Critical theory fills a gap in terms of action. Not only can (must) we criticize the unbalanced world order; we must intervene.
I see critical theory as a kind of ‘fight-back’ approach to comparative education; an opponent to the (rather patronizing) modernization theorists. As we learn from van Heertum & Torres’ (2009) well-formulated article, critical theory emerged as the need to assess one’s own system arose. Other theoretical frameworks do not encourage criticism or questioning of the system in which we reside. Instead, theories like positivism or modernization focus on how to measure, improve and compare education systems without diverging from the concept of ‘us’ and ‘them’ (usually with the added notion that we are better than them).
While dependency theorists critique what they see as neo-colonialism through education and economic systems, I feel critical theorists span even broader (and delves even deeper). Critical theory fills a gap in terms of action. Not only can (must) we criticize the unbalanced world order; we must intervene. This is where I find this theory especially compelling. Educationalists like Paulo Freire— who incidentally introduced critical theory to the realm of education— called for research as an emancipatory force, and not just a tool for interpretation. What good does interpreting the world do, if we don’t change it for the better?
To recap, therefore, I think critical theory evolved as a way for researchers to ‘research’ and critique the very system that produced them in the first place (i.e. the Western knowledge system). In addition, critical theory grew out of the desire to put words into action, to emancipate the oppressed, and to change the world order.
Educationalists like Paulo Freire— who incidentally introduced critical theory to the realm of education— called for research as an emancipatory force, and not just a tool for interpretation. What good does interpreting the world do, if we don’t change it for the better?
This last point— change the world order— is a bit difficult to grasp, though I found Morgan’s (2003) article helpful in this regard. He basically questions every single aspect of the system I am entrenched in to such a degree that I struggle to free myself from it. He even goes as far as challenging the Western culture’s abstract conceptions of time (past, present, future). Here, critical theory provides a way to fill the gaps of the many internal paradoxes in Western culture: by looking to indigenous frameworks (emancipating the oppressed), we might find better explanations of reality. One of the paradoxes Morgan (2003) mention, is the one between the culture of absolute proof (true/false dichotomy) and religious fatalism. This is such a good point. I feel many are unable to see the flaws within their own systems, yet are quick to label indigenous knowledge as ‘superstitious’ or ‘back-ward’. By examining systems from a critical framework, I believe we might be able to avoid such labeling, and consequently digging ourselves deeper down in the rut.
Go Critical Theory!
Morgan, D. L. (2003). Appropriation, appreciation, accommodation: Indigenous knowledges in higher education. International Review of Education – Internationale Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft – Revue Internationale de l’Education, 49(1-2), pp. 35-49.
Van Heertum, R. & Torres, C. (2009). Globalization and neoliberalism: The challenges and possibilities of radical pedagogy. In M. Simons (Ed.). Re-reading education policies: Studying the policy agenda of the 21st century. Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
As the need for multiculturalism in education grows, so does the necessity for a more sincere inclusion and acceptance of ‘the other’: the other belief, the other opinion, the other experience of events. Could a feminist approach be better equipped at addressing the need for multicultural education?
Feminism represents the empowerment of ‘the governed’; groups who historically have been ignored, misunderstood, or discriminated against.
While I previously have been unfamiliar with the implications of feminist culture in educational research, I now see clear benefits of adhering to this type of viewpoint. Feminism represents the empowerment of ‘the governed’; groups who historically have been ignored, misunderstood, or discriminated against. Thus, feminist educationalist does not only seek to eliminate gender inequalities, but also inequalities based on ethnicity, religion, class, and age. At the very core of feminist theory, lays the belief in true diversity— not merely through the superficial teaching of ‘other’ cultures, but through the implementation of multicultural practices. When schools and education systems are investigated, interpreted, and evaluated in a male-dominated climate, there will inevitably be disregard of the views and needs of minorities and women.
For me, a feminist approach puts new hypotheses and questions on the table, and expands our area of investigation: In which ways are internal dynamics in schools perpetuating social divisions? Can open-mindedness and acceptance be taught? How can students’ silence be interpreted? As feminist theory emphasizes the use of ethnographic methods, I am especially partial to a stronger influence of feminism in educational research methodology. Although objective quantitative inquiry can provide useful information on, say, educational testing methods, I see subjective research as the most reliable way of gaining a more comprehensive understanding of educational systems.
