Living As Learning Event

Panel Discussion Explores Humanistic Education in the Age of Global Citizenship 

By Mitch Bogen

View a photo gallery of the event

The year 2016 marks the anniversaries of two publications important to the Ikeda Center. One hundred years ago, in 1916, John Dewey published his landmark book Democracy and Education. And twenty years ago, in June 1996, Center founder Daisaku Ikeda delivered an address at Teachers College, Columbia University, called “Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship.” On June 17 the Center held a panel discussion featuring top education scholars who explored core themes from these works and explained why humanistic education, as it has developed over the last century, is so well suited to education for global citizenship.

On hand to offer their insights were: Jason Goulah, Director of the Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education and Associate Professor of Bilingual-Bicultural Education at DePaul University; Jim Garrison, Professor of Philosophy of Education at Virginia Tech; Ann Diller, Professor Emerita of Philosophy of Education and Director Emerita of Doctoral Studies at the University of New Hampshire; and Larry Hickman, Director Emeritus of the Center for Dewey Studies and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Introduction: Education Is All One With Growing

During his welcoming remarks, the Ikeda Center’s Kevin Maher shared a quote from Democracy and Education that reveals a key inspiration behind the event’s title, “Living As Learning.”* “Since growth is the characteristic of life,” wrote Dewey, “education is all one with growing; it has no end beyond itself.” Maher paired this with a complementary quote from the Teachers College address. Education, said Ikeda, is "not simply the transmission of knowledge. It is not simply the development of talent. Education is a great enterprise of steadily and surely passing on the fullness of humanity . . . Education is a process of becoming fully human.”

Maher then introduced Natalie Evans, the Center’s Northeastern University Co-op Program intern for Spring 2016, who read a special message composed by Daisaku Ikeda to commemorate the occasion. The following passage from the message captured the heart of his vision of education for global citizenship and set the tone for the panel discussion to follow:

Education for global citizenship can deepen awareness of connection and interdependence. It can foster a shared understanding that there is no happiness that we can enjoy alone, no suffering that afflicts only others; that no society can enjoy peace and prosperity while other societies are beset by misery. . . . Education generates the basis from which we ― here, in this moment ― can initiate chain reactions of positive transformation that move not only our own lives but also our surroundings and society as a whole in a better direction.

Jason Goulah: Human Education

First to speak, Dr. Goulah began by discussing his belief that Ikeda’s educational philosophy is best translated as “human education,” as opposed to the more common “humanistic education,” a pedagogy that has, he said, a somewhat “troubled” history in the West. He explained that for Ikeda, “being human is an action, a continual process of becoming; and both Buddhism and human education for Ikeda are about becoming ‘fully human.’” He continued, saying, “They are both processes of continually striving to awaken, actualize, and develop the wisdom, courage, and compassion of the Buddha,” characteristics inherently present in our lives, no matter how humble.

Ikeda’s ethic of global citizenship can be traced back to educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, originator of Soka, or value-creating, philosophy and founder of the Soka Gakkai, the lay Buddhist organization of which Mr. Ikeda is the third president. Dr. Goulah observed that in Soka education students come to understand international issues and influences by focusing on their local conditions. In this way, said Goulah, students “develop identities that both transcend ‘narrow-minded nationalism’ (kyoainaru kokkashugi) and avoid ‘vacuous, utopian globalism’ (han’ai kyomonaru sekaishugi).” Such extremism is negated when students begin with a sense of belonging in their communities and personal experiences and then expand their commitments outward to the global level.

Professor Goulah illustrated the notion of starting where you are by citing an anecdote shared by Mr. Ikeda in his book The New Human Revolution. While in Chicago, in 1960, Ikeda witnessed a subtle act of racism against a young African American boy, which, Ikeda wrote, “may have been a small, insignificant act,” but one which nevertheless gave him “a glimpse of the dark abyss of prejudice that lay behind it.” Thus moved, Mr. Ikeda invoked the Soka concept of chikyū minzoku shugi, which translates, said Goulah, to something like “global people-ism” or “global nationalism.” Ikeda tells how in his heart he made a pledge to that young boy: “I promise you that I will build a society truly worthy of your love and pride.”

Promises not acted upon are empty. For several decades now Ikeda has worked, as the leader of a global Buddhist organization, to fulfill his pledge. The actions required of the rest of us need not be so dramatic, though. What is required of us by the “Soka heritage of world citizenship,” said Goulah, is to attempt to “create value where it doesn’t exist.” To be effective in this, we must each ask ourselves, “How can I, in my own way, as I am, right here where I am, and with the people directly in front of me, cultivate the wisdom, courage, and compassion of a world citizen?”

Jim Garrison: Learning To Be Human

Dr. Garrison began by exploring ways that humanistic philosophies of John Dewey and Daisaku Ikeda combine elements of what can be called the religious and the educative impulses of humans. Echoing Jason Goulah’s remarks, Garrison said that the major point of commonality is that “humanity is not something with which we are especially endowed.” Rather, in Dewey’s words, “Everything which is distinctly human is learned.” For Ikeda, to be both a religious practitioner and an educator in the Soka tradition developed by Makiguchi is to be dedicated to helping others develop, in Ikeda’s words, the capacity “to find meaning, to enhance one’s own existence and contribute to the well-being of others.”

