An Unforgettable Teacher (Mirror magazine series, 1998)
(From an essay series by Daisaku Ikeda first published in the Philippine magazine Mirror in 1998)
Pioneering Japanese educator and founder of the Soka Gakkai (Buddhist Society for the Creation of Value), Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, overcame many difficulties in order to study.
He was born in 1870 in a small coastal village and often had to help out in the family business. On busy days, he couldn't go to school, sometimes having to skip classes for several days in a row. But he would always ask a friend about the day's lesson. And if his friend had to help out with his own family's work, Makiguchi would say, "I'll do your chores, if you'll tell me what you learned at school today." He would do his friend's share of work and wait on the seashore for him to come back from school.
They would sit down on the beach, and, using the sand as a blackboard, go over the day's lessons until the sun set. This experience left him acutely conscious of the problems faced by his poorer students, when he became an elementary school teacher himself.
At one point he was school principal in a very poor area. Concerned about those children whose families couldn't provide them with lunches, he brought lunches for these children. But he was concerned for more than just their physical well-being. To preserve their sense of dignity, he left the lunches in a room where students in need could pick them up without drawing attention to themselves.
Makiguchi's initial experience as a teacher was in a remote rural region where he taught in a one-room schoolhouse. The children were poor, and the manners they brought from their impoverished homes were rough. But Makiguchi was insistent, "From the viewpoint of education, what difference could there be between them and other students? 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? The teacher is all that stands between them and the cruel discrimination of society."
He wanted desperately to free children from the Japanese system of teaching by rote learning, which stifled children's individuality. He believed that education should never be forced and saw it as the means to enlighten as many people as possible, providing them with the key to unlock the treasure-house of wisdom themselves.
From his own practical classroom experience, Makiguchi went on to develop his theory of "Value-Creating Education." For him, the purpose of education was happiness, and the essence of happiness was what he called "value-creation"--soka in Japanese. He defined value on three levels: beauty, gain or benefit, and social good. As an educator, he saw his job as enabling young people to create this kind of value for themselves.
Sometimes Makiguchi's theory on education was criticized for being "too down-to-earth." He retorted, "That's only natural, because the teaching methods I embrace come from my own difficult struggles in the classroom. Mine is not the tenuous theory of a scholar stuck in an office."
Unfortunately, his humane approach contradicted the outlook of Japan's educational system. For instance, in those days it was common for principals and teachers to give special attention to the children of prominent families, to visit them and "pay their respects." Makiguchi refused to follow this corrupt practice and strongly discouraged other teachers from following it. As a result, even though he was extremely popular with the students, he was transferred from one school to the next. Finally, he was forced from the ranks of active teachers.
At the time, Japan's educational system was focused solely on creating obedient servants of the state, rather than individuals capable of independent judgment and thinking. While the entire Japanese nation was advancing down the path of nationalism, Makiguchi urged students to dedicate their lives to bringing lasting peace to the entire world.
In 1938 Makiguchi gave a series of lectures on ethics, starting in April, the month when the National Mobilization Law was passed, enlisting all citizens to work toward Japan's war effort. Makiguchi set just one question for the final exam. "What is the purpose of life?"
Out of a possible grade of Excellent, Good or Fair, all the students scored Good. No one received the mark Excellent. When asked to explain why, Makiguchi apparently remarked, looking very disappointed, "Because there was not one person who mentioned world peace in their answer."
It was perhaps unavoidable that Makiguchi should experience conflict with the authorities. Even as Japan became an increasingly militaristic and fascist country, invading and inflicting untold suffering on its Asian neighbors, he continued to speak out. My wife, whose family were early members of the Soka Gakkai educators' society founded by Makiguchi, remembers clearly how he attended a meeting held at their house. Even in the presence of the dreaded secret police, who would cut him short when he became too provocative, he continued to speak out for peace and justice. His courage left a strong impression on my wife.
In July, 1943, Makiguchi, together with Josei Toda--his closest supporter and my own teacher--and other leaders of the Soka Gakkai were arrested. Makiguchi was charged with violating the Peace Preservation Law and for failing to show adequate respect to the Emperor. Even under relentless interrogation, he refused to compromise his beliefs. He expressed his Buddhist faith in human equality and his criticism of Japan's war effort, which he called "a national disaster." On November 18, 1944, at age seventy-three, he died in the Tokyo Detention Center.
But Makiguchi's dreams live on today. He had entrusted to Toda the goal of creating a school system in which his educational philosophy could be put into practice. Now the Soka school system--from kindergarten to university level--has been established in Japan, with schools in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and a university in the United States. Makiguchi's work, "The System of Value Creating Pedagogy" has been translated into four languages. In Brazil and the United States, several mainstream schools have incorporated Mr. Makiguchi's ideas into their teaching methods. They have all had remarkable results.
Makiguchi's focus was always people, individual human beings. He repeatedly called for the people to become wise, to awaken, to find courage and to join forces. As each of us develops and elevates our life from a state of dependence to self-reliance and then to contribution to others, he maintained, we will be able to manifest our full splendor as human beings.