“Culture in the mirror” - Cultural education and cognition

Publication in 2014 – Cultuur in de Spiegel (Netherlands)

‘Culture in the mirror’ was an extensive research programme, led by professor Barend van Heusden of the Groningen University in the Netherlands and in cooperation with 14 primary and secondary schools. The research started with a few basic question: What is (the content of) cultural education? Why is it important? How does it relate to the school curriculum and the other courses?  How could you make it meaningful for pupils? This research aims at developing a theoretical  framework for a culture education curriculum and to translate this framework into an outline and tools, that allow teachers and schools to develop a culture education curriculum which fits their specific needs.

The theoretical framework is quite complex. In a nutshell:

Culture in the Mirror starts from a broad definition of ‘culture’. This is culture:  the cognitive process in which memories are used to deal with an ever-changing actuality. Only human beings are able to bridge the gap between memory and daily reality - because the reality is constantly new for us - by using four cognitive strategies:

  • Perception: experience, remember, know, recognise, observe
  • Imagination: invent, create, play, imagine, put oneself in someone else’s situation
  • Conceptualisation: interpret, label, name, estimate, evaluate, classify
  • Analysis: explore, connect, think  logically, test

Culture in the mirror also uses culture in a more narrow sense: about culture itself, referring to cultural self-consciousness or metacognition: culture in a mirror. They state that cultural self-consciousness is essential because it provides the basis for conscious action. Culture education (the arts, history, the study of society, philosophy) therefore has an important task in teaching and developing cultural self-consciousness, in all its dimensions and aspects. For the arts: the arts itself is not the centre, but what arts can do – it helps pupils to develop their cultural self-consciousness.

In Culture in the Mirror creativity, imagination, is seen as a major ingredient of any successful cultural education programming. The ability to use memories in a non-obvious way is a creative process. So a creative person is someone who can bridge the difference between memory and reality in a new and unlikely way – for example by developing new techniques or calling things differently .

More about Culture in the mirror: www.cultuurindespiegel.nl

Interview Jos Bol - Culture in the mirror

Cultuur in de Spiegel