Soka Educators' Newsletter 2015

About Dr Daisaku Ikeda

Dr Daisaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International, is a leading Buddhist philosopher, author, poet and educator and the founder of multiple educational, cultural and research institutions.

Dr Ikeda is the founder of the Soka (value-creation) schools, a non-denominational school system based on an ideal of fostering each student's unique creative potential and cultivating an ethic of peace, social contribution and global consciousness. The school system runs from kindergarten through graduate study and includes a university in Tokyo, Japan. Outside Japan, the Soka school system includes kindergartens in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Brazil, South Korea and a university in California, USA.

A prolific writer, Dr Ikeda is the author or co-author of some 100 books, mainly on Buddhism, education and world peace. Among these works are Choose Life (translated into 24 languages), For the Sake of Peace and The Human Revolution.

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5 Principles of Soka Education

  1. Respect for sanctity of life
  2. Faith in diverse richness of human potential
  3. An emphasis on the mutually interactive and inspirational relationship between educators and students
  4. A shared aim among educators and students to continually create value and strive for self-transformation
  5. A firm grasp of the abilities of students and appropriate guidance

The Teacher's Art by Daisaku Ikeda

I remember being set a project one summer vacation during elementary school. We had to make something at home and bring it with us for the new term. Being clumsy, I couldn't get anything together and had to return to school embarrassed and empty-handed.

When asked what happened to my project, I stammered out that I had forgotten it at home. To my horror, the teacher told me to go home and bring it back right away. I returned home feeling desperate and miserable. Looking around, I saw a bookshelf my older brother had made. I presented this to the teacher, who praised my work and gave me a good grade for it. But, looking back, I am sure that he knew what the real story was.

From one perspective you might say that this teacher was rewarding me for lying, but that is not my view. Through the warm, large-hearted way he embraced me, he communicated to me a very concrete sense of being believed in--really what I needed at that moment. And, of course, I felt deeply ashamed, and vowed never to let such a thing happen again.

I believe that education is what remains long after the content of each specific lesson we were taught has been forgotten. The essence of education is character formation, teaching young people how to live in society and encouraging them to think independently. Study is much more than simply absorbing existing knowledge and techniques, and the ability to memorize and reason is nothing compared to the wisdom, emotional richness and creativity which resides within every human being.

Education that does not teach a sense of values turns people into mere robots filled with data but with no understanding of what it is for. Such soulless, over-competitive schooling makes successful children arrogant, while the less academically bright are left with little self-confidence and a deep fear of failure.

Sadly, education is often used to cultivate people who are useful only to the extent that they fit into various slots in society, and school systems in Japan and many other countries actually prevent children from developing their full potential.

In the race to climb the ladder of scholastic prestige and status, we can easily lose sight of the most important question of all: What is the purpose of learning?

I believe that the genuine goal of education must be the life-long happiness of those who learn. Education should never be subordinated to the demands of national ego, or of corporations searching for profit-generating employees. Human beings, human happiness, must always be the goal and objective.

My own teacher, Josei Toda, often said that the greatest error of modern humanity was that it confused knowledge with wisdom. Knowledge itself is a neutral tool that can be used for good or evil. As history sadly proves, educated monsters can wreak far greater horror than their unschooled brothers. At least seven of the participants at the Wannsee Conference where the Nazis planned the "final solution"--extermination--to the "Jewish problem," had doctoral degrees. It is hard to imagine a greater perversion and debasement of education.

Wisdom, in contrast, always directs us toward happiness. The task of education must be to stimulate and unleash the wisdom that lies dormant in the lives of all young people. This is not a forced process, like pressing something into a preformed mold, but rather drawing out the potential which exists within.

I firmly believe that every young person has the power within him or her to change the world. It is the role of those who teach to believe in that power, to encourage and release it.

The relationship between teacher and pupil can be a vital link through which new horizons are opened up and life develops. To me, the essence of education is this process whereby one person's character inspires another. When teachers become partners in the process of discovery, burning with a passion for truth, the desire to learn will naturally be ignited in their students' hearts. And once children feel that their teachers are genuinely concerned for their individual welfare, they will begin to trust them and open up to them.

It saddens me that now this vital bond between pupil and teacher seems to have been

weakened by distrust and misunderstanding. Teachers everywhere struggle with problems of control and discipline, and students resent the fact that they must cram their heads full of knowledge which fails to answer their pressing questions about life, the real world and human relationships.

Teachers who do not understand and care for their students, merely parroting stereotyped answers, cannot possibly satisfy children's curious and sensitive minds. It must never be forgotten that the most important people in a school are its students. I once heard about a Japanese elementary school teacher who was irritated by a girl in his class who was unable to keep up. He gave up trying to help her after a fellow teacher told him, "Human beings are just like fruit; twenty to thirty percent is always worthless and there's nothing you can do about it."

Then, one day during a break, he noticed the girl playing with a puzzle, trying to put plastic pieces together so they fit into a box. Finally she succeeded and yelled, "I got it!," her face sparkling with a delight he had never seen before. The teacher suddenly felt remorse. How dare he give up on her! Wasn't it his job to make sure that each child walked out of his classroom with the confidence that they could do anything if they really tried?

He discovered that the girl's parents, both graduates of leading universities, were constantly calling her "stupid." The teacher resolved to praise her every day, for every little accomplishment, to wash away the stain of criticism from her heart.

After a year, the girl was transformed. Proceeding at her own pace, she came to experience the joy of learning. The key was her realization that if she made an effort to achieve something, she could do it.

This story shows how the smallest failure can destroy a child's confidence, and the smallest catalyst can trigger growth. It is vital that teachers believe in every child's potential and care about their happiness as human beings.

(From an essay series by Daisaku Ikeda first published in the Philippine magazine Mirror in 1998)

Joke 1

Mother: “Why did you get such a low mark on that test?”