Feminist methodology opens for deeper investigations into internal dynamics and power structures in schools; structures that often work against official curricula, and perpetuate undesirable patterns in society
In a global community tainted by religious conflict, terrorism, and exploitation, ensuring cultural awareness and acceptance among citizens should be a top priority for governments. More specifically, I believe that tolerance of ‘otherness’ must become a vital part of national curricula. Feminist approaches hold significant potential for meeting the moral challenges in educational planning. Also, feminist methodology opens for deeper investigations into internal dynamics and power structures in schools; structures that often work against official curricula, and perpetuate undesirable patterns in society.
The average person is not aware of their cultural lenses, or that their view of the world is shaped by a set of acquired “cultural truths”. We learn this through our society, our schools, our news, our entertainment, but rarely do we reflect on it.
Unless, of course, we are researchers, in which case such reflexivity is crucial.
According to Lincoln, Lynham, & Guba (2011), “reflexivity is the process of reflecting critically on the self as researcher” (p. 124), and in my opinion it is important to engage in this in every step of the research process. When doing educational research, it is useful to clarify our own cultural lenses, and how we feel about education.
We cannot escape our culture or our perspectives. All we can do is be aware of them.
Our own experiences shape our views whether we are aware of them or not. Denzin and Lincoln (2011) refer to these views as perspectives, stating that while “paradigms represent belief systems that attach the user to a particular worldview (…) perspectives are less well developed system, and it can be easier to move between them” (p. 5, emphasis added). If we are made aware of our cultural lenses, we can change them (or at least attempt to see the world through the eyes of the other).
We cannot escape our culture or our perspectives. All we can do is be aware of them. Research without personal perspective is impossible, and any positivist that claims differently is simply not self-aware enough. I studied biology and chemistry, and have done a lot of “pure scientific” research. Even in this type of research, however, we must take into account the cultural lens of the researcher. No research is neutral, in my view. This is not necessarily negative, however. What is hard data without interpretation and analysis? And how can anyone interpret and analyze without automatically carrying with them their worldview in the process?
Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (2011). Introduction: The Discipline and Practice of Qualitative Research. In Denzin & Lincoln (Eds.) The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage.
Lincoln, Y., Lynham, S., & Guba, E. (2011). Paradigmatic Controversies, Contradictions, and Emerging Confluences, Revisited. In Denzin & Lincoln (Eds.) The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage
It is ironic that while our society as a whole is globalizing, we as individuals are so disconnected from each other. In the West, we find products from the developing world in our supermarkets, and in the South they listen to American pop songs. On the surface, it does indeed seem that we are approaching a unified global community. How is it, then, that we as consumers can be so removed from those who produce our goods? How is it possible, that in a world where information crosses the globe in a few seconds, we in the developed world remain so unaware of the conditions of our fellow global citizens?
perhaps are we too far removed to realize that we are in fact part of the perpetuation of an exploitative and unjust system.
The role of international organizations and MNCs
In the movie, “The Great African Scandal” (2007), we are introduced to the working conditions of farmers and miners in Ghana.
As I watch the rundown wooden huts, the barren farmland, and the extreme poverty, I ask myself: “Is this my fault? Am I responsible?” The program host, Robert Beckford, is quite direct in his accusation, saying, “we are screwing them.” (Beckford, 2007). But who are ‘we’? It is easy for us as individual consumers to point the finger at multinational corporations (MNCs) and the ‘evils’ of neo-colonialism, but it is not helping the situation to take on the role of powerless pawns when in fact we have the power to influence the current system. The genius of the capitalist system is that the ultimate power rests with the consumer, yet we seem to be too comfortable in our blissful ignorance to bother making an effort. Or perhaps are we too far removed to realize that we are in fact part of the perpetuation of an exploitative and unjust system.
What we see in Ghana today is a result of what Beckford refers to as ‘economic imperialism’. Ghana might have gained its political independence, but in economical terms, the country is still highly dependent on the West. The lives of many Ghanaian farmers are being dictated by international corporations and financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The sad fact is that the very institutions that should be helping Ghana are in fact increasing the gap between the industrialized West and the impoverished South. According to Beckford this is all a part of a calculated political process. The current inequalities we see in so many developing nations today, are a direct result of the capitalist agendas of Western MNCs and international financial institutions.
