A: 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 people from “developed” societies need to drop the assumption of superiority that inclines them to think that they can or should decide how other people should raise and educate their children.

Rather than unthinkingly promoting our own system as superior, we can share accurate information and engage with other cultures in an honest dialogue about its pros and cons.   Life in the “developed” world has definite material comforts and conveniences – as Wade Davis points out in the film, if you get in an accident and your arm is cut off, you want to go to a modern emergency room, not a traditional herbalist, and people everywhere are entitled to seek access to these benefits. But as new measures like the “Gross National Happiness” model originated in Bhutan suggest, development, technology, and material affluence do not necessarily lead to happier or more fulfilling lives, and the billions spent on economic development projects have so far not made the world a happier, more equitable, and more sustainable place. So we need to be honest with ourselves about the pros and cons of modernized life — about the inequality, the isolation, the competition, the family and community breakdown, the depression and mental instability, the environmental destruction, the economic insecurity — and we need to learn more about the pros and cons of traditional cultures — before we impose our way of raising children on other societies.

More specifically, we need to stop romanticizing our system of education as the only pathway to enlightenment and freedom, and start sharing accurate information about the severe and chronic problems of this institution — its persistent inequity, the massive and persistent failure rates, the loss of self-esteem and creativity in many of our children, the boredom and loss of curiosity, the high rates of depression and drug and alcohol abuse.

And finally, we need to stop assuming that we have nothing to learn about education from traditional people. Because of our unconscious assumption of superiority to less technologically advanced societies, it never occurs to most people working in education that traditional cultures embody a wealth of practical information about children and learning.   School as we know it is such a historically young institution – less than a century old – and modern educators are continually baffled by the fact that students don’t learn the things they are intended to learn, programs don’t work the way they are intended to work, new initiatives don’t have the impact they are meant to have.

Indigenous societies base their modes of learning and teaching on thousands of years of experience, observation, trial-and-error, and collective wisdom. The relationships between children and adults often appear effortless, with little or no obvious teaching going on. And yet children reach adulthood with an encyclopedic knowledge of their local ecosystems, spiritual traditions, and sustainable ways of living. If we can let go of thinking that there is one right way to educate children, and fully perceive the value of diversity both of cultural modes of learning and of individual talents, temperaments, and cognitive styles, it opens up a universe of possibilities for solving the seemingly intractable problems that face all of our children.


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"Generations from now we'll look back and say, 'How could we have done this kind of thing to people?'"