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#2054 - Friday, February 11, 2005 - Editor: Jerry Katz



Selection from The Happy Child: Changing the Heart of Education, by Steven Harrison


Culture and Perspective


A great many people think they are thinking when the are merely rearranging their prejudices. William James


Recently, I walked through a store with one of my young children. I was distracted for a few moments by my purchase and my son became captivated by a television monitor in the corner broadcasting smarmy offers for products of one kind or another. He joined me after a few minutes and began repeating the jargon of the piped-in come-on, intrigued by the promise that he could join in the wonderful world that was promised by the toy, the movie, or the dirnk simply by buying something. My son had learned something. I had learned something too. No one had asked me if it was all right to sell my son something. And no one will in the future. My son is a market share, however small, and marketers will find him wherever he goes.


The culture's perspective and my son's perspective are in constant interaction, and much of that interaction will have to do with a relationship to materialism. The market will promise happiness, but it can deliver only goods and services. What my son is learning from his culture is that goods and services are the same as happiness. What is important to me is that he have the opportunity to find out, for himself, whether this is true. His understanding will make up his life.


It is impossible to address the question of educating our children without taking on the difficult task of understanding the culture in which the child learns. In the contemporary western culture, we are subject to powerful media forces that condition our perspectives in powerful ways. We can hardly move about in society without ingesting marketing of one product or another. More insidious is the omnipresence of brands, representing entire lifesyles and evoking feelings of freedom, happiness, and accomplishment through the choice of the proper can of soft drink or designer jeans.


This crass, materialistic society is teaching us constantly. Marketing is education, but what is taught is consumption, not consideration. Reflection on the nature of the market forces is not desirable from a marketing standpoint. This is why marketing always tries to co-opt the consumer by creating fads, tendencies, and urges just below the threshold of considered action. Marketing speaks in hyperbolie or subliminal language, seldom in accurate or factual terms. It is fundamentally dangerous to our children to be unaware of the impact of these forces on their minds.


Children who have been given responsibility and the freedom to exercise it develop critical thinking as an obvious by-product of their circumstance. They have the chance to explore what brings them satisfaction and what does not. The child whose discrimination and will has been broken down by years of coercive education is a perfect candidate to be a pliant consumer of whatever is being sold. Of course, what is sold must be produced, and the pliant consumer is also a docile worker.


To educate our children in a new way, we must understand our culture -- the social contracts and paradigms that make up our collective perspective. The forces of mass marketing and consumerism come out of deeply entranched patterns in our society and its history. They reflect the very structure of mind and biology that make up the individual. If we can understand something about out individual and collective reality, we can hope to create a learning environment that is something more than just an indoctrination into our conflicted world.


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