The word “common education[1]” has perhaps been heard of by everyone. When being questioned what it is however, many people may shrug their shoulders, including teachers. Is it about school education or compulsory education? It may be education in general, apart from education for children with disabilities, specialized education or vocational education. There are many possible comments that can be made here. Of course, those opinions are not incorrect. Nevertheless, those comments do not answer to the question. It is very similar to the case where the mammals or the higher animals do not answer the question “what is a human?” No details are indicated.


  Now, did you know that the word “common education” is mentioned in the Constitution of Japan?




  The Paragraph 2 of Article 26 states that “All people shall be obliged to have all boys and girls under their protection receive common education as provided for by law. Such compulsory education shall be free.”




  The Ministry of Education at that time explained the term, common education, used in the Constitution, Basic Act on Education, as well as School Education Act, as “the education which aims to develop what we are born with, that is the mental and physical well beings of people as members of mankind.[2]” (Made italics by the author of this paper) In another publication, the Ministry states that “education is to develop human beings as human beings.[3] The latter term “education” addresses the same kind of education with the former term “education.” These explanations by the Ministry implicate pedagogical perceptions.[4]


  By the way, why does the Constitution employ the term “common education” to begin with? And how is this related to the “education” stated in Article 26, Paragraph 1, “all people shall have the right to receive an equal education?” What do they mean when they say “education for people as members of mankind” as well as “develop human beings as human beings?” Why is it so that the general public does not know about the principle and purpose of common education? How meaningful is it to discuss this today?


  I believe that A) it is remarkably significant to have the paragraph regarding common education in the Constitution of Japan, and B) it is extremely important not only for children but also society as a whole to clearly understand the principles and purpose of common education and incorporate these into the basis of an education policy, system, and practices. This paper attempts to discuss and study such matters.


  Through the process of formulating the Constitution during the post-war period, the traditional Emperor-centered education and the accompanying education system were thoroughly reviewed and the right of Japanese citizens to receive education was to be protected under the principle that the sovereignty of the nation resides in its people. Nevertheless, the deliberations in Parliament went further than that.


  At the very first level of drawing up the government proposal for amending the Constitution (the Constitutional Problems Investigation Committee under the cabinet), the people had “the right and obligation” to receive education. The committee held on January 23, 1946, discussed the definition of the “obligation.” It was at this time that the obligation was interpreted and identified to be “the obligation for guardians to let their children receive education.” On their proposal on March 2, 1946, this paragraph adopted the term “common education;” however, the constitution revision proposal (government first draft) used “primary education” instead.


  The Diet proceedings discussed the term actively including opinions such as; should “primary education” remain compulsory? etc. A subcommittee was set up to study these issues. Some terms such as “people’s education,” “compulsory education,” and “education” were among those to be considered. Consequently, the “spirit of Constitution for guidance” was to be embodied and “common education” was adopted.[5] This is how the Second Paragraph of the Article 26 was finalized.[6]


  Now, what does it mean to embody the “spirit of Constitution for guidance?” The minutes of the meeting does not deliver a clear meaning but it shall mean the philosophy that is stated in the Preamble. In other words, the spirit of Constitution for guidance suggests the principle of people’s sovereignty, basic human rights, and even all rights that people are entitled to during the time of peace. Moreover, we shall not forget the principle that “nations shall not focus only on affairs of their own regardless which nation it may be and political morality shall be universal.” The Constitution of Japan asserts that it is the responsibility of the people of this country to let everyone receive common education in accordance with the spirit of Constitution for guidance. This, the clause of common education, is what made the Constitution of Japan significantly remarkable then and makes it so now without precedent in the world.


  Let’s think about the reason why such a significant clause was introduced to the Constitution. I can think of five possible reasons.


  First of all, the deep repentance towards pre-war education should be noted. After the war, the Council for Education Act, the Ministry of Education, issued the “Exposition on Basic Act on Education.” The exposition records the reason for stating “bring up people” as follows. “The reason for stating people here is based on our belief that good people naturally make good national citizens. We believe that national citizens were mentioned frequently before the war, but people must be good before becoming good national citizens.[7]” (Made italics by the author of this paper) Any discussions regarding the constitution revision was based on the sense of repentance and the term “common education” was used specifically to focus on bringing up people as people in the universal sense.