Junior: “Because of absence.”

Mother: “You mean you were absent on the day of the test?”

Junior: “No, but the kid who sits next to me was.”

Joke 2

A new teacher, trying to make use of her psychology courses, started her class by saying, "Everyone who thinks you're stupid, stand up." After a few seconds, little Johnny stood up. The teacher said, "Do you think you're stupid, Johnny?"

"No Ma'am, "he said. "but I hate to see you standing up there all by yourself."

Joke 3

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Joke 4

Q: What's the longest word in the dictionary? A: Rubber-band -- because it stretches.

Q: When things go wrong, what can you always count on? A: Your fingers.

Q: What goes up and never comes down? A: Your Age

Q: Why is 6 afraid of 7? A: Because 7 8(ate) 9

Joke 5

A little girl came home from school and said to her mother, “Mommy, today in school I was punished for something that I didn’t do.”

The mother exclaimed, “But that’s terrible! I’m going to have a talk with your teacher about this … by the way, what was it that you didn’t do?”

The little girl replied, “My homework.

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On the Stage of my Mission by Josh Joffee

In 2001, I became a first-grade teacher at a public school in New York City. Upon starting my new job, a senior teacher told me that I could expect a "honeymoon period" during which students would be on their best behavior for the first week or so of class. I lost control of my classroom on the first day by lunchtime.

I remember feeling my stomach churn as I walked my class down the hallway, and how they caused such a ruckus that the other teachers peered out of their classrooms to see what was going on. Their expressions seemed to suggest: this guy isn't going to last another day.

From there, things only got worse. I couldn't get the students to listen to me or to stay seated in class, and I became wrapped up in worries about what other teachers and parents

thought. The first week went by so painfully that I wanted to quit. I had no other option than to confront my situation with my Buddhist practice. As I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, I realized that if I were to quit without challenging my situation, I would leave with regrets. So I decided that despite my limited teaching experience, I could use my Buddhist practice to help me put in 100 percent effort, and I made a determination to give it everything I had and carry on teaching until the end of the year.

From then on, I woke up early every morning to chant abundantly, and I read the following guidance from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda over and over:

"When your determination changes, everything else will begin to move in the direction you desire. The moment you resolve to be victorious, every nerve and fiber in your being will immediately orient itself toward your success. On the other hand, if you think 'this is never going to work out, then at that instant every cell in your being will be deflated and give up the fight, and then everything really will move in the direction of failure."

I was always the first teacher to arrive at school and the last to leave. I exerted every ounce of energy into preparing my lesson plans and also sought advice from other teachers. Deep within my life, I was learning so much from making these efforts. However, on the surface, I was still struggling to control my class.

Toward the end of the school year, the principal informed me that I would face a review from my peers and that I might not be asked to return. I vented my frustration by chanting to the Gohonzon in order to achieve a breakthrough. As I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I realized that for the first time in my life, I had put my whole life into something and through doing so had won over my weaknesses. I determined: "I have to continue teaching next year to prove what I can really do. Just watch me!"

During my review, I shared enthusiastically about all that I had learned. I said that I would absolutely teach again next year, regardless of where. Surprised by my fighting spirit, the principal responded, "That's what I wanted to hear," and she gave me one more year to prove myself.

All the efforts I had made in the first year bore fruit the following year, and I was able to improve dramatically, winning the trust of my colleagues. I was able to stay on for a further two years. When I was about to complete my fourth year at the school, I began to chant about what kind of contribution I wanted to make to the field of education. I decided that, as a disciple of President Ikeda, I had to face my fear and hesitation. I realized that my passion is teaching music to children, and I decided to pursue a new career in music education. I also did my utmost to fulfill my responsibility as a young men's leader within SGI-USA, making as many efforts as possible to support and encourage other young men in their Buddhist practice.

I learned that a new school was opening up in the Bronx, where I live, and I felt that working there would give me the opportunity to help build something from scratch and contribute to my community. Surprisingly, the principal of this new school knew many of my colleagues and inquired how I was as a teacher. Many of them gave me such positive reviews that the principal decided to hire me despite the fact that the school had not intended to hire a full-time music teacher. I have now been teaching at that school for seven years.

My previous teaching experience enabled me to deepen my understanding of my Buddhist practice and take on larger challenges at the new school. However, recently, I found myself falling into the trap of inertia and losing the spirit to challenge. As a result, my relationships with my colleagues weakened to the point where I no longer enjoyed going to work.

Over the summer break, I felt the need to chant deeply about my work situation and was inspired by another piece of guidance by my mentor, Mr. Ikeda. He writes, "When greeting others, it doesn't matter if your greeting isn't returned. Taking the lead in greeting others is important. Those who can respect others will be respected in turn. Those who can greet others cheerfully, sincerely and warmly are truly admirable." These words made me realize

that I had stopped striving to do my human revolution at work, and I redetermined to take full responsibility to make my school as warm an environment as possible for the students. When the school year started, I took the initiative and went door-to-door, saying to the other teachers with all the enthusiasm I could muster: "Hello! How are you?" I could immediately sense my environment beginning to change. For example, one teacher, with whom I had a strained relationship the year before, praised my attitude and noted how organized and attractive my classroom was. I also determined to become the best music teacher I could be. Pondering what I could contribute to the school and its students, I came up with the idea of composing and teaching children's songs to help them learn their multiplication tables. Other teachers have since adopted my songs in their classrooms.

I truly enjoy my work again and I feel I have uncovered a new dimension to my passion--my unique mission in education. I am determined to make the type of contribution to the field of education that my mentor can be proud of, and this, I know, starts with fostering as many happy children as possible.

[Adapted from the March 29, 2013, issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photo courtesy of Daigo Otabe]

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