Dewey Scholar Lectures at SGI-USA New York Culture Center
What is humanistic education and its role in advancing world peace? Larry Hickman, director of the Center for Dewey Studies, explored this topic with participants at the SGI-USA New York Culture Center on December 7. Professor Hickman, who teaches philosophy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is currently engaged in a dialogue with SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, spoke as part of the SGI-USA Culture of Peace Distinguished Speakers Series.
Dr. Hickman noted the significance of the SGI-USA New York Culture Center as the site of the former Rand School of Social Science, which was widely referred to as "The People's House" during the early half of the 20th century. He added that the renowned American educator and philosopher John Dewey lectured at the building on several occasions between 1931 and 1934.
Dr. Hickman's lecture focused on what he called the difficult task ahead--the call for imaginative intervention into a decaying educational system. He said that humanistic education resists the pull of religion and political ideology, and continually assesses and reassesses its means and methods, as well as ideals. He then cited the examples of such humanistic educators as Dewey, Francis Parker, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Daisaku Ikeda.
"For these educators," he said, "learning must begin where the student is and not where they are not, taking into account a host of factors, including their family situation, economic conditions, prior learning opportunities, health and nutrition, and the degree to which their learning environment is free of bullying and discrimination."
Recalling the time he visited the Soka schools in Kansai, Japan, Dr. Hickman spoke about the students' engagement with society and nature, and how, as the founder of the Soka schools system, Mr. Ikeda encourages students to participate in ongoing volunteer activities that contribute to the welfare of society. Dr. Hickman recalled seeing students involved in NASA's EarthKAM (Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students) project, as well as an important ecological study on the population of fireflies.
In concluding remarks, Dr. Hickman emphasized that Dewey's vision of humanistic education is one in which students are afforded time to explore their worlds, to experience other cultures and to learn foreign languages, to follow their interests, and to find out who they are. "It is a process of learning habits of citizenship, responsibility and contribution to the public good," he said.
The Culture of Peace lecture series commenced in 2007, with lecturers focusing on one or more of the eight action areas defined by the 1999 United Nations Declaration and Program of Action on a Culture of Peace. The aim of the series is to foster a culture that rejects violence and addresses the root causes of conflict through the power of dialogue.
[Adapted from an article in the January 20, 2012, issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photo courtesy of Yvonne Ng]