Soka Education and Reform

4 Jul

Soka Education is an education reform movement advanced by the Buddhist lay organization, Soka Gakkai or “Value Creation Society.” For more than a century, reform education advocates such as John Dewey have proposed a humanistic approach to education. Although they have shown considerable success in demonstration classrooms, there has been little general implementation of their ideas.

The Swiss psychologists, Jean Piaget called Dewey’s discovery-based approach to education “constructivism.” Piaget believed that “children play an active role in making sense of things, `constructing’ reality rather than just acquiring knowledge.”1 The philosophy of constructivism” is a move away from the educational philosophies of behaviorism and social conservatism advocated by men like B. F. Skinner and Edward K. Thorndike.

Ellen Lagemann, an education historian, writes, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes the Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”2 The same general situation in education appears to exist throughout the world. Behaviorist authoritarian models of education dominate.

It could be that the Soka Education movement is the first large scale, long term and determined effort to utilize reform or humanistic student-centered education in the world.

At the Dawn of the 20th century, the father of Soka Education, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, an elementary school teacher and principal in Tokyo, developed a theory of education that he called “Value Creating Pedagogy.” He also gained a reputation for causing trouble of some sort wherever assigned. Mr. Makiguchi’s problems were rooted in the prevailing educational theories of his day.

The closing decades of the 19th century witnessed Japan going through huge social change. It changed from nearly seven hundred years of military rule by the samurai classes back to Imperial rule and embarked on a mad dash toward industrialization. It changed from four hundred years of self-imposed isolation to a path of international engagement.

Education policy became a debate between the forces that felt the purpose of education was to build citizens who were self-assured and of independent minds and those that advocated the development of obedient and loyal subjects for the Meiji government. Historian Dayle M. Bethel tells us that “the latter group won the debate.”3 Bethel says, “Makiguchi’s entire educational career was a protest against the production of subjects.”4

In 1928, Makiguchi converted to Nichiren Buddhism and was soon convinced that Nichiren Buddhism and his philosophy of “Value Creating Pedagogy” were synergistic. In 1930, he started an organization for educational reform called Soka Kyoiku Gakkai or “Value Creating Educators Society” based not only on his theories of education but also on Nichiren Buddhism. This organization became more and more about religion than educational reform as militarism and state sponsored Shinto enveloped Japan.

Japanese society was completely devastated during World War II. Makiguchi and all of the leaders of the “Value Creating Educators Society” were imprisoned as thought criminals in 1943. Makiguchi died in prison in 1944. After being released from prison in 1945, Makiguchi’s disciple, Josei Toda, rebuilt the organization as a Buddhist laymen’s society and renamed it Soka Gakkai or “Value Creation Society.”

Today, Soka Gakkai is the world’s largest Buddhist sect and the largest religious movement in Japan. In the 1960’s, the Soka Gakkai returned to its roots as an educator’s society and began constructing an education system based on Makiguchi’s “Value Creating Pedagogy.”

Dayle M. Bethel wrote of Makiguchi: “Out of his battles with Japanese educational structures of his time and his association with a few like-minded colleagues there emerged pedagogical views and ideas that are worthy of study by English-speaking scholars, worthy in their own right and also because these views and ideas seem likely to have significant impact on Japanese society during the years ahead.”5

Today, the leader of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and Soka Education is Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. In a 1996 speech at Teachers College, Columbia University, he said, “Greatly influenced by the views of Dewey, Makiguchi asserted that the purpose of education must be the lifelong happiness of learners. He further believed that true happiness is to be found in a life of value creation.”6

Bethel writes, “With reference to Western scholars there is scarcely a single major figure in the fields of education and social science, from the time of Plato to the early decades of the twentieth century, to whose work he did not make some reference.”7 Makiguchi was very aware of and appreciated Western ideas about education, but he did not just accept these ideas. Makiguchi believed in the acid test of experience. Those ideas that proved of merit in actual practice were to be accepted and those that did not were to be discarded.

Although an admirer of Dewey’s ideas on education, Makiguchi perceived a flaw in the formulation of Pragmatism and offered his own refinement based on a corrected philosophy of value.

