Education systems are not neutral
Learners must engage actively in learning, and must link learning to action,
to achieve personal growth and social change
What is the culture of education on your campus?
Cultures produce the symbols and ideas, tools and artifacts, traditions and technologies through which they are identified, maintained, and transmitted from one generation to another. In our modernized societies, social scientists consider values, symbols, interpretations, and perspectives to be the essential differences between cultures. "The essence of a culture is not its artifacts, tools, and other tangible cultural elements but how the members of the group interpret, use, and perceive them" (CARLA).
People create their cultures. For individuals in a cultural group, culture is the internal representation of the world, and it is expressed through worldviews, patterns of thought, behaviour and social interactions that are shared within the group. These cultural patterns and structures are historically created models that guide the behaviour of individuals within a group, often distinguishing one group of people from another.
Belief systems may be explicit or implicit, reasoned or arbitrary, and they are usually taken for granted. The practices they generate are self-maintaining. We identify with people who share our worldview, and the collective expressions of our culture reinforce it. These shared models for living within a society are learned through socialization, beginning in infancy. "We don't decide on a moral code because we think about it" (Jeanette Norden 2007). The brain abstracts the rules of language learned in early childhood. It also abstracts the patterns and structures of our culture. We learn and follow the rules of our culture long before we learn to think about them. As adults we will tend to adhere to the habits of mind, values and behaviours of our formative environments unless we abstract the rules and decide to change our mindsets. However, when our belief systems and cultural practices privilege us, we are usually not motivated to change them.
We know from modern neuroscience that truly rational behaviour is not possible without emotion, which plays a critical role in guiding our decision-making. When we act outside the moral code of our group, we are often made to experience shame and guilt, which we internalize as subjective feelings. These feelings discourage us from similar actions in the future. However, when we thoughtfully weigh our options then decide to act outside the established code, our actions may also trigger our brain's reward system and make us feel good about ourselves. Acting in collaboration with like-minded individuals creates a synergy that is greater that its parts and motivates us towards future change actions.
Cultures of conquest ascribe universal value to their mythologies and belief systems and depend on schools to privilege and perpetuate them. Many of the pillars of Western intellectual paradigms have yielded under the weight of scientific discovery and new critical perspectives. Yet schools are lagging way behind the wake of these transformations, continuing to create the mental structures and reinforce the mindsets derived from traditional education paradigms limited by a privileged past. These practices are a divisive, marginalizing, and subjugating legacy of colonialism.
Do the perspectives in our classrooms reflect the industrial age and the glory days of empire? Or are our courses enlightening and preparing learners to live rewardingly among the cultures of the world in the 21st century?
Copyright 2013 Pamela Barnett