Paradoxically, it’s not only financially driven agendas that are ‘screwing’ the developing world; it is aid organizations as well. In the documentary, we learn that the American rice given as aid actually undermined the local rice farmers. Today, this continued import has nearly driven the Ghanaian rice farming to the ground.
From the empirical evidence in Ghana, we see that international organizations often can do more harm than good. In my opinion, this ties back to the point I made earlier, about us as consumers being so removed from the producers. Had the officials in the aid organizations had an in-depth knowledge of the reality ‘on the ground’, would they still have imported rice into Ghana? Often, I feel like Western companies and aid organizations simply throw money at poor nations in an attempt to redeem themselves from the mistakes made during colonialism. Instead of tackling the problem head-on, and humbly investigating the true causes of modern-day poverty, they design development programs and policies from their offices in the developed world. When visiting local villages, and witnessing how farmers live, it is evident that the development programs are not always working. There is still child labor on the cocoa plantations, there are still violations of human rights in the gold mines, and only 3% of fair trade produce is being bought from major export companies (Beckford, 2007). What are ‘we’ doing wrong?
Impeding and facilitating factors
In my opinion, the main impeding factors to development and education are (1) the lack of liability for non-national corporations, (2) the lack of economic protectionism, and (3) the dependence on foreign aid.
When the distance between worker and consumer stretches across continents, it is important that there are clear laws in place to make sure that the physical detachment does not also lead to a moral detachment
Firstly, there are not strict enough laws in place to ensure that MNCs take responsibility for their plantations, factories, and workers. An inherent problem with multinational corporations is, of course, that they feel no direct accountability towards the country in which their workers live. When the distance between worker and consumer stretches across continents, it is important that there are clear laws in place to make sure that the physical detachment does not also lead to a moral detachment.
Secondly, there needs to be more economic protectionism, at least in the growing phases of development. While an open market economy works well for a developed country, it endangers a developing country based mostly on primary production. If they allow cheaper international products on the market, it will damage the local industry, and increasing poverty.
Thirdly, I feel the classic mantra ‘trade, not aid’ still holds true. Small aid packages will not lead to sustainable development. Only through establishing a strong foundation within industries and education, can developing countries truly become independent.
In a country like Ghana, the abundant natural resources should be a facilitating factor. I believe that if a proper set of laws were put into action, the wealth from gold would benefit the country instead of enriching MNCs. As we know from countries like Botswana, a certain amount of government control can ensure that the revenue from natural resources goes back into developing the country by creating and improving public services, and strengthening national business.
The consumer responsibility
A corporation is a dangerous entity, as it dilutes responsibility among several different board members, shareholders, and even consumers. In the end, who is responsible for 10-year-old Baba having to work for his uncle and not being able to go to school? Who is responsible for pouring toxic waste into the drinking water of miners? On one side, we find the head of corporations claiming the consumers’ demand for lower prices force them to cut down on production cost. On the other hand, we have consumers requesting fair trade. The message of the documentary “The Great African Scandal” is clear: individual consumers have the power. We can refuse to buy products that are not certified fair trade. We can educate ourselves and others on the living conditions of the people making our chocolate, clothes, and electronic appliances. We can demand more transparency in MNCs’ financial spending and earnings, as well as request a debate around the efficiency of aid. When we realize that it is our money fueling this unequal situation, we might also realize that we are controlling the situation. When our money stops being spent on unfairly traded products, the corporations will be forced to adapt.
According the positivist perspective, empirical knowledge can be attained through the collection of data. But is condensing education to a set of numbers beneficial or harmful to the improvement of schools worldwide?
I have an issue with transforming un-countable qualities into ‘hard data’. This problem probably stems from my background in biology and chemistry, where I did a lot of statistical research. In most branches of science there is a definite answer: you either observe an outcome or you don’t. You can measure the weight of the retained chemical product, and you can count the number of parasites in a liter of water. Can we truly measure education in the same way?
Personally, I found this ‘transferring of research approach’ very difficult. According the positivist perspective, empirical knowledge can be attained through the collection of data. But is condensing education to a set of numbers beneficial or harmful to the improvement of schools worldwide?
I’m thinking especially of how the presence of standardized tests undermines true education and knowledge-transmission. Baker, Goesling, and Letendre (2002) draw their conclusions from the TIMSS test, where countries like Singapore and Hong Kong had the highest math scores. What does the test score say about student-centered learning, independent thought, or critical thinking? How can we measure students’ ability to participate in a fair democracy, to accept other cultures, or to use their skills to the benefit of their communities?
