FOUNDER'S LETTER


Traditional knowledge is often at odds with what western societies have termed “modern” society. The dichotomy between these two concepts has often done great harm to cultures that have been suppressed by western concepts and the forces of globalization. Traditional knowledge, however, is not a static entity like many believe it to be and it is not something that is substandard to the forms being presented by western ideals. As the anthropologist Wade Davis says, “the myriad of human cultures around the world are not failed attempts at being modern but are unique answers to the question of what it is to be human”. Traditional knowledge is something that has been developing for generations and is a specific cultural solution to the challenges of living in particular environments.

As the world moves more and more towards a more interconnected existence where even the most remote communities are easily linked with people living on the other side of the world the uniqueness of cultures can easily be subverted by the forces that link these communities. Globalization and the imposition of modern nation- states work, systematically, to degrade the traditional structures and knowledge of cultures and impose foreign concepts of being upon people that have happily existed within their own constructs for generations. It is easy to lose the connection between people and planet when there is a severing of ties between traditional knowledge and practitioners. This severing has often created great discord between populations with the loss of identities and generationally tested practices for dealing with place-specific issues. The most common place for disconnects between traditional knowledge and participants is with youth. Education is a universally recognized practice for the transmission of practical knowledge and ideologies. The difference, however, comes when the outcome of the education is looked at. With globalization comes the standardization of educational systems within governmental frameworks and so the homogenization of different cultural groups within a single nationstate. This has negative impacts on how youth look upon their own elders who may not have the same level of knowledge about “modern” notions as the young students.

Emphasis is given to “modern” ideologies and the stigma of traditional knowledge can lead to large portions of populations being caught between traditional economic activities and a western influenced economic system that has a finite number of jobs to fill from numbers of individuals that more often than not exceed in number. If we are able to allow traditional knowledge a place within educational frameworks then there can be a fusion between the best of both spheres. Western society has much to offer in terms of advanced technologies and access to larger economic markets for jobs and capital, however, traditional knowledge has answers to specific problems that western society would not have needed to answer before and so can provide better historical understandings to climate challenges and plant knowledge regarding medicine and diets.

Incorporating traditional knowledge and traditional cultural practices into state-run education systems often shows benefits for the resilience of cultural identity like what is seen in some non-governmental schools in Tanzania where traditional cultural practices and knowledge are implemented. Youth there see the importance of continuing their traditions and see it as integral to remaining a part of their community. Organizations that specialize in outdoor education are helping to instill values of stewardship and human-nature coexistence. Language programs, outdoor education, and culturally specific educational programs are helping to reconnect youth with the environment around them and generations before them. It is with organizations and local communities that focus on incorporating traditional knowledge and practices that youth are able to reinvigorate their sense of self and their respect for tradition and the environment. The unique cultures of the world are being recognized more and more as having worth by community members and local governments and education programs are the best ways for disseminating cultural knowledge and are fundamental to achieving these goals.

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