Makiguchi specified the central importance of value in pedagogy: “The object of ‘The System of Value-creating Pedagogy’ lies in searching for the law of cause and effect in guiding the life of the students. Needless to say, the object of life lies in the pursuit of value.”8

The components of value that Makiguchi postulated were good, gain and beauty as opposed to those of good, beauty and truth postulated by the neo-Kantian Pragmatists of his era. Makiguchi’s formulation replaced the Kant school’s value triad component – truth – with gain. Makiguchi asserted, “Truth is that which is expressed exactly as an object is, through observing it objectively and determining its invariable elements as its intrinsic nature. On the other hand, value is that which is produced by the relationship between object and subject, and if either of the two should change, the value will vary accordingly.”9 He stated that truth was not evaluative in nature because it was either truth or not truth.

From this, he made the point that truth was a cognitive outcome or objective and value was an emotional outcome or subjective. Therefore, a great error in understanding occurs when people mistake cognition for evaluation. Makiguchi declared, “Considering the aspect of the present world, I believe nothing is as evil as the confusion of cognition and evaluation, since the mixing of the two makes it hard for a person to understand and causes him to assume an uncertain attitude toward his choice and decision.”10

Based on his own philosophical view, Makiguchi used his experience as a classroom teacher and elementary school principal to create practical guidance for educators to use in implementing his system of “Value Creating Pedagogy.” He proposed ideas that were congruent with many of Dewey’s:

 “In-school education should be closely connected in practice with actual social life so that it can transform unconscious living into fully conscious participation in the life of society. Education integrated into the life of society will yield benefits of well-planned living, without the undesirable effect of mechanical uniformity an inherent danger in standardized education.”11

 Makiguchi opposed the type of education that emphasized cramming knowledge into the student. He advocated an experiential based learning process. He opposed high stakes testing. He said that students and teachers should be cooperative partners in a community of learners.

Looking at the development of education in the United States through the lens of Makiguchi’s “Value Creating Pedagogy” gives a fresh view of American education.

As an aside, the word soka is a neologism created by Makaguchi’s disciple, Josei Toda. It is a combination of the Japanese words sozo (creation) and kachi (value).12

The most influential figure in the early development of education in the United States was Thomas Jefferson. He viewed education as necessary for personal happiness and the wise selection of governmental leaders in a democracy.

He believed that people in general had the innate wisdom required for a representative democracy to succeed and that education was the means by which to tap that ability. He reasoned that the creator must have endowed us with a “moral sense of conscience” which “is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. In a greater or less degree it may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body.”13

Jefferson believed education was the mechanism by which moral virtue could be made manifest. With his Aristotelian view that happiness was attainable only if the rational part of one’s nature governed the appetites,14 he, like Makiguchi, saw the purpose of education as seeking value.

About the French Revolution, Jefferson wrote, “it has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational action.”15

Jefferson saw education as the cause for developing from common farmers the enlightened citizenry that would take the rational action a successful republican democracy requires. Jefferson averred, “The qualifications for self government are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”16

In Jefferson’s era, the United States was an agrarian society with large estates in the south employing slave labor and small self-sufficient family farms in the north. Farming accounted for 90% of American economic activity.17

Into this environment, Jefferson proposed a four-tiered model of universal public education. Tier one was to be a state supported three-year elementary school for “all free children male and female.” Tier two was to be a grammar school for boys selected by merit from elementary school and kept in boarding school at state expense. These boys were to be the future leaders of society. Jefferson saw them as the “natural aristocracy” based on “virtue and talent.” Tier three was to be the university, which was to focus on liberal arts and develop cognitive skills as opposed to vocational skills. Tier four called for life-long self-education for which Jefferson proposed public libraries.18

If we examine Jefferson’s proposals from the viewpoint of Soka Pedagogy, we find general agreement. For example, Dr. Ikeda recently stated, “I believe that a liberal arts education should be the core element of the first half of every university degree course, as it provides a general understanding of humanity.”19

Certainly Makiguchi would have agreed enthusiastically with universal education. Speaking of his students who were not from upper-class families, Makiguchi protested, “Even though they may be covered with dust or dirt, the brilliant light of life shines from their soiled clothes. Why does no one try to see this?”20

Makiguchi parts ways with the proposal to use school as a sorting device for picking a “natural aristocracy.” Makiguchi was completely egalitarian and he opposed “cutthroat competition” and “examination hell.”21 Today, Makiguchi’s heirs are actively promoting education as a valuable lifelong pursuit.

