Soka Education Explored at Parker School Symposium
On March 26, a symposium titled "Reuniting Parker, Dewey, Makiguchi and Ikeda: Education for Community and Citizenship Across Language and Culture" was held at the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, USA. The symposium was the first of its kind in the US to focus on two fathers of American progressive education, Colonel Francis W. Parker and John Dewey, alongside their Japanese counterparts, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Daisaku Ikeda, pioneers of the philosophy and practice of Soka (value-creating) education. Some 450 attended.
The international panel of scholars included Jim Garrison and Larry Hickman, both past presidents of the John Dewey Society and dialogue partners with Mr. Ikeda; William H. Schubert, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Gonzalo Obelleiro, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University’s Teachers College and a member of the first graduating class of Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, California. The panelists touched on key similarities among the four educators: that education should strive for the complete development of students—mental, physical and moral—and should help them become lifelong learners and active, democratic citizens. But they also addressed the chasm between these educators’ ideals and the increasing focus in the US on privatizing education. One student participant remarked, “Everybody is looking to make a dollar off of education.”
Jason Goulah, a DePaul University assistant professor of bilingual-bicultural education, commented, "There are very few Japanese thinkers who are really informing how we consider education in the US." Professor Goulah said American educators could learn from the work of Dr. Ikeda, who founded the Soka schools system based on the people-centered ideals of Mr. Makiguchi. He continued, "He provides a response to the data-driven, test-heavy, creating cogs-in-the-wheel-atmosphere of American education today," and that "Good education transcends culture and language."
The symposium also featured the work of 10 Parker students who spent last semester investigating the educational philosophies of these four thinkers in a class titled "Schools Across Borders, Schools Across Time." One student shared "Soka, to me, is about how I can pay tribute to those who have come before me by helping to make the world a more peaceful place, not just for myself, but for future generations to come."
Andy Kaplan, an English teacher at Parker who taught the "Schools Across Borders" class, shared that he sees the symposium as a beginning, not an end. "As we witness the discipline and the heritage of these four thinkers," he said, "we are able to explore and expand the possibilities for education in the US. These are heroic figures to me."
[Adapted from an article in the April 8, 2011, issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photos courtesy of Chris Salata]