~ Views from the world of learning in Japan ~
Welcome to the 6 May 2000 edition of KnoK (pronounced “knock”) NEWS, an informal and periodic bulletin concerning issues of learning in Japan. It is brought to you by the Covert family — Kazumi, Kenya and Brian — a multicultural, homelearning family in Osaka, Japan.
KnoK stands for Kodomo no Kokoro, meaning “Heart of a Child” in Japanese. It is our belief that the heart of any child is indeed at the center of true learning, wherever and however such learning may take place.
Editor’s Welcome: Greetings again, everyone! We’re already a month into the new school year here in Japan — the first school year of the new millennium — and along with it, no doubt, a slew of more news stories to appear in the media about how schools appear to be failing Japanese children.
But for us homelearners in Japan, there is a bit of good news of a different kind: One year ago this very day, a family in the global homelearning community was featured in a prominent news story on child-raising that was published in a major daily newspaper in Japan’s capital city. And guess what: The story even turned out to be respectful of, and open to, homelearning as an alternative to school.
It was on 6 May 1999 that the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper ran a lengthy, four-segment story on how families in the United States, China, Germany and Hong Kong are coping with raising children. Interviewed for the lead-in segment was Kathleen Iuzzolino, a homelearning parent based in New Jersey.
Ever looking for chances to celebrate homelearning in and out of Japan, KnoK NEWS is delighted to share with readers our English translation of that original Tokyo Shimbun article, as well as Kathleen’s own revealing insights [to us] of the interview session with the Japanese reporters.
Not to be outdone by the mainstream media, KnoK NEWS also takes that Tokyo Shimbun story one step further and looks brieﬂy at where the homelearners mentioned in the Japanese article are today — one year later.
This edition of KnoK NEWS has turned out to be a double feature, so our report this time is being sent in two separate sections: In the first section, we look at the Tokyo Shimbun coverage. In the second section, we wrap up our two-part “Q & A on Homeschooling in Japan” by a respected Japanese homelearning advocate and parent.
So, enough of the introduction and into the action. With great pleasure, we take you back one year ago today to a story that hit the newsstands of Tokyo just around evening rush hour….
• SECTION 1:
Japanese newspaper article on homeschooling & follow-up report
[Translated article in Tokyo Shimbun, evening edition, page 5; Thursday, 6 May 1999]
New World Affairs
Raising questions about child-raising: Moms and dads searching for answers
The decreasing number of children per family in Japan has brought about increasing concerns over the care of children. The appearance of Japanese government promotional posters featuring popular idol singer Namie Amuro’s husband, Sam, holding their child caused a sensation, and stirred public discussion about fathers participating in the raising of children.
On the other hand, the case of the youth in Kobe who wounded and killed other children over a period of time has attracted much attention, as have other brutal acts by youths. Methods of child-raising and educating are being questioned as a result.
Here, we introduce circumstances around the world where such questioning is taking place.
Kitchen becomes a classroom, as distrust of educational system fuels decision not to attend school
“Is this right?” ask Elizabeth, 12, and Alex, 11, notebooks in hand.
“Let me see…” responds Kathleen Iuzzolino, 39, running her pen over the pages.
This would be a typical scene at school, yet it is actually an average, everyday household kitchen. And these two children would be in sixth and ﬁfth grades of primary school, if they were attending school — but they are not.
“Homeschooling,” where children are taught in the home rather than being sent to school, started spreading throughout the United States more than 10 years ago. Iuzzolino, who lives in a rural town in central New Jersey, began teaching her three boys at home nine years ago. By linking up, she and other parents are able to take charge of and share their forte in various subjects.
Iuzzolino is taking charge of chemistry and physics. Counting [one of] her three boys, Elizabeth and the other children in her support group, Iuzzolino teaches eight children in all, weaving her way through the group as she walks around checking their studies.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, at least 500,000 children are learning through such kind of homeschooling. That figure was a mere 10,000 in 1970. All 50 states now allow homeschooling, and more than a few are like New Jersey, where, Iuzzolino says, “There are no legal restrictions as to what is taught.”
