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Sandel's Justice Expands To Japan

By Sophia V. Ohler, Contributing Writer

This coming January, lively philosophical debates—the hallmark of Professor Michael J. Sandel’s perennially popular class “Ethical Reasoning 22: Justice”—will be uprooted from their usual Sanders Theater setting to reach students on the other side of world. About thirty students who took the class last fall—its most recent offering—will participate in a video chat with students who are taking a Sandel-inspired course at the University of Tokyo.

Harvard students will join their Japanese counterparts in a discussion of equality, citizenship, and democracy led by Sandel and University of Tokyo Philosophy of Law Professor Tatsuo Inoue. In an email Wednesday night, Sandel invited former students to participate in what he called an “exciting experiment in global education.”

“Justice,” which enrolled 805 students last fall, is one of the best-known and most popular courses offered at Harvard. In 2009, Boston public television station WGBH released a series of “Justice” lectures, now available online.

The show was then translated and retitled “Harvard Hakunetsu Kyoshitu,” which means “Harvard’s Heated Discussion Classroom,” and broadcast for audiences in Japan. It immediately attracted millions of viewers and inspired the University of Tokyo to develop its own version of the class.

“The show and the publishing of Sandel’s book was the start of a boom of philosophy in Japan,” said Ryosuke Kobayashi ’13, who took Justice last year and also has friends in the class at the University of Tokyo.

The University of Tokyo’s “Justice” course consists of thirteen sessions and is team-taught.

“I want to have the University of Tokyo students exposed to international dialogue,” said Masako Egawa, executive vice president of the University of Tokyo.

Egawa said she hopes the video conference will add to the initial success of the program in Tokyo.

Typically, universities in Asia place more emphasis on lectures and memorization, while Sandel uses the Socratic method in his participation-based lectures.

“I went to Japan this summer to teach a class and I didn’t get the feeling that any of them were used to having a discussion,” said former “Justice” student Jimmy P. Bohnslav ’13. “Professor Sandel is unique in that he tries to keep this lecture really interactive—he will have to work hard to overcome that kind of culture.”

Former Sandel students expressed their excitement for the opportunity and said they were curious about what the dynamic of the combined group will be.

“Justice is restricted to a bunch of privileged American college students,” says Daniel M. Claridge ’13, who is also a Crimson sports writer. “It’d be interesting to see what people on the other side of the world think of it.”

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