Education, culture, and society

Jim Cummins – the multi-literacy specialist at the University of Toronto – spoke at a conference I attended last year. He stated that, “when students see themselves reflected in their learning, they are more likely to stay engaged and continue on with their education.”

This quote highlights the interrelationship between education, culture and society. Education is most effective when it is culturally relevant, and when children are allowed to learn within a system that not only benefits their society (e.g. making them into obedient citizens), but also benefits them.

In a globalized world the appreciation of “other” truths is essential to conflict resolution, global interaction, and the peaceful advancement of humanity.

Any educational system is a product of its society, BUT a society can also be transformed as a result of education. Similarly: education can be a tool for cultural reproduction, BUT through education we may also see a cultural transformation (in society and within each student). It is this intricate inter-dependence that I find so interesting.

I cite Michael Apple (2001) a lot: “Curriculum reflects what is considered by an education system as valid and legitimate knowledge” (as cited in Gross, 2006, p. 607). Education, then, is not synonymous to knowledge, as it is the society (or the government) that decides which “segments of truth” to include and exclude. It is crucial to keep this in mind as we go through our education – and to remind our children that the truth is never one-sided or definite. In a globalized world the appreciation of “other” truths is essential to conflict resolution, global interaction, and the peaceful advancement of humanity.

References:

Gross, Z. (2006). Power, Identity, and Organizational Structure as Reflected in Schools for Minority Groups: A Case Study of Jewish Schools in Paris, Brussels, and Geneva. Comparative Education Review, (50), 4. 603-624.

Advertisements

Globalization: dispersing local cultures, not destroying them.

Globalization is an irreversible process, and discussing to which extent it is harmful on the local level, is meaningless at this point. Like an avalanche reshaping the landscape, globalization is well on its way to permanently changing the way we view the world, as well as each individual’s role in it. We cannot ignore globalization, much like we cannot ignore an avalanche. Our only option is to work on finding a way to ride on top of the immense wave of change, and redefine the new world on our own terms. Do we want this new globalized reality to be defined by multinational corporations (MNCs) and what the marketplace views as beneficial? Do we allow neo-colonialism to take root, and dictate the knowledge transmitted through multimedia and the Internet?

Kubow and Fossum (2007) point out that what we call globalization is in fact better described as a Westernization, and that it exits a risk that “global society develops predominantly in the image of the privileged developed world” (p. 292). While the global communication portals have been opened, it seems the flows of knowledge, ideas, and values are unilateral. The American brand Coca-Cola is commonplace in even the most underdeveloped areas of the world (Brooks et al., p. 311), and the presence of a McDonald’s restaurant has become a measurement for a country’s economic development (De Leo & Telasi, 2012).

Being global does not contradict preserving local worldviews and values; on the contrary, it should mean creating a platform for cultural exchange and sharing of knowledge and wisdom

I’m deeply worried by what I see as a loss of local cultures and practices. What concerns me even more is the assumption many people make, that this Westernization is inescapable. Many of us have settled with the idea that the erosion of traditions and culture is a natural – albeit regrettable – result of globalization. I strongly disagree. It is evident that the Western culture has not suffered, but rather has spread throughout the world at record speed, aided by what Friedman so accurately coined the “flattening of the world”. Why should we not allow – or at the very least encourage – cultures from Africa, Asia, and South-America to spread to the West? Must the global transmission of knowledge remain unilateral?

As an educator I fear that what we now call ‘globalization’ might turn into a ‘homogenization’ of the people of the world, as Kubow and Fossum (2007) warns us about. This is not how I wish to redefine the new world arising from the ‘globalization avalanche’. I call for a true globalization, where the portals of knowledge are multilateral, and all peoples and nations have a place. Being global does not contradict preserving local worldviews and values; on the contrary, it should mean creating a platform for cultural exchange and sharing of knowledge and wisdom. The main challenge in achieving this, of course, is educating the coming generations on global issues, and arousing a sense of global identity.

Upon entering a new era of “web-enabled global collaboration” (Friedman, 2005) it is crucial to steer the globalization process in the direction we as global citizens desire. As Friedman explains, the third era of globalization will be spearheaded by individuals: not countries or companies. It is down to each and every one of us to take an active part in sharing knowledge across country borders, religious beliefs, and ethnicity. Educators will play an important part in preparing young citizens to not only accept and understand globalization, but to recognize the potential it unlocks in moving towards a more peaceful, tolerating world.

References:

Brooks, I., Weatherston, J., & Wilkinson, G. (2010). Globalisation, challenges and changes. In The international business environment (pp 306-336). Retrieved from http:// www.catalogue.pearsoned.co.uk

De Leo, P. & Telasi, F. (2012, May) McDonalization. (Unpublished dissertation). Università degli studi di Milano-Biccocia, Italy, Dipartimento di Economia, Metodi Quantitativi e Strategie di Impresa website: dipeco.economia.unimib.it

Friedman, T. (2005). The World is Flat. [Video file] Presentation at MIT. Retrieved from http://video.mit.edu/watch/the-world-is-flat-9145/

McLuhan, M. (1965). Mcluhan Predicts World Connectivity. [Video file] Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/arts-entertainment/media /marshall-mcluhan-the-man-and-his-message/mcluhan-predicts-world-connectivity.html

Kubow, P.K. & Fossum, P.R. (2007). Comparative Education: Exploring Issues in International Context. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.