Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project

Peruvian Student Ricardo Relaxes in the Remedial Japanese Language Room

by Robert Moorehead

My article in The Asia-Pacific Journal examines the remedial Japanese language program at a school in central Japan. I argue that the program systematically denies educational resources to low-performing immigrant students. Despite the Japanese educational model of equality and inclusion, these immigrant students are tracked into a program that is separate and unequal.

Teachers explain this pattern in ethnic terms by referring to immigrant students’ supposed need not for specialized remedial instruction, but for relaxation as a break from the difficulties of learning Japanese.

To read more, please visit The Asia-Pacific Journal, a peer-reviewed, open source journal that focuses on the Asia-Pacific region. Also, check out Language and Citizenship in Japan, an edited volume published by Routledge.

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7 thoughts on “Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project

  1. Thanks for this post and the article on Japan Focus. I agree there is much to be gained from classic writings in Critical Race and Ethnicity Theory, as you’ve done with the Omi and Winant book, for looking at Japan. Though it may be immodest to note, I took this route several years ago in a 2001 law journal article published in the U.S., “Essential Commodities and Racial Justice” and followed it with an article published in Japanese in Japan’s leading law journal Horitsu Jiho, titled “the Wajin’s Whiteness” in 2008. My principal point was that Critical Whiteness Studies in the U.S. can be used effectively in considering Japanese society. Unfortunately, these often miss notice by social science authors, but they are now both available on SSRN (Wajin’s Whiteness in the English original and in Japanese). I encourage you to take a look at them and hope you’ll find them helpful for your work. Aloha,

    Mark Levin, The University of Hawai’i at Manoa

    Essential Commodities: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1635451
    Wajin’s Whiteness: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1551462

    • Thank you for the comment. I’m glad you liked the article. I read “The Wajin’s Whiteness” a few years ago. I’m sure I still have a PDF of it. I’ll be sure to read it again. A lot of sociological work in Japan tends to avoid engaging with theory, which is a shame, I think. Thanks again!

  2. I enjoyed your article, and enjoy this blog in general.
    In your opinion, would the students in “Amigos”-like programs be better served by eliminating the JSL program and just immersing the students in their second language environment without breaks, or by creating and implementing higher quality standards for JSL classes? Which do you think is more likely to happen?

    • I think a more effective JSL program would better serve their needs. Connecting the JSL lessons to the content of the lessons in the home rooms would enable the kids to keep up while also receiving needed individual attention.

      Thanks for reading the article and commenting!

    • As for which is more likely, schools in other cities have implemented more effective JSL programs. Often those schools have higher numbers of immigrant kids. However, many, if not most, immigrant kids are in schools with just a few other JSL kids. In those cases, without the critical mass of kids to motivate change, the kids may be getting less structured JSL help. I think it’s a matter of mustering support for the resources needed to do the job right.

      • Very interesting, thanks for the prompt reply. Would you say that in the more successful JSL programs this idea of “needing a break from being foreign” is less pronounced? The idea sounds at first like an attempt to put a positive spin on the deficiencies of their program, but after having thought about it a bit more I think it might just be more compatible with the way foreign language and foreign culture is commonly treated in discourse in Japan. I wonder therefore if real professional JSL teachers are able to leave the idea of a L2 always being a burden behind.

      • Great points. I think more successful JSL programs, with teachers trained in teaching JSL, are less likely to say the kids need a break from being foreign, and more likely to use the class time teaching the kids. That’s what would make them more successful, right? Both of your explanations are on target, I think. Teachers are motivated to put a positive spin on things, to protect their professional interests and to get around their lack of JSL training. And notions of Japanese identity position the immigrant kids, and other non-Japanese, as perpetual foreigners. Yasuko Kanno published an article a few years back looking at the differing amounts of cultural capital attached to speaking different languages in Japan. Teachers and parents might encourage English speakers to retain the language, while Portuguese speakers, for example, receive much less encouragement.

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