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The benefits of a cultural dialogue

There was a time not too long ago that formal intercultural dialogue occurred routinely in our public schools between and among students, teachers, staff and parent councils. 

I would love to hear from you if these positively focussed discussions still occur openly and proactively in our schools. Being microcosms of society, schools are blessed with representing the rich diversity in our communities and in society in general. Learning to be interculturally proficient is not only important in a civil society, it is key for a robust global economy. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, in its World Report titled, Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue asserts that the development of intercultural competencies must be emphasized as part of all of our education and learning. The report is available online at www.unesco.org. 

Diversity in society is a key instrument for the effective exercise of universal human rights. Peace-building must accompany all forms of societal and economic development or we will be prone to making the same mistakes over and over again causing strife and human disaster; and we must begin with school children, continue with post-secondary students and not stop as contributing adults in a civil society. Life-long learning means that there is no stopping to the constancy of learning.

When societies, communities and indeed nations begin to look at others as inferior and stigmatize people and cultures as backward, these mindsets become major obstacles to intercultural dialogue. When people from so called advanced nations actually take the time to sit, listen and learn from indigenous communities around the world they discover some amazing life lessons – like the remedies used by indigenous people in the Amazon and India; like the respect for animals and all sentient life among remote indigenous communities; like the healthfulness of primitive diets; like the simple and effective use of circle dialogue for resolving conflicts respectfully and restoratively.

Post colonial hegemonization of some world cultures and the plundering of resources by rich countries have led to ideologies of exclusion and have hindered and thwarted the lives of the poorest people in so-called third world countries. Students need to talk about this, need to learn about cause and effect and need to discover the hidden richness in forgotten cultures around the world. A sad outcome of these exclusionary and exploitative mindsets is that the youth from oppressed communities are seduced by the values of affluent and oppressive lifestyles and often disregard their own rich cultural heritage and traditions.  

In schools where intercultural discourse occurs routinely as part of our programs the positive outcomes are reflected back to us when graduates return to tell us about the difference they have made in their places of work where they have been able to inspire harmony and productivity by tapping into forgotten resources that cultural competencies bring.

• Dr Vicki Bismilla is a retired Superintendent of Schools and retired college Vice-President, Academic, and Chief Learning Officer. 

Posted: Jan 3, 2018

May 2018





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