Cultural heritage education, or the lack of it, at the highest degree!
On a sunny August morning, 88 MBA students from one of the most highly sought after and well-known universities of the United States of America arrived in Lebanon for a whole week of discovery excursions around the country. Eight Lebanese MBA graduates took on the task and had a clear plan: to show their guests what Lebanon is all about. 2 Local qualified tour guides were recruited for the job. The first day was going to target one of the most important sites of the country, the UNESCO world heritage ancient city of Baalbeck. The tour guides were recruited to accompany the group from their starting point at the hotel in Beirut throughout the whole day, each leading about 40 graduates in 2 respective busses.\r\n
Equipped with a microphone and upon embarking on the bus, the guides began the tour by introducing the geographical and historical settings of the country and specifically the city of Beirut. A few minutes after leaving the capital towards the mountains, one of the graduate Lebanese hosts asked the tour guides to stop talking, as supposedly no one in the bus is listening. The tour guide looked towards the back and there were 1 or 2 heads fast asleep, while the rest were chatting. Every time the tour guides wanted to explain a historical fact or indicate to a specific aspect along the way, one of the Lebanese graduates behind them would ask them to be silent, as no one seemed to be interested.\r\n
Driving along the central highway of the Beqaa valley, a series of green flags in reference to local political party could be clearly seen every few meters. One of the guides took the initiative and started to explain to the tourists what these flags represented. Suddenly, one of the graduates sitting behind decided to ask them to be silent and that “politics” was forbidden. The tour guide responded that this is not politics and that nobody’s opinion is being presented here. It made no difference. The young Lebanese graduate refused to allow the guide to explain further. What happened to critical thinking here? It was clearly lost at some point along the way while they are growing up. \r\n
Upon arriving to Baalbeck, things didn’t look any different. The grandiose temples, the ancient sculptures, the architectural masterpieces seemed nothing more than a simple backdrop to a series of selfies and group pictures, with no one truly interested in the actual historical narrative. Not a single question, not a single remark. The tour was reduced to a few sentences, lasting a meager 45 minutes, probably one of the shortest visits inside the best-preserved roman sanctuaries in the world. \r\n
One of the tour guides asked one of the 8 Lebanese whether they had ever been to the site before. The response was: “No, I have never been here”. This led to the next question after a continuous effort to attract his attention had gone in vain: “Are you aware who Jupiter is?”, followed by a reply:” No”. \r\n
That all took place while the entire group was standing at the staircase of the temple of Jupiter!\r\n
Probably having graduated with honors and aiming for an MBA from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, a degree that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, what were those Lebanese and American tourists truly searching for? They obviously did not come for the cultural heritage of Lebanon, a country who can probably boast having the highest amount of archaeological wealth remains/sqm. These graduates came to party; they came to drink. Baalbeck offered nothing of that. Ironically the ghosts of the ancient gods would have innumerable stories about Bacchanalias to feed their young imaginations. It is a city, which thrives on its ancient heritage, offering only its curious visitor the chance to experience one of the culturally most influential civilizations that this planet has ever witnessed.\r\n
What does this tell you? We are in dire need of cultural education. Urgent measures need to be taken to culturally educate those who might be future stakeholders in the corporate and economic key positions of the country! We need to trigger their curiosity to learn about what their ancestors worked so hard for to achieve as they carry their highest university degrees with pride on their walls. What is the point of education if not accompanied by the depth of cultural history? It seems we humans have lost the actual bridges that link our ancient heritage to university degrees. These universities would not have existed if our predecessors had not begun with the tedious task of collecting all the knowledge of ancient civilizations, in order to build upon them these prestigious programs, offering young graduates their highly sought-after MBAs. It is a serious tragedy, that after all this technological progress in 21st century, we still seem to miss the importance of incorporating cultural heritage into our modern societies, creating in the process generations of young graduates, who thrive only on instant gratification. The end result would be a loss of the massive cultural wealth that our heritage has left behind.