As members of a global community, we call for skills like ‘cultural acceptance’, and ‘cross-culture communication’, yet we usually rank our schools according to how students score on math and reading. How do we even begin to measure ‘open-mindedness’?
I fear that the positivist approach traps the development and improvement of schools in a mesh of standards and test score goals. For anyone working in education, it is evident how limited a teacher is by his/her curriculum, how education and funding is so closely linked to student academic performance, and how most tests fail to capture a nuanced picture of the student and the school. So why do we keep looking to these test scores and their conclusions for guidance?
How do we even begin to measure ‘open-mindedness’?
Without quantifiable data, I guess we would be stumbling around in darkness. I do recognize the need to ‘legitimize’ the field of comparative education, and for governments, policy makers, and donors to have a way to assess their input. What I am more interested in, however, is more recording of actual experiences, interviews, and opinions in educational research.
In Baker et al.’s (2002) article they use the amount of books in the family as an indicator of socio-economic status (SES). Had they measured this in my community in Rwanda, most students would show incredibly low SES. It is not in the culture, however, to store books at home. Yet, my students (and their families) are some of the most well-read individuals I know; they circulate books among them, and donate them to poorer schools when they have finished. In addition, they spend a lot of time in libraries. This is just one example of how a cultural custom might distort statistical findings.
I do recognize the need to ‘legitimize’ the field of comparative education, and for governments, policy makers, and donors to have a way to assess their input.
Putting a definite number or a countable value to something can be dangerous, in that it gives us a false notion of reality. If there are so many difficulties in collecting true data, should we even try to compile it into ‘findings’? Also, the obstacles in obtaining quality data are numerous: bias and trickery in data presentation, lack of accuracy, not culturally sensitive, language obstacles, and so on. (Crossley and Watson, 2003).
My main issue with the positivist approach, therefore, is the confidence it places on statistical data. I feel there are too many limitations in the process of data collection and interpretation, for us to base entire policies on their findings. The reliance on ‘objective’ data creates a notion that one system can be directly transferred from one country to another, but this, in my view, is not true.
Baker, D., Goesling, B. & Letendre, G. (2002). Socioeconomic status, school quality, and national economic development: A cross-national analysis of the “Heyneman-Loxley” effect on mathematics and science achievement. Comparative Education Review, 46(3), pp. 291-312.
Crossley, M. & Watson, K. (2003). Comparative and international research in education. New York: Routledge.
The pros and cons of colonial legacy in Africa and Asia. Was education the significant factor in sending the “Asian Tigers” on their way, while most of the African colonies sunk into poverty?
Discussing former colonies, Hassana Alidou’s (2004) states, “Political independence does not necessarily lead to educational or economic independence” (p. 195). We can especially see how former colonial powers has continued its economic influence through The World Bank’s structural adjustment programs in the 1980s and on. As the Human Capital Theory (HCT) linked education with economic growth, controlling and influencing national school system became more important. Not surprisingly, Tan (1997) notes that, “the first signs of a major reorientation in education policy appeared in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War” (p. 303). This was when the field of development truly accelerated, and as soon as education was seen in connection with national growth and development, schools became battlefields for power struggles. Now, several good things can be said both for HCT and Western influence on education in the Global South. For one, it brought legitimacy and validity to expansion of national education…
However, I see the (post)colonial influence on education as bittersweet: one on hand increased availability and the establishment of secondary and tertiary educational institutions, but on the other decreased local autonomy and relevance.
With roots in the colonial system, the school system is often hierarchical and didactic, undermining the value of local languages and ways of life
In Palestine, for example, the restriction of access to education has been a way to control the population, both through limiting access to higher forms of education, and by threatening teachers and students. The Israeli policy on targeting education as a method of punishment was first seen during the second Intifada (Abu-Saad & Champagne, 2006).
In much of post-colonial Africa, Western influence has brought about the establishment of universities, and a massive expansion of public schooling. However, as Alidou (2004) points out, all these improvements have been built with European templates and languages. With roots in the colonial system, the school system is often hierarchical and didactic, undermining the value of local languages and ways of life.