Jefferson considered his successful campaign against the union of church and state as one of his major victories for intellectual freedom. Ironically, he believed in a very authoritarian form of pedagogy and he left no record of objection to the religious content and authoritarian nature of the instruction practiced in the colonial schools.

Jefferson’s view of pedagogy would later to be known as faculty psychology. It contended that the mind had distinct “faculties” that must be strengthened through exercise. Researchers tell us, “… he conceived the mind as an empty vessel to be ‘filled’ with useful facts.”22 Children of that era were required to memorize religious pieces like the Lord’s Prayer and recite them. They were encouraged to learn numbers because it would help them reference material in the Bible. The messages of their learning materials were both moral and Protestant.23 These views of education are antithetical to Soka Pedagogy.

During Jefferson’s lifetime, few of his proposals for education were actually adopted, but his ideals of universal education, intellectual freedom and the benefit of an enlightened citizenry reverberate into today’s discussions of education. Following in Jefferson’s footsteps, the next great development in American education was the common school movement championed most notably by Horace Mann.

Concurrent with the beginning of the 19th century, four shifts in social structure started to dominate in American society. People began to move from farms to urban centers. Many new immigrants began to arrive from Europe and they were not just coming from England. They were from Ireland, Italy and other places. Many of them were Catholic and many did not speak English. Slaves from the south began to migrate to the northeast.

There was also a general population migration from the Northeast to the Midwest. Most political leaders viewed all these social forces with foreboding. Social reformers advanced the common school as the solution to these strains and claimed that the need for common schools was no less than the very survival of the nation.24

With the challenges of industrialization, immigration and urbanization, public schools became the fabric of social integration. Horace Mann became the spokes-person for schools being the instrument of social integration.25

It was Mann’s point of view that children in the common school were to receive a common moral education based on the general principles of the Bible and on common virtues. The moral values to be taught in public school were Protestant values and the political values were those of republican democracy.

Joel Spring observes, “The combination of moral and political instruction meant that the student leaving the common school would share with fellow students a set of moral and political beliefs; the result would be the creation of a society with a consensus of political and moral values.”26

Common schools were to be supported by state taxes and to be free to all. Rich and poor children would learn to live together. They would learn to see wealth as an outward sign of inner salvation and the rich would learn the value of charity.27

It is this use of education for other purposes than intellectual development that Makiguchi and the heirs to his legacy would object. In an essay Dr. Ikeda wrote:

 “Learning is the very purpose of human life, the primary factor in the development of personality, that which makes human beings truly human. Nevertheless, development of personality has consistently been reduced to a subordinate position and viewed as a means to other ends. This view has prevailed worldwide throughout modern history, particularly in the twentieth century.

The educational system has therefore been reduced to a mere mechanism that serves national objectives, be they political, military, economic or ideological. A certain type of personality, not the full development of personality, has been sought, as if casting individuals from a uniform mold. Treating education as a means rather that an end reinforces a utilitarian view of human life itself.”28

 The most famous text of the common school system was the McGuffey Reader. The goals of the stories in this text were to teach reading and to impart moral lessons. One interesting moral lesson explicitly taught in the McGuffey Readers of 1843 is the spirit of charity. Five of the 29 stories dealing with boys’ character had a theme of charity.29

A researcher, Richard Mosier, summarized the dominant attitude of the McGuffey Readers: “It was argued that the poor would always be with us, that the best for them was charity and benevolence, but that no one need be poor. There are, argued the apostles of acquisition, numerous avenues to success that stand open for the sober, and frugal, the thrifty, and the energetic.”30

Americans heard echoes of those moral messages in President George W. Bush’s call for faith based and private charitable organizations to take a more active role in solving America’s social problems.

As Joel Spring noted, “Catholics objected to the use in school of the King James Version of the Bible and of textbooks that contained anti-Catholic statements.”31 Former slaves were not welcome in most common schools.

In addition, stratified cognitive theory supported stratified schooling. For example, Native Americans were sent to separate boarding schools.32 Ironically, the common school itself became a force for segregation. Social conditions and events undermined the common school principal of a single unifying common education.

