Schooling the World: the White Man’s Last Burden
Directed by Carol Black (2010)
Schooling the World, featuring Indian environmental activist Vendana Shiva and Helene Norberg Hodge (producer of Economics of Happiness), is about the colonizing function of western education. The “White Man’s Burden” is a Victorian reference to the schooling of ignorant natives for the purpose of “civilizing” them.
Historically, the primary purpose of western education has been to facilitate the seizure of occupied land by destroying native language and culture. At present, however, its main purpose is to train children to use corporate products in a modern environment and to become compliant workers in a global industrial system. Thanks to western education, “backward” third world children transition from self-sufficient members of local economies to dependent cogs in the global economy.
The documentary gives three examples of this philosophy in practice: the historical outrage of indigenous Americans being kidnapped from their parents (in both Canada and the US) to have their language and culture forcibly stripped from them and modern day Ladakh and India, where rural parents experience intense pressure to send their kids to English schools.
In Ladakh, a Buddhist education teaching children compassion, cooperation and respect for nature has been replaced by an education valuing conformity, regimentation and love for money. Meanwhile many Indian parents sell their homes to pay for western-style education they believe will win their kids positions as doctors or engineers. In the end, the majority end up unemployed, with a lucky few finding entry level work.
Instead of teaching them sustainable living in harmony with nature, Western education teaches children to see themselves as separate from the natural world by locking them up in dark, airless, ugly spaces – and giving them books about nature.
The filmmakers challenge the wisdom of allowing the industrial north to force their educational model on the entire world when it clearly isn’t working for western youth. They refer to statistics showing that 16 million American young people suffer from depression and 1.6 million take psychotropic medication.
They also challenge that “development” (ie colonization) and western education lifts the “developing” world out of poverty. Historical evidence shows clearly that third world misery is a direct result of systematically stripping native inhabitants of their land, local economies, language and culture.