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When the Son Becomes Smarter Than the Father: Reversing the Direction of Learning

We are used to the old-established directions of learning process. Iron channels of learning, as similar to Weber’s iron cages, are hard to change. They are backed up with a healthy logic and established practice, leaving no place for doubts about their correctness. The weaker learns from the stronger; the silent learns from the loud; the looser learns from the winner. The most popular in the comparative Public Administration is when developing countries learn from the developed, or in another words, the poorer look up to the richer. In the latter case, an old saying is true: He who pays the piper calls the tune. But what happens when the developing process is successfully completed? When the son has learnt enough to lead his own life? A vivid example here is South Korea that had to learn a lot and fast in order to reach its current development level. Back in 1960, the GDP of one Korean adult was $79, making South Korea one of the poorest countries in the world. In the contrary, today South Korea is 12th largest trading country. Koreans seem to have learnt everything and are ready to be a benchmarking example: “In just 50 short years [Seoul has] become one of the world’s top 10 economically powerful cities and a role model for the cities around the world to emulate” (SMG 2010, 7). However, they still look up to the United States.

In order to understand the established iron channels we should look at their nature. An aim of this essay is to look into routs of the established directions of international learning using the case of South Korea as well as to emphasize the growing role of the alternative learning paths showing that the era of “borrowing from the elder” is over.

Studies on learning culture are not reserved for PA only. Looking cross disciplines, we find that sociologists have been interested in exchange of practices between adults and children long ago. This essay applies the most famous learning typology created back in 1970 by American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. She came up with three directions of knowledge transfer among generations: Post-figurative – knowledge is transferred from adults to children; Co-figurative – children and adults receive their knowledge mainly from their peers; Pre-figurative – knowledge transfers from children to adults.

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Author: Palina Prysmakova is a 2013 Founders’ Forum Fellow.  

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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