Political ideology also had an effect on the common school. Democrats viewed centralized control of the schools as an attempt to promote and protect special privileges for the upper class. They preferred local control of schools to centralized state bureaucracies that characterized common schools.

The McGuffey Readers reflected the political view of the common school proponents who were politically aligned with the Whigs. Whigs believed in government intervention in public affairs and in central control. Spring observes, “To a certain extent, the struggle between Whigs and Democrats was a struggle between incipient bureaucracy and democratic localism.”33 Workingmen’s groups wanted the schools to teach how to exercise political power not just basic principles of government and a common republican creed.34

This type of partisan political struggle over education is strongly opposed by the Soka movement. Dr. Ikeda calls for a paradigm shift in our view of education to rid it of the deleterious effects of political interference.

He quotes Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia University’s answer to the question: How do you view the role of education in society? Professor Thurman replied, “I think the question should rather be: What is the role of society in education? Because in my view education is the purpose of human life.”35

In the 1920’s and 30’s, Makiguchi and his successor Toda both campaigned at the risk of their lives against the nationalistic education that was pushing Japan toward war. Today, Ikeda calls for giving “education a status and independence equal to that accorded the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.”36

At the end of the nineteenth century, America experienced an era of dynamic change. David Tyack reports, “In 1860, the United States lagged behind England, France, and Germany in its industrial output: by 1894 it led the world and produced almost as much in value as those three nations combined.

Schools also expanded in size and complexity in those years to a point where America also surpassed other nations in its educational output.”37 Schools took on a new technical role. They began preparing the new work force and sorting them by ability for the positions in the factories of this new industrial age.

William T. Harris was an intellectual leader in the development of American Education philosophy during the late nineteenth century. He served as the U.S. Commissioner of Education and was for several years the superintendent of schools in Saint Louis. He declared, “The first requisite of the school is Order: each pupil must be taught first and foremost to conform his behavior to a general standard.”

He pointed out that a modern industrial society requires, “conformity to the time of the train, to the starting of work in the manufactory.”38 Researcher David Tyack says, “In the view of most urban school-men of the late nineteenth century, schools should inculcate obedience to bureaucratic norms overtly and with zest.”39

The schools became a “rational sorting device.”40 The rational used for sorting students into positions in the new industrial society was the merit displayed by the student. In the late nineteenth century in Chicago, newspapers referred to the annual examinations to get into high school as the “Olympic Games” and education administrators boasted about how the examinations fostered useful competition.41

From the days of the McGuffey Reader, Americans have been convinced that the way one gets ahead is by applying the good-old Protestant ethic of hard work. Success is seen as being completely up to the individual and it is individual accomplishment that is lionized. This is the “achievement ideology” in America and it is pervasive.42

Princeton Sociologists, Davis and Moore, observed that, “Social inequality is … an unconsciously evolved device by which societies insure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most qualified persons.”43 School has become the implement by which America stratifies itself.

Ralph Turner has defined the system of stratification in America as “contest mobility.” He defines “contest mobility” as “a system in which elite status is the prize in an open contest and is taken by the aspirants’ own efforts.”44

The objective of this system is to give elite status to those who earn it rather than by ascription for some innate trait. This method accords nicely with the American “achievement ideology.” It logically follows that if one failed to reach a desired position, one would blame themselves. Moreover, one would recognize that the position went to the person who earned it.

“Achievement ideology” and “contest mobility” are organizing folk norms in America. Turner explains, “organizing folk norms are reflected in specific value judgements…irrespective of the logic expressed.”45 He also says, “Under contest mobility in the United States, education is valued as a means of getting ahead, but the contents of education are not highly valued in their own right.”46 One reason for textbooks being the central source of information in American Schools is that the system wide exams focus on that material in them.47 This implies that the contest is more important than the content.

