Education and Culture

by Eliseo A Martell

Education and Culture

December 1991 / January 1992

The New World Webster’s Dictionary (Second College Edition), defines Education as “the process of training and developing the knowledge, mind, character, etc., esp. by formal schooling; teaching; training”. The way this process is developed in third world countries is, in general, very similar, but what are the differences between these countries and Canada?

I come from El Salvador and after one year in Canada I can identify some differences, at least in the High School years.

The El Salvadorian educational system is more authoritarian than the Canadian system. High schools in Canada have more facilities related with technology subjects. El Salvadorian schools are more crowded, and although there are different options once you are in high school, these options offer less freedom than in Canada, at the moment you have to choose the subjects every year. Yet maybe the biggest difference is that, in El Salvador, if you have enough money, you can attend very expensive schools that offer a lot of facilities to their students, this situation is not so common in Canada where the general population has equal access to a similar educational system, so I could say that Canada has a more democratic educational system than El Salvador.

However, when I see my children studying at home, and I have three children in high school, I don’t find too many differences between El Salvador and Canada. In both countries they have to study hard to succeed in their studies, sometimes I think that teachers aught to explain more to their students, and the same situation existed in El Salvador.

Nevertheless, our high school students in El Salvador and in Central America in general are more world oriented and more politically involved than Canadian students. Here in Canada the big issues are internal issues and in general there is a poor understanding of other cultures, even on some occasions, you find a misunderstanding of these cultures.

I consider that the educational system is designed to serve the society and to reinforce the system; In Canada it works very well, Canadian students in general do not challenge the society, they challenge their parents. In El Salvador society’s contradictions are so many and so clear that the educational system is not enough to convince them that they live in a fair and democratic society, and that is why you so frequently see and hear on the news of students participating in sometimes very violent manifestations against the government.

Canadians born here have to learn more about other cultures, and in this case how educational systems work in other countries, before manifesting attitudes of superiority about these issues.

A Dream

June / July 1992

“I had a dream about many people leaving their countries, children, parents, grand parents, uncles, friends. Migratory birds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of them adopting different and capricious forms … planes, ships, people. I dreamt that whales were stranded on the beaches, people looking at them with astonishment, and they were the people I love and had gone”.

These are some lines that my brother sent me in a letter. He describes the feelings of those who stayed when we left our native countries. As new Canadians we can also interpret his words. We are as migratory birds, flying from south to north, from east to west. People coming to Canada, looking for a better future or escaping from a dangerous situation to a safety place.

New immigrants move, change, can take the form of planes. They learn how to fly, to live better, to reach new horizons. They are the ‘successful’. However, others can adopt the form of ships, always in movement, going from Quebec to Kitchener, from Toronto to Vancouver. Never finding a place of stability. But both are people. Souls with feelings, fears, illusions and frustrations. They are eager to learn and to share their knowledge with other immigrants and born Canadians. They live in Canada, but part of their being is in other places. As the whales in my brother’s dream, we get stuck in our perceptions of the country we left, in memories of friends and relatives, in visions of places and events.

These perceptions do not change, they are fixed in our mind. Yet friends, relatives, places and relations change with time, and our memories, like the whales, become a contradiction. Although they are real, they are also a mirage because life is not there any more. There is a lack of dynamism on it that is difficult to perceive. These memories change with time, they acquire a new dimension, they become bigger, and more pleasant. This change translates into nostalgia, homesickness everything was better there”. It is so difficult to accept that the whale is not able to return to the sea any more.

These attitudes have an explanation: It is so demanding to deal with a new situation, to learn a new language, to make new friends, to change behaviours that were considered acceptable before. It is so difficult to deal with racism, and to be accepted with respect. It is so hard to find that our knowledge and experience are not valuable because they are not ‘Canadian’.

I dream of immigrants and born Canadians working together, changing the whales stuck on the sand into whales alive, and happily swimming in the sea, discovering new reasons to live and to grow. Canada is so beautiful and special that it deserves to be great!