Sunday, March 20, 2011

Culture, Part I: The Haunting Past

Rushing to catch up with blog postings so that those long overdue don't spill over into April hasn't been the best thing I could have done, but is necessary. Until completed and up-to-date, this blog is a potential distraction. Currently, there are no time slots available for distractions. And, there is a cross-cultural understanding course that's tanking rapidly because so little was planned in advance, and I had no heads-up that I would be mainly on my own. So, let's "kill two birds with one stone." We can incorporate basic lessons about culture into this blog, and have both the "front burner" and the "back burner" available for planning activities for 18 class sessions each week.

Sound the bell, school's in! Our first basic lesson about culture is that it is a force that drives human beings to create collectively, and what has been collectively created will be left behind for others to discover and analyze.
Quite unpredictably, what is left behind takes on a significance for each generation that may or may not resemble what its creators intended. Our mid-year conference in Surabaya came just before my three-week home visit to the USA, and while the timing was great, I was not prepared for the unfamiliar sights we saw while driving through the East Java countryside on the day we were able to escape from duty long enough for sightseeing. Candi (that's CHAHN-dee) are Buddhist-Hindu temples left behind by the Majapahit civilization, an ancient Javanese kingdom that "lost the war" with the advance of Islam at some point during the 14th century. Candi are everywhere in East Java, and an archeological enthusiast would need a month to satisfy curiosity about all the types and variations that exist across the tropical landscape.

Lesson ONE: Others will see what you leave behind. If you know that, and you act on that knowledge, then the ideas you use to decide what to leave are part of what we call culture.

Our outreach reception in Surabaya was warm and welcoming, and probably caused me to talk a little too much about the MLK holiday, which was our theme for outreach this year. Conservative Islamic magazines are letting parents know that when you choose a school for your children, it needs to be one where the Americans have not been giving teacher workshops and spreading "liberalism." At least someone's taking notice ;)

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