Bringing Wonder into the Classroom

by Kenichi Kanba, Japan



Kenichi Kanba

I began practicing Nichiren Buddhism in 1985 when I was a young and inexperienced elementary school teacher. I was struggling with the new challenges of my job and was often physically and mentally exhausted. In particular, there was a young girl in my class whom I worried about a great deal. She was always unhappy and kept to herself, but, try as I might, I could not get her to open up. The person who introduced me to Nichiren Buddhism told me that I could use the practice to transform my life and bring about a positive change in my environment. I wanted, more than anything, to change myself and to see that young girl in my classroom smile. I decided that I would try chanting for her and, when I did, feelings of warmth welled up from within me.

SGI President Ikeda states, “Truly humanistic education begins with a teacher’s deep concern for their students. A spirit of love and a compassionate wish for the happiness of children is its starting point.”

Energized by a new sense of hope and enthusiasm, I exerted myself to put this spirit of humanistic education into practice. In time, the girl in my class began to smile, a highlight of my career as a teacher at a time when I felt the most joy and satisfaction.

My goal is to continue applying the principles of humanistic education in my classroom.

As a child, I grew up surrounded by nature and developed a deep interest in and love for the natural environment. Working as a teacher, I was surprised to learn that there were schoolchildren who did not know there was a river with fish nearby, or which trees were cedars and which were cypresses, or the names of the grasses and flowers growing alongside the path on which they walked to school. This is one of the reasons I later decided to become involved in environmental education.

There is nothing more heartening than the delight in the voices of children when they discover something new in nature, like the first time they see a firefly. Discovering new things brings bright smiles to children’s faces, and once they hold an interest, their eyes sparkle. You could say that this has been my source of inspiration as a teacher for the past 20 years.

I believe in the importance of observational learning and have made efforts to provide students with as many opportunities as possible to learn from nature. At school, for example, I helped create a “science dream corner” where students could observe fish and living creatures inside an aquarium we built. The students also learned how to breed larvae of fireflies and dragonflies.

related article Nurturing Nature Nurturing Nature by  Érika Yuri Kawashima Utumi and Hardyal Sharma Buddhists from Brazil and India engaged in environmental education discuss their work and how Buddhism influences their perspectives on it. In the community, we helped build a wooden staircase down to the embankment of a nearby river. By making access to the river possible, I was able to teach children how to fish and how to protect fireflies living by the river.

As a result of such efforts, our school received national recognition from the Sony Education Foundation, which led to our participation in the 2004 EcoAsia event, as well as the 2005 Junior Eco-Club National Festival.

In March 2009, we received an award for the results of our research on freshwater algae in the town’s lake that were presented at an international science conference in Japan.

I am also the president of a nature preservation group in my community, and our organization is currently engaged in a project to protect fireflies in a local park. We created a firefly observation society for people in the community, especially for children, with a focus on teaching the importance of environmental protection.

I believe that these opportunities have encouraged my students to “think globally and act locally” right at their desks. My goal is to continue applying the principles of humanistic education expounded by SGI President Ikeda in my classroom, opening children’s eyes to the wonder of the world around them and to their role as guardians of their environment.

Courtesy April 2014 issue of the SGI Quarterly.

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