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Like a Cherry Tree

by Stephanie Tansey
USA

Stephanie with Turkmen friends
Stephanie with Turkmen friends

I am an ESD educator and a student of the Japanese educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi's Soka education. He said that when a curriculum contains the way to a contributive life, it becomes organic and the ideas in it will grow like seeds.

My understanding of the ESD movement was developed by attending the Earth Charter Conference in Urbino, Italy, in June 2003. Through this experience and cohosting an electronic conference on the Earth Charter and ESD, I saw how educators are bringing together environmental ethics, education and the community of life. One of them said ESD is a way to "walk," not just to "teach." It is learning to "think" like a cherry tree.

I have been a member of the SGI for over 30 years. I feel that practicing Buddhism has made me wiser and that my involvement with the SGI has also enabled me to gain self-mastery and improve my ability to work with other people. This prepared me for my life as an educator. Before 1990 I had a happy family but not a clear focus on how my life could contribute. Then I read a commentary on Thoreau's poem "On the Open Road" by SGI President Ikeda about the open road to one's own enlightenment. I just started "walking." I became an educator and studied Makiguchi, learned to teach using his ideas and deepened my faith in myself. My life began to grow.

Bicultural School

We moved to China, and in 1994 I helped establish a bilingual, bicultural international school in Beijing. The purpose of the New School of Collaborative Learning is to enable American and Chinese students to communicate well enough to become partners in the world community. Our mission is to nurture self-motivated learners who want to become global citizens.

I knew that by carefully tuning the curriculum, honing the method of teaching and being a model ourselves, the students would fulfill the mission. What I needed was a way to get the students to want to care. The Earth Charter with its 16 principles was the substance and the focus I was looking for. It became part of our curriculum. We created high school sustainable community forums and practicums, and we all began to grow--the students, the teachers and my family.

Ten years later we see the effect. Many students live contributive lives, in education, business and politics. One teacher created an annual elementary class practicum with a Chinese environmentalist who has created a sustainable community amongst the local farmers, in an area where there are pandas and yellow-tailed monkeys. Our Science Fair inspired several students to go to Australia to attend a regional Earth Charter conference. Two then transformed their dreams: one from millionaire to conscious businessman, and another from fashion designer to global citizen.

My family became deeply dedicated as well. My husband Bob, a U.S. diplomat, is now working on Middle East environmental issues, my daughter Alena is doing grassroots political work, and my son David is studying education reform.

In 2002 my husband and I moved to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. I began to teach English to university students, using the principles of the Earth Charter as discussion topics. The students loved it. The American Councils for International Education invited me to talk on ESD ethics to business schools, government officials and lawyers.

Together with Turkmen English teachers, I created "The Earth Charter Handbook for Sustainable Development Education in Your Community." In April 2004 we mounted an environmental exhibition with UNICEF. We used the Earth Charter exhibition "Seeds of Change: The Earth Charter and Human Potential," and had an enthusiastic response. Together with the Central Asian Regional Environmental Center (CAREC), the Turkmen teachers then created the "Earth Charter and Enriching Central Asian Environmental Education Conference" held in May in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Through such valuable experiences these teachers created a broader outreach to their fellow teachers.

My next project, in Israel, will be the development of dialogue methodology to introduce the ethic of coexistence into the field of education. I love what I do and the growth in me, my family, in my colleagues and friends. Indeed ESD is a way to walk. It is thinking like a cherry tree.

[ Courtesy October 2004 SGI Quarterly ]

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