is it education and culture or education versus culture learning in new times n.
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IS IT EDUCATION AND CULTURE OR EDUCATION VERSUS CULTURE? LEARNING IN NEW TIMES. Crain Soudien University of Cape Town. Introduction Is education a framework which can deal with contradiction and disagreement?

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is it education and culture or education versus culture learning in new times


Crain SoudienUniversity of Cape Town



Is education a framework which can deal with contradiction and disagreement?

Can it take in and assimilate difference? How capacious has it been with respect to tradition?

Has education been able to deal, for example, with the large challenge that there exists different views of nature in the world, of the different ontological accounts that we have as who we are as humans?


The Argument

Dominant forms of what we understand to be good education struggle to engage with what I call radical alterity, radical difference.

This struggle constitutes a real puzzle in many parts of the world, even in the heartland of Europe – see Sons and Lovers.


High Status Education

Has blind spots in relation to cultural practices and cultural beliefs that have their origins outside of a narrow European understanding of what constitutes logic and reason. Education as a project, in consequence, is almost routinely constructed in terms which do not permit of or which are, less adversarially, suspicious of logics of being and of ontology which have their origin in different algorithms of life.


High Status knowledge and Culture

  • Culture is a system of signification, representation and symbolism.
  • The problem is whether we are in a world which is about education and culture or education versus culture.
  • Is culture the great enemy of real and true education?
the problem
The Problem
  • Initiation rituals continue to exist in many parts of the world for young men and women.
  • But it is their bonding or their membership-confirming function that is today most prominent in their continued observance.
  • In the process, and here lies the central issue, initiation has come to be distinguished from education.
the problem1
The Problem
  • Where modern education has come to be imposed rather than organically emergent from the nature of the society itself, it has come to constitute a practice which is accepted but still separate from what might often be understood as what lies at the heart of a particular culture’s orientation to the world.

2. Societies which have continuing orientations to another body of knowledge or another cosmology, such as Buddhism or ancestor worship, have tended to construct these two spheres of activity as distinctly disjunct ones. Young people are taught one thing in the school and university and another in the home.

the problem2
The Problem

While real processes of hybridization of cultural practice are taking place everywhere in the ways in which this disjunction is experienced but lived with, a basic asymmetry persists in which education has precedence over what is understood to be cultural induction.



A throwing off of the oppressive shackles of feudalism and a liberation of the individual.

To human beings was accorded the promise, having turned their heads away from the idea of an omnipotent God, of a kind of perfectibility: “Man (sic) (was) endowed with the faculty and capacities to enquire into, investigate and unravel the mysteries of Nature; and the Enlightenment… freed (him) from dogma and intolerance… the whole of human history was laid out for understanding and mastery”



Great task of education to build the individual. In these terms education is fundamentally about the great ideals.

some questions
Some Questions
  • Did all human beings have this capacity?

Do the people of the colonial world have this capacity?

  • If it is about the ‘great things’ – what about the little things in life?
  • What about the ways of everyday culture?
approach of high status education
Approach of High Status Education
  • Plato - popular culture is mimetic and represents the rule of the masses as opposed to the naturally ordained guardians.
  • Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer - popular culture represented a deep retreat from elevated thought. They saw how easily the Nazis had drawn on what was understood to be German culture and manipulated this for the purpose of their anti-Semitic and genocidal policies. The ‘masses’ were ‘manipulable and gullible victims of’ popular culture.
approach of high status education childhood
Approach of high status education childhood

The concept of the childhood in the West is underpinned by twin images of children as either “innocent angels or evil devils.”

The fundamental purpose of education is seen as a developmental one. It is the great role of education to be a ‘civilisational’ force to protect themselves from their base and effectively evil-dispositions.

The building of the individual – not the community

view of traditional forms of learning
View of Traditional forms of learning

Post-figurative cultures - change slow and imperceptible.

Grandparents “holding newborn grandchildren in their arms, cannot conceive of any other future for the children than own past lives. The past of the adults is the future of each new generation; their lives provide the ground plan” - Mead.

In this approach the old provide the child with a complete model of what life - every physical object and every symbolic gesture is already pre-interpreted and lain down as a pattern for how to live: “(w)ho am I? What is the nature of my life as a member of my culture; how do I speak and move, eat and sleep, make love, make a living, become a parent, meet my death?”


