Education should not be limited by national culture. (Credit: casezy/Bigstock)
Education should not be limited by national culture. (Credit: casezy/Bigstock) (via: bit.ly)

It has been very wise and thoughtful to title the 13th World Public Forum on Rhodes in October 2015 as “The World beyond Global Disorder.” It is hardly possible to find a more accurate definition for the present predicament. In his introductory remarks at the Plenary Session of the Forum, Professor Fred Dallmayr, pointed out how dramatically the contemporary disorder differs from previous disorders: violent conflicts, hot wars, cold wars, hybrid wars, and civil wars, in other words, all of these things we mean by “world of disorder,” presenting not just some minor inconveniences, but real threats, and real dangers. In addition they are aggravated by economic disorder, the avalanche of refugees, and global warming.

Fully sharing these views, I would like to add a very dangerous and frightening peculiarity of modern world disorder: the wide-spread involvement of children in violent conflicts and wars. The animosity and hatred in the minds and hearts of adults have been transmitted to children! Can we overcome this kind of disorder? Are we able, at least, to prevent violence between children? Rethinking school education could be a very helpful remedy. Every culture considers violence to be immoral. In spite of that everywhere and in various forms the practice of violence is widespread. Most immoral has been violence towards children. Indirectly this results in violence between children, starting from school age.

Russia is not an exception from this unfortunate rule. The subject of violence between children is a topic of public discussions. Unfortunately, however, this serious problem is still not at the center of public attention. In the press we find increasingly trotted out the term “criminalization of minors.” There are reports on an alarming growth of child and juvenile delinquency. In 1993, its growth in Russia amounted to more than 13 percent, while the total number of crimes has increased by just 1.4 percent. To the different causes which commonly produce violence in schools a new one has been added, that is violence on ethnic and religious grounds.

It is true that cultural diversity has always been a characteristic of humanity. However, it is only in our time that cultural multiplicity has emerged as a problem not only at the level of a particular state, but at the planetary level. The “beginning of global history” is fraught with a threat of enforced unification, and of leveling the cultural plurality. Consequently, there is a widespread rise of national self-consciousness, a boost of the efforts to find our personal and collective identities. Zygmunt Bauman in his The Individualized Society justly pointed out that “the ‘era of identity’ is full of sound and fury. The search for identity divides and separates” (2001, 151).

Thus, for example, in France, Germany, UK, and Denmark the problem of immigrants, mainly from the countries of the Muslim world, has emerged acutely. “New” citizens, in accordance with the principles of a democratic state, demand equal rights with indigenous nationalities. At the same time, they are not ready or willing to change their lifestyles, traditions, or religious beliefs. Europeans wish to maintain their national unity, but find it difficult to recognize as equals people recently settled in their land who work there for the good of the whole nation. Immigrants want to be thought of as Europeans, but they are not willing to give up their identity inherited from birth. Consequently, explosive hostility, distrust and hatred are increasing.

The era of globalization calls for adjustments in the field of education that meet the demands of the times. Education can no longer be limited exclusively to national culture. It should take into account cultural diversity. This has become a moral imperative.

Besides common global reasons for the need to promote changes in education there are some specific internal problems which make the problem for Russia even more acute. Russians wish to gain a new collective identity in place of the lost Community—“Soviet people.” It is not easy, taking into consideration the desire for the identity, autonomy, and even sovereignty of national and ethnic groups living in the Russian Federation.

Tatars and Bashkirs, Yakuts and Buryats, Ossetians and Chechens—these are only a small part of the many ethnic groups that live compactly together and are truly indigenous citizens of the country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the start of democratization there was a rise of national consciousness among large and small non-Russian peoples. This throws into sharp relief the problem of Russian identity as such and its self-determination.

There is in Russia today an unprecedented influx of immigrants. Some of these are citizens from the former Soviet Republics; the others are nationals of China, Vietnam, and Southeast Asia. Economically, Russia needs immigration, given the shortage of labor. However, immigrants often cause strong dislikes. They are hated for taking job vacancies, for tending to stick together, for demonstrating group solidarity, and for adhering to their traditions and customs. Sometimes that dislike reaches a high point. The above concerns not only adults. The children are following the attitudes and behavior of their seniors, in particular of their parents. The situation is especially disturbing in big cities.

According to Russian Federal Migration Service data, in 2014 about 70,000 children born to foreigners attended Moscow schools. Mixed education is the most common approach taken. When surveyed, 35 percent of Muscovites said their children study alongside migrant children in schools. 18 percent of respondents noted that their children are in the same kindergarten group as migrants’ children.

According to public opinion polls, the teenagers in Moscow mostly dislike the same people who are disliked by adults. These are the migrants.

