Globalization And Education Essay

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Globalization involves the integration of economic markets around the world and the increased movement of people, ideas, goods, services, and information across national borders. It has been marked by a rise in the power of corporations vis-à-vis nation-states. The influence of globalization is growing in education spheres as well. For example, the standardization of education under the No Child Left Behind Act is certainly connected to a desire for global competitiveness, particularly in educating citizens to participate in the global economy. So, too, is expanded corporate involvement in schools. This entry provides a brief overview of globalization and then looks more closely at its impact on schools.

This entry first defines globalization and explores its technological, political, cultural, and economic dimensions. It then describes concerns about the downsides of globalization, in particular, how many see it as synonymous with global capitalism, and thus the cause of various forms of social misery, such as a widening gap between the wealthy and poor, ecological destruction, homogenization of cultures, and excessive consumption and greed among the privileged. Next, it examines the ways in which globalization has led to significant shifts in educational priorities. For example, in the United States, there has been increased competitive standardization of teaching and learning, growing commodification of education, and a move toward seeing schooling as primarily a private good. Finally, the entry considers some ways of harnessing the democratic potential of globalization through creating an expanded notion of global citizenship, using new forms of technology in the service of social change activism, and reinvigorating discussions of democracy and social justice.

Globalization may be the word that best characterizes the twenty-first-century world. It is a term talked about across academic disciplines, in the media, in advertising, and by politicians and world leaders. Yet despite the fact that this word is talked about in so many different contexts, both popular and scholarly, there is no clear and/or agreed-upon definition of globalization. It is an idea that is elusive, complicated, and contentious. People often seem to use the term in contradictory ways depending on their social position, cultural perspective, and level of investment in current political and economic systems. Some herald globalization as the path toward a future of growing prosperity, intercultural cooperation, and technological advancement. For others, it is simply the most current manifestation of the forces of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalist greed, with the inevitable outcome being increased impoverishment and marginalization of many of the world’s people, as well as wide-scale environmental and cultural destruction.

The term globalization is increasingly used in education spheres as well, though perhaps not as quickly as in other academic disciplines. For example, the standardization of education under the No Child Left Behind Act is certainly connected to a desire for global competitiveness, particularly in educating citizens to participate in the global economy. So, too, is expanded corporate involvement in schools. The fact that so many people are talking about the phenomenon of globalization, and in so many different ways, indicates that important issues are at stake in how people come to understand what many call the defining reality of the contemporary era.

What Is Globalization?

It is difficult to describe concisely the phenomenon of globalization. It is referred to variously as an ideology, a practice, a trend, or simply the best way to characterize the contemporary world. Some of the confusion surrounding globalization is surely due to the fact that the concept is used in so many different places and in multiple ways. Although the word itself is relatively new, the processes to which it refers— especially movements and interactions between cultures, countries, and regions—have been around seemingly forever. John Coatsworth claims that there have been several cycles of globalization, beginning with the period of global exploration in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, running through the creation of conquest colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and leading to more contemporary efforts by major superpowers to develop an international system of trade rules and regulations, and to remove artificial barriers to the spread of free-market capitalism. Although there were surely some noble goals in these initial phases of exploration, there is no doubt that, viewed from this perspective, there are also distinct parallels between globalization and colonialism, as even in its initial phases, globalization involved a desire to obtain wealth and power.

Jan Scholte usefully offers five different conceptual usages of the term globalization: internationalization, liberalization, universalization, modernization, and deterritorialization. Internationalization simply refers to international relationship, exchange, and interdependency. Often, this is facilitated by liberalization, that is, the removal of government barriers in order to create a more fluid and open world economy. Similarly, neoliberalism, or the deregulation of economic markets and the growth of a competitive private sector, is also frequently used in connection to globalization. When people, goods, and ideas are spread throughout the world, a kind of universalization takes place, where the same products, beliefs, and worldviews become seemingly pervasive everywhere.

