British Columbia

School moves imperial Japanese flag after student's protest draws almost 10,000 supporters online

A Langley Grade 9 student is claiming victory after an online petition with nearly 10,000 supporters resulted in the relocation of a Japanese Imperial flag in a history classroom.

Students of Korean descent at Walnut Grove Secondary in Langley, B.C., took offence to flag

A Japanese imperial flag that was hung on the wall in a Walnut Grove Secondary School classroom has created controversy, but a school district spokesperson says it was part of a 20th-century history lesson. (Wikipedia/CBC)

Langley student B.J. Moon is claiming victory after his school relocated a controversial Japanese imperial flag on Monday.

"The school has taken immediate and proper action," wrote Moon, a Grade 9 student at Walnut Grove Secondary, in an update to his petition that drew nearly 10,000 supporters online over the weekend.

Moon created the petition in protest against the flag, which had been hung on a wall in a history classroom as part of a lesson for students in Grade 11 and 12.  

Moon and the other students of Korean descent included in the petition took offence to the flag, noting imperial Japan's dark history leading up to and during the Second World War.

"Thinking of the tragedies my grandparents went through, we cannot imagine how someone wouldn't find this symbol as inhumane and unethical," wrote Moon.

"This is also an issue that matters to everyone who believes in the sacredness of fundamental human rights built upon sacrifices of those fallen in battlefields during World War II," he added.

'A talking point'

Langley School District spokesperson Ken Hoff stood up for the teacher on Monday, saying he's experienced and well respected.

"This is one of many artifacts that this teacher uses in the classroom to talk about those events in 20th-century history," said Hoff.

"It's among other artifacts from war and conflict, and this is not something that's just hung up to provoke reaction or negative feelings in any groups of students — it's something used as a talking point," he said.

Hoff said the decision was made to relocate the flag to a part of the classroom where it wasn't visible from the hallway.

He said it was unfortunate that Moon and the students who complained about the flag aren't part of the class that will get the broader context and history lesson — that lesson is for Grade 11 and 12 students.

"No offence is meant, of course. This is a learning tool," said Hoff, adding that the controversy has become a broader teaching opportunity.

"These are discussions that need to be had around educating everyone on what these symbols mean to different groups around the world, certainly," he said.

'My teacher brought it up'

For many at the school, the debate has been informative. Grade 11 students Brock and Raajen weren't aware of the flag's historical significance before the debate erupted over the weekend.

"I heard about it last block during my social justice class — my teacher brought it up," said Raajen. "I just learned about what the flag was and the meaning behind it, and I was honestly surprised that anybody would have it up in their class."

"I feel it's a teaching tool," said Brock. "I understand that some people are probably offended, and it probably is better that it's taken down, but at the same time, we still should know about [the history]."

"People don't really talk about it that much, because at the same time, everybody was more focused on the Holocaust and what was happening in Germany with the Nazis," he said.

Hoff said it was unfortunate that Moon and the other students upset about the flag chose to take their complaint online before dealing with it locally at the school. He said the debate also brings up the question of where to draw the line when teaching some of history's more difficult chapters.

"It opens up a further debate about the possibility of censorship, or editing history to fit our perceptions now, and sometimes the truths are not pleasant, but it's important within the classroom context to have those conversations," Hoff said.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

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