Julia Hrdina

Soka Education and One’s Behavior as a Human Being

Daisaku Ikeda places great emphasis on the immense value that can be created in the relationships between teacher and student. In his voluminous writings and public addresses, Ikeda maintains that a humane educator embraces and supports other human beings (i.e. students) to the point that the students also seek reward in embracing and supporting others. There is a growing body of literature discussing the pedagogy and guiding principles of Soka education; however, I have found myself most interested in understanding the human qualities — including the behaviors and attitudes — that a teacher models when they strive to actually be a Soka educator.

Since Soka education is an approach to teaching and learning that owes much to Buddhist thinking, this is key. In fact, the thirteenth century Japanese Buddhist reformer Nichiren asserted that the reason for the Buddha’s appearance was to model how one should behave towards oneself and others, ethically and morally. “The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings,” wrote Nichiren, “lies in his behavior as a human being” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 1, p. 852).

My sense is that cultivating one’s spirit and in turn the spirit of others is a major area of emphasis within Ikeda’s Buddhist-based vision of humane education. In his 1996 address at Columbia University titled, “Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship,” Ikeda stated that the bodhisattva or “greater self,” a major aspect of Nichiren Buddhism, personifies the human qualities that one should strive to manifest. What is needed, in his view, is a great teacher who demonstrates how to cultivate this spirit. Within the same speech, Ikeda connected the bodhisattva with Carl Jung’s “self” and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “the eternal One” or “the human spirit."

This leads us then to a number of questions. What are the behaviors that cultivate the human spirit? How can teachers interact with others with sincerity and integrity? How can school leaders incorporate a culture or “ethos of Soka” in their schools? How can school leaders assist in facilitating the quality teacher-student relationships that are a hallmark of Soka education? Based on my experience as both a Buddhist and a special education teacher these are the areas of research that I have been exploring and want to further explore within the field.

Conducting research on Soka education has only deepened my conviction in the need to share Ikeda’s principles widely. One reason is that the humanistically informed Soka perspective on teaching and learning can reinvigorate the education system without necessarily disrupting the existing structures within schools. That is, by placing the emphasis on who the educator is and how they present that, there is an opportunity for value creation no matter the overall character of the school, be it one based on testing or one based on student freedom. My view is that Soka education has the potential to enrich the lives of students, teachers, and school leaders by empowering them to continuously strive towards building a more perfect school community and a more harmonious and peaceful society.

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Julia Hrdina is an educator and BCBA clinician serving children with severe disabilities at Melmark New England School in Andover, Massachusetts. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Boston University in 2006 and began her teaching career as a residential counselor for children with Autism. In 2010, Julia earned her master of science degree in Special Education from Simmons College and is currently enrolled in the educational leadership doctoral program at Lesley University. In her administrative role in a private setting, her role is to prepare her students, socially and academically, to successfully integrate back into their home school district.

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