It is against this backdrop that a distrust of school education has developed in the U.S., amid incidents of violence on school grounds and falling educational standards. But, as Iuzzolino boasts, “Homeschooling provides a detailed education that ﬁts a child’s own level, and this gets good results.”
A 10-year-old in Iuzzolino’s group is learning about chemistry formulas at a comparatively early age; middle school-age youths are also proceeding well in high school-level studies. Thanks to this kind of learning environment, Iuzzolino’s eldest son, at 15 years old, is allowed to attend courses at the local college.
Trust in education in the U.S. has been greatly eroded over the past year in the wake of shootings by children, such as the random shooting at the high school in a Denver, Colorado suburb.
“The ones who know children best are their own parents,” says Iuzzolino. “It’s that simple.”
—Story and photo by Masami Nagai, in New Jersey, USA
* * * * * * * * * *
The U.S. segment on homelearning ends there, but the original Japanese article also goes on to present coverage from:
—China, where the “4-2-1 Syndrome” (four grandparents, two parents, one child) that has emerged under the country’s population regulations is leading to greater academic expectations on the only child in Chinese families by parents and grandparents. A more active role by grandparents in the lives of grandchildren has also come about as a result of this social phenomenon, according to the story.
—Germany, where the good news is that fathers are taking a more active role in their children’s upbringing. The bad news is that crimes committed by youths in Germany are on the rise, due in part, the article says, to the lagging economic conditions there.
—and Hong Kong, where children are reportedly facing greater social pressures than ever, especially from parents, to get into the best primary and middle schools. Hong Kong working mothers usually have the weekends off and try to spend that time in “skinship” (physical nurturing) with their children, the story says.
Kathleen Iuzzolino recalls [for Knok NEWS] the interview session a year ago in New Jersey with the Japanese reporters that led to the story getting such prominent placement in the Tokyo Shimbun….
“The reporters were out of their New York office and wanted to specifically interview American homeschoolers. When I mentioned to them that there were Japanese homeschoolers [in Japan], they seemed a bit surprised.
“The reporters were by far among the most receptive interviewers that I’ve run across,” Kathleen says, “and I got quite an earful of their opinions on what is wrong with Japanese schools.”
Despite the prevailing Western stereotypes of schoolchildren in Japan as being rocket-scientist material, what the Japanese reporters saw at the Iuzzolinos’ home that day seemed to have left them with positive impressions of homelearning as a viable form of education for Japan.
“They came here during one of my chemistry classes and took pictures and talked with the kids,” she remembers. “They examined the chemistry text that I used and exclaimed over and over again that they didn’t know this level of chemistry, that it had never been taught to them (which I found surprising, considering all the stereotypes).”
The reporters’ interest in homelearning extended well beyond the day’s lessons.
“I must have talked to them for two hours after class,” Kathleen recalls. “There was one American reporter with them and she just gushed for the two full hours. The Japanese reporters, including the newspaper’s New York editor, were very complimentary and receptive to homeschooling as a whole.”
What appeared to be a professional interest in homelearning on the part of the Japanese reporters soon revealed itself as something a little bit closer to home.
“At first I thought they were happy that U.S. education had sunk so low as to necessitate us do-it-yourselfers,” Kathleen says. “Then I figured out that they were happy that they were finding alternatives for themselves.”
“That surprised me the most.”
Where are They Now?
Where the Tokyo Shimbun left off, KnoK NEWS picks up. Here’s what the homelearners who were mentioned in the Japanese newspaper story are doing one year later:
—Elizabeth has moved along well over the past year and is finishing studies at seventh-grade level. “[She] has become much more of a leader this year than a follower as in the past,” according to Kathleen. “Science has helped Elizabeth to become more organized in her thinking.”
