LIVING IN A DICHOTOMY OF CULTURE, CHANGE

Commentary

By A. Gaffar Peang-Meth

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Mar. 24) - Last week, a group of senior students in one of my upper-level political science classes presented a project analysis on the role of family education in the preservation of culture in a globalizing world.

The project analysis, led and synthesized by Carlo Branch and Marianne Ticher, made significant observations that are worthy of sharing. Students should not learn only behind closed doors in a university; they should present their conclusions to the community from time to time.

Each of us is a product of the collective attitudes, values and beliefs acquired in a lifetime. These influence each person's behavior and progress. Human beings, the natural environment, history and politics mold culture, but that culture also influences each of those factors. Human migration and globalization prevent culture and lifeways from remaining forever intact.

A group of students now says that if there was a time when humans were separated and were distinguished from each other by some boundaries, those dividing lines have eroded and only a "cultural schizophrenia" has remained; the substance of one's cultural identity has become the "stuff of a mixed fruit basket." The students assert that globalization "is no longer knocking on our doors, it is now in our living rooms" and is taking over the home and the lifestyle.

Rosendo referred to Aristotle's concept that "family is the first in society," to show that the home is the place where efforts are made, or not, to maintain culture. The active role of family in the globalizing world is to prevent culture from collapse, she said. Ramsey concurred: "If we have broken down at the family level (then) our society is lost."

The students warned that many things are taught and learned by those who are willing, and that citizens in a free society can make free choices -- including the choice to do nothing. Students cautioned against the blame game: blaming the government for doing too little and excusing themselves for being too busy to teach and far too busy to be taught.

Students asked rhetorically if the fight to salvage culture is against anyone else other than oneself, and if there is hope for people to return to who they once were, without damaging who they might become? Students argued that today the glorious past has gone and question how often the "struggle of our forebears, our ancestors, and their unique heritage" has been orally passed down and told "in our native languages."

"Our culture is dying because we continue to kill it," the students wrote. Culture requires a unified approach that emanates from the first school: the school of the family, they said.

The students say that Guam's education system may be in shambles, but Guam's public schools have produced fine students who have gone to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, the Yale School of Law, Princeton Medical School and elite military academies, among others. They say it is not natural-born intelligence that led to good performance, but the family, which is also the only hope for the preservation of culture. But culture must be made a priority, they argue.

Students lamented that it is not just Guam -- it is endemic everywhere in this modern age that achieving the next goal is given priority over the importance of family.

"When a child learns who he is from BET (Black Entertainment Television) and not from his parents, the problem exists not with globalization or BET, it exists with the family," the students insisted.

Culture is not stagnant, the students argue; it evolves, it changes, and people need to learn to adapt "because the reed that does not bend with the wind will snap." Globalization does not wipe away who we were, but adds to who we will become. They endorsed a classmate's statement that "we must raise our kids in a dichotomy (of tradition and modernity) from an early age so that they become people from the best of all worlds, ... the people of the future."

Perhaps Daniel Patrick Moynihan's two truths about culture may be appropriate here: "The central conservative truth is that culture, not politics, determines the success of society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself."

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., teaches political science at the University of Guam.

March 24, 2004

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

 

 

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