I was traveling in Africa / Asia / South America, and the people I talked to there all wanted modern schools for their children. Are you saying they’re wrong?
No. People everywhere are entitled to choose the educational setting they feel is best for their children. There’s an important context in which we need to view this phenomenon, however.
In a world with extreme imbalances of power and wealth, the more powerful partner in the cultural exchange sometimes embeds deep – often unconscious – assumptions of its own superiority. When international development agencies, NGO’s, missionary societies, and volunteer groups travel to rural land-based cultures in order to “help” them, it powerfully projects the assumption of the superiority of the “developed” nations and the inferiority of land-based societies. Even the word “developing” implies a kind of evolutionary process whereby other cultures will inevitably “advance” to our superior level….
Isn’t it equally paternalistic to say that people shouldn’t have schools if they want them?
Of course. It’s not your job or mine to decide how people in other parts of the world should raise their children. That’s really the central point of “Schooling the World:” that we need to drop the assumption of superiority that inclines us to think that we can or should decide how other people should raise and educate their children…
If you don’t think schools are the way to end poverty, then what do you think we should do?
Schooling the World is addressing the impacts of education programs on relatively intact land-based cultures — that is, cultures where people still live on their traditional territory, where they are able to produce healthful and adequate food, shelter, and clothing for themselves in locally self-sufficient ways, and where they enjoy the support of intact family, community and religious structures. A person who makes less than two dollars a day in this setting is not “poor” in the sense that a person living in an urban slum on less than two dollars a day is poor…
But isn’t education for girls important?
There are two main problems with the mainstream narrative about education for girls:
1. It tends to ignore or devalue the substantial knowledge and capacity of rural and Indigenous women, portraying them merely as “uneducated” and “illiterate” because they have not gone to school;
2. It tends to oversimplify both the problems facing rural and Indigenous women and the potential solutions to those problems, ignoring the role of industrialized societies in creating poverty through exploitative economic practices, and focusing instead on a “savior” role for wealthy nations.
Part of the appeal of the mainstream narrative about building schools and educating girls is its simplicity; through this one simple act, we are often told, we can end poverty, reduce conflict and war, and improve the status and living conditions of girls and women around the world. The reality, however, is that when you intervene to change the way a culture raises its children, you create a complex cascade of thousands of changes which will radically alter that culture in a single generation. Inevitably some of those changes will be good and others not so good. What you find will depend on what you look for, what you measure, and how you attribute causality…
Aren’t you just romanticizing traditional cultures?
When people suggest that the film is “romanticizing” traditional cultures, they generally have one of two concerns:
1. That the film is patronizing traditional cultures by representing them in an idealized way in the tradition of the “noble savage” and proposing that they should be “preserved;”
2. That the film is presenting an oversimplified vision of traditional societies as uniformly idyllic and of school as a uniformly negative force.
Neither of these views is expressed in the film, which explicitly states that no culture is perfect or without its own problems. What the film attempts to do is to provide a counterbalance to the dominant public discourse about universal education, in which school is romanticized…