'Living As Learning' at Teachers College

By Jeff Farr

Professors Jim Garrison and Larry Hickman introduced their new dialogue book, coauthored with Daisaku Ikeda, at Teachers College, Columbia University on November 15, 2014. Living As Learning: John Dewey in the 21st Century, published by Dialogue Path Press, brings together the pragmatism of Dewey with the humanism of Soka education to look for new ways out of today’s educational stalemate.

Sponsored by the Ikeda Center, the Arts & Humanities Program at Teachers College, and the Education Program at the college’s Gottesman Libraries, the book talk began with Ikeda Center President Richard Yoshimachi remembering Mr. Ikeda’s 1996 speech on “Education for Global Citizenship” at Teachers College. Mr. Ikeda put forth that global citizenship is something each of us can and should aspire to—an aspiration that naturally leads to greater peace—and Yoshimachi highlighted how this theme is further developed in Living As Learning, with Garrison and Hickman in agreement with Mr. Ikeda that the fostering of global citizens is, in Hickman’s words, the “most vital task of education.”

Hickman, director of the Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, detailed the fundamental agreement Dewey and Soka education have on this point. What Soka education founder Tsunesaburo Makiguchi termed “value creation,” Dewey termed “growth,” Hickman shared, adding that “in each case, there is an emphasis on learning, learning to learn, and, most especially, learning to adjust to changing circumstances or context.”

Makiguchi and Dewey share an emphasis on learning, learning to learn, and learning to adjust to changing circumstances or context.A great sign of hope today for education, Hickman went on, is Soka University of America, which, since its founding in 2001 by Mr. Ikeda, has based its curriculum on this spirit of learning and has consistently received high marks from the U.S. News & World Report. “SUA has a deep qualitative commitment, a commitment to nurturing leaders of culture in the community, a commitment to nurturing leaders of humanism in society, a commitment to nurturing leaders of pacifism in the world, and a commitment to nurturing leaders for the creative coexistence of nature and humanity,” Hickman said.

Garrison, who teaches at Virginia Tech, addressed Dewey’s concerns for America’s future as expressed in Individualism, Old and New, where Dewey spoke of “quantification, mechanization and standardization…the marks of the Americanization that is conquering the world.” Garrison added: “Such Americanism has become a new kind of imperialism shared by all the global powers within the new global economy.... It is an anti-humanistic travesty of individualism and the uniqueness of human potential.” But Dewey and Soka education work toward an America in which “our creative acts matter in the course of events.”

Responses followed from Teachers College doctoral candidate Carmen Jones and professor David Hansen. Jones focused on the theme of family and community in Living As Learning, which led her to reflect on many personal experiences, from her father inspiring her love of reading as a child to the September 11 terrorist attacks directly impacting her school community. “It seems impossible to read this book without joining the conversation,” she said.

Jones said she was inspired by Garrison’s statement in the book that, for Dewey and Makiguchi, “students learn and grow by creatively exercising their capacities to overcome obstacles and transform their environments, thereby creating value. In this way, they acquire a wholesome discipline quite different from what is imposed by authoritarian teaching, which assumes that students are passive and require external motivation to act.”

Hansen reflected, “We’re not remembering what we know in the field of education,” praising this book for bringing back a “living dialogue” to the art of education. He was reminded how Dewey once said, in Democracy and Education, “Life is a self-renewing process through action upon the environment.” Living As Learning took Hansen back to what he called some of his favorite “re-” words: renewal, restoration, retrieval, and replenishment. “It’s good to remember what we know, to renew what we know,” he concluded.

Hickman and Garrison also participated in a dialogue session with the gathered students and faculty. Topics covered included how universities can open themselves to local communities, how Dewey might rearticulate his philosophy for today’s climate, and how dialogue between pragmatism and Buddhist humanism can bolster multiculturalism.


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