The network “Poster” on the condition of anonymity asked different children in Moscow about the “national” question (afisha.ru website; 2013, October 10). Naturally, the answers were not all the same. Thus, a 14-year-old boy from a school class of 29 pupils among whom slightly more than half were Russians, said:

I don’t know the ethnicity of the others, which has never interested me. Though the names are different, they are unlike in appearance, yet it seems that ethnicity is not a characteristic of the person as such. In any ethnic group there are both good and bad persons.

A 13-year-old Tajik boy from a Russian class at school acknowledges that Russia is a normal country, but there are some Russians whom he calls “morons” or “freaks.” He opines that no less than 7,000 morons assemble around social networks like “In Contact” or pejorative “Stop Khach,” and they insult the Tajiks and other non-Russians.

A 15-year-old boy who could be called a cosmopolitan says that in his class there are children of many races and nationalities: Caucasians, the Mari, the Udmurts, the Vietnamese, the Germans, and the Scandinavians. He himself is half Tatar, and he is proud to call himself internationalist. This boy thinks that nationalist and racist jokes should be banned. He acknowledges that the solution of the national issues will take a long time and many generations. We must educate children, he says, in a special way. He suggests introducing stricter laws and regulations on nationalism and racism; anti-Semitic, nationalist and racist jokes should be banned. And so, over time, there will be a common culture and mentality, and only history will recall that people were different from each other.

The Internet comments on the above cited polls. One of these comments stands out for its simplicity and reasonability. A boy (Roman Samarin) asks the adults:

Why, though we live in a multicultural country, are we not told at school which nations live in Russia; what history they have; how they differ from each other? I live in Central Russia and, perhaps, I know a little about the Tatars, but there are many others like the Buryats, the Kalmyks, and the Chukchi. There are dozens of other peoples who remain unknown. How can the country be unified, if citizens do not even know who lives in it and what is special about them? We do not know our country either geographically or ethnically or whatever. The national question in our country has always been ignored, and that will not lead to good. Why do we have a multinational state if there is no clear understanding what should be the attitude to different nationalities that live in Russia? I think that the only way to unity is knowledge about the differences which exist between the cultural heritages of different peoples and nations.

There is a Russian proverb: “The baby’s mouth speaks the truth”. In fact, children and teenagers say what those who are responsible for education in the country are not aware of: that school education needs to be reformed radically. It should become intercultural.

Intercultural education could be one of the most important tools in the transition from abstract and often simply demagogic declarations to practical implementations. The purpose of intercultural education is not only to create a favorable climate for the coexistence of different cultures, but also to profit as much as possible from that diversity for the sake of both individual and common perfection.

Despite a growing awareness of the need for intercultural education, a model system of its kind does not yet exist. Few people are prepared for the full introduction of this kind of education. Let me mention two factors that are of particular importance.

The first is that the ruling elite has no political will for genuine, rather than imaginary, educational reform in the above-mentioned direction. In Russia this situation is partly due to the inertia of past practices. Secondly, actual intercultural education is not possible without the training of teachers, the availability of textbooks and methodological studies, which in turn are directly dependent on the situation in the humanities. Since the latter are designed to provide commented translations of original texts, thus ensuring at least basic source materials, broad and deepened research is required so as to identify the specificity of a given culture and to prepare a level of meaningful comparative analysis.

What methods are fundamentally important in introducing intercultural education?

 

(1)         Young people are to be prepared to listen to the position of the Other one. To listen, of course, does not just mean to hear, but rather to understand. Understanding is closely correlated with the difficulties of learning the language of the other culture. It is not so much the vocabulary, but rather the meaning of words or concepts, especially those which constitute the backbone of a culture;

(2)         Along with the nominal existence of human universals, each culture has its own set of universals that makes up its “rim”; every culture being a complex of socio-biological programs of human life activity which consists of world-outlook universals. They represent the historically accumulated social experience, and in the system of those universals the people of a specific culture are evaluating, perceiving and exploring the world;

(3)         Tension or conflict between different cultures often arises from widespread stereotypes rooted in the erroneous view that a given culture is made up of static constants. In fact, time has always left its fingerprint even on what are considered immutable dogmas of a culture. This is especially true in an era of radical transformation of traditional societies, when they are trying to join the modern post-industrial world;

(4)         It is impossible in practice, and not acceptable in principle, to strive for uniformity in understanding the meaning of human existence and the norms of conduct. At the same time, efforts should be made to develop common approaches to the problems of the world, approaches on which the fate of humankind depends.

 

In short, there are internal and external reasons demanding the introduction of intercultural education in schools. They could be summed up as:

 

(1)         The reduction of the level of violence among school children. Consequently, there is a need for teaching children that the differences which exist between them (language, ethnic, confessional, social, gender, etc.) do not make them enemies to each other;

(2)         The training of the younger generation for the dialogue between the cultures is vitally needed for a global society.