—Alexandra (“Alex”) is at sixth-grade level this year and is a ballerina: “Too sweet for words,” notes Kathleen. “Alex tackled high-school level chemistry, physics and biology this year.”
—The three Iuzzolino boys: Kathleen’s youngest son, Raphael, now age six, “started piano lessons this year and blew on through three levels since [last] September. He has a remarkable ability to read music — even though he can’t read English yet. He plays, likes to cook with me, and gets to ride all over the countryside as we take his brothers here, there, and everywhere….”
Brandon, 13, is now studying Spanish, art, art history, biology, religion, chemistry, physics and piano. He has a black belt in tae kwon do and is in training to become a certified assistant teacher. “Right now he is an apprentice instructor. He loves teaching kids and adults. He spends about three hours a day at his academy. He is also an altar boy and a Boy Scout….”
Michael, 15, continued taking classes part-time at the local college this past year — “[he] had a marvelous time, loved working with the professors, received too many credits and now has to matriculate because of them,” says Kathleen. Michael recently gave his first college recital as a classical pianist, to a warm reception. He has a 4.0 grade point average, as of this writing, and looks forward to entering college full-time in the fall. He has been working part-time at his job, pays for his own expenses and travel excursions, and is in line for a job promotion at work when he turns 16. He too participates in Boy Scout and church activities. Adds Kathleen: “He doesn’t consider himself to be ‘homeschooled’ any longer.”
Kathleen Iuzzolino continues to be a homelearning parent, however. In addition to working full time (she and her husband, Mark, are court reporters), Kathleen is also teaching chemistry, physics and religion to her own and other children. She also teaches an advanced chemistry class with her eldest son and other older teens; she has been teaching this class for four years. This year will be the last, she says, since several of the teens in the group plan to attend college in the fall:
“The activities of that older teens class are amazing. Last summer, one girl went to Croatia to do missionary work; one went as a U.S. ambassador to the Hague Appeal for Peace [May 1999] in the Netherlands, but had to give a speech before thousands in Washington DC; one went alone to Austria; one went alone to Germany; one toured Kenya with his family; and one went to Iowa to do church-building missionary work (she’s in Italy right now). These kids have amazing lives. Their ages are 14 to 17.”
Although Kathleen speaks with obvious pride of what all these children have been accomplishing, she is also quick to dismiss her own homeschooled sons as any kind of child “prodigies.”
“They all have their strengths and their weaknesses,” she says. “Both of the older boys have learning difficulties, my oldest with dyslexia and my middle with writing difficulties. We have spent their lives concentrating on their strengths and letting their weaknesses catch up at their own developmental rates.”
“People always assume that these homeschooling ‘success’ stories are just exceptional children and their own children would never be able to accomplish such goals,” she said. “I like to point out that homeschooling allows all children to be ‘exceptional’ children!”
As the Japanese newspaper quotes Kathleen Iuzzolino as saying a year ago today: “The ones who know children best are their own parents. It’s that simple.”
If you’re still with us here, thanks for sticking around!
We continue on to the second feature of our KnoK NEWS double report this time: a wrap-up of our Q & A on homeschooling in Japan by Tomiko Kugai, a respected Japanese homelearning parent and advocate.
This Q & A has its roots in a Japanese-language listing that Ms. Kugai compiled in 1997 to help introduce the homelearning environment to the slowly but steadily rising number of Japanese families seeking alternatives to school. With Ms. Kugai’s cooperation, KnoK NEWS has recently translated, expanded and updated that original Japanese Q & A list into English. We share the latter part of that listing with you now.
Kugai, along with her partner, Mr. Junichi Ono, and their 14-year-old daughter, Momo, have been homelearners for more than six years. Kugai also heads a support group called “Home Schooling Network – Himeji” in the city of Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan. The group’s Japanese homepage is at:
Kugai’s family and homelearning activities have been reported on Japanese TV, as well as in Japanese newspaper and magazine articles. The Kyoto Shimbun, a major metro daily newspaper in the Japanese city of Kyoto, just last month carried a few articles on Kugai and other regional homelearning activities; the stories came across as supportive of home-based learning in Japan.
