Card. Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson
President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
A village school had received a donation of a computer, a printer and a video projector. To display the gadgets to the curious class, the teacher had to unpack a lot of printed material from the boxes. Some of them were warranties and product registration forms. But the most sizeable printed material were manuals of instruction, users’ manuals and user guides. The teacher, sensing that the pupils were puzzled over how much printed material came with the new gadgets, decided to proffer an explanation: “Every new thing comes with a manual of instruction to show us how to use it, and use it well.” The following morning, one of the pupils, Tekyi-Sam, whose mother had just given birth to a baby, put up his hand in class and asked: “Sir, if every new thing comes with a manual, why does a new born baby not come with a manual?” The class burst out laughing; but Tekyi-Sam had asked a very important question: a question which actually explained why he himself was at school.
Indeed, human beings come into the world without ‘manuals’, because they expect to receive their ‘manuals’, the guides for living life successfully, from the world to which they come, namely, their parents, families, homes, schools and institutions, communities, societies and the State. And the process of handing over ‘manuals of life’ to new members of human societies is education. In this sense, education is said to be as old as humanity; and it is the most cherished and potent tool for passing on a community’s sense of identity, its values, its norms, its beliefs and worship, its technologies and methods for developing the personalities of its members and for transforming its world, in sum, its culture, from generation to generation. Accordingly, it is not uncommon to refer to ‘culture’ as a community’s handbook for training youngsters in the values of common life.
Education (the handing over of manuals of life) may be done non-formally in the homes, at gatherings of the community, at shrines (in the various forms of initiation ceremonies), in churches, in mosques and in palaces of chiefs (as adult education, skills training, sanitation etc.). It may also be done formally in institutions: schools, polytechnics, universities etc.; and finally, education may be done informally (or incidentally) in homes and in public through example, imitation and the general process of socialization. Though distinguishable by the extent of their institutionalization, these three forms of doing education are not at all mutually exclusive. In fact, they complement each other very often. Learning by imitation and from examples, characteristics of informal education, easily takes place also in schools and in institutions of formal education. Similarly, the informal educational process of socialization tends to pursue its objectives through the formation of clubs and confraternities.
The media, in all their forms can be used to support all three forms of doing education: handing over manuals of life.
The character and content of the manuals of life derive understandably from the communities; and they are traditionally and ordinarily affected (determined) by the socio-cultural, socio-economic, historical, geographical, and political situations of the communities. In that sense, education is contextual and it functions mainly to perpetuate a community’s existence: to ensure its sustenance and its survival by developing its members and its world. Thereby, it ensures the meaningfulness of both the life of the community and the lives of members within the community.
In traditional and predominantly mono-ethnic, mono-cultural and mono-religious societies, the context of education is rather homogenous; and the content of education, its manual of life, is relatively simple. However, as the context changes, becoming, for example, globalized – multi-cultural and multi-religious – education also changes. It understands itself always as providing manuals of life, but now in a context where, in addition to its stated functions above, it must also function as an effective tool for the re-definition and reception of new norms, values. And this is a very crucial function!
For, globalization has not quite brought about the homogenization of culture as some believed [Hannerz, 1991]. It has neither standardized our world [Tomlinson, 1997] nor simply made individuals and ethnic groups part of a global village [McLuhan, 1994]. What is happening under globalization and modern migration patterns is much more complex; for the mobility of people and the migration of citizens from one country to another have resulted in substantial demographic, ethnic and socio-cultural changes in many countries in the world, especially in Europe and America. Globalization continues to accelerate the flow of capital, people, goods, images and ideas across the world. Innovations in technology, particularly transportation and communication, have made it feasible, easier and quicker for people and things to get around. Globalization has compressed space and time, and made national boundaries porous. Seekers of natural wealth and investors pour into developing countries from the East and from the North; and many people living in developing countries prefer to migrate to the developed countries to have more opportunities and to improve their lives.
