- 教育社会学研究 = The journal of educational sociology (ISSN:03873145)
- vol.80, pp.7-22, 2007-05-31
Recently, there has been a great deal of talk about widening social disparities in Japan. A number of books have been published declaring that Japan is now on the threshold of being transformed into a "society of disparities."This paper discusses some of the methodological difficulties that must be taken into account when considering widening disparities between the haves and have-nots, seen from the standpoint of the sociological study of education. Firstly, the recently published works, with their declaration that social disparities are widening, are making an assertion about an uncertain future. The same point can be made about studies that examine the actual state of the social disparities on the basis of empirical data. This means, in other words, that any discussion of the effects of various current phenomena characterizing education on future social disparities always contain an element of uncertainty. Secondly, the extent to which social disparities are likely to grow in the future will be significantly affected by our current and future political choices. In determining, for example, the extent to which the ongoing process of globalization will transform economic and educational systems, it is utterly useless to make guesses based on simple forecasts. Rather, considering the combined effects of people's political choices and the social influence of experts at present and in the future, it is extremely difficult to predict the direction of change. Considering the foregoing factors, it is far from easy to carry out studies on how to reform the existing educational system and help alleviate the problems of inequalities that now beset the system, in ways that are acceptable to everybody. This paper calls attention to two crucial points. First, researchers studying the relationship between social inequality and education cannot remain indifferent to the question of political choices or choices among competing values. In other words, they must endeavor to analyze the issues of inequalities in education and formulate, on the basis of their analyses, concrete political visions or political programs. Another important point is that once the social disparities and their extent have been identified through academic investigations, it is necessary to call upon citizens, who have the competence to make political decisions, to decide whether they find the gaps acceptable or not. In order to make this possible, it is essential for school education to perform the function of helping children to develop the ability to make political decisions. And the question of what should be done to reinforce this function of school education needs to be studied in a sincere manner.