Open Future NZ "Be the change you want to see in the World"

I am who I am because I absorb my culture. by John S Veitch

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We are largely unaware of our own culture, if we are part of the dominant community. I live in New Zealand. Here, the dominant culture in my youth was English or Scottish, sometimes Irish. During the 1950's, in Otago, the province where I lived, there were some NZ born Chinese. Maori, the indigenous people of NZ were few. There were immigrants, mostly English, but some Dutch.

One of my best friends at primary school was Chinese. I knew that he spoke Mandarin at home. When his brother got married my parents were invited to the wedding. They came home very impressed, and rather mystified by something quite outside their normal experience.

I was aware of religious differences. I was supposed to be Presbyterian, and I knew that I must never marry a Catholic, and that Catholics were for some reason "the enemy", but I never knew why. Catholic kids seemed to know that too. Some strange cultural rules were in the air, but never spoken about or explained. In the same way, it was important to be a Christian. This was more than having "faith in God" or "believing" it was about confirming my acceptance of my culture. Claiming my place in the middle class as far as I can tell.

I didn't go to university from high school because of unwritten expectations in our family informed me that I would leave school. Members of our family got a job and worked hard, and a little later went into business. LocalfileWe are all "schooled" about what is important, who might be trusted, about how to think and what to do. We are by the age of 13 or 14 brim full of propaganda. If you have the courage, it will take most of your lifetime to unpack it all. Only you can initiate your own deschooling. It's a long difficult task.

20 years later as a teacher, I taught a young Maori boy who was very bright and had been very successful at school. But he came from Bluff, a fishing port, where many Maori lived. The tradition in Maori families was to leave school as soon as possible and to go to the freezing works or onto the fishing boats, and earn as much money as one could. This student was of leaving age. The following year he returned to school, to prepare for an external exam at the end of the year. But he didn't work at school, he began to get into trouble. When the rugby season came, he tried out for the first 15, competing against boys 2-3 years older than himself. (He wasn't big anyway.) He got selected. As the season progressed the stories about the rugby exploits of this young man were often told. That was in complete contrast with what was happening in the classroom. Even so, at the end of the year he did pass his exam, and his status among his peers was high.

There was an alternative route to success among the Maori in Bluff. To be a really good rugby player. That meant you had to be tough, you had to be a real man. So the young Maori scholar put the books aside and won for himself the right to stand alongside his peers on the rugby field. Fortunately he was also bright enough to pass the exam. I remember this story because I recognized that I faced similar pressures at the same age. I also did what my family expected.

Family and culture teach us, long before we can understand why, a long list of things that colour the rest of our lives. We are filled with stories that are really propaganda about who we are and what is important. If we accept this indoctrination, and almost 100% of us do, we are recognized as part of our own community. We earn privileges because of that membership, things like recognition, jobs, social opportunities and respect.

We are unaware of the downside. Some of what we've been taught isn't well adapted to this modern changing world. LocalfileThe rules we've learned tend to prevent us from seeing that. Our learning tells us what's important and unimportant, and what we should try to learn and what we should reject. If we strictly followed that path in a fast changing world, we'd become less and less able to adapt as we grew older. (I guess that does happen to some people.) Each of us needs to find tools to reexamine who we are and what's important in our lives. To have a more "Open Future©" I'm responsible for my own deschooling, and only I can do it.

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