Category Archives: History

UBC Continuing Studies: Ageless Pursuits

This week I get to teach a class in UBC Continuing Studies’ Ageless Pursuits series.

The Global Spread of For-Profit Tutoring and Cram Schools” will discuss Japan as an example of the long-term historical shift from all-private education until the advent of modernity. In Japan’s case, an all-encompassing public education system was then constructed after the Meiji Restoration (1868). Importantly, this public system also included various forms of private education, private schools and universities most explicitly, but it was governed by policies designed and enacted by the state.

I argue that the first “juku-boom” of the 1970s was the beginning of a pendulum swing back toward private education and that Japan is but one example of this dynamic around the world.

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to develop this argument over five sessions and to discussing it with the participants.

And yes, I used the “c-word” in the title of the lectures. Sometimes it’s more important to give people a sense of what I’m talking about, even when there’s a lot that’s wrong with that sense.

If Confucianism Drives East Asian Supplementary Education, Why Doesn’t Anyone Read Confucius?

Early on in my research on juku, I frequently asked interlocutors (primarily, 塾長) why there are no juku in Canada (exaggeration/simplification, of course), but juku are prevalent in Japan? There is a small stock of answers I typically get to this question:

  1. examinations and competition for entry into next levels of education
  2. CONFUCIANISM (i.e. East Asia is heavily influenced by Confucianism which makes people pay for supplementary education
  3. Confucianism (i.e. the Confucian (more historical than moral/philosophical) tradition of exam-based entrance to positions of authority/prestige coupled with the veneration for knowledge)

Understanding these answers and trying to see empirically what these answers suggest, as well as coming up with answers of my own to that question, are central to my project on juku and will be topics that I will continue to write about.

Here, I simply want to point out that despite claims of the importance of Confucianism to education systems in Japan (and across East Asia) I have never seen or heard a discussion of Confucianism in a juku setting. I have not observed any reading a Confucian text, nor summarizing Confucian precepts, nor discussing the impact of Confucianism. This general absence is true across different school/juku subjects, especially Japanese and social studies, incl. history.

Elsewhere, I have begun writing about the history of juku, and I would note in this context that there are few institutional continuities between premodern and even early modern forms of juku and what we have come to know as juku since the 1970s.

This absence may or may not be the same in other East Asian countries (esp. S Korea and Taiwan where the impact and contemporary relevance of Confucianism seems higher).

Now, at some level we may classify European education systems as Judaeo-Christian and note that that doesn’t imply that the Bible is ever read in class, but there certainly are discussions of Judaeo-Christian morality and discussions of the impact of Christianity.

So, while the Japanese and other East Asian education systems are clearly influenced by Confucianist notions of examinations and learning-as-knowledge-of-classics, this impact is at a fairly abstract level, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a direct link between Confucianism and the prevalence of juku in contemporary Japan in my mind.

Premodern Historical Roots of Juku

At a number of the discussions at CIES, the question of the history of juku came up (both the term, as well as the teaching/school format).

Victor Kobayashi (emeritus, Univ of Hawai’i, and our very gracious host for the “Enduring Contexts” discussions paralleling the 2011 AAS meetings) was particularly interested and insightful on this.

He pointed out – quite correctly – that juku had a long pre-Meiji history. In fact, this is one of the important observations about supplementary education in general, i.e. what we see as a process of ‘privatization’ now is really just a ‘re-privatization’ after a century or two of the extraordinary growth of public education systems.

In the context of pre-modern juku, Kobayashi pointed in particular to the use of the term 教養 (kyôyô – erudition, refinement, Bildung) as opposed to the Meiji neologism of 教育 (kyôiku – education).

Numerous private educational institutions then came to be known as juku during the Meiji era, most prominently perhaps 慶應義塾 (today’s Keiô University: English History | Japanese History) in somewhat of a departure from premodern practice.

The final chapter on historical roots is the use of the term juku in postwar Japan, but that deserves a post of its own.