Cultural Healing: The Role of Education

by Léonie E. Naylor, L.P.C.

Culture Healing (balancing) simply reiterates that all cultures have strengths and weaknesses. The simple laws of humanity imply that our individual and collective energies can only meet so many needs or be applied in so many ways. In other words, how we invest our energies will determine how we will prosper, or conversely, that which we neglect will become weak or inert. When we recognize the weaknesses in our cultural systems, we can begin to exert energy toward creating alternatives, and by acquainting ourselves with other cultures, customs, and expressions, we can bring balancing insights to our lives.

To balance or heal our cultures does not imply the giving up of positive values we may already have, nor does it imply the lessening of integrity by blindly accepting anything without choice, distinction, or logic. It is instead a process or way of thinking that assumes there are imbalances in our own personal cultural evolution, assumes value in all other cultures, and encourages us to invest energy in finding those values that bring stability and balance to our lives. This is a natural response to, and wonderful benefit of human exchange and the potential for interaction in the age of global communication.

In a real sense, culture healing is re-education. Regardless of where someone is born or grows to maturity, every culture has enormous strengths and equally large holes in its social, political, or community lives. In the Western world, for example, much of education is predicated upon European and euro-American belief systems, with all their good and not-so-good. In every instance, it is critical to examine the 'not-so-goods.'  Once we understand their origin and degree of influence on us, we have the option of seeking alternatives from other cultures in the human family, which may offer the antidote to our imbalances. Conversely, those cultures from whom we might learn and benefit would likely be enhanced by qualities that are strong in the West.

Currently, against a myriad of socio-cultural problems such as racism, disparities of wealth and poverty, global warming, dysfunctional communities, health epidemics, wars or conflicts resulting from religious, political, or economic power struggles or greed (imbalances), and the proven ineptitude of political measures or an overt emphasis of material or capitalism to solve the majority of our world's imbalances, emerges a rather simple question: Who has the responsibility to begin altering (healing) the mindsets that perpetuate our world's most urgent problems? And, where might the re-education or 'healing' of these imbalances begin?

There is for certain one place to begin transforming the outmoded perceptions that have misinformed generations and created dysfunctional models of value and the purpose of life. More explicitly, we may wish to begin by examining the very places from which each generations parents, school teachers, counselors, doctors, business and corporate executives, politicians, to name a few are trained: the university or college.

Despite a wealth of positive, virtuous, and social or culturally beneficial developments that have been derived from the eight centuries of the Western academy (itself predicated upon the model of the Greek academy before it), are some compelling concerns within education that have remained largely unaddressed and that can be blamed for many of the gridlocks in our attempts to establish healthy communities today, or to solve the numerous problems cited above. As an international individual, former student, teacher, and LLPC I have experienced the following areas of concern (Note: Im using education as a concise model of one cultural imbalance/modification process. This paradigm of discourse could equally be applied to any cultural dynamic, including those cited above):

1. Outcomes (test scores/grades/degrees) are generally more important to the student and more emphasized in all academic arenas (from primary school to higher education) than learning itself. These outcome-oriented messages appear to be based upon the ancestry and history of the academy and its search for monolithic and mono-disciplinary answers. Thus, emphasizing information and facts over processes, creative thought, and interdisciplinary discourse, likely begins early in primary school and is reinforced throughout the academic cycle.

2. Students may be inundated with concern for their material well-being or may at times not receive adequate training and be given sufficient encouragement to explore their emotional, mental, cultural, and even physical balance, much less their potential for happiness, well-being, or to make appropriate career choices based on the desire to contribute to the benefit of society or to find careers based upon self-awareness of their inherent potential. Additionally, educators are increasingly concerned about the psychological/emotional health of students and the challenges ill-health imposes on learning;

3. In many cases, current systems of measuring the success of education by testing mandates and imposing tenure requirements on professors based upon publication and self-centered career advancement (not necessarily upon teaching or concern for student well-being) do not generally administer to the many of the needs of an emerging global community. Thus, students are expected to perform in a manner that does not fully account for globalization, interdisciplinary, and all forms of learning (including emotional learning). At the same time, teachers who realize there are alternatives to what “they know” or how they teach are sometimes constrained by obstacles, such as a lack of support for allocating time and resources to broadening their own experiential base or, the pressure to meet assessment or testing standards that do not account for student well-being.

In the end, the emphasis on educational criteria that are score, fact, or goal-based, may not be sufficiently addressing the whole “person.” Furthermore, once a student bases their career choices on criteria that do not factor in concern for the quality of life, its purpose, or awareness of the skills that result in the strong community or family life, they may well spend a great portion of their life battling mental, social, or cultural imbalances without sufficient skills.

If a primary function of education is to advance the well-being of humanity, and today, humanity is every corner of our planet, then we might well think of our planet as a cultural pharmacy¦ wherein each culture has both imbalances the potential to balance.

Leonie E. Naylor, M.A., L.L.P.C., was born and raised in the Seychelles Islands (Indian Ocean) where she first worked in travel and tourism for her government. She later graduated from International Travel and Tourism College (Salzburg, Austria), and co- managed a Tourism Office in Frankfurt, Germany and toured Europe before coming to the United States with her husband, Michael in 1983. After completing a B.A. (Oakland University, French, Spanish) and an M.A. (University of Michigan, French and Comparative Literature), she spent nearly a decade working with alternative student populations with a special emphasis on international students and those expelled from the mainstream population, as an adviser, translator and counselor. She recently completed a degree in Community Counseling at Eastern Michigan University, and she is presently, a Limited License Professional Counselor (L.L.P.C.), who serves as Chair of both the cultural educational production LLC (Visions & Vibrations International) as well as director of the global non-profit, The World Center for Creative Education (WCCE @ http://www.wcceglobal.org ). Most of her writing and lectures address her concerns regarding social and cultural impact on individual's emotional well being and mental health. She suggests and encourages alternatives, based on adequate understanding of the histories of cultural evolution and alternative perspectives and lifestyles as may be indicated by global cultural education.