Unlike Africa, a lot of Asian school systems opted for national languages of instruction and locally relevant textbooks. Indeed, we learn from Tan’s (1997) article that Hong Kong and Singapore both made efforts to localize the curriculum. Could this choice be the reason “The Asian Tigers” prospered, while large parts of Africa suffered from negative economic growth?
Abu-Saad, I. & Champagne, D. (2006). Introduction: A historical context of Palestinian Arab education. American Behavioral Scientist, 49(9): pp. 1035-1051.
Alidou, H. (2004). Medium of instruction in post-colonial Africa. In J. W. Toellefson & A.B.M. Tsui, (Eds.), Medium of instruction policy: Which agenda? Whose agenda? NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum (pp. 195-214).
Tan, J. (1997). Education and colonial transition in Singapore and Hong Kong: Comparisons and contrasts. Comparative Education, 33(2), 303-312.
Internationally recognized as a founder of peace education, Betty Reardon’s work has inspired a generation of peace educators, including Dale T. Snauwaert. In this short essay, I will compare and analyze the views and contributions of these education theorists.
According to Reardon (1988), “[e]ducation is a social enterprise conducted for the realization of social values” (p. 23). The central questions, then, when re-imagining education systems is what values should be included, and how these values might be transmitted. When applying this definition to peace education, another question arises: What is peace? Enthused by Reardon’s work, Snauwaert (2012) asks whether or not peace is a fundamental value. Both educators recognize the significance in defining peace as such a definition will determine the legitimacy of peace education.
While there is still contention on the definition of peace as a human right, Snauwaert and Reardon provide compelling support for peace being a global moral duty. Snauwaert, in particular, promotes the notion of a moral community and all human beings having a moral standing, deserving moral consideration (Snauwaert, 2012). This view springs from cosmopolitanism, defined by Reardon as “the value of universal moral inclusion grounded in respect for human dignity” (Snauwaert, 2012, p. 50). The challenge for education is to help each individual identify him/herself with the global community. Echoing the ideas of Paolo Freire, the individual must be enabled and made to realize his power to change his surroundings. Furthermore, the individual must find meaning and power in relationships.
Between Reardon and Sneuwaert, the former has a more refined view on the importance of relationships in creating peace. Her concept of peace is based in feminism, specifically the importance of wholeness, integrity and interdependence (Reardon, 1988). Snauwaert, on the other hand, pulls his definition of relationship and peace from the Earth Charter. He understands peace as “the wholeness created by the relationship with oneself, and then with others” (Snauwaert, 2014). Again, education plays a pivotal role in fostering such relationships, and is therefore an essential tool in creating and promoting peace. As James Smith Page (2004) states, “[p]eace is ultimately about relationships, [so] peace education itself is also about relationships” (p. 10).
within a cosmopolitan philosophy of peace education, pedagogy must be inquiry-based, dialogical, value-based, and empowering
Moving on from peace and peace education, the last point of analysis is pedagogy. In a co-authored article, Reardon and Snauwaert (2011) conclude that within a cosmopolitan philosophy of peace education, pedagogy must be inquiry-based, dialogical, value-based, and empowering. Reardon is especially well-defined in her vision of a dialogical model of learning, referring to the teachers as an “edu-learner”. I see this term as an urge to move away from dictatic, hierarchal learning practices, and in the process leaving behind cultures of obedience and dehumanization, both of which serve as fertile ground for war and violence.
This comparative analysis has highlighted how Reardon’s work has served both as a foundation and a continual source of inspiration to Snauwaert, among others. Peace education as a field is still in progress, but the concepts of a global moral community, peace as relationships, and the “edu-learner” stand out to me as cornerstones in its future development.
Reardon, B. A. (1988). Comprehensive Peace Education: Educating for Global Responsibility. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Reardon, B. A., & Snauwaert, D. T. (2011). Reflective Pedagogy, Cosmopolitanism, and Critical Peace Education for Political Efficacy: A Discussion of Betty A. Reardon’s Assessment of the Field. Journal of Peace Education and Social Justice, 5 (1), 1-14.
Smith Page, J. (2004). Peace Education: Exploring Some Philosophical Foundations. International Review of Education 50(1), 3-15.
Snauwaert, D. (2012). Betty Reardon’s Conception of “Peace” and its Implications for a Philosophy of Peace Education. Peace Studies Journal 5(3), 45-52
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.
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