Most significantly, while migrants are in developed countries they do not sever ties with their homelands. They are able to forge and to maintain distanced social relations. They link together their home and the host society, as they develop cultures of the periphery within their host countries and communities [Inda and Rosaldo, 2002]. In other words, many countries in the West have turned into meeting places of a broadening array of peoples and cultures, making the West into sites of extraordinary cultural heterogeneity and homes to diverse cultures.
For the sake of completeness, it is worth observing that the experience of cultural heterogeneity, as a result of globalization, is not limited to the West. It is also increasingly becoming the experience of hitherto traditionally homogenous societies in Africa and Asia. New values and norms, new socio-cultural habits and behaviours, new religious faiths and thinking propagated by the world’s improved means of communication, have not spared societies and nation-states with all manner of legislated forms of protection from their influences. Nations may want to filter the content of internet communications to protect their system of governance. They may legislate religion, describing some as state religions and proscribing all others; and they may initiate national programmes of cultural renaissance and revivalism to safeguard their identities. But the inter-cultural and the inter-religious challenges and demands of globalization cannot be wished away. These will continue to knock on the doors of nations and religions, demanding to be reckoned with, as globalization – the compression of space and time, and the making porous of national boundaries – invites the world to transform itself from being an aggregation of disparate and unrelated entities (nations and peoples) into a communion: a world community of related members, bound together by a sense of common origin and common character (human beings) and a common destiny/calling of making the world the common home of all.
The sketchy presentation above shows that multiculturalism and diversity are realities of our world today. Decision-makers in nation-states, where this condition is prevalent, are grappling assiduously with the problem of how to maintain the racial, ethnic, cultural and religious diversity within their societies and still maintain their national identities [Dorais, Foster and Stockley, 1994]. Similarly, the migrants, who constitute ethnic, cultural and religious minorities, constantly face the challenges of integrating into a society to which they can never fully belong.
In several instances, policy makers have opted to encourage the development of harmonious relations between diverse ethnic groups, while they safeguard their national identity [Castles 1995]; and their preferred tool for achieving this is education.
Multi-ethnic/cultural and multi-religious education can neither be differentialist nor assimilationist. When one does differentialist education in a multi-cultural and a multi-religious situation, the dominant group of a society uses its power, status and privileges to devise a policy which minimizes contact with ethnic minorities and restricts their participation in the mainstream life of the society, as in apartheid South Africa. When one does assimilationist education, one seeks to fully incorporate ethnic/cultural/religious minorities into the mainstream society, in the hope that these will abandon their distinctive linguistic, cultural and social characteristics and take on those of the dominant group. In America, for example, the public schools had a cultural melting pot role. The schools became instruments to ‘Americanize’ the children of immigrants by melting away their cultural differences, so that they would fit mainstream American society [Zanden, 1993]. The curricula in the schools reflected the culture of the dominant group in the nation-state; and the belief was that education based on these models would generate conformity and social cohesion. But, none of these has ever worked, for formal education is not the only means of education available to cultural and religious minorities in society. Informal education (in the homes, churches or mosques etc.) sometimes consolidates and keeps alive those distinguishing ethnic and religious traits which formal education seeks to melt away.
Education of any type in a multi-ethnic/cultural and multi-religious society will have to understand itself as education in the context of the whole inhabited earth [EEF-NET, 1, 1999] and in the context of the universal family of humankind. As the context of education changes, the functional character of education necessarily must respond to the need to participate in, if not spearhead, a process of re-defining value-systems, norms, community aspirations, visions and goals.
This type of inter-cultural and inter-religious education will invariably have to be tolerant of multiculturalism, accommodating of religious diversity and respectful of every person. After all, that which gives substance, shape and form to diversity is the fact that our differences belong to God’s plan which wills that each receives what he/she needs from others and that those endowed with particular talents (cultural, religious, ethnic etc.) share the benefits with those who need them. In the case of religions which are missionary, like Christianity, its message and witness in the power of the Spirit constitute its particular endowments to be shared. Differences, then, should not lead to division. Rather, they charge the human person to look at the other person as another self [Gaudium et Spes, 27].
