[VIEWPOINT] Culture Is More Than Global Pop Fads

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[VIEWPOINT] Culture Is More Than Global Pop Fads

If We Want to Raise More Than Consumers, We Must Give Our Children a Human Moral Outlook
by Geir Helgesen

Fifty years ago a survivor of the Nazi holocaust wrote the following to all teachers of the world:

"Dear teacher, I am one of the survivors from the concentration camps. My eyes saw what no human being should see: gas chambers built by experienced engineers, children poisoned by educated medical doctors, Infants killed by skilled nurses, mothers and their babies shot and burned by university graduates. I am, therefore, suspicious toward education. My prayer is: Help your pupils to become human. May your efforts never again result in experienced monsters, trained psychopaths, educated sadists. Reading, writing and algebra are only important when they serve to make our children more human."

How to be a human being and not a monster is a skill accumulated over time, a skill transferred from generation to generation through upbringing and education. Different cultures and different ways of life have developed in different parts of the world. For a long time societies have determined what was considered good and bad, reasonable and stupid, just and unjust, and societies shaped human beings to the extent that a society's way became the natural way and often the only way.

Culture is our particular, historically developed mode of adapting to the environment, other people and external influences. From our recent history we know that culture as a civilizing, humanizing force must kept alive by a conscious efforts. Germany was a civilized nation in Europe but Nazism took root there. Recent conflict around the world underlines that humanity is something that can be created and also destroyed. Today it is not Nazism but the complexity of our world that is frightening. Where are we heading, why, and for what purpose? As parents and teachers, we still do our best to raise and educate children; actually we do that much more than at any other time in history, but it is difficult to fathom what our children need to know to live a good life. Our world is changing so rapidly that state-of-the-art knowledge today might be outdated and irrelevant only a few years from now. We are somewhat lost, and it is easy to feel that the past was better and easier to grasp, even though we were poorer and had many other difficulties to shoulder.

Information overload adds to the confusion. It might be wrong to talk about information at all, since the border between information and entertainment has been blurred, resulting in a hodgepodge termed "info-tainment." Now comes international pop culture, challenging local ways and traditional truths. Kids are free to find their own style with respect to attitudes and behavior, outfits and ways of life. Pop culture is presented as freedom, but every parent knows that when traditional guidelines are replaced by fads, trends and fashion, a commercialized youth culture is trying to take over and guide our children. People who are hired to make the most out of it orchestrate our children's "freedom and individualism."

International or global competition forces us to focus on education, but what to include in the curriculum? Our school are modernized; computers are working tools. This is good and necessary, but far from sufficent. We have to give the new generation tools that enable them to develop a good life.

If we aim at more than consumption and want our children to do the same, we must give them a human moral outlook. Only if our kids are taught the values of proper human interaction can we hope for a safe and peaceful future for all. Because there is no such thing as a "global culture," we still have to create local versions, based on our own traditions. Culture as our historically developed mode of adapting to other people and external influences is still a basic principle of human existence. Unfortunately, Korean authorities are preparing to decrease the number of hours spent in formal moral education classes. This reform is supposed to be implemented in 2003, so it is not too late to ask them to reconsider.

The wrtier is a researcher at Nordic Institute of Asian Studies in Copenhagen.
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