Many researchers think the “achievement ideology” in America has undermined intellectual curiosity. For example, Alfie Kohn the noted education authority from Harvard University said, “Surprising as it may seem, the evidence suggests that our long-term goals for children and schools are less likely to be realized when teachers, parents, and the students themselves become preoccupied with standards and achievement.”48

He says a student “may persevere at a task when they’ve been told they have to do well. But a genuine interest in the task – or excitement about the whole idea of learning – often begins to evaporate as soon as achievement becomes the main point.”49 In 1959, Talcott Parsons, one of Kohn’s predecessors at Harvard, made a similar observation: “I think that an important part of the anti-intellectualism in American youth culture stems for the importance of the selective process through the educational system…”50

Makiguchi was very critical of the use of examinations to sort children. Bethel says, “The cramming of useless, soon-to-be-forgotten information in order to pass tests was to him the height of folly and represented in acute form the deeper sickness of the whole educational system.”51

In the foreword to The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy Makiguchi wrote: “I am driven by the intense desire to prevent the present deplorable situation – ten million of our children and students forced to endure the agonies of cutthroat competition, the difficulty of getting into good schools, the examination hell and the struggle for jobs after graduation – from afflicting the next generation.”52

At approximately the same time that Makiguchi was working to reform education in Japan, his contemporary, John Dewey, was fighting a similar battle in the United States. Discovery learning and child-centered learning are themes associated with Dewey’s methods of education. Although Makiguchi found fault with Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy, the two were in deep agreement about the need for humanistic and student-centered education to inform the industrial era.

Unfortunately, neither of these educators’ views prevailed and today we see the same sort of authoritarian factory-modeled education that they were trying to reform in practice virtually everywhere in the world.

In 1982, Kathleen Wilcox did a comparative ethnographic study of a classroom in a lower-middle-class neighborhood and an upper-middle-class neighborhood classroom. The classrooms studied were less than fifteen miles apart, were first-grade level and were in a major metropolitan area in California.

An ethnographic study looks closely at the culture of the subjects being observed on an intimate level. In this case, the expectations and responses of teachers and students in the two different environments were compared in detail. One of Wilcox’s conclusions was: “A vast array of cultural clues cue the teacher as to the child’s likely future position in the work hierarchy, and the teacher in turn behaves in such a way as to socialize the child for and encourage the child toward this position.”53 This view of education is called reproduction theory.

If this is indeed the reality, possibly the root of the problem is that the goal of education is wrong or has been obscured. Makiguchi wrote, “What is the purpose of national education? Rather than devise complex theoretical interpretations, it is better to start by looking to the lovely child who sits on your knee and ask yourself: What can I do to assure that this child will be able to lead the happiest life possible?”54

In the late 1950s, Erich Fromm wrote, “Few parents have the courage and independence to care more for their children’s happiness than for their ‘success.’”55 In the 1990’s, education researcher David Labaree claimed that financial success has become the driving force of American education above happiness, humanistic goals or public rationales.56

In 1983, the Reagan administration sponsored the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which produced a document entitled “A Nation at Risk.” Interestingly, there were few professional educators involved in the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

The opening paragraph of this non-peer reviewed article said in part: “We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”57

This document had a huge political impact and has led to many attempts at education reform throughout America. The main thrust of this document was a call for better teachers and an increased emphasis on the basics. The document called on the students to be given more homework and longer instructional time. Dr. Kohn would characterize this call for education reform as saying, “what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.”58

From the viewpoint of Makiguchi or Dewey or Kohn or Fromm or Ikeda or Socrates or Thurman or the great preponderance of education thinkers, the fundamental purpose of education presented by this reform proposal is wrong. The National Commission on Excellence in Education states in “A Nation at Risk:”

 “If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system for the benefit of all – old and young alike, affluent and poor, majority and minority. Learning is the indispensable investment required for success in the “information age” we are entering.”59

 In other words, according to The National Commission on Excellence in Education, education is foremost about economics and economic development – education is foremost about the needs of the nation. This is antithetical to the thinking of the world’s great educators.

Teaching processes are cultural products. Stiegler and Hiebert did video studies of classrooms in Germany, the United States and Japan and noticed education practices that were unique to each culture, but did not cross cultures. They wrote, “Teaching, like other cultural activities, is learned through informal participation over long periods of time. It is something one learns to do more by growing up in a culture that by studying it formally.”60

Although, most education philosophers would have significant problems with some of the conclusions of “A Nation at Risk,” they would all agree that teachers are a vital key to accomplishing positive education reform. Improving teaching means changing not only the culture of education but also changing the culture of the society at large.

In 1960, Daisaku Ikeda, was inaugurated as president of Soka Gakkai and under his leadership the organization started expanding its orientation beyond religious propagation to include peace work, cultural advancement and education reform. The organization continued its tremendous growth in Japan and started growing internationally.

