Despite our obvious cultural differences, we are more similar than we realize. In order to understand this, students need to learn to search for deep meaning, for aspects of their own identity that may not be readily apparent; aspects that may not be obvious; qualities beyond their awareness. Students need to search beyond the facts of themselves, their surface-level appearances. They need to search deeply for who they are as individuals and what they share with their fellow human beings. A need for such a search has far-reaching implications for how we approach teaching and learning in our schools and is a step toward a more peaceful and sustainable planet.
Culture can be understood as an iceberg, an often-used metaphor, where only a small percentage of what makes up the iceberg is actually visible above the surface of the water. For culture, below the surface would mean out of conscious awareness. Thinking of culture like this helps us to better understand the unconscious values that drive the more visible expressions of culture. On the surface of culture (above the waterline) we have examples of cultural expression such as language, literature, festivals, food, religion, dress, art and music to name just a few. These ones are readily visible. We see them, hear them, taste them straight away.
Below the surface of the iceberg of culture however, there are aspects of culture that we do not think about and for this reason, can catch us unaware. Some of these deeper aspects of culture include concepts of time, personal space, notions about logic and validity, concepts of justice, courtesy, notions of modesty and affection, attitudes to elders to name just a few.
The cultural difference such as notions of personal space expressed through gestures of affection, for example, are more difficult to explain that the concrete foods, flags and festivals found above the surface. Oftentimes, above the surface fact-finding is the limit of a student’s school experience with cultural explorations because below the surface aspects of culture are not so easy to condense into a set of simple facts. Deeper understanding is required. You would never find an explanation of personal space in a school textbook because it is difficult to explain. Not because it is unimportant, but simply because it is difficult.
However, if we want to move toward a more peaceful world, one essential prerequisite is that we understand each other, not just what we see on the surface, but what really makes us, us. We also need to be prepared to follow the lines of inquiry that the deeper questions lead us into. A school’s curriculum has a heavy impact on the extent that students are afforded the opportunity to explore these deeper areas of culture.
But why is this important to you?
You may not work in education, but you all live in a society made up of the products of that education system; the children who are shaped by it and then move out into the world. They work for you. They are your children. Your grandchildren. They are the ones who will care for us all (hopefully) when we are too old to care for ourselves. I would say that we need to be very interested in the type of people our education systems shape.
In the business world, how often are you confronted by problems that can be solved by looking up the answer in a textbook? In your family lives, how often is this the case? How often are solutions to problems in our lives simple? Moving forward into the middle of this 21st Century, what sort of questions does Japan need its future adults to be asking? In this sense, everyone here this evening has an interest in education.
By asking deeper questions in school that target areas beyond the surface level of culture, learning becomes messy as it becomes a student-driven exploration. The advantage is that at a deeper level, we are able to see the similarity, as well as difference. We tend to discover the incredible connections that link us in our common humanity and difference becomes just a part of the magnificent cultural tapestry that has emerged across our beautiful, endangered planet.
In this sense, the type of questions we learn to ask in school will heavily influence the type of world we come to know as adults. A more peaceful and sustainable planet requires people who are able to ask good questions and are prepared to follow their inquiries into the depths of culture, to understand that across the globe we are all linked in our common humanity.