You may remember that in Part 1 of our Q & A listing, sent out about a month ago, we introduced some of the basic questions being asked by Japanese families about homelearning. We also touched upon some of the general legal issues concerning home education (i.e., It is not against the law for children to learn at home in Japan).
Part 2 of our Q & A listing by Tomiko Kugai covers topics that are more specific to Japan, such as fu-toko (avoiding school), and the educational challenges young homelearners in Japan may face as they get older.
As mentioned last time, we hope to take a deeper, more comprehensive look in the future at legal and other issues as they relate to homelearning in Japan. For now, however, we offer this Q & A overview in the spirit of honest, open information-exchange and networking.
Q & A ON HOMESCHOOLING IN JAPAN — Part 2
Q-12: Exactly how do families in Japan get started in homeschooling? What kind of steps do they have to take?
A-12: In many cases in Japan, families start out homeschooling through fu-toko (school avoidance) on the part of their child: Parents think their child has a problem, so they go through counseling and prepare to send the child back to school through so-called corrective facilities [kyosei shisetsu], such as an “adjustment guidance room” [teki-o shido kyo-shitsu] at school, a municipal “child consultation center” [jido sodan-jo] or a “free school” program.
On the other hand, there are those exceedingly few parents in Japan who are finding a problem with the methods of school itself, and they go on to choose learning at home as a way to raise their children. In such a case, the homeschooling child’s name will continue to be listed on the school register in Japan, so there would be no need to individually notify the local board of education. Once parents have notified officials at the school of their child’s desire to learn at home, that is generally sufficient in many cases.
There is also a slowly rising number of households in Japan that are choosing homeschooling from the very beginning. Here, too, there are no fixed procedures in Japan for dealing with homeschooling, so many homeschooling parents find it easier at this stage to go through the formal motion of registering with the school, and then inform school officials at that time of the child’s intent to learn at home, instead of at school.
Q-13: What happens if a family in Japan intending to homeschool receives no cooperation from education/school officials? What recourse does the family have??
A-13: It used to be that a child in Japan who didn’t show up for school would not be moved up a grade or would not be allowed to graduate — but this was for fu-toko, not for homeschooling in particular. And even then, such actions by a school against fu-toko, for the most part, are rarely taken nowadays. There are the occasional cases of a school principal — usually one who possesses little understanding of the matter — making such threatening statements, but the Ministry of Education is telling school officials these days to refrain from such actions. If a homeschooling family finds itself facing such a situation, it can — with the backing of a support group, for example — obtain the actual facts from various areas in Japan and present that information to the school principal during discussions. (Taking the case to a local board of education in Japan usually proves futile, and unfortunately no other official organization exists to mediate such matters between a family and school.)
Regardless of whether or not there are restrictions on graduation, it is still possible for a child to proceed to a higher school level by taking and passing tests sanctioned by the Education Ministry, such as those for graduating from middle school [Chu-gaku Kentei] and entering university [Dai-gaku Kentei].
Q-14: Are there any court cases in Japan being heard at present on the specific issue of homeschooling?
A-14: There are none at present, as far as I know.
Q-15: Authorities in some countries tend to confuse homeschooling with “child neglect” or “child abuse.” Is this a problem in Japan too?
A-15: There is always the possibility of such confusion occurring. But where homeschooling itself is concerned in Japan, the relevant authorities for the most part don’t make it a point to come to the home and check on things. So, there doesn’t seem to be a problem in this regard.
Q-16: How many homeschooling support groups are there throughout Japan?
A-16: There are about 10 independent support groups in Japan, like “HSN Himeji,” that have no religious affiliation. Many families in Japan are also registered with “free schools” such as Tokyo Shure that have homeschooling support programs, and with overseas schools like Clonlara in the United States. There are other Christian-affiliated support groups in Japan too.homeschooling.