The key question then is how do we learn and grow? Garrison points to “the courage not to fear or deny difference,” which Ikeda names as one of the three main components of global citizenship education. Too often, lamented Garrison, our schools only teach us “to tolerate otherness and difference,” rather than to embrace it. But embracing difference, treating it as the core condition for developing ourselves and creating value, is absolutely essential. Garrison cited Dewey from his late essay, “Creative Democracy – The Task before Us”:

To cooperate by giving differences a chance to show themselves because of the belief that the expression of difference is not only the right of other persons but is a means of enriching one’s own life experience, is inherent in the democratic personal way of life.

Unfortunately, said Garrison, “there is little in contemporary education that goes beyond ethical tolerance of diversity to the depths of genuine value creation.”

The other two components of global citizenship education as defined by Ikeda are first, the wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of life, and second, the compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places. The former is an expression of the Buddhist concept of dependent origination. Yet, as Garrison noted, Dewey, not a Buddhist, also observed, “What exists co-exists.” Garrison added that, even though the study of interconnection is central to science, “what students learn about the ecological community in the biology classroom rarely travels down the hall to the history or social studies classroom where human dependent co-origination should be even more apparent.”

In regards to the latter, Dr. Garrison said that for Dewey, related qualities such as sympathy and empathy must be coupled with “intelligent deliberation.” Nevertheless, Dewey also wrote, observed Garrison, “The only truly general thought is the generous thought. It is sympathy which carries thought out beyond the self and which extends its scope till it approaches the universal as its limit.”

Despite the fact that contemporary education, with its emphasis on the machine-like standardization and micro-management of teaching and learning, is quite different from the person-centered visions of Dewey and Ikeda, all is far from lost, said Garrison. He has seen through experience that “the bodhisattva way of compassion, courage, wisdom, and passion” exists “in abundance” among the pre-service teachers he instructs.

Ann Diller: In the Direction of the Good

Like Jason Goulah, Ann Diller emphasized individual action as the foundation of global citizenship. By action, however, Diller meant the negotiation of those internal processes of thought, feeling, and awareness that constitute our experience in its most intimate form.

She framed her remarks — called “What Does It Mean To Live a Conscious Life?” — with insights on the nature of good and evil from Mr. Ikeda’s Teachers College address. In it, Mr. Ikeda argued that the practice of the bodhisattva rests on a “profound faith in the inherent goodness of people.” But it is also critical that we are able to “perceive the evil that causes destruction and divisiveness — and that is equally part of human nature.” This practice is a demanding one, said Diller, since it “requires us to face what we may be least inclined to look at: the troublesome aspects of human life, evil, and our own negative emotions.”

Here, she cited P. D. Ouspensky: “This is one of the worst illusions we have. We think that negative emotions are produced by circumstances, whereas all negative emotions are in us, inside us. . . . Our negative emotions are in ourselves and produced by ourselves.” How then to deal with what we so desire to resist? From a Deweyan perspective, said Diller, the first step is to realize that all life experiences, whether we label them as good or as bad can either be “educative — supporting the growth of our bodhisattva nature; or they can be miseducative — blocking and shutting down, closing off access to our inherent goodness or perpetuating our illusions and negative emotions.”

The next step is to slow down enough to be able to observe what your emotional experiences are telling you. For Ouspensky, we can achieve this clarity if we resist the urge to express our emotions on the one hand, or the temptation to suppress them on the other. Other important factors in understanding our internal experiences, said Diller, include the ability to resist:

  • The impulse to judge oneself negatively and thus suppress feelings
  • Over-identification with superficial conceptions of the self that are "conditioned" by social and other "structures"
  • Negative imagination, which feeds our anger and tempts us to blame others

Diller’s list of positive actions to nurture awareness includes recommendations to:

  • Stay open, interested, curious
  • Slow down by taking deep breaths and checking in with the body
  • Ask yourself questions: Am I feeling afraid or criticized? Is this reaction familiar?

The final piece of preparation required of us to ensure that our actions in the world lead us in the unifying direction of the good flows out of the Buddhist concept of impermanence and flux, since the reality that nothing is fixed presents us with endless opportunities for growth. Diller gave the last words to Dewey, with two quotes from Democracy and Education that contain strong Buddhist overtones: In the chapter “Theories of Morals” Dewey says that “the moment we recognize the self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action, the whole situation clears up.” And, then, a few pages later: “Conscious life is a continual beginning afresh.”

Larry Hickman: Context and Quantification

Larry Hickman concluded with a talk on the topic of  “context and quantification in education.” To begin, Dr. Hickman recalled a conversation he had with astronaut Stacey Musgrave, who led the mission to repair the Hubble Telescope in 1993. Musgrave said that he encouraged his team to pause every fifteen minutes or so “to look around.” The idea, explained Dr. Hickman, “was to prevent the members of his team from focusing so keenly on the minutiae of their assigned tasks that they failed to notice some environing factor that might affect the success of their mission.  In other words, he was reminding his team that the success of their mission was dependent on awareness of context.”