On the anniversary of his inauguration, May 3, 1961, Ikeda announced the creation of a new Cultural Bureau with departments of Economics, Politics, Education and Speech. Later an Arts Department was added to the Cultural Bureau. This purposeful entry into secular life sets the Soka Gakkai apart from the other new religious movements that appeared in Japan following World War II. Dr. Bethel speculates:

  “It is my conclusion that much of the philosophical rationale for this secular emphasis, as well as the pedagogical means for implementing it, has grown out of Ikeda’s study of Makiguchi’s work. Study and analysis of Makiguchi’s and Ikeda’s writings reveal in both a central concern for the welfare of the individual in a mass society. Out of this concern for the individual there emerges in both Makiguchi and Ikeda a common model for social reform that sees education as the key factor in the reform process.”61

 In 1968, the Soka Gakkai began the Soka School System by opening a boys’ junior and senior high school in Tokyo. Bethel believes that Makiguchi’s education “proposals are not greatly different than those of Dewey or from a number of today’s educators who are making similar proposals. Makiguchi’s primary claim to uniqueness lies in the fact that Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai are now attempting to implement his proposals, as Murata puts it, ‘on a grand scale.’”62

The table below lists some of the landmark events since the development of the Soka School System started.

Table 1: Soka System Development Dates
1968 Soka Junior/ Senior High Schools open as boys’ school (Tokyo).

1971

Soka University opens.

1973

Kansai Soka Junior and Senior High Schools open as girls’ school.

1976

Sapporo Soka Kindergarten opens.

1978

Tokyo Soka Elementary School opens.

1982

Soka High Schools in Kansai and Tokyo become coeducational.

1982

Kansai Soka Elementary School opens.

1985

Soka Women’s College is established.

1987

Soka University of America – Los Angeles. (Graduate School)

1988

The Study Centers of Wild Birds are established

1992

Hong Kong Soka Kindergarten opens.

1993

Singapore Soka Kindergarten opens.

1995

Malaysia Soka Kindergarten opens.

1997

The Institute of Soka Education opened.

2001

Soka University of America’s (SUA) Aliso Viejo campus opens.

2001

Brazil Soka Kindergarten opens Sao Paulo, Brazil.

2002

Brazil Soka Elementary School opens Sao Paulo Brazil

2005

SUA accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges

2007

Graduate school transferred to SUA campus

2008

Soka Happiness Kindergarten Seoul, Korea

2011

Soka Performing Art Center Opened at SUA

2014

SUA-Education Leadership and Societal Change Masters Program

As Table 1 shows, the Soka School System is continuing to expand. Now, there is a yearly graduation of thousands of students from Soka School facilities. Since opening in 1971, the Kansai Soka High School has graduated more than 20,000 students and now continuously graduates a class of about 500 students. Tokyo Soka High School graduates about 400 students per year.

Soka University Japan has a total enrollment of about 9000 students. The Soka University of America graduate school in Los Angeles, which opened in 1987, offers a Masters of Arts in English as a Second Language Education and has an average graduating class of about thirty students a year. It was moved to the Soka University of America campus in 2007.

The Soka University of America, which opened in 2001, in Orange County California offers a liberal arts undergraduate curriculum. The schools web site reports:

 

“Soka University (SUA), a private, four-year liberal arts college and graduate school located in Aliso Viejo, CA, has been consistently appearing in the top national rankings for Best Value Colleges and Most Diverse Colleges. US News & World Report’s “Best Colleges 2016” ranked SUA in the Top Five in both Best Value and Ethnic Diversity among National Liberal Arts Colleges and #1 in Foreign Student Factor (highest percentage of International Students.)

“Soka offers an 8:1 student/faculty ratio and study abroad for every undergraduate student.  About 60% of Soka University’s students come from the US and 40% have come from more than 40 other countries.  Admitted students whose annual family income is $60,000 or less may be eligible for Soka Opportunity Scholarships which cover full tuition.  Additional scholarship opportunities are available for higher income levels.”63

 

In addition to these institutions there are approximately 1000 elementary and eight hundred junior high students going to Soka schools in Tokyo and Osaka.64 There are also a number of children attending a Soka Elementary school in Brazil and Soka Kindergarten schools in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Brazil.

