Education in a Global Society

UN Day, October 24, 2013

Education in a global society is a real challenge because education is culture specific. It involves teaching the knowledge, values, and skills known to a particular society. Many of beliefs and values of a society are not taught formally, but absorbed through the language and habits of those who surround one’s upbringing. We can call this the conventional knowledge of the particular society. In the twentieth century, the conventional knowledge acquired by people in their various societies collided in a world of global transportation and communication, stimulating globalization.

This globalization was developed on the foundation of Western Civilization, which oversaw the rise of modern science and the modern secular state. The negative impact of these developments included, Western colonialism, World Wars, and the decline of the traditional values. The human suffering caused by the world wars led to the creation of the United Nations, whose values are enshrined in the UN International Declaration of Human Rights, drafted under the supervision of Eleanor Roosevelt.

The International Declaration on Human Rights is a declaration of rights and freedoms,  not of responsibilities. Rights and freedoms can be secured through law, but virtues and responsibilities cannot. Rather, responsibilities are instilled through education by families, communities, and schools. They are voluntary and free actions motivated by an individual’s conscience and knowledge. Law can only create a framework that sets boundaries for free actions. Education shapes the person who will take up necessary responsibilities.

There was a debate about “negative rights” and “positive rights” at the United Nations, with Western Nations emphasizing negative rights like religious and economic freedom. The Soviet bloc, emphasized positive rights like food, housing, and medical care for all. But governments cannot provide positive rights, unless they coerce people produce them, essentially making them slaves rather than free people. In free societies, people naturally seek food, housing, and medical care and will voluntarily help others to get necessities if they are educated and virtuous.

Traditional education focused on virtue, citizenship, and job skills. However, the rise of science and globalization led to the relativization of traditional values and produced a myth that technology and democratic government could produce positive rights without the necessity of educating of virtuous people. The Soviet Union and Communist China were founded on this myth, and taught that loyalty to the state was the primary virtue. But, people treated state property with less respect than personal property, and Soviet leaders still sought high positions for their family members, rather than desiring to sacrifice for the general citizens. Communism did not create the “new socialist man” who was devoid of the selfish nature that communist ideology attributed to capitalism.

In the West secular rationalism and globalism undermined traditional values, and since the 1960s it was virtually impossible to teach moral values and virtues like resilience in the public schools. And, families are stressed with both mother and father working full time in industrial and post-insustrial society, unable to provide a traditional home where virtues are taught. Families do not find the support they desire from schools, and schools to not find the involvement they desire from parents. There is a lot of work, and a lot of material goods are produced, but human relationships suffer. People ask the state to solve problems like “bullying” that will only be solved by teaching children to love and respect one another–core aspects of the virtue and responsibility that can only be taught, not imposed by law.

Modernity in general has placed excessive faith in technology that can create everything humans need, and the idea that the rational state can direct production, distributing jobs and welfare to all. There is a strong secular consciousness that argues that personal virtue and responsibility are unnecessary and old-fashioned under the shadow of this modern paradise. But, science without values created both nuclear power and nuclear weapons; and dependence on the modern state means that welfare for all leads to motivation by none–except to fight for positions of power and influence over others.

Institutions of higher education in the 20th century became places to learn job skills rather than receive a traditional liberal education. The traditional liberal education involved learning both the received tradition and the critical thinking required to transcend it. It involved skills for personal self-management and citizenship–the direction of government through active participation, especially at local levels of society. While job skills are important to put food on the table, they are not adequate for living a good life.

The United Nations, like the rest of the modern world, is struggling with a system of global governance based on concepts of state power and technological development. It was not formed with a cultural component, and where there are cultural elements they are value relative and rooted in pluralism. Cultures tend to be reduced to traditional foods and costumes, and those contentious things called traditional values are kept from the global public sphere. We see a reaction to this secularization in the form of fundamentalist groups, whether they be Christian, Islamist, or from another traditional society. Unfortunately, these groups often retreat to a militant orthodoxy, unable to integrate their traditional values and modernity. Likewise, modernists often reject many traditional values as based on primitive myths rather than evolutionary forms of social adaptation that allow civilizations to exist, inspire people to produce, and foster governments that are good.

The main task of the Professors World Peace Academy (PWPA) is to support the development of education adequate to the challenges of the 21st century. The late Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of PWPA, was raised in a society that had many Christians, Buddhists, and Confucian values. He went to an engineering school and understood the important contribution of science to the modern world. His calling was to support the development of a post-modern global culture in which the collision of cultures, and the collision of traditional cultures and science, could produce an integral society in which science and values could be harmonized and universal human values distilled from various particular value systems.

Others, like Rodrigo Carazo Odio, former President of Costa Rica and founder of the UN University for Peace there, shared Reverend Moon’s vision for 21st century education, and joined with him in creating a PWPA/UN focus at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut in the 1990s, a school with a long tradition of support for the UN and global education–a school at which Eleanor Roosevelt and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were speakers in the 1950s and 1960s.

On the occasion of this UN Day, we would like to remind people of the importance of the unfinished task of creating a global culture that can embrace both traditional cultures and science by transcending and including the best of all that both can offer. Global education involves standing up for the inculcation of global values and virtues that are respectful and tolerant without allowing selfishness and hedonism to be the basis for global cultural collapse, or a global tyranny in which the leader’s particular vision is forced upon everyone.

The lessons of history are available, the basis of a genuine liberal education already exists; it is just not very widely taught in institutions of higher learning in the modern world that are asked to focus primarily on training people for jobs working for others, rather than self-mastery, civil conduct, and good citizenship. Democracies cannot survive without citizens that have such an education, they degenerate into mobocracies that collapse and are often succeeded by tyrannies. It is time to put aside the myth that science and that state are adequate to human salvation, and begin promoting the education of a global society that is capable of overcoming the tyranny of the state and the materialism of science. Industries would like us to be “consumers”; governments want us to be passive “voters;” but genuine liberal education should make us “citizens” who control the destiny of both corporations and states.

The Association of World University Presidents and the PWPA would like to see the United Nations become a place where genuine global citizens could make a greater impact on the future of global society than states, politicians, or corporations. Let’s think about how we can create a world that is shaped by knowledge and goodwill rather than bitter contests between power and money; and, how power and money can be used to serve the world rather than use the world to serve the interests of those who control power and wealth.


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