Understanding context in its many forms is central to the pedagogies of both Dewey and Makiguchi (and by extension, Mr. Ikeda). For example, the study and awareness of history and geography constitutes a vital foundation for all branches of learning. For Dewey, these two disciplines are inescapable since all of us exist in time, which is the province of history, and space, which is the province of geography. In Makiguchi’s words, said Hickman, the objective of geography is to “relate the individual to the regional environment and eventually to the whole of society.” The study of geography, said Hickman, allows a child’s experiences to “radiate out toward consciousness of a global culture.”

An effective way to contextualize learning is to pursue it outside of the classroom through what Hickman called “real-world productive activities.” This strategy is often referred to as service learning, something important to Dewey, Makiguchi, and Ikeda. In Ikeda’s words, contextualized service learning “should be promoted not merely through occasional field trips but as continuous ongoing activities…. There should be activities that produce tangible results — work within the community, such as recycling, that contributes to society and provides a sense of fulfillment, as well as planting trees and flowers and conservation activities that generate concrete results.” Clearly, quantification and data analysis are critical to the success of such activities. However, it is the context supplied by these instances of learning, said Hickman, that “must determine the role of quantification in the educational process.”

Shifting his attention to today’s educational landscape, Hickman said we mostly fail to grasp, to our detriment, that “quality education treats quantification as a tool within a larger context, and not as primary.” Instead, quantification has become the key driver of American education, especially in the form of the standardized tests that determine the fates of our students and schools. Dewey, said Hickman, believed that “overemphasis on quantification in testing militated against the open-ended character of education at its best.” As for Makiguchi, said Hickman, his books “fairly bristle with complaints about educators who reduce education to the ‘transfer of knowledge’” and who value “organizing information” over “arousing interest.” Such teachers don’t see, said Hickman, that true educational value is created by emphasizing “learning, learning to learn, and most especially, learning to adjust to changing circumstances.”

Panel Discussion

During the 30-minute concluding discussion, questions and responses fell largely, if loosely, within two overarching categories.

Imaginative empathy and the work of awareness
Regarding the imagination, Jim Garrison observed that Dewey understood imagination as a “dramatic rehearsal,” and that imagination, and emotions too, are “simply a part of intelligence.” Dewey also said that “imagination releases the possible in the actual,” a notion that Garrison said is derived from Coleridge. Goulah added that empathy typically means that we are somehow able to feel and identify with the experience of the “person in front of us,” even if we have not shared that experience (which, if we had, would allow us to truly sympathize). What the imagination does, he said, is enable us to empathize with, and thus understand better, those far away whom we cannot encounter directly — a vital ability in our rapidly globalizing world. Ann Diller addressed a question about what she meant when she said earlier that “you are not who you think you are.” She said the meaning of this often becomes clear to people when they have a direct experience with the kind of “intelligence” that expands beyond the intellect to utilize the “whole being” as a way of sensing the world, thus enabling one to understand it better. Too often though, said Diller, we cling to an intellectually constructed — and therefore constricted — sense of identity that “stunts our awareness” of the interdependence and flux that constitute existence.

Practice of humanistic education in schools
In response to a question about how to combat the obsession with quantification in our schools, Dr. Hickman said that good practice still can thrive despite institutional pressures. He shared how he recently observed a reading coach in a socio-economically and ethnically diverse fifth grade classroom. There, he witnessed several of Dewey’s “pillars of education” in action: 1) the teacher as coach rather than authority figure, 2) theme-based learning, and 3) peer-based learning. Unfortunately, much of this work is done in spite of rather than because of educational policy makers and politicians, who, in Hickman’s view spend too much time “beating up on teachers.” Another audience member asked how to keep the values of the arts alive in our schools in the face of reduced funding. Both Diller and Goulah said that our goal must always be the integration of disciplines, adding that the arts are especially robust and flexible in terms of their ability to inform and enrich any field of study. In fact, they said, the arts deserve to be at the very heart of things. Dr. Garrison added that if the “meaning of life is to make more meaning” then the arts provide one of the most important means toward that end.

Conclusion: An Unerring Path to Peace

The evening concluded with Ikeda Center president Richard Yoshimachi thanking the speakers; the many friends and community members in attendance; and the staff, volunteers, and interns who worked behind the scenes to make the event a success. To close, Mr. Yoshimachi shared these words of Daisaku Ikeda:

Education should not be based on or limited by a nationalist agenda. Education must cultivate the wisdom to reject and resist violence in all its forms. It must foster people who intuitively understand and know — in their minds, in their hearts, with their entire being — the irreplaceable value of human beings and the natural world. I believe such education embodies the timeless struggle of human civilization to create an unerring path to peace.


* Living As Learning is also the title of the dialogue between Professors Garrison and Hickman and Daisaku Ikeda published by Dialogue Path Press in 2014.

** During the early 20th century, the Japanese educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi originated his philosophy and pedagogy of value-creation, seen by many as compatible with Dewey’s naturalist humanism and philosophy of pragmatism. Ikeda is in the lineage of Makiguchi.

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