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The Education Liberator, Vol. 2, No. 4, May 1996

A lesson in prudence

by Steve Smith

"This one's a blockbuster," Marshall Fritz said about Ken Schoolland's article on Japanese schools. I agreed, and wanted to rush it into print immediately. But Marshall urged me to apply the editorial brakes to the story until we did some background checking.

"I read many publications that bash state schools," he explained, "and sometimes they run stories that sound preposterous even to me. When I check them, some turn out to be baseless. It's crucial for the Separation movement that we be prudent in our assertions."

Seeking confirmation of Schoolland's portrayal of Japanese schools, Marshall telephoned experts he knows, while I trolled likely newsgroups on the Internet. The opinions we got back were bewildering in their diversity and in their variance with one another.

Of the dozen or so people we contacted (some native Japanese, others Americans who had lived in Japan), most were negative in some degree toward the article. Several of my respondents did not deny its general truth, but expressed dismay that we weren't attacking American schools "which have plenty of problems of their own." (They don't know us very well!) Ken Schoolland was gracious and helpful throughout, and as a counterbalance provided us with some two dozen favorable letters and reviews from newspapers and respected journals in the U.S. and Japan. In the end what really swayed us was Schoolland's trenchant observation: "Imagine the discussion in Japan if Sheldon Richman was really named 'Tanaka' and wanted to publish Separating School and State there for the Japanese to read about America. I think we would hear all the same quibbling that it doesn't represent an accurate picture of America's schools or 'it exaggerates the problems.'"

Everywhere there are people who think that "the school is greener" in some educational utopia on the other side of the pond. Ken Schoolland's article is a convincing reminder that the problem is state control of the schools, no matter where it's practiced.

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