  The second possible reason may be due to some members of the council having knowledge on common education; the notion emerged in the 18th century in Europe. The “Exposition on Basic Act on Education,” issued by the Council for Education Act, the Ministry of Education, in 1947, lists definitions, etc. regarding common education. Those definitions are based on those listed in the section called “common education” of “Dictionary of Education” published by Iwanami shoten in 1939. The ideology of common education is explained in regard to the history of ideology of the modern education in the Western World.


  The third reason is perhaps this. The term “common education” appeared, changing its meanings at times, in both primary and secondary education. There was the double layered structure, primary and secondary, for education in Japan during the pre-war period, so the term was simply reused. The aim of education for junior and senior high schools, senior women’s high school were almost unanimously referred to as “higher common education.” The aim of education of the national school also used “primary common education.” So this could be the third possible reason.


  Fourthly, it was a well-known fact in and out of the Ministry that the first half of the Meiji Era was the time for common education. The leaders of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement in Japan as well as political figures and the Ministry of Education were all using the notion of common education for policies and acts. The ideology of common education there leant toward the principle of “bringing up people” and it was advocated by some that it was the right of children to receive it [common education] and it was the obligation of parents and national citizens to guarantee the right.


  Lastly, a connection to the Constitution revision proposal (Macarthur draft) forwarded by the General Headquarters (GHQ) needs to be addressed. Prior to the government’s draft of March 2, GHQ had already proposed their version on February 12. The draft states “the free, universal and compulsory education must be established” (Article 24, Paragraph 1)[8]. This draft could have been one of reasons to have “common education” used in the Constitution. However, this cannot be one of the fundamental reasons, by considering processes before and after the decision and discussions of the Council in amending the Constitution.


  Having those processes and affairs as the background, the clause of common education was drawn up in the Constitution.


  Japanese people were not informed about this clause being so significant, for various reasons. These reasons may be described by two words: rejection and misunderstanding.


  One factual process can show why it is ‘rejection.’ National government, the Ministry of Education, had sought the re-establishment of compulsory education with a pre-war definition, except some period of time after the war. The ideology of common education was virtually avoided or rejected. The ‘amendment’ of Basic Act on Education in December 2006 was the result of the continuous efforts of the administration side.


  Through the course of ‘amending’ the Basic Act on Education, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (hereinafter referred to as “MEXT”) advanced an amendment proposal to remove the word ‘common education’ to begin with. Yet, the word itself, ‘common education,’ remained as a final result, perhaps due to a possible constitutional constraint, but it was then attached to a phrase, “the common education that is to be practiced as a compulsory education.” In other words, common education became conceptually enclosed in compulsory education. There are two aspects that show why this enclosure is not completely effective. First, common education is always common education so long as it is common education, even if it is enclosed by other words. Common education itself has its own philosophy. Second, the constitution remains with the concept of common education, even if the ‘amended’ act attempts to enclose it within the capacity of ‘common education that is to be practiced as compulsory education.’


  The concept of ‘compulsory education’ in the ‘amended’ Basic Act of Education is tied with the attempt to re-foster a sense of nationalism and a means  of prescriptivism very close to the pre-war concept of compulsory education in Japan. Since the Constitution of Japan has been newly established in post-war period, the constitutional philosophy in regard to education will contradict seriously with the Basic Act of Education after the amendment.


  Now, let’s discuss ‘misunderstanding.’ It goes back to the 1960’s when a national movement of education was spreading across Japan from educational activists’. They asserted that ‘Human education’ or ‘common education’ that has the philosophy of human education is not established well enough from the perspectives of educating Japanese people who are to build an independent democratic state. This evidently shows there was a clear misunderstanding toward common education.


  For example, Mr. Sendoku Uehara introduced[9] a concept of ‘national education’ instead of ‘human education’ through understanding of epigone humanism toward the ‘human education’ as an ideological tradition in ‘modern Europe.’ Mr. Uehara recognized that ‘human education’ as education such as “the education which educates human children to become worthy of the name of human,” indicating a possibility of his sense that education to be unified with the constitutional concept of common education. Nevertheless, Mr. Uehara became deeply engrossed in the epigone interpretation of human education instead of developing ‘human education’ in a sense of common education. He spoke of ‘national education’ in terms of educating children as successors to take up post-war Japan as an independent state without differentiating two stages of education: a stage to foster a sense of humanity and another to foster a sense of membership of a society. His interpretation of ‘national education’ was widely accepted including by educational activists, resulting in a social phenomenon of ignorance toward the constitutional clause of common education.


