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Editorial: School independence threatened by textbook protests

Nada Junior High School, a top private school in Kobe, has received hundreds of letters protesting its use of a history textbook mentioning the wartime "comfort women" issue, though the textbook has passed education ministry screening. The incident has reminded the public that there is a dangerous and growing trend of attempting to impose certain opinions on schools.

Principal Magohiro Wada has disclosed details of the case and said that he feels the letters constitute political pressure. Textbooks are something that teachers familiar with their school's situation should choose based on their evaluation of the contents.

Nada Junior High School chose a history textbook published by the Tokyo-based Manabisha publishing house and has used it since April 2016.

Between 2015 and 2016, the principal received inquiries from Liberal Democratic Party members of the Hyogo Prefectural Assembly and the national House of Representatives over why the school had chosen the textbook. The school has since received more than 200 postcards protesting the textbook's use. Many of the missives have the same content and many senders identified themselves as graduates or the parents of students currently enrolled in the school.

The textbook mentions the government's 1993 "Kono Statement" on the comfort women issue. In the statement, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono admitted that the then Japanese military was involved in the establishment and management of the "comfort stations" and the transfer of comfort women. The protesters are critical of the school's use of the textbook apparently because of this. Still, it is abnormal for a school to be flooded with protests for its selection of a textbook.

Boards of education have the authority to select textbooks used by public schools under their jurisdiction, while national and private school principals are empowered to select the textbooks their schools use.

At Nada Junior High School, the Manabisha textbook was selected by a committee comprised of the school's teachers. The panel deemed that the textbook aims primarily to encourage students to read about historical facts and think about them, which is the basis of historical study and is suitable for active learning.

Teachers at the school examined the content of the textbook, which passed education ministry screening, and decided to use it after concluding that it is suitable for the school's curriculum. The process is fair and justifiable.

Individuals are free to express opinions on or criticize the contents of textbooks that have passed ministry screening. However, if someone intervened directly in schools' selection of textbooks or if politicians were getting involved in the process, it could distort education.

A total of 38 schools across the country, including some of the top national and private institutions, are using the textbook in question, and at least 10 of them besides Nada have reportedly received similar protests.

It is only natural that teachers have expressed fears that such protests "could threaten the independence of education." Such pressure on schools must not be tolerated.

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