Schooling the World: The White Man's Last Burden
If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it?
You would change the way it educates its children.
The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers build schools in traditional societies around the world, convinced that school is the only way to a ‘better’ life for indigenous children.
But is this true? What really happens when we replace a traditional culture’s way of learning and understanding the world with our own? SCHOOLING THE WORLD takes a challenging, sometimes funny, ultimately deeply disturbing look at the effects of modern education on the world’s last sustainable indigenous cultures.
Beautifully shot on location in the Buddhist culture of Ladakh in the northern Indian Himalayas, the film weaves the voices of Ladakhi people through a conversation between four carefully chosen original thinkers; anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence; Helena Norberg-Hodge and Vandana Shiva, both recipients of the Right Livelihood Award for their work with traditional peoples in India; and Manish Jain, a former architect of education programs with UNESCO, USAID, and the World Bank.
The film examines the hidden assumption of cultural superiority behind education aid projects, which overtly aim to help children “escape” to a “better life” – despite mounting evidence of the environmental, social, and mental health costs of our own modern consumer lifestyles, from epidemic rates of childhood depression and substance abuse to pollution and climate change.
It looks at the failure of institutional education to deliver on its promise of a way out of poverty – in the United States as well as in the so-called “developing” world.
And it questions our very definitions of wealth and poverty – and of knowledge and ignorance – as it uncovers the role of schools in the destruction of traditional sustainable agricultural and ecological knowledge, in the breakup of extended families and communities, and in the devaluation of elders and ancient spiritual traditions.
Finally, SCHOOLING THE WORLD calls for a “deeper dialogue” between cultures, suggesting that we have at least as much to learn as we have to teach, and that these ancient sustainable societies may harbor knowledge which is vital for our own survival in the coming millennia.
See the Discussion Guide that accompanies this film. And click here to view a trailer (about 3 minutes long) on the film's website.
Portraits from two different worlds
Amit Deshwal repeats a well-known experiment, and finds that "in the end the little glimpse of this huge wave of (mis)understanding that is being pushed and propagated has left me numb and depressed …"
Read the article in Amit's blog
Educating at Home
Some parents are choosing to educate their child entirely outside the confines of a school. People who are unfamiliar with such a choice, often have questions about it, which Sangeetha Shriram has addressed very well in her blog article "When there is no holiday, everyone is teacher, everything is resource and everywhere is school!"
From "Remarks concerning the Savages of North America"
The commissioners from Virginia acquainted the Native Indians by a speech, that there was at Williamsburg a college, with a fund for educating Indian youth; and that, if the Six Nations would send down half a dozen of their young lads to that college, the government would take care that they should be well provided for, and instructed in all the learning of the white people. It is one of the Indian rules of politeness not to answer a public proposition the same day that it is made; they think it would be treating it as a light matter, and that they show it respect by taking time to consider it, as of a matter important. They therefore deferred their answer till the day following; when their speaker began, by expressing their deep sense of the kindness of the Virginia government, in making them that offer; “for we know,” says he, “that you highly esteem the kind of learning taught in
those Colleges, and that the maintenance of our young men, while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinced, therefore, that you mean to do us good by your proposal; and we thank you heartily. But you, who are wise, must know that different nations have different conceptions of things; and you will therefore not take it amiss, if our ideas of this kind of education happen not to be the same with yours. We have had some experience of it; several of our young people were formerly brought up at the colleges of the northern provinces; they were instructed in all your sciences; but, when they came back to us, they were bad runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods, unable to bear either cold or hunger, knew neither how to build a cabin, take a deer, or kill an enemy, spoke our language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for hunters, warriors, nor counselors; they were totally good for nothing. We are however not the less obliged by your kind offer, though we decline accepting it; and, to show our grateful sense of it, if the gentlemen of Virginia will send us a dozen of their sons, we will take great care of their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them. ”
- Benjamin Franklin
Remarks concerning the Savages of North America
Our Land Our Life: A curriculum for children of rural communities in India