What tend to get universalized are the values and social structures of modernity: capitalist economic arrangements, rational forms of understanding, bureaucratic organizational structures, industrial processes, and media forms. Such modernization contributes to the destruction of indigenous cultures and the diminishment of self-determination. Finally, globalization involves changes in the integrity of countries, or deterritorialization, such that geographic places, distances, and borders no longer solely mark social spaces. As part of these geographic changes, different regions of the world are now much more closely linked, and actions in one part of the world can affect, and be affected by, people in other places both near and far.

In the current climate, the integration of people and places across national borders seems to have happened almost overnight, and in ways faster than most people’s ability to comprehend or control it. In part, this is due to technological advances such as the Internet, which have allowed people in one country easy access to others around the world, facilitating the sharing of knowledge, the trading of products, and the diffusion of ideas. Moreover, the economies of countries throughout the world have become increasingly intertwined. More people than ever before have access to means of communication (computers, cell phones, cable systems); they can buy, sell, trade, and otherwise invest money right from their home computers; and through Internet and satellite technology, they can quickly learn what is going on around the world.

Paralleling the various definitions of the term globalization, there are multiple arenas in which this idea takes shape: political, technological, cultural, and economic. Politically, it involves the lessening of the strength of nation-states as large corporations, through transnational capitalist processes, dominate spheres of decision making and influence. These transnational corporations tend to have more power than many countries. Arguably, by locating businesses and investing in developing countries, these corporations create economic growth and job opportunities, and contribute to an increased standard of living for many people. Technologically, there is a dramatic increase in electronically mediated forms of communication to the degree that people begin to see the world, and their place in it, differently. Older, industrial type factories have increasingly been replaced by high-tech, computerized companies.

Culturally, interconnection among citizens throughout the globe is becoming commonplace. One can enter an online discussion group about this topic of globalization and, in real time, talk to people from Albania to Zimbabwe. This increase in global communication can lead to new forms of collaboration, problem solving, and creativity. At the same time, it can also result in the homogenization and Americanization of cultures, as people everywhere come to desire the same consumer products and watch the same mass media news and entertainment.

Although the political, cultural, and technological dimensions of globalization are certainly important, it is the economic dimension of globalization that most advocates and critics address, most particularly, the ways in which globalization has amounted to a seeming celebration of unfettered, free-market capitalism. Here, the integration of the world’s people is largely about creating more potential consumers and markets; about greater access by the privileged elite to both human and natural resources throughout the globe. Critics charge that, ultimately, globalization is about greed, profits, and the desire for private gain.

The increased contact among peoples from different cultures can stimulate creativity and innovation, and, concurrently, economic development and productivity. Moreover, global sensitivity can enhance collaborative international efforts for ameliorative social change. For example, social justice activists can now work together more easily to expose, and bring attention to, violations of human rights, and consequently pressure governments to ensure basic protections for their citizens. Although international relationships have existed for hundreds of years, what seems new in this current era is the pace of change and the degree to which the lives and livelihoods of all people in the world are now so closely intertwined, even though people may not be fully aware of the depth of those connections.

The Dark Side Of Globalization

Despite the promises of worldwide economic growth and the creation of a more harmonious global community, there are also dark sides to globalization. These are linked to uneven and inequitable relationships between countries and geographic regions, such as between the “developed” and the “developing” world, and to the uncontrolled growth of free-market capitalism. It sometimes appears that the desire for cross-cultural exchange by wealthy countries is really a desire for economic gain through access to cheap raw materials, low-paid labor, and new export markets.

Capitalists in wealthy countries claim that their activities are a necessary part of the growth process for developing countries, and that the fruits of these efforts trickle down to even the poorest of citizens. The problem is that many people in poorer countries may not see these fruits and may feel that they have been exploited and that the quality of their lives has actually gotten worse. Poor citizens in wealthy countries feel the effects of this system too, as their places of employment are downsized and jobs are sent overseas. Thus, many see globalization as tantamount to capitalism without any barriers, limitations, or protections and fear that what results is a world of growing inequity, of the haves and the have-nots.