Interviews with teachers and students who are veterans of the Soka system helped bring the actual functioning of the schools into focus. The big difference that the eight teachers and students interviewed all commented on about the experience in Soka Schools compared with other schools was the family feeling generated. Students see their teachers as friends and the teachers are involved with the lives of each student.

One student told of going from elementary school through Soka Women’s College before coming to the United States to continue her education. She attended Glendale Community College in the Los Angeles area and then completed her degree in microbiology at University of California San Diego. The biggest difference in school for her in the United States was not feeling protected. Unlike at the Soka Schools, in America, she felt completely on her own.

There is a spirit of egalitarianism at the Soka Schools. At the Soka High School in Tokyo, the teachers meet for fifteen minutes every morning to make final communications before the teaching day starts. They meet in the large one room office that all of the teachers and administrators share. The students have free access to the office and to any teacher or administrator in the office.

Soka High Schools employ a version of tracking in which all of the students are put into one of eight academic tracks. The tracks are generally assigned according to the students’ interest, however, tracks 7 and 8 are advanced science and math tracks in which students that want to go to one of the prestigious public universities are groomed. These students get a different type of academic preparation and normally take courses in “cram school” as well.

From elementary school through high school, most classes have about forty students in them. This would conform to the class size of other schools in Japan. Stigler and Hiebert reported that the average eighth grade classroom size was “thirty-seven in Japan.”65

John Koepke, who attended Soka University in Tokyo and then taught for four years at Soka High School believes that Soka High School’s size is being held to 1200 students to ensure good communication between faculty and students. He said the school was smaller than similar schools in the neighborhood.

Alfie Kohn’s writes, “Interestingly, some prominent educators, including Deborah Meier, Thomas Sergiovanni, and the late John Holt have argued that the size of each class is less important that the size of the school.”66 Of course, this was Bill Gates first big reform idea. However, the structure of the classrooms in the Japanese Soka Schools may have more to do with the dictates of the Ministry of Education than it does with reform education.

It is easy for students going through that Soka School system to get into the next level of school. The only requirement is passing the previous grade and going to an interview at the next level of school with their parents. Students from Soka High School are almost automatically accepted at Soka University, but students from outside of the Soka System go through a rigorous exam process to get into the Soka System.

In addition, the incoming student’s grades from high school are heavily factored into the acceptance formulas at Soka University and Soka Women’s College. Therefore, at Soka High School only the track 7 and 8 students who want to go to one of the famous public universities take cram school to prepare for the national exams.

During interviews, the Soka educators pointed out that in Japan the Ministry of Education controls all aspects of education including textbooks. If a school is going to be accredited, it can only use the textbooks that are prescribed. It is a difficult and time consuming process to get a change approved. If a College wants to offer a new field of study, it must get approval from the Ministry of Education.

In the years leading to the opening of Soka University of America (SUA), Dr. Ikeda put special emphasis on the importance of the creation of this institution. As an example he said, “As its founder, I am committed to bold experimentation and full implementation of the ideals of value-creating education.”67 This comment seems to indicate that Dr. Ikeda expects value-creating pedagogy to be advanced to new levels at SUA.

Dr. Alfred Balitzer, the first Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Political Science at SUA, suggested in an interview that there is enhanced political freedom for schools to experiment with education in the United States, but he felt that Dr. Ikeda has more reasons than that for his expectations of SUA. He said that Dr. Ikeda wants an International student body and that the United States is the best location for that purpose. One of the stated purposes of SUA is the development of global citizens.68 He also mentioned that Dr. Ikeda feels in the United States that all issues can be discussed with a kind of openness that does not exist in Japan.

SUA students are required to participate in a study or intern program outside of the United States before they graduate. The SUA classes are small seminar style classes with the teachers taking the role of mentor. Students and teachers are encouraged to develop close relationships in which the students feel free to ask questions.

The leaders of Soka Education are implementing humanistic student-centered education on an unprecedented scale. Alfie Kohn says, “It would seem that traditional education sometimes provides students with basic skills but rarely with a penetrating understanding of what lies behind those skills, how they’re connected, or how they can be thoughtfully applied.”69 Makiguchi and his successor Daisaku Ikeda would agree. Dr. Ikeda defines what it means to be well educated:

 

“Those who may be considered truly well-educated people possess their own clear system of values, their own clear beliefs and opinions, not borrowed from someone else. They base their lives on their own firm convictions, and they do not simply follow convention. They refuse to be led astray by others, and they are armed with broad knowledge and a sharp intelligence with which to penetrate the essence of life and society. These are the qualities of a well-educated person.”70

Soka Education is striving to show a way to create this kind of well-educated person and reform-minded educators should observe this experiment with hope.

