Thursday, September 07, 2006

Major Choices

Prince Akishino has been in the news as of late because the genetic gamble that is reproduction has finally produced a male offspring for the royal family. I actually don't care about this but the fact that he studied fish taxonomy at Oxford as was mentioned in a news snippet on Japan Probe did pique my interest.

Before anyone starts thinking I've developed an unhealthy interest in fish or in awkward royal persons, let me say that it is the fact that he chose this type of major which propelled me into thought. One of my private students has been preparing to enter a foreign college located on an American base and she chose criminal justice as her major. If she were interested in being a police officer, a forensic analyst, or even a criminal lawyer, this major would make sense. What she is interested in, in fact, is rescuing animals.

The reason she chose criminal justice was because, among the limited possibilities offered by the college, she felt this type of study was the most "concrete". That is, it required the least amount of philophizing and personal insight and expansion. In other words, she chose the major which was most likely to ask questions with one correct answer rather than many possible correct answers.

Given that she'll be taking lessons in a language other than one she speaks natively, this is actually quite understandable. I daresay that most native English speakers would be hard-pressed to offer up sophisticated philosophical or analytical insights in another language, especially since most of them don't know any others.

This also fits in with the way in which education is handled in Japanese culture. For the most part, the education system focuses on the kind of test-taking that requires one right answer to each question. Teachers don't encourage classroom discussion and sometimes they actively discourage dissenting opinions. It's unsurprising that a Japanese person who wants to study abroad would choose something like fish taxonomy as a major as it'd fit more closely with the educational training they've had all their lives.

By the way, as I'm sure Prince Akishino could tell you if he were looking at the picture above, that's a moonfish.

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