In addition to contributing to mounting economic inequities, this expansion of capitalism significantly complicates the democratic promises of public education. Arguably one of the central goals of education in U.S. society is to cultivate the habits and dispositions of democratic citizenship. These include commitments to diversity, equity, cooperation, reflective thinking, social reform, and a concern for the common good. Yet the market-driven imperatives that largely underlie most manifestations of globalization often run counter to these goals.

For many years, scholars in the foundations of education have been troubled by the tenuous relationship between capitalism and democracy. Implicitly and explicitly, they have been arguing against the processes that are currently so much a part of globalization. They have called for schools to nurture democratic habits, teach compassion, and foster equality of opportunity and social responsibility. Similarly, critical pedagogues have called for educators to foreground the social justice issues related to the effects of a capitalist economic structure on the quality of people’s lives. In the current context of globalization, rethinking the relationships among education, democracy, and capitalism is increasingly crucial.

In mass movements around the world, people have protested contemporary manifestations of globalization, most notably whenever the World Trade Organization meets. These ant globalization activists represent a diverse range of concerns. They include labor organizers, environmentalists, human rights workers, students, indigenous peoples, and citizens from developing countries who see their ways of life being irreparably altered when the driving motivation for global interaction seems to be profit. What loosely unites these activists is a shared fear about the consequences of uncontrolled expansion of global capitalism.

Global capitalism and globalization are routinely treated as synonymous in the literature and by critics, as the economic dimension of globalization dominates much of the thought about this phenomenon. Proponents of capitalism claim that the internationalization of this system will raise the standard of living for people throughout the world. The logic is simple. Competition is stimulated by a free-market system in which barriers to trade are eliminated, foreign investment is encouraged, and public goods are privatized. This in turn necessitates more efficient use of resources, creates innovation, enhances productivity, and ultimately lowers prices.

By opening up markets, companies can manufacture products in the most advantageous locations, such as where they are close to natural resources or cheap labor. This makes consumers happy, because they can then buy products more cheaply, and purchase more, which leads to a desire for more, which stimulates growth. The ultimate assumption is that efficiency and competition invariably lead to economic growth, the benefits of which will trickle down to the poorest members of all societies.

There are multiple problems with this logic, however. Primarily, many argue that this system has made the wealthy richer, but it has not had the same effects for the poor, and that the extremes of wealth and poverty have grown rather than shrunk in the era of globalization. This is largely due to the fact that the playing field for economic competition has historically been quite uneven. Given multiple different ways of measuring growth, as well as determining inequality, supporters and critics of globalization argue back and forth about whether free trade has raised the global standard of living. Yet even when some indications of economic growth can be shown to be the result of trade liberalization policies in one country, they are often at the expense of those in other places.

There is also a danger of conflating quality of life simply with economic measures such as the gross domestic product. In other ways, the quality of people’s lives is compromised when they are motivated by the quest for personal profit and gain. For example, many Americans consume excessively and wastefully, are burdened by huge debts, and are stressed out and overworked. In response to concerns about the quality of people’s lives under a system driven by capitalist motivations, ant globalization activists maintain that at its most basic level, the problem with globalization is that it is a system that puts profits before people. It encourages competition, greed, exploitation, and a winner-take-all mentality that divides rather than unites citizens of the world. For many, the reality of globalization is simply that it elevates economic gain above all else, including the quality of people’s lives. Here, the intimate connection between globalization and global capitalism is a significant cause for concern.

For many critics, one of the biggest problems with capitalism as the guiding international system is that it is amoral. The goal of this system is for money to make money; the bottom line for capitalists is profit. Allan Johnson argues that the system does not require ethical or moral reflection; what matters is not what people produce (e.g., healthy food, affordable housing, health care, drugs, weapons, pollution, slavery), but whether there is a market where they can sell their products for a profit. At the same time, capitalism contributes to the commodification of our lives, as workers who do not own the means of production are forced to sell their labor for wages. Where profit is the bottom line, other dimensions of human relationships are ignored and other social considerations are overshadowed. This is a particular challenge to education for democracy because there are more important considerations in assessing the quality of people’s lives than simply how much they can acquire and consume.