  It is mentioned earlier that the concept of common education has lost its spiritual empowerment and that a number of serious education related problems have occurred as a result. The reason why it has been so should be analyzed thoroughly, and the intention of its rejection and the reason for the misunderstanding should be clearly explained to the Japanese people. That would make it possible for a re-construction of the education system to be realized with the concept of common education.


  The MEXT has led the construction of education policy since the end of the Second World War. Yet its benefits could be viewed as doubtful. Now, it is potentially reasonable to review today’s education policy and restore the concept of constitutional common education.


  Mr. Torii, the chair of the Central Education Council at that time, as well as Mr. Kosaka, the Minister of Education, Sports, Culture, Science and Technology, led the committee to amend the Basic Act of Education, however they did not mention that the necessary reason for the amendment was because the constitution was not good enough. This is precisely why it remained important to maintain the constitution as well as the pre-amendment concept of the act, praise the concept of common education, and improve the system of common education at the same time.








  Next, what does it mean “bringing up people as people in the universal sense?” And what is the definition of common education within such a concept?


  There are no specific images of people, such as a philosopher, or a religious representative to bring up children to fit into their images. That is not what “bringing up people as people in the universal sense” is at all. It simply means that people should be brought up to be people with the basic understanding that they are people with natural feelings and a sense of judgement. These abilities are fostered by various social relations, especially educational contexts. The educational context here does not limit itself to a one way learning process in which educators lead the development of such abilities in children. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) paid particular attention to the fact that children are already having those innate abilities as a conceptual emergence[10]. They apprehended common education as the way to help them grow to be reasonable members of human kind through exploring their innate abilities. For this, Kant looks closely into what Socrates and other philosophers practiced in the form of dialogue[11].


 Their innate abilities go through the development through dialogue and communicating with other people within various relations. These abilities will awaken them and let them understand about other people, particularly through educational relationships; moreover, young persons will gradually grow to be capable of judging what it is to live as a human being. This is what Rousseau and Kant meant by education creates people.


 Today, children in Japan are divided up in the name of different personalities unique to individuals under the theory of competition and meritocracy. They are hustled by the education, which is forcing on them grade oriented scales, and an urged to be competitive towards one another. As a consequence, there are a number of serious issues under such a policy in education.


 On the other hand, having a sense of repentance and regret about the serious situation of post-war education, there was a group of education practitioners, who applied the children central education methods to encourage child to learn from each other in a deeper sense. These practitioners carried their education theory with the essence of what Rousseau and Kant asserted. Under such a philosophy, children are reported to experience the enlightenment of learning and their classes are filled with highly motivated students. Nevertheless, those practices are merely a requirement and are not an adequate criterion, to meet with the concept of bringing up people as people in the universal sense. Those practices are not the ones that hold the concept of common education, not to mention the constitutional mind/spirit of common education. The purpose of practice, learning from and with each other, must be considered. The facility of learning from and with each other by itself shall not be the sole purpose. That facility must have a solid connection with the clear tutelage of a teacher along with the positive learning attitude of pupils. The paper emphasizes that this connection is how concept based learning classes should be.


 As the Basic Act of Education is now amended, a civil movement has spread across Japan with a catchword Let us promote the constitution based education.[12] At the same time, there is a movement inquiring into the meaning of common education, that is stated in the constitution, emerging from the sector of the education of physically and mentally handicapped children (special needs education) as well as a free school movement sector. The constitution based education shall be a definite and overwhelming stream, if the elementary schools, junior high and high schools across Japan practice education with the concept of common education in a deeper sense.


 The constitution based education may be interpreted at times as a tool for realizing the expressed concepts in constitutional clauses such as pacifism, basic human rights, respect to individuals, freedom of thought and conscience, and freedom of education. Of course it is extremely important to realize these clauses; nonetheless, these clauses are not to rectify directly to education for children. As clearly stated in the clauses, since the constitution holds the clause of education, the constitution based education must take into account the connotation of those education clauses.


 The second clause of Article 26 mandates the allegiance of the people of Japan in regard to the common education. What is important here is that this second clause of Article 26 stipulates common education as the education which every child should receive and that common education is recognized as the education which is connected to the constitutional mind/spirit of tutelage. In other words, since the second clause of Article 26 mandates to develop humanity as the starting point to create a society where peace and basic human rights are protected, theoretically speaking, the constitutional education has to be common education.


