Education as a cultural marker.  That’s the theme of this unit.  I want to pick up on some of what we discussed in unit 1, and think more closely about what these different educational choices or pathways tell us about the cultures in which they’re embedded.

Let’s start with just that term–“embedded.”  It’s pretty common to think of education as “training” students in the culture in which they’re set.  That “common cultural background” is something that education promotes or dictates.  It’s where students get taught what is important, what is required, how to act, how to think, what to remember, what to do and what to ask.

But it’s also more complicated than that (as most things are).  Education doesn’t just teach or train culture, it reflects it and it actually forms it.  Students in school are not passive receptors, they are active creators–whether the school knows that or not.  So while school is training the students, students are also training the school (and the culture, and the world). School is an institution with its own culture, its own traditions, values, ideas, and ideologies.  And each school, of course, is different from the others.  (It might help here to think about–and research–the various changing definitions of that term “culture.”)

Can you think of some examples of how you’ve seen this happen?  Or done it yourself?  That could be something we get to in the forum or in your reflections.

And it goes even further.  We often talk about culture as if it were something singular or easily defined.  “I come from a different culture.”  “American culture is…” “Arab culture places a high value on…”But we are all builders, consumers, and critics of multiple cultures, at the same time.  Culture just about always has to be plural.

This is sometimes very clear, especially for people who (like many of you) are in the situation of changing cultures, negotiating differences, from your parents’ cultures, to your schools’, to your friends’, and onward.

Education is not just a cultural marker–it’s embedded in culture(s), and culture(s) are embedded in it.  In some of our readings for this unit, you might see examples (and I am sure you can recall your own) of how students make their own culture, sometimes without the school even being aware of it–or sometimes specifically because the school actively tries to prevent it.

But this, too, is learning.  Maybe it’s more important to have the ability (especially as cultures multiply and diverge in our current landscape) to trade and share and switch cultures as needed, than to have any kind of (maybe imaginary) “common ground.”