Despite the claims that economic globalization makes life better for everyone, the realities and consequences of this movement are well documented by critics: a widening gap between the wealthy and poor, loss of job security as mobile companies race to find the cheapest labor, ecological destruction resulting in part from corporations moving to countries with few environmental protections, sweatshop work conditions in developing nations eager for capital influx, excessive greed and consumption by those driven by a profit motive, homogenization of world cultures, insurmountable debt crises, diminishment of biodiversity, cultivation of dependency where there was once self-sufficiency, massive pollution, threatened national sovereignty, and widespread poverty in the Third World.

Impact On Education

When the measure of worth is profit, and material gain is the criterion by which social growth and progress are judged, it becomes increasingly difficult for educators to argue for schooling as a public good, to decouple individualistic consumption from democratic citizenship, and to work toward a world of peace and harmony as opposed to one of exploitation. Yet just as globalization can mean many different things, the relationship between globalization and education is equally contested. Certainly, expanded international relationships and interconnections can inspire challenges to parochialism and ethnocentrism in schools, especially so students can better work with, and learn from, those who are different from themselves. New modes of technology can lead to novel forms of research, inquiry, and pedagogy. As teachers and students attempt to develop global networks for collaboration and cooperation, the fact that they can communicate more easily with people throughout the world is surely advantageous. In this sense, globalization can be truly democratizing, as expanded access to information and people can result in more equality of opportunity, greater intercultural awareness, and new avenues for social justice activism.

However, just as the neoliberal economic policies of global capitalism tend to be the defining feature of globalization, neoliberal ideology also tends to be the dominant force currently influencing educational reform, eclipsing the potential of more democratic goals. Rather than educational changes that are aimed at helping marginalized citizens become part of a larger global community marked by more just social arrangements, typical reforms are overwhelmingly consistent with a neoliberal, corporate agenda of standardization, competition, and privatization. Corporations have infiltrated schools and policy makers have increasingly sought market solutions (such as vouchers, private schools, and choice programs) for educational problems. Corporate influence over schooling is manifested in more standardized approaches to teaching and learning, and, concurrently, what some may find as excessive testing and competition; the use of supposedly more efficient forms of pedagogy, such as distance learning and online courses; and calls for the privatization of education and a diminishment in the belief that education is a public good.

Beyond such obvious forms as subtle and overt advertising in schools and the use of corporate constructed curriculum materials, business management ideas encapsulated in such words as efficiency, accountability, competitiveness, world-class standards, calculability, and control have grown in popularity among educational leaders. The No Child Left Behind Act, one of the most sweeping pieces of educational legislation in recent history, emphasizes mastery of content standards, regular measurement of student performance through frequent testing, and accountability schemes that punish students and teachers in already struggling schools.

Critics argue that schools increasingly teach toward tests; creativity is suppressed in favor of a narrow vision of performance; teaching is increasingly tantamount to transmission; and competition among students, schools, districts, and states is exacerbated and seemingly celebrated. Yet, at the same time, there is the illusion of fairness and equality of opportunity when everyone takes the same tests, and thus a belief that the winners in this system deserve the rewards heaped upon them. The logic behind such a corporate vision of schooling is that education should prepare students to succeed in the global marketplace. The way to do this is to condition them to engage in the competitive behaviors that are supposedly necessary to economic flourishing, in particular, the elevation of individual, self-interested achievement above all else.

The idea that education is fundamentally a means for personal growth and a path to individual gain is especially pervasive on college campuses, where corporate funding streams, student demands, and the prevalence of new technologies have significantly shifted educational priorities. Students increasingly enter higher education with the mindset of consumers. They seek degree programs with guaranteed job placement and think of education instrumentally: as a means to more earning power. They demand greater convenience, flexibility, and immediate relevance, and thus online courses and occupational, as opposed to liberal arts, programs have grown in popularity.

