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  • Response to Brian Platt's Comments
  • Abigail Schweber

Platt is correct that two of the issues raised in my review are addressed in his introduction. His discussions of both the meaning of hegemony and the virtues of exceptionalism for historical study are both highly thought-provoking. Neither, however, is reflected in his handling of those concepts in the body of the work.

In his introduction, Platt claims that, for education at this time, "hegemony took the form of an institutional and discursive framework within which ideas about education could be expressed." Did the passage of the Fundamental Code affect the discursive framework? Of course it did; every legislative act of every vaguely functional government does. However, Platt's descriptions of the actions and intent of the Meiji government fit a more conventional definition of hegemony. He opens the discussion of this issue by stating that the Meiji government "announced its own vision for education and began its attempts to displace other visions (p. 100)." His claim to be describing a limited hegemonic intent is belied by statements such as, "The Fundamental Code : : : represented an effort not merely to create new laws and institutions and to train new personnel, but to redefine 'school' and to displace and marginalize existing definitions" (p. 132) and his discussion of the "panoptic modes of power [by which] the government let people know that education was subject to the vision, and regulation, of the authorities." This language does not describe merely the creation of discursive frameworks, but an aggressive and deliberate effort to impose central authority.

The question of term definition, however, is not the focus of my criticism. A work of history must be judged, not solely for the questions it raises or its methodological approach, but for whether the evidence supports the author's argument. While there is a great deal of value in Platt's book, it fails this crucial test. Platt argues that, under the Fundamental Code, multi-village school districts were established, "to create a broader financial base for the new, larger, better-equipped [End Page 228] elementary schools envisioned in the Ministry of Education's regulations." The evidence for this vision is that "the Ministry of Education had set fairly high financial qualifications for villages seeking to establish a main school (pp. 201– 202)." This line of argument entirely ignores two critical facts, both discussed in the previous chapter. First, that Nagano's smallest school district was one and two-thirds times the size recommended by the Ministry of Education, while the largest was nearly seventeen times that size (p. 152), and second, that the financial requirements for school districts were a policy devised by the prefecture, not the Meiji government (p. 150).

This sort of projection of intent onto the Fundamental Code occurs, not only in the core argument of the work, but appears repeatedly, on topics such as the function of irregular schools, curriculum requirements, endowment guidelines, etc. To give an example, Platt argues that 'the realities of local schooling were in many ways quite distant from the abstract image of 'school' embodied in the Fundamental Code" on the grounds that "almost nine out of ten schools ... still met in temples or rented buildings ... [which] rarely conformed to the Ministry of Education's model of an age-segregated student body." Yet, in that very paragraph, he acknowledges that "Neither the central nor the prefectural government required that schools be housed in newly constructed buildings (pp. 181–182)." While the evidence cited above does indicate that the Nagano prefectural government demonstrated a preference for well-funded, large schools that would be capable of providing age-segregated classrooms, there is no evidence in either the text of the Fundamental Code or the extensive scholarship on education policy of that period that the Ministry of Education had any expectation for such a model. The embodiment of an abstract image of "school" in the Fundamental Code is entirely a construct of Platt's devising, based on conflation of prefectural policies with national ones.

It is in this conflation that Platt's claim in the introduction that "exceptionality throws into sharper relief the dynamics of state formation at the local level" becomes problematic...


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pp. 228-229
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