The Ikeda Center’s 2023 Education Fellows seminar convened in Cambridge on July 28. Five of the six members of the advisory team members were on hand as well as the three fellows of this current cohort. During the all-day gathering, the fellows had the opportunity to present their progress on their doctoral research and to engage in dialogue with the advisors about ways to focus their efforts and chart a clear path to completion of their degrees. It was the first in-person Education Fellows seminar since before the pandemic.
The Education Fellows Program was established by the Ikeda Center in 2007. The program honors the educational legacy of global peacebuilder and Center founder, Daisaku Ikeda, and aims to advance research and scholarship on the internationally growing field of Ikeda/Soka studies in education. This field coheres around historical, conceptual, and empirical scholarship on the philosophies and practices of Japanese educators Daisaku Ikeda, Josei Toda, and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, and the soka, or “value-creating,” approaches they have enacted and inspired worldwide. In addition to providing academic guidance from the advisors, the Fellows program supports two years of funding for the candidates.
The advisors on hand were: Isabel Nuñez, Professor of Educational Studies and Dean of the School of Education at Purdue University Fort Wayne; William Schubert, Professor Emeritus of Curriculum & Instruction, University of Illinois at Chicago; Jim Garrison, Professor Emeritus in the Foundations of Education program at Virginia Tech; Ming Fang He, Professor, Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading, Georgia Southern University; and Jason Goulah, Professor of Bilingual-Bicultural Education and Director of the Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education at DePaul University. Advisor Fran Huckaby, Professor of Curriculum Studies in the College of Education and Associate Provost of Faculty Affairs at Texas Christian University, was unable to attend, but contributed thoughtful reflections which were read during the dialogue portions of the agenda. The three fellows were Da’Veeda McClarkson of Georgia Southern University, Andrea Rehani of DePaul University, and Yumi Saito of the University of Hawaii.
Presenting first, McClarkson shared progress on her dissertation research topic, “Pursuit of Happiness in Life and Education Through Value-Creating Pedagogy and Africana Womanism: The Emergence of a Black Lotus – A Memoir.” Raised in an urban area subject to violence and drug use, McClarkson charted a course to personal and social success as public school teacher, helping many others along the way, including as a foster parent. Frequently, she said, she is asked a simple but complicated question: How did you beat the odds? The dissertation is intended to answer this question by interweaving her experience with the main strands of thought in both African and Africana Womanism and value-creating education and philosophy. In the process, by employing her perspective as a Black queer woman, she hopes to expand the understandings and applications of both of those disciplines. The personal narrative elements of the dissertation are informed by the autobiographical work of such influential figures as Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and more. Throughout, the advisors helped her think about her methodologies for integrating this vast amount of history and information into an effective work. They also worked with her to hone her core message as she enters the writing phase of her dissertation. In its most fundamental sense, said McClarkson, her message is about communicating the components of her personal path to happiness. In a wider sense, she is guided by Daisaku Ikeda’s contention that “the task of education must be fundamentally to ensure that knowledge serves to further the cause of human happiness and peace.”
Andrea Rehani is a poet and college writing instructor living in Chicago. She also participates in the Chicago literary community through Poems While You Wait, which is a poetry performance collective that offers typewritten poetry on demand. As she is still finalizing her dissertation focus, instead of offering a title, she shared a quote from novelist Junot Diaz that captures her ethos: “In my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.” Throughout, she characterized her engagement with literature as one of discovery and self-realization, acknowledging the inherent “messiness” of this literary quest. For her intellectual framing and undergirding she is looking first to Daisaku Ikeda’s theory of the “poetic spirit, especially as it relates both to the writer’s own “being, becoming, and doing” as well as the writer’s ability to appreciate the Other in the world around us. This latter aspect relates to Gilles Deleuze’s pedagogy of perception as it applies to her recognition of her own “‘linguistically diverse students’” and their own learning, being, and becoming.” During group dialogue, advisors urged her to take a close look at the proponents of reader response theory and authors such as Peter Elbow with his strongly process-oriented approach to writing. Generally, the advisors felt her topic of linguistic difference is strongly centered on the tension and creativity inherent to in-between, liminal spaces of the multilingual life.
The third presentation was from Yumi Saito. She shared her initial thoughts for pursuing research on how “the faculty’s perception of a culture of peace and participation in diversity programs” at the University of Hawai’i “have converged to increase student diversity and students’ success.” In more general terms, she said her topic is enhancing “the culture of peace” in higher education settings. For an intellectual framework she is drawing from many sources. For the culture of peace she is looking to Daisaku Ikeda’s dialogue with Ambassador Anwarul K. Choudhury, Creating the Culture of Peace: A Clarion Call for Individual and Collective Transformation. Another idea she finds promising is “humanitarian competition,” a concept developed by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, the founder of the soka, or value-creating, lineage practiced by Mr. Ikeda. And because of the high number of indigenous students at her university, she is also interested in decolonization theory and practice and how it might connect with humanitarian competition. Finally, she hopes to incorporate aspects of Daisaku Ikeda’s global citizenship ethos as well as key insights from current debates over globalization. The advisors were in agreement that each of these components is promising on its own terms, but her next task is to determine the essential aspects of each to emphasize.
Following the presentations and dialogues, the advisors met for a debrief on the fellows’ respective research before officially concluding the seminar. The seminar is one of the highlights of the Education Fellows program, as it occurs during the mid-point in their cohort and provides an invaluable opportunity for the fellows to engage in direct dialogue with the advisors about their work.