Modern education is prefigurative. A child is educated to be deliberate about his or choices in life. Nothing is taken for granted. He or she comes into adulthood as a fully conscious being

a more cautious note
A more cautious note
  • High status education is therefore sceptical of culture. It argues that it is unequal to the challenge of modern times.
a more cautious note1
A More Cautious Note
  • What is required, Mead says, is enough trust “so that the elders will be permitted to work (with the children) on the answers (to the questions of the future)…. Father is still the man who has the skill and the strength to cut down the tree to build a different kind of house”
more caution
More Caution
  • How to get to a point where we can work with tradition and culture?
critique of high status education
Critique of High Status Education
  • Is suffused with distinct ontological ideas about growing up and becoming a human - individualist
  • This individualism made to betoken racialised if not racist and gendered forms of incorporation into the modern social order.
critique of high status education1
Critique of high status education
  • Marx argued that modernity (implying high status education) would fulfil the mission of ‘the annihilation of old Asiatic society’. This old Asiatic society “had always been the foundation of Oriental despotism… they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass… enslaving it beneath traditional rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies.”
critique of high status education2
Critique of High Status Education
  • This process of education is a deeply normative. Its normative nature issues out of its cultural inscription of what a common humanity ought to be. It is here, therefore, that we see how much modern and high education sees itself in opposition to – versus – expressions of culture as they might take shape anywhere else in the world.
moving forward
Moving Forward
  • Is high status education post-cultural?
  • Is it the climax of how we socialise young people into adulthood?
moving forward1
Moving Forward
  • Need to recognise high status education as a form of cultural practice
moving forward2
Moving Forward
  • Benhabib – faulty premises of culture talk
  • That cultures are clearly delineable wholes
  • That cultures are congruent with population groups and that a noncontroversial description of the culture of a human group is possible, and

3. That this boundedness makes them incommensurable. They are unable to be brought into a conversation with each other.

moving forward3
Moving Forward
  • Benhabib - critical of what has been called mosaic multiculturalism, that kind of multiculturalism which asserts the idea that cultures are clearly delineated, identifiable, as in a mosaic. To this she appeals for a view of culture which rejects the idea that cultures are seamless and coherent entities but rather an awareness of their hybridity and polyvocality. All expressions of social meaning and symbolic representation are made up of many voices, are internally fractured, disputatious, multilayered, even high status education and culture.
moving forward4
Moving Forward
  • All cultures are always dynamic phenomena. They never remain the same from one moment to the next.
  • They do not have, to emphasize the point, much less depend on, fixed horizons. What are thought of as the moral, ethical and evaluative horizons inside of them are constantly moving values. This is the case especially today even in cultural traditions where these horizons and boundaries may have been thought to be immovable, eg, women’s rights
  • ‘High status’ education is internally contradictory, layered and contested it cannot present itself as a site of pristine singularity. It is always, therefore, in the presence of other understandings and other logics. These other logics constantly interpellate and force reinterpretations of what it is and stands for. In these terms, it is exactly like all other forms of culture and not a thing apart. In fact it is itself an amalgam. It is here that we confront the great possibility that all forms of knowledge are mutually intelligible to each other.
  • Alexander : “To put it simply and bluntly: modernity does not ‘belong’ to Europe or North America just because these were the geographical areas where the industrial revolution began. All human achievement has built upon prior achievements by individual and groups of human beings in different parts of the globe.”
  • We need to move away decisively from the national-chauvinist and simplistic approach of comparing ‘Africa’ or ‘Asia’ with ‘Europe’ in an attempt to identify the distinctive contribution of different people’s to world civilisation: “We have to undertake our analysis by assuming that the whole of humanity, beginning with its emergence on the continent of Africa, has contributed to the amalgam of ‘modernity’ and the diverse ‘traditions’ that make up the contradictory unity of the world today...”
  • All forms of cultural expression have the capacity within them to project ‘high’ status knowledges. If this is the case and if we accept the line of reasoning that those forms of knowledge which emanate from Europe do not ipso facto complete, or even constitute the template upon which we need to be taking education further, then it is crucial that all forms of dialogue across these differences are nurtured immediately
  • Consensual deliberation possible. Central in this is a process of subjecting our various claims about ‘high status’ knowledge to a process of deliberative reasoning.
  • All knowledge is deconstructible.
  • In terms of this what we now call education and culture can be understood as commensurable entities and should be thought of as resources which can be drawn from together for our human survival and indeed flourishing.