Curriculum Reform as a Reflection of Tradition and Change: Japanese Teachers Approaches to Dimensions of Difference via the Integrated Curriculum

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In the midst of significant social and global change, Japan has embarked upon its most significant education reform since the immediate post-WWll period. In 2002, MEXT enacted the integrated curriculum (sogoteki na gakushu), a decentralization effort intended to empower teachers and schools with the autonomy to create and implement curriculum of their own choosing. The purpose of multi-site case study is to discover if and how Japanese teachers are utilizing the autonomy provided by the integrated curriculum to provide students opportunities to interact with dimensions of difference based on Japan's changing cultural landscape and global role. This multi-site case study is based on seventeen months of field work in Japan, at which time I analyzed government and school documents; interviewed teachers, administrators, scholars, and leaders of NPO/NGOs; and observed integrated curriculum activities in 60 public schools. Based on this data, I uncovered three approaches to the integrated curriculum that confront students with dimensions of difference: 1) the human rights education approach; 2) the cultural co-existence approach; and 3) the international understanding education approach. In the context of the human rights approach, teachers implemented curriculum to help students: 1) develop self-esteem; 2) contend with issues of bullying and social exclusion; 3) and learn about the rights of minorities, the disabled, and the homeless. Schools in ethnically diverse communities implement a cultural co-existence approach to the integrated curriculum, engaging students in the exploration of human migration and the growing ethnic diversity of their communities. In the international understanding approach, teachers help students explore foreign cultural influences on Japanese culture; the nation's relationship with its Asian neighbors; and the role of the Japanese Government and NPO/NGOs in overseas development and volunteerism. While these approaches to the integrated curriculum were by no means universal, the findings of this study confirmed that many schools in diverse urban areas did implement at least one of these three approaches.