff meetings, the atmosphere of free debate has disappeared, and the meetings have basically become outlets for announcements and reports. It has spurred autocratic management by the principal," the teacher said.


Masaaki Katsuno, an associate professor in educational administration at the University of Tokyo, says such a notice is unusual.

"Even from a perspective of general organizational management, the notice is extremely unusual," he says. "Staff aren't infringing on the leadership of principals in any way (by holding votes and a show of hands). Officials should seriously take to heart the significance of what is being pointed out by an incumbent principal," he adds, showing his support for the open forum requested by Dohi.


School principals hold the final responsibility and authority in school administration and management. Shows of hands and votes could serve as points of reference for their decisions, and there are probably cases when doing so is more effective. And from the viewpoint of teachers, there are likely some who will lose their motivation when faced with a procedure that shuts off a way for them to express their opinions from the outset.


I don't think staff meetings that produce unproductive discussions from start to finish as people focus on putting forward their ideas are desirable. But placing notices that dwell on standardized operations above everything else only brings discouragement to the education scene, and isn't good for the children, either. The metropolitan education board should open its ears to different opinions from within and without. ("As I See It," by Kenji Kimura, City News Dept. of the Mainichi Shimbun)


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