Q-17: What is a day in the life of a “typical homeschooler” like in Japan? Are all homeschoolers the same?
A-17: Homeschooling differs with every home. In our family, for instance, homeschooling is centered around our child’s interests. So, excluding time for meals and household chores, our child herself decides how each day is spent. She reads books, paints pictures, cooks, does workbooks, watches TV — it changes with her interests and moods. Once a week, she goes to the library and checks out books. We as a family also participate in our support group functions, do some shopping, go to the movies. So, we spend a lot of time outside as well.
Q-18: What is the official stance of Japan’s ministry of education on homeschooling? How does that stance affect homeschoolers’ daily lives?
A-18: The Japanese government has issued no official opinion on homeschooling one way or the other. The ministry did, in 1992, issue a statement on fu-toko [school avoidance] to the effect that: “As any child is likely to turn to avoiding school at any time, children need not be forced to return to school.” This signaled the government’s apparent recognition that to continue pushing school avoiders to go back to school could worsen an already serious problem. Following this statement by the ministry, school officials nationwide have generally softened their stance on children who avoid school.
As for those who homeschool: Though there may be exceptions, the ministry for the most part does not interfere in the daily lives of homeschooling families at present, neither encouraging nor discouraging such activities.
Q-19: What has Japanese media coverage of homeschooling been like?
A-19: The Japanese mass media have been covering homeschooling in Japan as an issue since around 1993. At first, many news stories focused on how to remedy the rising numbers of “school-avoiding children.” But recently, media coverage in Japan has been treating homeschooled children’s own personalities and self-determination more seriously; as such, media stories these days are introducing homeschooling in Japan as a new learning alternative to school.
Q-20: How do the relatives, neighbors and communities of homeschooling families in Japan react to home-based learning?
A-20: Among those people who are actually familiar with homeschooling families or are aware of the educational growth of homeschooled children, there seems to a broadening of understanding, though it is hard to say to what extent. (This, of course, may also depend on the region in Japan. There seems to be little interference in homeschooling matters in urban areas, anyway.)
Q-21: Don’t homeschooled children need a diploma of some kind to get into university? Do they still need to take Japan’s infamous university entrance exams?
A-21: There are two ways to enter college or university in Japan: by graduating from high school or by passing the Education Ministry-sanctioned university entrance test (Dai-gaku Kentei). It is not necessary to graduate from primary school, middle school or high school to take the Dai-gaku Kentei. It should be noted, however, that passing this test would merely qualify a person to take university entrance exams; a homeschooler wanting to enter a university would still have to take the entrance exams of the university she/he wanted to get into, just like other applicants.
Q-22: Are Japanese colleges and universities accepting homeschooled “students”?
A-22: If a homeschooler passes a college’s or university’s own entrance exams, there would be no problem getting in. There is no special system set up for homeschoolers.
Q-23: Do homeschoolers in Japan have enough knowledge and skills to get satisfactory jobs? Can they survive in the competitive Japanese job market?
A-23: We don’t know much about this area yet, since the homeschooling movement in Japan is rather young and the numbers of children being raised through homeschooling are comparatively few in Japanese society. Even so, it can be said with some certainty that lots of homeschooled children in Japan are broadening their capabilities and that they have an abundance of will to try things.
Academic record is still regarded as important for fighting it out in the Japanese job market. But just because somebody is a homeschooler doesn’t mean the roads to higher education are closed in Japan: Former “school avoiders” go on to graduate from university and do well as adults in the business world; many of them work in a variety of fields as newspaper reporters, teachers and so on. And of course, there are many working people who have never been to college.
For homeschoolers, it is their own efforts and abilities that count most. Many people who choose homeschooling tend to place a higher value on whether or not they are playing the leading role in their own lives, or whether or not they are truly happy, rather than on social success or fighting to victory in competition.
“To know is to exist; to exist is to be involved, to move about, to see the world with my own eyes.”
—Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, 1983