Thursday, 9 July 2009

A new sort of education Thursday

After the undergrad Intro to Education course I took on Thursday mornings in spring term of last year, I had a break from education in the fall term. This school year, however, (the Japanese school year starts in April and runs to March, with breaks in both summer and late winter/early spring) I've got another ed class, this time at the grad level, but still on Thursdays.

This term I'm taking a grad course on the history of Japanese education. It doesn't have much bearing on my thesis, but I knew as soon as I read the syllabus that I had to take it because of the assigned text. We are reading the Japanese translation of Andrew Gordon's A Modern History of Japan. Why would I want to read the Japanese translation of an overview of Japanese history written by a well-known American scholar of Japanese history? Well, Gordon was my advisor for my first thesis. He wrote a message and signed my copy of the English original, which I used when I was one of the TAs for the intro-level overview of Japanese history course that he co-taught. The book was written out of his lecture notes for that class, and the year I TAed was the first one after the book had been published and was being used as a text.

It has been a truly odd experience to read the book for a grad-level Japanese course. (I'll admit that most weeks I cheat and read the English original and only glance through the Japanese translation) I'll find myself suddenly remembering discussing a certain section with my students, or listening to Gordon's lecture on a different section, or marking the exam questions, or climbing the rickety little stairway to my discussion section's classroom - overlooking Annenberg Hall , high in the eaves of the historic and stunning Memorial Hall . But really I'm sitting in a windowless classroom in the upper floors of a modern skyscraper in downtown Tokyo.

The class itself has its moments. I've had a number of frustrating weeks, sitting through seemingly endless comments of "wow - for a foreigner he really knows a lot about Japanese history! It's so impressive!!" The fact that this is a typical Japanese response to any knowledge of Japan by a foreigner is annoying. Given that the professor of the course I'm currently taking and the other two students have freely admitted they are education/sociology majors and NOT history majors and thus the only (one-time) Japanese history major in the room is the one with the white skin and big nose, makes it somewhat more annoying. But given that the comments are about a scholar who is both very well-known and extremely highly regarded in the field (both in the US AND in Japan), the condescension is particularly annoying.

In class this evening, however, we got off topic waiting for one student who never actually showed up. We got into discussing and comparing higher education in Japan and the US/Canada. The prof, who's area is Education and who is involved in the teaching certification program at my university, was blunt and direct in his criticism of many Japanese practices. In particular he blasted the Japanese system of double standards for athletes, the lack of expectation that students actually study, the practice of students working part-time jobs til the early hours of the morning, and a host of other issues. My beef is the glaring lack of feedback given to students. They submit papers and write tests and all they get out of it is a grade on their report card. 99% of professors provide absolutely no feedback to students, giving them no idea of WHAT was good or bad about what they did and where/how they could improve. The only time many students get any type of response from professors is on their graduation thesis, in their final year. In addition, the vast majority of undergrads, and some grad students even, have a difficulty in expressing their own opinion or engaging in critical thought. With issues like grade inflation and babying of students, however, the US/Canadian system is far from perfect...

It was a lively and interesting discussion, but I'm still looking forward to next week (the last for this term) and then another term of a new sort of education Thursdays...

No comments:

Post a Comment