Schooling SelvesAutonomy, Interdependence, and Reform in Japanese Junior High Education

Schooling SelvesAutonomy, Interdependence, and Reform in Japanese Junior High Education

Peter Cave

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226367729

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book is an ethnography of lower secondary education in contemporary Japan, exploring the competing demands of autonomy, group socialization, and control in junior high school. It is based on fieldwork in schools conducted over more than a dozen years between 1994 and 2007. The book analyzes the implementation of major curricular reforms intended to develop more creative, self-motivated individuals, and shows how schools transformed the reforms to focus them on longstanding concerns about children’s social, emotional, and moral development. The reforms are situated within policy and media debates, and within the socioeconomic context of turn-of-the-century Japan. It is argued that the reforms failed to win the support of teachers because of the considerable new demands they made, which conflicted with existing institutionalized demands on schools, and with teachers’ established beliefs about the primary purposes of lower secondary education. Moreover, there was not enough development of teachers’ capacity to deliver the kind of programs envisaged by the reforms. The book also explores how a range of school structures and practices enabled the maintenance of control, socialization, and the development of limited individual autonomy. Many recent studies have argued that contemporary Japan is undergoing processes of individualization. However, this book shows that such processes can be restrained in some contexts by institutionalized beliefs and practices. It also contrasts individualization and autonomy, and argues that there is potential for individual autonomy to be developed further in Japan through the exploitation of indigenous understandings of mutually supportive social groups.