University of Earth
Projects Overview (Explanations)
Human Development Project (Explanations)

Significance: Cultural and educational biases

Human Development Project


The range of significance attributed to "culture" by different schools of thought is notorious, whether or not such distinctions are made in a spirit of clarification or obfuscation. At best the promotion of culture is an effort to cultivate every aspect of the human spirit, whereas at worst it is merely an effort to attract tourists (increasingly the only justification for the allocation of funds to "culture").

Cultural education, especially under government supervision, may simply be an effort at indoctrination through increased understanding of national writers and artists and through the production of cultural artifacts. Where there is sensitivity to the need to cultivate the human spirit, such indoctrination may even be considered sufficient.

The capacity to discuss intelligently the significance and relationship between cultural artifacts may be considered a mark of culture, irrespective of whether the development of such skills is matched by the development of other aspects of the human spirit or of wisdom, however that is to be understood. The cultural development of individuals implicit in the following readily lends itself to interpretation at both extremes.

1. Development of personality through human values

The UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Rights as Rights of Man (1968) concludes that the right to culture implies the possibility for each person to dispose of the means necessary to develop his personality, through direct participation in the creation of human values, and to become in this way master of his condition, whether on the local level or on the world level.

2. Non-material dimensions of development

Aurelio Peccei (1975), Director of the Club of Rome, notes that: "Human development means much more than universal education, professional training and productive employment, although these are becoming compelling exigencies for individual emancipation and societal also means bringing the whole population to understand their times and live as contemporaries, learning how to adjust to the world complexities, the outer limits of its life-supporting systems, and the transformations we progressively operate in it. The present predicament of mankind appears, and in fact is, so formidable precisely because the majority of people, in both developed and developing countries and in all segments of society - including intellectual, scientific, political and religious elites - have not yet fully adapted psychologically and functionally to the overall new world our "civilization" has created and is continuously reshaping. The very crux of the pervasive and baffling global crisis we are struggling with lies in this mismatch; and adaptation is the name of the key to get out of it."

He also notes: "However, since the object of all our interest and concern is man, it is the multiple dimensions of man himself, with his complex personality and growing needs, wants, aspirations and manifestations, which are the very essence. It is erroneous and misleading to confine our analyses, as generally is the case, mainly to the material aspects of his existence, however important they may be, as indeed they are, then add political, social and cultural considerations as if they belonged to subordinate spheres."

The Club of Rome subsequently commissioned a third generation report on Goals for Global Society (Director, Ervin Laszlo) to focus on the social, psychological, and cultural inner limits which could give positive direction to human aspirations. This deals explicitly with human factors and investigates those ethical commitments, world views and value judgements which could lead beyond perennial crises toward a healthier state of global human society (1977).

3. Towards the complete man

Prior to the sensitivity to feminist issues, the report of the UNESCO International Commission on the Development of Education (1972), in a chapter entitled "Towards the complete man" notes: "If there are permanent traits in the human psyche, perhaps the most prominent are man's rejection of agonizing contradictions, his intolerance of excessive tension, the individual's striving for intellectual consistency, his search for happiness identified not with the mechanical satisfaction of appetite but with the concrete realization of his potentialities and with the idea of himself as one reconciled to his fate - that of the complete man." But, it continues, "He is exposed to division, tension and discord on all sides. Social structures which defy all rules of justice and harmony cannot fail to affect the various realms of his being. All that surrounds him seems to encourage dissociation of the elements of his personality: the division of society into classes, alienation from work and its fragmented nature, the artificial opposition between manual and intellectual labour, the crises of ideologies, the disintegration of accepted myths and the dichotomies between body and mind or material and spiritual values."

It suggests that: "Respect for the many-sidedness of personality is essential in education, especially in schools, if the individual is to develop as he should, both for himself and his associates. Complex attitudes, indispensable for balanced development of all personality components, must be stimulated and given form in the course of the individual's education." And it concludes: "The physical, intellectual, emotional and ethical integration of the individual into a complete man is a broad definition of the fundamental aim for education." (1972).

4. Corporate culture

Over the past decade extensive resources have been devoted to understanding and improving "corporate culture". Understanding the elements of culture is felt to be crucial to managing human resources and thus to improving the productivity of organizations. In this sense cultural development can be understood as a way of involving people in the change process. The challenge is seen to be that of harmonizing the values of people with those of the organization within which they work. Where necessary this may involve exerting pressure on individuals to align their personalities with the values favoured by the organization.

5. Human potential

The question of "human potential" has been explored in a major project by the Harvard Graduate School of Education to assess the state of scientific knowledge concerning human potential and its realization, with extensive funding from the Bernard van Leer Foundation (The Hague). This Project on Human Potential has resulted in reviews of the relevant literature in history, philosophy and the natural and social sciences, a series of international workshops on conceptions of human development in diverse cultural traditions, together with a number of books (Howard Gardner (1984), Israel Scheffler (1985), A Le Vine and M I White (1986), M I White and Susan Pollack (1986)). The books provide a remarkable collection of material on the question of potential as seen in terms of human intellectual potentials (Howard Gardner, 1984), philosophical aspects of the concept of potential (Israel Scheffler, 1985), and the role of cultural factors in the progress of human development (A Le Vine and M I White (1986), M I White and Susan Pollack (1986)). The second volume is a deliberate effort to show the roots of the concept of potential in genuine aspects of human nature while at the same time freeing it, through analytical reconstruction, of outworn philosophical myths of fixity, harmony and value calculated to cause untold mischief in social and educational practice.

6. Cultural development

The United Nations has proclaimed the 1990s as a World Decade for Cultural Development whose importance is noted by UNESCO, as the responsible agency, in the following terms: "Over the years, there has been growing awareness throughout the world of the inadequacy and limitations of a purely economic definition of national and international development strategies. Although economic growth continues to be a prime necessity, the international community now feels that it is equally vital to situate the human individual in his or her cultural context, at the centre of the web of development.. The latter should be based on the cultural identity of peoples, who are both the agents and the beneficiaries of development....Furthermore, international cooperation should be based on respect for differences....if people everywhere are to see their lot improved without any threat to their innermost being." (UNESCO News, 2 Dec 1985).

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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