At the same time, colleges operate as big businesses, restructuring programs and priorities to meet the needs of the market. From a business perspective, online classes and programs are popular because of their cost efficiency; if students learn to desire them, even better. They require minimal human resources, yet generate large income streams. So, too, do large, lecture-based classes, also increasingly prevalent on campuses. Learning is commodified when faculty are pressured to seek external funds for their research, often from corporate sources, and marketability is the primary criterion for determining course offerings.

Perhaps the most significant way in which the forces of globalization have influenced education is the trend toward the privatization of schooling. This is not surprising, as the privatization of public goods is a defining political and economic feature of neoliberalism and, concurrently, globalization. To succeed in a globalized world, Thomas Friedman maintains that countries must don a “golden straitjacket.” Among other things, this entails making the private sector the central engine for economic growth, shrinking state bureaucracies, privatizing public institutions and industries, and encouraging domestic competition.

As conservative critics have argued that public school systems are top-heavy and cumbersome bureaucracies, and that absent competition, they are not pressured to improve performance, the calls for privatization have gained increasing popularity. The push toward privatization begins with the rhetoric that schools are now failing, despite the existence of evidence that would refute this claim. When people are convinced that schools lack rigor, that students are failing to master even basic skills, and that students in other countries outperform Americans in many measures of academic achievement, it becomes easy to also convince them that the United States needs to drastically overhaul education. Here, the logic of privatization becomes persuasive, especially when it can be linked to abstract democratic ideas such as freedom, choice, and individual rights, as well as to the mythologies that support capitalism, such as meritocracy and social Darwinism.

The practices put into place under the No Child Left Behind Act seem to greatly support the path toward privatization, particularly in the form of vouchers, school choice programs, and the eventual development of even more for-profit schools. This is because the Act mandates that students meet performance standards but does not ensure that they have the necessary resources and support to do so. When schools fail to meet these standards, they must provide options for students to transfer to other schools, although there is no provision that other schools must accept them, nor is there any guarantee that space will be available at these other schools. This mandate thus seems implicitly designed to create a market for alternative educational programs, and thus opens spaces for privatization, especially as the Act allows for failing schools to reconstitute as charter schools and/or to solicit private management firms to run daily operations.

The assumption behind privatization is that the competitive climate of free-market schooling will force all schools to get better. At the same time, a privatized system rewards individual initiative and conceptualizes education as a private good. This echoes the logic of global capitalism in suggesting that competition stimulates growth and innovation, the benefits of which supposedly trickle down to all citizens. Yet a belief in schooling as a public good, critical to the development of more than simply self-centered consumers, is missing from this corporate vision of schooling, and from many of the educational manifestations of globalization. This corporate vision is seen to conflict with the goal of cultivating democratic citizens committed to equity, justice, ethics, compassion, human flourishing, and ultimately, to the common good.

Democratic Visions In An Era Of Globalization

The democratic promise of education is significantly complicated in the current phase of globalization. Educators have been asked to narrowly prepare students to participate in the economic market, students have developed an even more instrumental rationality in the face of schooling, and corporate influences have permeated every sphere of academic life. Yet there are forces within the globalization movement itself that can help to challenge these trends and to reassert the importance of critical democratic citizenship, which fundamentally involves responsibility to others and to social betterment. As part of uncovering these forces, Douglas Kellner calls for the development of a critical pedagogy of globalization, or a globalization from below, in which people resist the negative consequences of a free-market-fueled capitalist globalization and use the forces of globalization for more socially just ends. In particular, he argues that the new technologies that are so much a part of globalization can be used in more utopian ways: to circulate information, provide avenues for creative expression, offer a vehicle for the development of collaborative social change strategies, and link networks of resistance. For example, the Internet can allow activists to band together, expose corporate abuses, market socially and environmentally conscious products, and rally citizens to hold corporations accountable for more ethical behavior.

