Student’s ‘best essay’ depicts post-WWII education mission in Japan

DSC_0096Kenneth Noble, a University of Florida College of Education doctoral student, will join most Americans this Saturday in remembering and honoring those who died in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941—a date that President Franklin Roosevelt declared “will live in infamy” forever. The United States declared war on Japan the day after the attack and entered World War II. 

Noble, though, is just as interested in what happened after the war ended in 1945, when the United States and other Allied forces backed an effort to democratize occupied Japan and reform its education system. 

Scheduled to receive his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in social foundations of education in 2016, Noble recently received the Henry Barnard Prize from the national History of Education Society for an essay he authored about this post-war education mission to Japan. The prize honors the year’s best graduate student essay about the history of education around the world. Noble received a $500 stipend with the award and his essay will be published in an upcoming issue of History of Education Quarterly, the society’s flagship journal. 

Prior to enrolling at UF, Noble, 30, received two bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees in history and social studies education from Mississippi State University in his home state. He also taught social studies at a high school in South Carolina for three years and was a teaching assistant at Mississippi State University for two years. As he pursues his doctoral degree at UF, Noble also teaches a course on the history of American education and another on social studies for diverse learners. 

His essay explores Charles S. Johnson’s role in the education mission in Japan, which lasted until 1952. Johnson was a prominent sociologist and the first black president of Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. He was the only non-white member of the 27-member American committee of educators selected to participate in the Japanese reform effort. 

During the mission, Johnson, who was interested in civil rights and educational opportunities for black children, noticed that the United States was eliminating the barriers on education in Japan so that all people, regardless of racial, gender, religious or economic differences, could attend school. 

“Here we are promoting ourselves as the bastion of democracy, but in our own country we’re not really following those ideals,” Noble said. 

During this time in the 1940s and ‘50s, the United States enforced the Jim Crow laws, which legalized the segregation of black and white people. According to Noble, when Johnson returned to the United States, he focused on publicizing and eliminating that discrepancy between how the United States portrayed itself to the rest of the world and how the country actually functioned. 

“(Until now) the only people who ever read my work are my professors,” said Noble, whose research interests include post-World War II contexts, social justice and civil rights issues. “Now that I’ve written something that has a larger audience and has been deemed publishable and presentable, I feel like I’ve added to the realm of the history of education.”

SOURCEKenneth Noble, doctoral student in curriculum and instruction, knoble3159@ufl.edu, 662-341-2671
WRITER: Alexa Lopez, news and communications office, UF College of Education, akl@coe.ufl.edu, 352-273-4137
MEDIA CONTACT: Larry Lansford, news and communications office, UF College of Education, llansford@coe.ufl.edu, 352-273-4137