 It is significant that common education is connected to the constitutional mind/spirit of tutelage. However, it should be made clear that it is not the intention of this paper to indicate that there is another kind of common education that is not necessarily connected to constitutional mind/spirit of tutelage. Regardless to the constitutional mandate, common education has the basic concept of bringing up people as people in the universal sense. A kind of person or an individual, being developed to realize such a concept, is equipped with judgement skills to differentiate universal values among all the other peoples, from other things. Therefore, as far as the universal principle of mankind (the preamble of Japanese Constitution) goes, such individuals can use the constitutional mind/spirit of tutelage as a standard for their behavior.


 The fact that such a concept of common education is incorporated into the constitution of Japan as well as that common education has a clear connection with the constitutional mind/spirt of tutelage are what is so historically significant[13].


 Being incorporated into the constitution, the concept of common education becomes very significant as the base for a world concept of education; at the same time, such a concept was realized in a form of the Basic Act on Education enacted and integrated into the constitution.


 Some scholars in the field of education began to raise their voices to assert that the school of education has not been questioning [what is the common education] well enough.[14]


 As seen in the international declarations, such as the right of learning (1985) as well as the convention on the rights of the child, made by the United Nations, UNESCO, UNICEF, international institutions have made de facto declarations with the concept of common education included.


 Under these circumstances, there is the possibility of clarifying the meaning of the common education concept as well as practical education based on that concept. Moreover, the concept of common education has more potential to be shared with the rest of the world as the universal concept of education for mankind.


 These are my thoughts that have urged me to take a pen to write the first part of this paper. It is my pleasure if this paper would be of some contribution towards realizing an even better policy of common education in my country, Japan.


 I would like to take the opportunity to convey my sincere gratitude to Mr. Yoshiaki Tsukahara for offering me great support in completing the first part of this paper. Thank you very much.




September 2008


[1] The author prefers the word “common education” as a translation for “Futsu Kyoiku” rather than “general education.”

[2] The Society of Study for Education Law “Commentary for Basic Act on Education,” Kokuritsu Shoin, 1947, p82.

[3] Ministry of Education “New Curriculum,” 1946, “History of Modern Japanese Education System,” Volume 19, article, p70.

[4] The definition of the Ministry of Education was quoted from the “Common Education” written by Mr. Ken Ishikawa and Mr. Genichi Funayama, of the “Dictionary of Education,” Iwanami shoten, 1939

[5] Mr. Tatsuo Sato, a government member, stated “it has been proposed to use simply “education” for some time now, but that would not deliver the spirit of Constitution for guidance. So….” (Made italics by the author), the “minute of the house of representatives sub-committee for the amendment of the Imperial Constitution,” 1995, Shuei kai, p205.

[6] Regarding to the process of adopting “common education” in the second clause of the Article 26, refer to my book “Introduction of the concept of common education to the Constitution of Japan and its significance,” Annual Research Report of Faculty of Education, Iwate University, No.1 Volume 56, 1996.

[7] The Society of Study for Education Law “Commentary for Basic Act on Education,” Kokuritsu shoin, 1947, p57.

[8] The Making of the Constitution of Japan Vol. I, II Kenzo Takayanagi, Ichiro Ohtomo and Hideo Tanaka 1972

[9] Uehara. Senroku, “Education To Form Citizen,” 1964, Shinpyo ron, p9-10.

[10] Rousseau. “Emile,” Iwanami bunko, Book I, p24.

[11] Kant. “Education,” 1803, “Complete Works of Kant,” Riso sha, Vol 16. p16, p65.

[12] For instance, also in Iwate Prefecture where the author of the paper resides, the “society of cooperating people of Iwate to promote the constitutional education” has been established through the process of being involved in the social movement of anti-amendment of the Basic Act on Education.

[13] The Liberal Democratic Party publically announced the “draft proposal for the New Constitution” in November 2005. But the preamble of the draft proposal eliminated a phrase “universal principle,” even though they explained we would “inherit the basic principle” as “unchangeable values” such as “national sovereignty.” On the other hand, people “shall be obliged to have child under their protection receive common education,” like the second clause of Article 26 of the “draft proposal.” As far as children would receive “common education,” they would earn a deep and thorough understanding of what is the “universal principle” without restricting by constitutional stipulations.

[14] Takeuchi. Tsunekazu, “Change the Education,” Sakurai shoten, 2000, p45.