“Ever to excel, to do better than others, and to bring glory to your forebears, who indeed were very great ... This is my ancestry; this is the blood I am proud to inherit."
- Homer, The Iliad
Life has never been perfect, nor will it ever be. Human nature will never fundamentally change. We are flawed human beings. Progress, if it does occur, occurs when we realize we took the wrong turn and we head back the other direction and then take a different path. After reading “The Blue Zones”, about the healthiest places in the world, I became even more convinced of how big of an impact culture has on health and about how wrong we have gone in education, as one example.
Each one of these groups in The Blue Zones has a specific culture in which young people participate in and are brought up in and that they crucially belong to. There are certain values, ethics, morals, traditions, roots, celebrations, and commitments which go along with this. The young people are acculturated into a grounded and specific way of being in the world. Most Americans are no longer acculturated in their educational upbringing. Indoctrinated maybe, but acculturated no.
This is not healthy and it is a distinctly modern problem. This was a wrong path. I lived it myself, where I can remember the utilitarianism, political correctness, and ideology creeping in, as Alabama history, religious teaching, and Appalachian cultural dancing, folklore, and literature were slowly pushed away into an encroaching oblivion. No wonder Americans love traveling to other countries and other cultures so much.
In the seminal work on depression, “The Weariness of the Self” the author makes the timely point that our depression epidemic is largely a cultural phenomenon. The human psyche needs culture to make sense of the world, and to live a healthy life. This was formerly the role of education. The ego is tired, the psyche is weary, the American is sad. The existential burden of an atomized individual, without a culture to fall back on, is too much too bear. Plus, the struggle to become an individual, set apart, ironically only exists in the context of a culture. If you want to reject a culture, or even excel as an individual, don't forget that you have to have a culture to reject or to excel in relation to in the first place in order to do that.
Now we teach self-esteem, whether earned or not. Now, we dumb down thinking, in order not to offend. Now we teach utility, but not values. It’s as though we are trying to create the world from scratch and that nothing learned throughout our history matters anymore.
The older form of education involved lore, tradition, and belonging. It gave young people a way to make sense of their experience and a classical ideal to aspire to. Now, in many cases, education seems to be about validating the student’s whims and vanities, not bringing them into a community where they can more objectively measure themselves and find their niche. I love the idea of bringing back trades, and trade schools, of teaching the great old books, and in linking schools up with other transcendent cultural institutions to create local community.
Education is about more than test scores, self-esteem, or diversity quotas. It’s about belonging.
Read Next: Hari Hachi Bu @ Other Secrets of The Blue Zones
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