Our common bonds of humanity demand that we live in harmony and promote what is good for one another; for, created in the image of God all human beings irrespective of where they come from, and the cultures and the faiths they belong to, have the same nature and the same origin and have been redeemed by Christ [Gaudium et Spes, 29]. As a result, all human beings must enjoy equal dignity and respect, their culture, race and religion included. This divine plan needs to be recognized and carried out through the search for harmonious relationships between individuals and peoples, in a culture where openness to the transcendent, the promotion of the human person and respect for the world of nature are shared by all.
It is recourse to basic anthropology (the sense of the human person and his or her business of life) which helps provide the ultimate context for education. In this context, education becomes a communal exercise and an event. It becomes learning for solidarity in recognition of the brotherhood of humankind and the globalized community we have become; and it becomes an expression of our capacity to look beyond cultural and religious boundaries. It is ‘education for unity in a reconciled diversity which is mutually enriching’ [EEF – NET 1, 1999 pp. 7-8].
Multi-cultural and multi-religious education stresses, therefore, the need to accept, appreciate and understand other cultures as well as one’s own. It promotes the child’s sense of uniqueness of his/her own culture as something positive and affirmative [Davidman and Davidman, 1994]. But it also encourages and enables him/her to accept and appreciate the uniqueness of the cultures of others. In sum, multi-cultural and multi-religious manuals of life should help students view themselves both as individuals and as members of groups [Banks, 2003]. It should challenge the student irrespective of his/her culture or ethnic and religious background to feel that he/she ought to collaborate, participate and be a team player in the construction of national civic culture that is moral and just.
By way of concluding, we need to recognize that, to the extent that multi-cultural and multi-religious education is provoked by changing educational settings and functions related to globalization and migrations, multi-cultural and multi-religious education involves living with a substantial number of so-called ‘limited conflicts’ related to change. They serve as catalysts to mobilize world consciousness and on the other hand as example for our ‘global illiteracy’. People who have not yet learned to come to terms with the world and themselves in this new situation, therefore, live in constant fear of the consequences of unresolved conflicts. In this perhaps lie the greatest danger for society and the most urgent need for education to participate in the process of redefining norms and value systems for relevant, inter-cultural / inter-religious conflict resolution education! [EEF – NET 1/1999, 4]. Otherwise, a group or people that finds the change-related conflicts unresolved or unresolvable may fall into change-resisting fundamentalism and ethnocentrism.
James A. Banks, Diversity and Citizenship Education: Global Perspectives (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2003).
Stephen Castles, ‘How Nation-States Respond to Immigration and Ethnic Diversity’, New Community, 21, 1995, 3, pp. 293-308.
Leonard Davidman, Patricia Davidman, Teaching with a Multicultural Perspective: A Practical Guide (Longman, New York, 1994).
Louis-Jacques Dorais, Lois Foster, David Stockley, ‘Multiculturalism and Integration’, in Howard Adelman et al. (eds.) Immigration and Refugee Policy: Australia and Canada Compared (Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994).
Ulf Hannerz, ‘Scenarios for Peripheral Cultures’, in Anthony D King (ed.), Culture, Globalization and World Systems: Contemporary Conditions for the Representation of Identity (State University of New York Binghamton, Binghamton, 1991).
Jonathan X. Inda, Renato Rosaldo, The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader (Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford 2002).
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding the Media: The Extension of Man (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1994).
John Tomlinson, ‘Internationalism, Globalization and Cultural Imperialism’, in Kenneth Thompson (ed.) Media and Cultural Regulation (Sage Publications, London, 1997).
James Vander Zanden, Sociology, The Core (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1993).
Newsletter of the Education & Ecumenical Formation programme (EEF – NET) 1, 1999.
Stay up to date: sign up for our newsletter
For insights and analysis subscribe to our biannual journal