Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Global Education

In 2008, the Wall Street Journal identified and ranked the rise of a new breed of business gurus. Their core ideas, if "synergized" into two sentences, might look something like this:
With the flattening of the world at a steroid driven pace (Thomas Friedman #2), business management strategies have become dated (Gary Hamel #1) because you can innovate without emigrating and snap judgments and first impressions can offer us a much better means of making sense of the world (Malcolm Gladwell#4). Because gathering, managing, and using information are essential determinants in success (Bill Gates #3), human cognitive competence is better described in terms of a set of abilities, talents or mental skills called intelligences (Howard Gardner #5).
These thinkers are being called the "new gurus" because they have been able to observe, analyze, and explain changes around the world and how people are responding to those changes. More specifically, three of the five thinkers listed above developed their insights in other fields and then applied them to the business world. No matter what metrics we use to describe and measure changes in the world or how we choose to apply them, it is becoming increasingly clear that knowing more about the world and knowing how to know more about the world is critical in a world where it is possible to know more than we have ever known about the world. And this may be the likely reason why the work of Howard Gardner is so highly regarded in the world of education today. Dr. Gardner, a professor of psychology and education at Harvard, is best known for his theory of "multiple intelligences" which has had a profound impact on how we think about students.
In some of his more recent work, Gardner has noted the profound absence of a discussion of the future in American education, especially as we discuss global education. In line with this comment, many scholars and writers now cite global demographic shifts that are expected to soon occur as a part of their work. With the world changing so rapidly, education takes center stage in the conversation about our ability to navigate the tidal shifts in global dynamics.
As a logical response to such shifts, Dr. Gardner is now focused on "five minds" that he believes are vital to the future of students in the "new world." These five minds are:
1) disciplined-trained to mastery in at least one area; understands the schema of a subject area
2) synthesizing-able to usefully organize ever-growing amounts of information
3) creating-seeks to ask good questions, new questions, and "make new mistakes"
4) respectful-beyond mere tolerance of diversity (Gardner argues that tolerance is a low bar)
5) ethical-conceptualizes the importance of moving beyond self-interest in our sense of being
If these five minds are, in fact, vital to our future success, educators must also consider the type of knowledge that will help cultivate these minds. Both the motivational and transformational knowledge that will help us cultivate stronger "minds" are abundantly found in global education and considerations of the future. In turn, the reciprocal effect of the five minds is the production of stronger global education and a more confident future. This effect should be a pillar in the argument for global education and should serve as the basis of curricular reform as we prepare young people to think and live in a more global context. This is vital because transnational living conditions are becoming the norm in everyday life; and depending on your reference points, this transformation is occurring either slowly or rapidly. Westernization and Americanization are realigning into something new that people understand (and misunderstand) now as "globalization."
Martin Skelton of Fieldwork Education suggested that we (educators, parents, and students) need to be pushed out of our comfort zones into a "crisis of engagement" in order to be more effectively prepared for our roles in the world that is becoming. "Cosmopolitanism" is a tool that can help people mediate such a "crisis" as global awareness evolves. In Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, Kwame Appiah notes that the encounters between different peoples in history have been countered by cosmopolitanism which mediates our human "obligations to others" with the value we place on "particular human lives" or individuality. Skeptical of simplistic ethical maxims, Appiah argues that cosmopolitanism is the name not "of the solution but of the challenge" as we again find ourselves in a state of heightened global interaction. If being pushed into discomfort allows us to recognize our cosmopolitanism, then another pillar of global education should be the immersion of students into "crises of engagement."
The current emphasis on global education stems from a growing body of knowledge about the world that is constantly fed by the internet, 24-hour television news cycles, and the recognition that we live in an interdependent world. Although this body of knowledge itself has grown out of a long history of human interest in the larger world, global education is today quickly gaining more momentum and schools are rushing to adopt new vocabularies and programs to help students be more adept and competitive in the "flat world." Private schools and teachers, are particularly well positioned to do this because they face fewer obstacles when incorporating new programs or redesigning curriculum to examine topics like globalization.
This ability to be responsive is both a blessing and a curse in independent schools but in terms of global education, it allows teachers to quickly shape a global context for curriculum. Smaller class sizes allow independent school teachers to engage their students in more direct "crises of engagement" that can lead to more nuanced understandings of the world and its issues. In a more traditional sense, teachers can induce a "crisis of engagement" in students by asking them to analyze and write about the development of their own biases and perceptions of the world. This could take the form of a historiographical essay or it come as the result of interviewing an immigrant for an assignment of some sort.
As the dialogue about global education continues, private school teachers will certainly employ the good ideas of experts like Howard Gardner and continue to focus on the development of analytical thinking skills and character that have always been the anchor of a good education in our schools. But the transnational nature of the many issues that make this a powerful, engaging, and intriguing time in history will also require teachers to shift focus and push students in new directions with new methodologies. Private school teachers can lead the charge in this transition by creating and taking advantage of creative opportunities to push students outside of their comfort zones. The results of such an effort will become a third millennium curriculum that cultivates dynamic thinking and moves us toward the great promise of the future with the hope of conscious participation in global culture.

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