There are a number of ways for educators to respond to the realities of globalization and to use the tools and technology that it has unleashed in order to foster more democratic ends. These include developing an expanded conception of democratic community and global citizenship, encouraging the use of new media and technology in the service of activist work, and responding to the dark sides of globalization with renewed critical discussion on the meaning of democracy and justice in the contemporary era. As globalization has created deep interconnections among people and places around the world, there are glimmerings of a new, potentially more powerful conception of democratic citizenship developing as well. In this vision, global citizens would recognize their interdependence; see their happiness as linked to the happiness of others; and believe it important and valuable to learn to work amid differences and across such artificial boundaries as race, class, religion, ethnicity, and nation.

Living in a globalized world compels people to think more deeply about their responsibilities to others both locally and globally. To be good global citizens, people ought to learn to understand and value cultural diversity, work collaboratively with others both near and far, communicate better with those who don’t necessarily share their language or values, and look at the consequences of their choices in much more nuanced ways. All of these represent new priorities for contemporary education as well as important democratic values.

Taking the idea of a global community more seriously could compel students and teachers alike to rethink their responsibilities to others as citizens of the world, not just citizens of a particular geographical location. This would help all people to realize, for example, exploitation anywhere in the world, especially for the sake of the private gains of a few, hurts all of people in the long run.

The technological tools of globalization have certainly provided people the ability to develop a more global outlook in relation to the world’s problems. The Internet has created a climate of increasing transparency and enhanced access to information. For example, no longer can human rights abuses in remote regions of the world be hidden from broader public view and critique. Through satellite, television, and Internet technology, barriers to information are more porous than ever. These technological advances offer powerful tools for activists around the world, who can and do use electronically mediated forms of communication to circulate information, galvanize support, organize protests, and pressure corporations and governments to be more socially and ecologically responsible.

Educators could certainly help students use these new forms of technology to express themselves, become active citizens, and take action against the oppressive elements of the world around them. In this sense, increased access to information, along with newly developed avenues for freedom of expression, can contribute to empowering citizens to imagine and create more democratic social, economic, and political relationships.

Ultimately, globalization has both dark sides and spaces for possibility. When conceptualized narrowly as a celebration of the uncontrolled growth of capitalism, the deleterious effects of globalization are most evident. Yet exposing the dark side of globalization can also shed light on new possibilities. That is, the more educators talk about problems, as well as imagine more sustainable alternatives, the more they can help to reinvigorate discussion on matters of democracy, social justice, and civic responsibility. This discussion is central to keeping alive the promise of democracy in the face of increasingly undemocratic international practices and relationships. Arguably, many educators believe that democracy is the ideal form of social life, or at least the best form of living that citizens have yet come up with. This is because it is a way of life that most consciously strives for social justice by aiming for the fulfillment of individuals and the growth of communities, and by balancing individual rights with commitment and responsibility toward others. Free-market-fueled globalization presents a significant challenge to both the idea of democracy, broadly conceived, and educating for democratic citizenship.

Educators need to invest much more energy into understanding the dynamics of globalization, challenging its problematic effects, and harnessing its democratic potential. One place to start is by helping to revive the public discourse around education for democracy by asking and exploring critical questions about the global realities of our contemporary world. What are the ethical and social responsibilities of global citizenship? What are the most socially just economic arrangements? What is the relationship between democracy and capitalism, and can they coexist? What are the conditions that make democracy possible? What protections must be put into place to ensure environmental justice and ecological sustainability? How do, and should, actions in the global sphere reflect the values that should be passed on to children? What constitutes the good life? The current context of globalization, although obviously troubling in many ways, could also provide the impetus educators need to take issues of democracy, justice, and citizenship much more seriously in our public and educational discourse. In this way, educators might begin to harness the democratic potential of living in a truly globally interconnected world.


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