 

Notes:

1) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 5.

2) Ibid., Page 7 (Langemann quote in Kohn).

3) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 29.

4) Ibid.

5) Ibid., Page 18.

6) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Education Toward Global Civilization.” speech at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. June 13, 1996 in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 100.

7) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 43.

8) Makiguchi, Tsunesaburo. Philosophy of Value. Trans. Soka Gakkai Overseas Bureau. Tokyo: Seikyo Press. 1964. Page ix. (Originally published in Japanese in 1930).

9) Ibid., Page 24.

10) Ibid., Page 15.

11) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 18.

12) Ibid.

13) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. Page 29.

14) Ibid.

15) Ibid., Page 30

16) Ibid., Page 30

17) Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

18) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

19) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 90.

20) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 11.

21) Ibid. Page 7.

22) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. Page 36.

23) Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

24) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

25) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

26) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 87.

27) Ibid.

28) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 70.

29) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 142.

30) Mossier, Richard. Quoted in Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 144.

31) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 102.

32) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

33) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 100.

34) Ibid.

35) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 70.

36) Ibid., Page 78

37) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 29.

38) Haris, William T. quoted in Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 43.

39) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 40.

40) Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

41) Ibid., Page 57.

42) Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 16 April 2002.

43) Davis, Kingsley and Wilbert E. Moore. “Some Principals of Stratification.” American Sociological Review Volume 10, number 2. 1945. Page 243.

44) Turner, Ralph. “Sponsored and Contest Mobility and the School System.” American Sociological Review. 1959. Page 856.

45) Ibid., Page 857.

46) Ibid., Page 863.

47) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974.

48) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 27.

49) Ibid., Page 28.

50) Parsons, Talcott. “The School Class as a Social System: Some of Its Functions in American Society.” Harvard Education Review – Volume 29 – Number 4. Fall 1959. Page 312.

51) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 75.

52) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 9.

53) Wilcox, Kathleen “Differential Socialization in the Classroom: Implications for Equal Opportunity.” from Spindler, George (ed.). Doing the Ethnography of Schooling: Educational Anthropology in Action. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1982. Page 304.

54) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 10.

55) Fromm, Erich. Foreword to Summerhill by A.S. Neill. New York: Hart. 1960.

56) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 119.

57) National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office. 1983. Page 595.

58) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 16.

59) National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office. 1983. Page 596.

60) Stigler, James W. and James Hiebert. The Teaching Gap. New York: The Free Press. 1999. Page 86.

61) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 98.

62) Ibid., Page 149.

63) Soka University of America. http://www.soka.edu/about_soka/default.aspx, accessed July, 2016.

64) Soka Gakkuen. “History of Soka Schools.”  http://www.kansai.soka.ed.jp/. 2002.

65) Stigler, James W. and James Hiebert. The Teaching Gap. New York: The Free Press. 1999. Page 28.

66) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 156.

67) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 89.

68) Ibid.

69) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 233.

70) Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 187.

 

List of Works Cited:

Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994.

Davis, Kingsley and Wilbert E. Moore. “Some Principals of Stratification.” American Sociological Review Volume 10, number 2. 1945.

Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001.

Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999.

Makiguchi, Tsunesaburo. Philosophy of Value. Trans. Soka Gakkai Overseas Bureau. Tokyo: Seikyo Press. 1964.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 16 April 2002.

National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office. 1983.

Neil A.S. Summerhill. New York: Hart. 1960.

Soka Gakkuen. “History of Soka Schools.”  http://www.kansai.soka.ed.jp/. 2002.

Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986.

Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Turner, Ralph. “Sponsored and Contest Mobility and the School System.” American Sociological Review. 1959.

Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974.

Wilcox, Kathleen “Differential Socialization in the Classroom: Implications for Equal Opportunity.” from Spindler, George (ed.). Doing the Ethnography of Schooling: Educational Anthropology in Action. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1982.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: