The Contested Territory of Globalization
The term globalization has entered modern parlance with increasing frequency, but in such varied contexts with such varied meanings as to render the term less than useful. All agree that it describes a perspective beyond the personal, local, and national, an awareness that human actions and institutions can have worldwide repercussions and implications. But which ones does globalization describe? Have borders been eclipsed and cultures merged in a peaceful rendering of the “global village”? Have peoples of the world been homogenized by drinking Pepsi and eating McDonald’s hamburgers while their children play with Pokemon Balls? Have transnational corporations succeeded in moving production at will to exploit the cheapest labor on the planet to manufacture their goods for ever-expanding world markets? Have nation states begun to hand over their dominion to overarching world governance? Is Western culture threatening to destroy indigenous or less dominant cultures through its control over media and commerce? Is there an accelerating sense of inter-connectedness among people based on knowledge of the earth as a single ecosystem?
The answer to all of the above is a qualified yes and no, which only adds to the confusion surrounding the term globalization. Most commonly people use it to describe economic globalization. Since at least the Middle Ages, the system of market capitalism, or the pursuit of expanding markets and cheap labor beyond borders, has been the standard modus operandi for companies and enterprising individuals. However, the accelerating pace of modern life, with electronic movements of capital, instantaneous worldwide communications, and overnight delivery of goods and services has made the global economy more transparently global and market capitalism more blatantly exploitative.
It is interesting to note that only recently has the noun globalization been added in Webster’s dictionary. Although our world is becoming globalized, the process is by no means as complete as the noun form “globalization” would indicate. Nation states and borders do still exist, different cultures maintain separate languages and distinct identities, and the world of most individuals is still ordered by their allegiances to specific regional and cultural values. Nevertheless, there is a greater awareness among people in most parts of the world that our political, economic, and social spheres are expanding and intertwining more than ever before. Perhaps it is the unprecedented scope and speed of the changes taking place that promotes the use of an all-encompassing term like globalization.
A working view of globalization comes from Professor Rudd Lubbers of Tilburg University, in the Netherlands. It is short and descriptive, yet sufficiently open-ended to include multiple perspectives, including the educational perspective: “such acceleration of becoming or making worldwide that it gives rise to a great many new phenomena.” Lubbers’s definition emphasizes the speed at which changes affecting the entire planet are taking place and the great number of new phenomena that result, influencing economics, politics, and society.
Our ability to conceptualize and manipulate global systems of information, commerce, and governance makes some new demands on human ingenuity, for the scope of the globalization project necessitates new ways of responding to common issues like security, resource management, and human rights. The call for more global-oriented school curricula that respond to these societal changes has been advocated in the scholarly and practical work of Alger, Cummings, Kolker, Lynch, Pike, Rasmussen, Reardon, Tye, and others; but colleges and universities and other important institutions in civil society have been slow to respond.
What Is Global Education?
Global studies (education) is an interdisciplinary approach to learning concepts and skills necessary to function in a world that is increasingly interconnected and multicultural. The curriculum is grounded in traditional academic disciplines but taught in the context of project and problem-based inquiries. The learner examines issues from the vantage point of the individual, the local community, and the nation and the world community. As social conditioning, an essential component of schooling, global studies takes an international stance that respects local allegiances and cultural diversity while adhering to the principles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
There is, however, no standard definition among proponents of global education. The Center for Human Interdependence (CHI), an educational training program that emphasizes global awareness, begun in 1984 in Orange County, California, constructed the following working definition:
Global education involves learning about those problems and issues that cut across national boundaries, and about the interconnectedness of systems, ecological, cultural, economic, political and technological. Global education involves perspective taking seeing things through the eyes and minds of others, and it means the realization that while individuals and groups may view life differently, they also have common needs and wants.
John Dewey was possibly the most influential educator of the 20th century. Dewey was a progressivist, and progressivism was his movement. Progressive education included several components, one of which was the emphasis placed on the democratic educational approach, accepting the interests and needs of an increasingly diverse student body in an increasingly interdependent world. Therefore, with John Dewey as the intellectual powerhouse, we see in the 1920s the rebirth of comparative studies. In the 1940s, we see that global education was reclassified as intergroup education. In the 1950s, we observe more name changes to fit the times, those of area studies, race relations, and ethnic studies. In the 1960s, the changes continued, and we had peace and conflict studies, human rights education, international studies, intercultural studies, and open classrooms. In the 1970s, as the Vietnam War was ending, we witnessed the women’s liberation and African American liberation blossom, both in positive and negative terms. In the field of education, this was reflected by introducing multicultural and environmental education. In the 1980s, reflecting the reality of world affairs, we see the introduction of global education and world studies. From the 1980s to the present, we see that the global education as well as multicultural education have remained constant in the historical context.
In the 21st century, global education needs to distinguish its agenda from the current buzzword concept “globalization,” the forces of market capitalism, which tend to focus the discussion on global economic systems and information technologies. From a pedagogical standpoint, economic prosperity and technological progress are part of a broader emphasis on planetary interconnectedness, interdependency, and sustainability. Key concepts in global education include human rights, environmental responsibility, cultural studies, and sustainable economies. Global education views national politics and transnational economic policies with an eye toward international accountability. It stresses the role of global ethics in shaping humane, environmentally sound attitudes toward a world as a single ecosystem, and it teaches that a global conscious citizenry can effectively overcome such problems as climate changes, ocean pollution, and resource depletion with ingenuity, leadership, and cooperation.
The emphasis in global education on human rights awareness, environmental studies, cultural understanding, and sustainable economies addresses the multiple concerns in our “globalized” world. Global education views national politics with an eye toward international accountability, which must be governed by a shared international sense of global ethics. This ethic can be used to govern socioeconomic decision making based on a system of universal values found in the United Nations documents of human rights, agreements of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, the proposals of Amnesty International and other nongovernmental organizations (for the realization of human rights), and the Earth Chapter project.
For advocates of global education curricula in schools, it is particularly important to enter the current debates over globalization and to articulate where the aims of global education overlap with some of the arguments that have been discussed. Schooling will inevitably reflect the cultural biases on which it is established, but as a general rule, global education aims to:
- Find a cross-cultural foundation for knowledge and human values
- Refine understandings of globally applicable ethical attitudes
- Consider how international organizations might affect national political and economic decisions
- Foster a global civic culture with a capacity for altruism and empathy, one that encourages social action and community service
Much of current education planning is focused on preparing students for the increasingly interdependent world and the diverse societies they will graduate into. The need for educators to have a sound awareness of other nations and their social milieus, cultures, customs, political and economic processes, and education systems is now well understood by professional educators, parents, and policymakers. Accordingly, teacher education programs in colleges and universities around the world have responded by introducing courses of study and program components to help meet this need.
Such courses and program components fall under the generic heading of global education but may have different labels such as global comparative education or comparative education. Postsecondary education has indeed reacted to the globalization phenomenon in a way that seeks to use the technological, economic, social, and political developments of recent decades to develop a shared vision of global responsibility and economic sustainability.
The value and utility of global education in education is that there is a sense that current international events are such that all societies and their citizens must become very knowledgeable about the world beyond their national borders. Usually, this imperative is cast in economic terms. Business and political leaders constantly warn us that the world’s economies and financial systems are incredibly interconnected and our material well-being is dependent upon professionals and workers who have a sophisticated knowledge of this new global economy.
As we are at the beginning of the 21st century, we simply cannot afford the luxury of parochialism. There is no place to hide; the world is such that our professional, political, economic, social, cultural, and moral decisions and actions are intimately tied into new global realties. We must be possess the knowledge and skills to act wisely and prudently. Unless people are able to grasp issues and events well beyond their homes and national borders, they will not be able to anticipate, understand, and intelligently respond to such events. The 21st century demands sophisticated citizens who are competent to deal with rapidly changing realities. In other words, as much as we may wish to, we cannot turn back the clock to the days when family and local community to a large degree defined our values. Rather, the more complex and cosmopolitan viewpoint of the urbanized world traveler must merge practical and parochial concerns of the subsistence farmer: Both can play beneficial roles as global citizens. The answer may lie in integrating community-based values into the large-scale social institutions that currently govern our lives and allow us to conceive of a unified planet.
Another major rationale for global education switches our focus from the global to the local. That is, as teachers both at the secondary and post-secondary levels, we would want to be the most competent professionals that we could possibly be. To accomplish this, educators, and educational professional associations cannot limit themselves only to the knowledge and experience that local practitioners and education systems possess and generate.
Global education is schooling in all its aspects. Pedagogical strategies, curricular content, evaluation, classroom management, organization, and administration are conducted in fundamentally different ways around the world. Research into how children learn, what constitutes “best practices” in pedagogy, and how schools serve social and class interests is being conducted in many societies and in many different national and cultural contexts.
All around the world, educators, departments of education, education research institutes, professors of education, and others are working conscientiously to produce pedagogy, curricula, and diagnostic tools to better serve students, parents, society, and the teaching profession.
Courses in global education tend to fall into two general categories: survey courses and courses dealing with specific issues. Survey courses have three basic objectives. First, they seek to introduce students to the field of global/comparative studies in education. Students begin to learn about the nature of this interdisciplinary field, to appreciate its value, significance, and relevance, and to understand how global/comparative studies are pursued. Second, examinations of selected countries are undertaken as case studies. These case studies provide the database and substantive content for the third learning objective: comparing national systems of schooling; discerning common themes and trends; appreciating differences; understanding problems and controversies; and drawing conclusions, insights, and lessons.
A second category of courses focuses on specific issues in contemporary schooling, examined in an international context. In such courses, pressing issues in education are illuminated through an examination of how they are manifested in and grappled with in different societies and different national contexts. The scope of issues addressed by the current literature is quite remarkable; for example, equality of educational opportunity; educational achievement; evaluation and examinations; the treatment of minority groups; women in education; formal, nonformal, and informal education; delivery modes; teacher training, certification and supply; citizenship education; politics, ideology, and schooling; language and literacy; schooling and the economy; education, modernization, and development; education reform; accountability; effective schooling; school administration and governance.
The Development of Global Perspective in U.S. Education
Global perspectives in education is not a new idea. While efforts in this direction can be traced in earlier history, World War II was something of a watershed in its development. After the war, a widespread movement began around the world to foster education for “world understanding,” with the purpose of preventing a third world war. Children’s books in war-torn Europe, Japan, and the USSR featured peace and antiwar themes and empathetic stories about children of other lands.
In the United States, the Cold War chilled and slowed the movement for a time, especially in the 1950s, when McCarthyites saw “communism” behind every effort to increase international cooperation. But even in this climate, some educational leaders foresaw that the United States could not remain isolated forever from the rest of the world and that “international education” was in the national self-interest. The Soviet launching of Sputnik in 1957 was a spur not only to improved science education but also to increased pressure in the United States for international education. A year later, Congress passed the 1958 National Defense Education Act (NDEA). Under Title VI, it mandated the teaching of foreign studies, languages, and cultural understanding. However, practice did not match preachment; allocations were minimal. Years of effort followed as groups of educators and others in the United States pressed for congressional support for substantive international and global education programs. Then, for a time under the Carter administration and the leadership of Ernest Boyer as Commissioner of Education, major breakthroughs seemed imminent. Boyer wrote:
Education that fails to acquaint students with their dependence on their fellow [humans], or with the fragility of human life itself on a planet besieged with burgeoning population and dwindling resources, is not essential education; it may be largely irrelevant data exchange.
In this period, 14 states adopted global education guidelines or programs. And although the notion of global education came under fire in the Reagan administration, there is now growing support among some United States business and educational leaders.
But even among those who do accept the need for global education, there is no widespread agreement on its definition, purposes, or objectives. Phrases such as “education for world understanding”; “intercultural,” “international,” “global,” or “foreign affairs” education; “global perspectives in education”; “transnational” or “planetary” perspectives; or “education for spaceship earth” are used interchangeably, even by professionals, blurring important distinctions. This ambiguity may be symptomatic of the new and tenuous nature of thought in the field and of the different emphases of different persons and institutions at a given time.
The various terms also represent a certain historical development, with “global,” “interdependence,” “transnational,” “planetary,” and “spaceship” references emanating in part from the new vision of the planet from outer space, in which national political boundaries were seen as artificial human creations, the real subject being the life and functioning integrity of the planet as a whole. Even here, debates regarding terminology ensured, with some concerned that words such as “global” and “spaceship” were too mechanical and homocentric, and others that “planetary” seemed to obscure the significance of human activity and cultural difference.
Perhaps most important, the different terms are symptomatic of changing—and sometimes conflicting—worldviews or paradigms. For example, phrases such as “foreign affairs” or “international” education suggest a state-centric vision in which the major actors are seen as governments, usually from the perspective of how one’s own national interest is served. In contrast, terms such as “global,” “planetary,” “transnational,” or “interdependence” suggest a frame of reference in which variety of actors—economic, environmental, cultural, and people’s movements as well as governmental—are considered for their impact on the world as a whole. National interest here is seen as inseparable from world interest.
However, such distinctions remain largely theoretical because of the lack of consistency in their use. In a period of competing worldviews, the more interesting and significant question is not what terms are being used, but: What is the underlying vision and purpose of education? And how will it affect our children and the people and world of tomorrow? Even the sharpest critics concede some need for “global education”—but what is really at stake here is not whether global education is needed, but what will be its underlying purpose?
Three Views of Global Education
View 1: Win the Superpower Contest
This view merges from a bipolar vision of the world that assumes that the most important fact of life as we approach the 21st century is the ideological conflict between the superpowers and their competition for world hegemony. One of its more prominent spokespersons is former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett. In his December 5,1986 speech to the Ethics and Public Policy Center Conference, Bennett said:
Nowadays we are global power. We have global responsibilities, and international politics have a more pressing claim on our attention than ever before. We need to know—and pass on to our children—as much about the world as we possibly can.
What is it that should be passed on? In Bennett’s view, “the central fact of today’s political world is the defensive opposition of the United States and its democratic allies to the Soviet Union and its empire.” After criticizing other approaches to global education, Bennett suggested that “global education properly understood” should include “geography and foreign languages, some foreign literature, and a lot of European history.” But most important, our children should know first about themselves, about American literature and American history and American democracy.
What are its basic elements, its fundamental ideas? What are the values necessary to sustain it and the conditions for its success or failure?
And then they should know about totalitarian/ theocratic regimes. What are their ideological roots? How have they acted in the past? And how do they act in the present, toward their own people and toward other nations?
And, of course, our students should know about the graduations of social, political, and economic arrangements in today’s world between the few islands of the despotic, dictatorial, and theocratic countries and the vast encroaching ocean of the free and the democratic nations.
Finally, our high school students should learn about the key events of the last 60 years, particularly after the events of September 11, 2001, which have shaped relations between the United States and the Muslim world.
I would agree that all young people, from whatever nations, need to learn their national histories and how to be effective participants in their societies. They also need to distinguish between various forms of governance and to uphold basic human rights. But these are only starting points. A limitation of this approach is that it is not particularly global. It provides little understanding of other nations or cultures or of the deeper life processes of the planet. In its most benign form, it is an incomplete education— inadequate preparation for life in an increasingly interdependent world. Taken to extremes, it could lead toward fascism.
View 2: Win the Global Economic Contest
A second view of the need for global education in the United States emanates from international economic competition. In this view, the most important fact about today’s world is not superpower competition, but the emergence of one world economy—global capitalism—and shifting centers of economic power within it. In the United States, this shift has the potential power of a Sputnik II in reshaping the purposes and direction of education, except that now, the major competitor concerning national leaders is not Russia or Japan, but the European Union. The possibility of the United States losing its economic leadership to the European Union, is having the United States looking to European education for clues to economic sustainability.
Not only Japan and Korea but also Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the European Union have rapidly been gaining economic ground. Together, they represent a shift of economic power away from the West toward Asia. This carries not only economic importance but also potential significance with respect to political, cultural, military, and other forms of power in the future.
In the 1950s, the United States enjoyed a trade surplus; by the 1980s, it was experiencing chronic trade and payment deficits. The 1990s were healthy economic years for the United States. The country managed to eliminate the trade and payment deficits, but as the United States entered the 21st century, economic uncertainty coupled with the events of September 11, 2001 managed to reverse the American economic forward momentum to a crawl. Thus, in contrast to the “peace” focus of international education efforts after World War II and the military security goals that characterized the post-Sputnik emergency passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958, some U.S. leaders now see the fundamental purpose of international education as helping to maintain U.S. economic strength.
With this in mind, when Congress decided in 1980 to make the Title VI NDEA international education programs part of the “mainstream” Higher Education Act, the strong national security rationale for these programs was augmented to include not only military but also economic security. A special business and international education provision was added to establish “export education programs,” among other things. Congress stated:
- The future economic welfare of the United States will depend substantially on increasing international skills in the business community and creating an awareness among the American public of the internationalization of our economy.
- Concerted efforts are necessary to engage business schools, language and area study programs, public and private sector organizations, and United States business in mutually productive relationship which benefits the Nation’s future economic interests.
The relationship between education and economic security was underscored by the National commission on Excellence in Education in its 1983 report A Nation at Risk, which stated that since “our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation is being challenged by competition throughout the world,” a revolution in U.S. education is called for.
The Southern Governors Conference also addressed the problem of “international illiteracy” in the United States and its negative effect on U.S. ability to compete in the international marketplace. The conference’s advisory council, made up of leaders from business, education, and government, issued a no-nonsense report in November 1986, which came right to the economic point:
Americans have not responded to a basic fact: the best jobs, largest markets, and greatest profits belong to those who understand the country with which they are doing business….
We operate in a global economy. There are no more guaranteed markets for our goods. We must compete—and to compete we must be able to communicate…. We cannot trade goods or ideas unless we understand our customers and they understand us.
The advisory council’s recommendations for redressing the problem included increased emphasis in the schools on geography, international studies, and foreign languages; “sister-school” programs abroad; and teacher and student exchanges. They also recommend special educational programs and assistance to businesses, including programs on languages, foreign business practices, and cultural training.
View 3: Persons, Peoples, and Planet
It is clear, then, that when the pocketbook is affected, international or global education suddenly takes on a pragmatic importance that the purpose of peace alone could not give it. One can be grateful for increased U.S. interest in these aspects of global education—and yet sad, too. Certainly, economic strength and well-being is an important objective for all societies: How do we define it? And what is a truly global perspective in education?
As I look at the picture of the words in the above two approaches, I ask: What is the future of our children?
Africa (and Latin American, Asian, the Middle East) seems not to be included in either approach— except for a potential source of resources and markets.
Are our children to be educated to use their global competencies to take all they can from the world without giving to it? Are they to be educated to be cast in a global economic machine—to learn each other’s languages only so the corporations they work for can get richer? What of their lives, their growth in their communities and cultures, the human hearts, their humanness?
And who speaks for the earth? What languages do we need to learn to understand our one earth better, with its limits and possibilities; to understand that in the end, all we really have is the earth—the source of our health, wealth, and wisdom?
What Are the Right Questions?
Approaching the global education debate from the third viewpoint, we must therefore start by asking ourselves: Have we even begun to ask the right questions about the kind of education we need for the future?
Today, we have new powers over life and death never dreamed of by our ancestors—but we have no idea how to use them wisely and well. We who are from the earth and of the earth cannot determine the next states in the earth evolution. We can intervene in the DNA—the delicate genetic coding that has built up through eons of natural selection. We can create new species test tubes. We can cause millions of plants and animal species to go out of existence—a part of the earth, ourselves, of the divine, lost forever. And we can through our human decisions render this planet uninhabitable for our unquestioning assaults and our weapons of mass destruction.
Such powers over life and death were in the past ascribed only to God. They demand of us that we become more morally mature, more deeply attuned to the life processes at work on the planet and that we assume adult responsibility for the future of the earth and the future of ourselves and our grandchildren.
Until we ask the right questions, how can we help our children learn to find the right answers? Acid rain, CO2, deforestation, nuclear terror, hunger, overpopulation, alienation, despair, and terrorism— these challenges arise from our past failure to ask the right questions about education and our future together on the earth. Can such challenges be the starting place now for our shared journey into the future? By the very process of taking responsibility for finding solutions to these common threats, can we become more truly human and more truly a human community?
I believe what we need to know already exists among us—in our minds and hearts and deepest yearnings—and that we need to begin to plumb our own depths for insight. We can begin by asking about our children. What would we want them to know if they were the ones to determine our fate and the fate of the earth?
Would we not want them to have a deep understanding and appreciation of their shared evolutionary past—the story of the earth, of its creative life forces, of human becoming, and of the common human subsistence in that one earth—as well as of their more local and distinct social, cultural, economic, and political roots? Would we not want them to understand the increasingly interdependent nature of the world and to learn how to take a creative and responsible part in its life? Would we not also want them to understand how their choices will affect us and therefore how to choose wisely, not only on their own behalf but also on ours? And would we not want them to be aware of the future and the way in which their choices will dramatically affect those yet to come?
What of their own personhood? What would we want them to experience as they go through life? What of laughter and joy, friendship, sharing, struggle and pain, celebration, community, beauty, empathy and compassion, meaning? We see so many youths alienated, on drugs, killing themselves one way or another; what do we want for these newborns? This too needs to be accounted for in our educational vision.
If we knew these babies held our future and the future of the earth in their hands, what values would we want to guide their decision making? Only the maximization of their own profit? Or would we want them to know how to create and maintain the conditions for peace, freedom, human rights, social justice, and ecological balance—and how to think critically, resolve conflicts, and solve problems creatively?
The central paradox in education is the fact that the millions of babies born this year do hold our future and the earth’s future in their hands, even as we who nurture and educate them, by the very way we do so, will be shaping theirs. By the educational legacy we give them, we will be preparing them not only for the future we hope they will have, but also for the future they will make for us.
Thus, the axial question as we go into the future is: “Education for what?” What will our children need to know, not only to survive in the interdependent world we are entering, but to become more truly human in its midst, more truly human community? It is the mission of every educator to struggle with these questions in our minds and hearts as we confront the most awesome task of nurturing and educating the world’s children.
Finally, we need teachers who understand that society is inside all of us and all of us are inside society. We need teachers who are aware that unquestioning docility and compliance will pose more serious threats, anger, and turbulence in our world. We need teachers who recognize the value of the United Nations organization and its firm standing on humane principles against the power of totalitarianism. We need teachers who see themselves as agents of change, rather than defenders of the status quo. We need teachers who will commit themselves to the promotion of building global goodwill and to the elimination of all those cultural, religious, and traditional practices that alienate and dehumanize all of us. History tells us that we should have done more than train or teach others to think and feel in morally and politically adequate ways. It is never too late.
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