Writing Ashida Enosuke Out: A Social History of the "Voluntary Composition Dispute" (zuii sendai ronsô) in Japan, 1918 to 1923
Educational Studies in Japan
Between 1918 and 1923, hundreds of schoolteachers disputed with each other. They attended (and some delivered) lectures, read (and some wrote) pedagogical journal articles, and met for study groups. They discussed which pedagogical method was more effective for an elementary school subject known as "composition" (tsuzurikata), i.e. "voluntary composition method" (zuii sendai shugi) or "assigned topic method" (kadai shugi). The event is known as the "Voluntary Composition Dispute" (zuii sendai
... nsō). The dispute was essentially based on two composition methods, but what seems incomprehensible to us today is that the dispute's participants exaggerated the pedagogical divide of the two methods. In particular, schoolteachers critical of the voluntary composition method ignored important nuances that the method's proponent, named Ashida Enosuke, delineated and instead portrayed his method reductively as an extreme method that was of little use in the classroom. What made these teachers inflate the pedagogical binary? Answering this question requires analyzing the unique situations in which these teachers were placed around the time when the Voluntary Composition Dispute started, namely the rise of professionalization, bureaucratization, and standardization that dominated the circle of schoolteachers. While many teachers gradually accepted this new trend, Ashida looked upon this negatively, which in turn these teachers took as destructive and unproductive to their collective effort to professionalize, bureaucratize, and standardize themselves and their teaching. As this paper shows, the way these teachers understood Ashida's criticism contributed to their reductive, simplified gaze on Ashida's pedagogical claims. In this sense, at stake in the Voluntary Composition Dispute were what the role of schoolteachers should be in relation to each other and their society, as well as what and how teachers should teach pupils in composition classes.