Harvard Book Talk Celebrates Hope and Joy in Education

By Mitch Bogen

On October 14, Gutman Library at the Harvard Graduate School of Education hosted a book talk event celebrating the publication of Hope and Joy in Education: Engaging Daisaku Ikeda Across Curriculum and Context, developed by the Ikeda Center and published this year by Teachers College Press. More than 175 people from 17 countries gathered virtually to hear editors Isabel Nuñez and Jason Goulah reflect on how the book came to be and what they learned in the process of developing it. (View a video of the event here.)

After welcoming remarks from Gutman Library’s Myanne Krivoshey and the Ikeda Center’s Anri Tanabe, Dr. Goulah introduced Daisaku Ikeda’s life’s work as a Buddhist leader and school founder and highlighted key aspects of Ikeda’s educational philosophy, such as commitments to dialogue, global citizenship, value creation, and creative coexistence. All of Ikeda’s work and teaching, said Goulah, revolves around his concept of ningen kyōiku, or “human education.” For Ikeda, simply being born human doesn’t make us fully human. Rather, it is through education that we realize our full potential, individually and collectively, living, as Goulah phrased it, “as fully and beautifully as we can.” This process of realization is what Ikeda describes as a movement from the lesser or ego-centric self to the greater self. The importance of this shift, said Goulah, is revealed in Ikeda’s conviction that “a great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.”

Gutman Book Talk

In her opening remarks, Dr. Nuñez discussed aspects of what it means for hope and joy to thrive in education. She said that ever since the launch of No Child Left Behind in 2002, the stresses of teaching and learning have made hope and joy harder to come by. Still, the truth is, said Nuñez, all teachers enter the profession with a sense of vocation. “The act of teaching itself,” she said, is fueled by the faith and hope that “the students we touch will go out and flourish and thrive.” However, said Nuñez, her own faith was put to the test during the turbulent summer of 2020, which was when she was writing the conclusion for the volume. As she struggled to talk about hope and joy in an authentic way, she drew inspiration from the Buddhist teaching of turning poison into medicine, that sources of pain can be refocused into catalysts for growth and benefit. And just on a more immediate level, she said, the opportunity to work on the book, with more than 20 authors describing the vitality of hope and joy in their own work, was “a healing and a recentering process” for her.

Next, Tanabe moderated a Q & A session with the editors. The first question asked them to discuss how they first came to value hope and joy in their own work and how that informed their own chapters in the book. Nuñez said that for her everything goes back to her years as a first-grade teacher, when she quickly learned that when her students “were not having fun, they were not paying a whole lot of attention to me!” Many years later, she still identifies joy in teaching as the foundation for “efficacy” and “mastery.” In her chapter, she described how in her current work heading a school of education she always urges her faculty to “design classes they will enjoy teaching,” not least so they can model joy for their students, who, in turn, might manifest it in their lives and work.

Goulah said he first became conscious of the importance of hope and joy in education in the aftermath of 9-11. At the time, his dissertation work was focused on mnemonics as an aid in learning Japanese. After the horrific events of 9-11, however, he knew he wanted for his work to go deeper, to engage with what might “develop the human being toward peace.” In going further into the works of Ikeda, he came to see that the key to this endeavor is value creation, even in the most difficult of circumstances. And it is in this commitment to value creation that one develops a sense of “almost existential joy” as a way of being in the world. In his chapter, he describes how in his early days as a high school teacher he lacked the ability to deal forthrightly with the death of one of his students. Now it is a goal for him to manifest existential joy, and to promote it among his students, so that even suffering can be met with value-creating hope.

Next, the editors were asked about how a commitment to dialogue has affected them both personally and professionally. Speaking first, Nuñez pointed to Melissa Bradford’s chapter, which explored her approach to practicing value-creating dialogue with educational leaders. With its detailed presentation of how to structure dialogue so that even conversations with those quite different than ourselves can succeed, the chapter has inspired Nuñez to strive “in my personal life and . . . in my teaching and in my leadership [role] … to be explicitly and honestly open” with others. Dialogue, she said, is how we can truly learn from “a diversity of perspectives.”

Goulah said he agrees with Ikeda’s view that “we are fundamentally interdependent.” This makes dialogue absolutely necessary, since we have to “engage with this interdependence in all its forms to develop the self.” The moment you “close down dialogue” out of a belief you don’t have anything “to learn from ‘those’ people,” you’re “closing down some fundamental aspect of yourself. You’re limiting the fullness of yourself from being realized.” In dialogue, all parties are “elevated,” Goulah said. This is one of the reasons he says that “the truest sense of activism” is realized in dialogue.

The last audience question asked how educators can deal with the problem of burnout. Appreciating the question, Nuñez said that “self-care is absolutely essential, right?” If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you aren’t going to be able to help others. So “don’t be afraid to prioritize,” she emphasized. Goulah added that a value-creating orientation to life and teaching can make all the difference. Echoing the existential joy he spoke of earlier, the disposition to always seek value, to see everything “as pregnant with possibility,” can create a sort of baseline happiness or contentment that can serve as “armor” against the inevitable frustrations of teaching.

Then, to wrap up the discussion, Tanabe asked Nuñez and Goulah if they wanted to share any additional thoughts on hope and joy in education. In response, Nuñez pointed to a concept she encountered in reading Ikeda’s dialogue on The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra. The idea is that there are “3,000 realms in every moment of life,” with every aspect of existence, from pain to joy always imminent. But it is “what we choose to focus on, what we choose to emphasize,” that makes all the difference. “Hope and joy can always be one of our choices,” she said. Building on this, Goulah said that any encounter with Ikeda and the Lotus Sutra will remind one of the importance of the development of the inner self—that is, care for the “deep interiority, the spiritual dimension” that adds meaning and resilience to all aspects of living, teaching included. He concluded by saying that in sharing their own modes of creativity and resilience in pursuit of hope and joy in the classroom, the authors in the book point a way forward, one “that can revolutionize how we think about schooling and teaching.”

Center Executive Director Kevin Maher opened his concluding remarks by thanking Myanne Krivoshey and Gutman Library for hosting the event. He then thanked everyone involved in the development of the book, including editors Nuñez and Goulah, as well as Teachers College Press, “the perfect publisher for the book” and “a phenomenal partner, both in the development of the manuscript and now in our outreach efforts.” Of the book he said, “From the start, our goal was to develop a book that would serve as a resource for students, teachers, and parents who are too often struggling to find hope and joy in our schools. The result is 18 chapters by renowned scholars exploring the many places and contexts where hope and joy can be vibrant.”

In closing, Maher observed that this fall marks the 30th anniversary of Daisaku Ikeda’s first address at Harvard University, “The Age of Soft Power and Inner-Motivated Philosophy.” In it, Mr. Ikeda offered an insight that Maher thought captured the animating spirit of Hope and Joy in Education:

“In contemporary society, there is no more pressing necessity than for self-control and restraint based on . . . inner-directed spirituality. Such would not only encourage a deepened respect for the dignity of life, but, in a world where human relations are growing increasingly tenuous, would also contribute to a restoration and rejuvenation of endangered qualities such as friendship, trust and love--qualities essential to rewarding and meaningful bonds between people. . . . Based on this kind of philosophy, an age of soft power will bear its true and richest fruit.”


Print Friendly and PDF