It is a funny coincidence, but today, exactly on the 4th of July, I would like to write my last post about the american myth, or as some would rather call it, ideal of the american self-made man and how this belief can be related to the lifelong learning movement.
The differences between the way the American colleagues we collaborated with perceived the lifelong learning topic has inspired me to learn more about their culture and try to understand how this topic can be observed from a totally different perspective. As I already mentioned in the previous posts, the American citizens come from a different welfare system than the EU citizens. This definitely shaped the ways the citizens from these two backgrounds perceive the lifelong learning issue and the way they relate to it as individual beings, employees or employers.
First of all, I would like to point out what I have learnt about the self-made man ideal in the american culture. It is a deeply rooted concept in the American Dream. Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States is believed to be the creator of this concept.
In his Autobiography, he describes his way from a poor, unknown son of a candle-maker to a very successful business man and highly acknowledged member of the American society. Franklin creates the archetype of someone coming from low origins, who, against all odds, breaks out of his inherited social position, climbs up the social ladder and creates a new identity for himself. Key factors in this rise from rags to riches are hard work and a solid moral foundation. Franklin also stresses the significance of education for self-improvement.
In the European culture this concept is also known, and of course ambition and the will to work on self- improvement are two very respected and valued characteristics. However, this concept is not rooted in the general culture, like it is in The USA. The EU citizens are encouraged by the state to invest in their self-development and the EU supports its citizens with various programs that promote flexibility and self-development to guarantee employability and the best economic development of the EU community possible.
However, because of the welfare system in most EU member countries the citizens often tend to notice and point out the drawbacks of the lifelong learning and they feel like they have the right to blame the state for shifting the responsibility on to the individuals etc.
Finally, I am very intrigued to have had the possibility to experience such a tangible example of cultural differences. I enjoyed trying to change my perspective and understand how certain aspects of institutional change are perceived by different cultures. Surprisingly, shifting my perspective and gaining a deep understanding of some issues was much harder than I had imagined and have me food for thought.