 

Up until now, intercultural education has nowhere been practiced as an integral part of education. In fact, the first major initiative to change the situation came in 2012 from the World Public Forum—“Dialogue of Civilizations”. Its implementation has been started on the basis of the educational institutions of the “Russian Railways” Company in cooperation with scholars from the UNESCO Chair “The Philosophy in the Dialogue of Cultures” at the Russian Academy of Sciences. The Program/Syllabus, Teachers’ Book and Text Book for the students of the 9-10th grades have been published and successfully put into practice (under the title “Schools of Dialogue”)[1].

The course is limited to 64 hours that have to be allocated in an already overloaded school curriculum. With this in mind, it seemed appropriate to include in the course mainly those civilizations which are the main actors of the contemporary global dialogue of cultures. According to estimates by international analysts, Chinese, Buddhist and Muslim civilizations will play a crucial role in geopolitics, in shaping the future of humanity. It is they who will be in competitive and often very tough confrontation with Western civilization.

In terms of internal Russian interests, the three “Oriental” civilizations are highly important through the proximity and presence of shared borders (with China and many states of the Islamic world), and also due to the fact that Muslims and Buddhists are the largest (after Orthodox Christians) religious communities in Russia. Presently the Chinese are not very populous in Russia, but the rapid growth of migration from China is expected in the nearest future. The inclusion of Western civilization is obvious and necessary, given that the problematique for the dialogue of cultures is set by the West, aspiring to the dominant role in the world on the basis of the presumed universal significance of the values of Western culture.

From the above comments it is clear that the project “Schools of Dialogue” is a pioneering landmark in advancing the goal which is difficult to reach and requires much time and collective efforts. Such education should be aimed at creativity and at building an original solution to the problem of having different identities in shared space, so that the whole could be a combination of parts. It is intended to help people with different identities who are at the same time forced or wish to live together, to think about, discuss and voluntarily come to inevitable compromises. This is the way to accomplish a smooth coexistence between the peoples of our planet. Intercultural education aims not only to create a favorable climate for the coexistence of different cultures, but also to profit as much as possible from that diversity for the sake of both individual and common perfection.

 

 

 

Marietta Stepanyants

Chief Research Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences.

 

 

 

References

Bauman, Zygmunt (2001). The Individualized Society. Cambridge UK, Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Диалог культур. Программа учебного курса для 9-10 классов негосударственных общеобразовательных учреждений ОАО «РЖД» [Intercultural dialogue. The program of the course for higher secondary schools of the educational institutions of the “Russian Railways” Company] (Москва: ФГБУ «Учебно-методический центр по образованию на ж-д транспорте», 2013);

Книга учителя. Диалог культур. Под редакцией М.Т.Степанянц [Teachers’ Book: Intercultural Dialogue, ed. M. T. Stepanyants] (Москва: ФГБУ «Учебно- методический центр по образованию на ж-д транспорте», 2014);

Диалог культур. Учебное пособие для учеников 9-10 классов. Под редакцией М.Т.Степанянц. [Intercultural dialogue: A textbook for higher secondary schools, ed. M. T. Stepanyants] (Москва: ФГБОУ «Учебно-методический центр по образованию на железнодорожном транспорте», 2015).

[1] Диалог культур. Программа учебного курса для 9-10 классов негосударственных  общеобразовательных учреждений ОАО «РЖД» (Intercultural dialogue. The program of the course for higher secondary schools of the educational institutions of the “Russian Railways” Company) (Москва: ФГБУ «Учебно-методический центр по образованию на ж-д транспорте», 2013); Книга учителя. Диалог культур. Под редакцией М.Т.Степанянц (Teachers’ Book: Intercultural Dialogue, ed. M. T. Stepanyants) (Москва: ФГБУ «Учебно- методический центр по образованию на ж-д транспорте», 2014); Диалог культур. Учебное пособие для учеников 9-10 классов. Под редакцией М.Т.Степанянц. (Intercultural dialogue: A textbook for higher secondary schools, ed. M. T. Stepanyants) (Москва: ФГБОУ «Учебно-методический центр по образованию на железнодорожном транспорте», 2015).

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the original author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views and opinions of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, its co-founders, or its staff members.
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Marietta Stepanyants

Chief Research Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences,

Professor Marietta Stepanyants is a Chief Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Philosophy. Professor Stepanyants joined the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1959, and from 1980-2012 headed the Centre for Research into Oriental Philosophies. She founded and chairs the UNESCO Philosophy in the Dialogue of Cultures. Her writings have been published in about 30 countries, and include 15 monographs and about 30 books edited by her. Professor Stepanyants has directed a number of international conferences including the East & West Philosophers’ Conference in Honolulu (1995, 2000). She was elected First Vice President of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies (FISP), a position she held from 2008 to 2013.