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December 1997 - Issue No. #29 (p.16)

Appeals and Opinions

Speak Truth to Power

by Michael Fox

Hyogo Women's College, Kobe, Japan

My first computer manual read "There are two kinds of users, those who have lost data and those who will." Being very cautious, I am fortunate to count myself in the latter category. Likewise, there are two categories of members in the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT): those who have suffered abuse in employment and those who have not. Among those who have not, conventional thought dictates that bad things do not happen to good people, especially good "gaijin" (foreigners). And if they do, this is Japan: the culture is different; we are guests; do not complain; acceptance is the answer.

I spend a good deal of time researching human rights issues. While having coffee with Etsuko Yamada, a social critic and defendant in the Kabutoyama case who has been on trial and retrial since 1978, she complained that most foreigners who settle down here become Japanized to the point of cognitive lethargy. She, together with many human rights activists and responsible lawyers, are quite convinced that the only way to change this country is through speaking out and confronting social issues forcefully and directly. From a historical perspective, she is quite correct: nothing ever changed in feudal times until the peasants rioted. Silence then, as it does now, meant acceptance.

The purpose of any gakkai (academic association) is to improve society through research and education. The purpose of education, particularly language education, is to stoke the fires of the mind, not to stuff tepid information into apathetic heads. Those who assume that confrontation and conflict are "western values" that "smack of cultural superiority and imperialism" or that Japan is all lukewarm and collectivist consensus building are historically and sociologically misinformed. "Acceptance" of injustice in Japan or anywhere is the pedagogy of a doormat. Loudly or softly, JALT fulfills its role in society when it addresses issues directly; when it speaks truth to power.

Reprinted from The Language Teacher. Vol 21, No 12. Dec. 1997.
Michael Fox
Hyogo Womens College, Hiraoka-cho, Kakogawa-shi 675-01, JAPAN
Fax: 0794-26-2365 / E-mail:


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