Panelists Explore Hope and Joy in Education at 2022 AERA Gathering!

By Mitch Bogen

With the American Educational Research Association convening in person for the first time since 2019, it seemed a perfect opportunity to bring together many of the contributors to our newest title, Hope and Joy in Education, for a panel discussion exploring key themes from the book, now one year after its publication by Teachers College Press in April 2021. Organized by volume co-editors Jason Goulah of DePaul University and Isabel Nuñez of Purdue University Fort Wayne, the event also featured chapter contributors Francyne Huckaby of Texas Christian University, Nozomi Inukai of DePaul University, John Lupinacci of Washington State University, and D. Joe Ohlinger of Purdue University Fort Wayne.

In his description for the panel, session chair Dr. Goulah noted that these panelists would be engaging Ikeda’s thought “relative to reanimating hope and joy in curriculum studies, as well as in their own professional lives and in the lives of their students and communities.” Furthermore, they would be advancing “Ikeda studies as a necessary and new—uniquely Eastern and quintessentially universal—framework for addressing the most pressing issues facing society and education today.” By way of introduction, Goulah shared some background on Daisaku Ikeda’s life and work, and contextualized the role and conception of hope and joy within his educational philosophy. First of all, Goulah said that Ikeda has always emphasized hope and joy as essential to finding fulfillment in any aspect of life, quoting his conviction that “nothing is stronger than hope. People who never lose hope, no matter what happens are truly happy.” Crucially, said Goulah, for Ikeda, hope isn’t a passive quality, but one that is engaged and determined. What is more, hope-filled joy isn’t a solitary phenomenon, but one that is dialogic and interdependent, something always shared with others.

Speaking about how she came to see hope and joy as a promising focus for a multi-author volume, Dr. Nuñez said that when she first encountered Daisaku Ikeda’s writings, his thoughts on this topic resonated with her own experience. Especially meaningful in this regard were two discoveries from earlier in her life as a student and teacher. First, was when she became depressed while in college in the 80s as a result of learning the reality of US military involvement in Latin America. It was then she decided that she just couldn’t live like that, pledging to always have laughter and enjoyment in her life no matter what. The other was how, as a first-grade teacher, she discovered that students learn best when they are happy, joyful, and confident. Among the many ideas of Ikeda’s that she has been inspired by, said Nuñez, was the idea of turning poison into medicine. It was during the turbulent events of the summer of 2020 that she was trying to write the conclusion to the volume. Given the pain manifesting across the country it was difficult to express hope and joy. Yet, when she encountered Ikeda’s Buddhist idea that even that which is harmful can be made beneficial, she saw a way forward. It’s how we learn and grow from our experiences that makes the difference, and makes hope and joy ever possible.

This last point provided the organizing theme or throughline for the rest of the discussion, which might be summarized as the quest to manifest authentic hope and joy, grounded in the world as it is, in all its imperfection. During their presentations, each scholar provided a unique angle on this topic. Dr. Inukai spoke about the power of Ikeda’s notion of human revolution to transform challenges in the classroom, focusing as it does not on what we can’t achieve but on what we can change, what actions we can take to make a difference. Dr. Huckaby followed, saying that the truth is that she naturally tends toward pessimism so that when good things do happen she will feel sincere hope and joy. Discussing how difficult it was to complete her chapter in the weeks after the killing of George Floyd, she said that ultimately it is important to amplify our stories of how to make peace, and how it might coexist with the reality of harm.

Speaking next, Dr. Lupinacci opened by explaining how his interest in the teachings of Daisaku Ikeda was kindled by his conversation over the years with Jason Goulah and another contributor to the book, Melissa Bradford. His main points were that for hope and joy to thrive today we must think of them in terms of true value creation as opposed to a mere marketing slogan and that he has great hope in the wisdom and the capacity of the earth’s diverse species to facilitate healing. Concluding the presentations, Dr. Ohlinger said that his chapter turned into a sort of reckoning with his own struggle to find hope and joy in education. Part of the answer came in the form of Ikeda’s insistence that education should revolve around the full personhood of the learner, instead of focusing on the compartmentalization of the self in terms of knowledge acquisition of even superficial notions of self-esteem.

During the Q & A, a number of relevant issues were raised, including the topic of how to address the COVID panic and its related traumas; how the editors met the challenges of working with Ikeda’s translated ideas and concepts; and how the writing of the chapters themselves functioned as a dialogic process; and, finally, specific examples of how, as educators, the panelists succeed in choosing joy. Responses to this last question served to sum up the spirit of the event in fine fashion. Nuñez said that, essentially, as both a person and a teacher, she reminds herself that there is so much to be grateful for in every moment, and that even difficulties can serve as teachable moments. Lupinacci added that clearly there are times when he isn’t feeling joy, but nevertheless he knows he can make decision about what to do to turn it into an opportunity for value creation. Huckaby concluded, saying that she recently encountered the idea that we hurt and feel pain because we have experienced love and the capacity to give and receive it. This reminds us that trauma is recognizable to us because we have expectations for something better.

 

 

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