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Education in Global Education

Three Views Of Global Education In American Educational Discourse

In a period of competing worldviews, the more interesting and significant question concerns not what terms are being used but, rather, the underlying vision and purpose of education and how it will affect our children and the people and the world of tomorrow. Three distinct views of the purpose of global education emerged in the United States during the late twentieth century.

Win the superpower contest.

This view emerged from a bipolar vision of the world that assumed that the most important fact of life as the United States approached the twenty-first century was the ideological conflict between the superpowers and their competition for world hegemony. One of its more prominent spokespersons was the U.S. secretary of education, William J. Bennett. In his December 5, 1986, speech to the Ethics and Public Policy Center Conference, Bennett spoke of the United States's global responsibilities as a global power and, as a result, the need to learn as much about the world as possible. In Bennett's view, the defensive position of the United States and its allies to the USSR was the central fact of the political world. More recently, after criticizing other approaches to global education, Bennett suggests that global education properly understood should include geography, foreign languages, some foreign literature, and a good deal of European history. But most important, Bennett suggests that American students should learn about American literature, history, and especially democracy; about totalitarian and theocratic regimes; about the social, political, and economic differences between despotic and dictatorial nations and democratic nations; and, finally, about the key historical events of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century that created the current relations between the United States and the Muslim world.

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 to fascism.

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 the world in the late twentieth century was 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 had the potential power of a Sputnik II in reshaping the purposes and direction of education, except that the major competitor striking fear in the hearts of national leaders in the early 2000s was not the USSR but Asia and the European Union.

In addition to Japan and Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the European Union were rapidly gaining economic ground. Together they represent a shift of economic power away from the West toward Asia. This carried 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 twenty-first 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 saw 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 that

  1. 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.
  2. Concerted efforts are necessary to engage business schools, language and area study programs, public and private sector organizations, and United States business in a 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 because "our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation [was] being challenged by competition throughout the world," a revolution in U.S. education was 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 in November 1986 a no-nonsense report that 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 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 recommended special educational programs and assistance to businesses, including programs on languages, foreign business practices, and cultural training.

Persons, peoples, and planet.

A third view of global education sees as its purpose not winning a struggle for military or economic power but rather an understanding of humanity's responsibility to individuals, to peoples, and to the planet itself.

This view seeks a deep understanding and appreciation of humanity's 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. It seeks to help children worldwide to understand the increasingly interdependent nature of the human world and to learn how to take a creative and responsible part in its life. It also wants them to understand the consequences of their choices—not only to themselves but also to those around them and those yet to come. Thus, the values needed to guide responsible decision-making must include not only the maximization of profit but also peace, freedom, human rights, social justice, and ecological balance. To create and maintain the conditions necessary to realize these values they must learn how to think critically, resolve conflicts, and solve problems creatively.


Banks, James A. Educating Citizens in a Multicultural Society. New York: Teachers College Press, 1997.

——. Teaching Strategies for Ethnic Studies. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2002.

Diaz, Carlos, Byron G. Massialas, and John A. Xanthopoulos. Global Perspectives for Educators. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999.

Lynch, James. Multicultural Education in a Global Society. London and New York: Falmer, 1989.

Marciano, John. Civic Illiteracy and Education: Battle for the Hearts and Minds of American Youth. New York: Lang, 1997.

O'Riordan, Tim, ed. Globalism, Localism, and Identity: Fresh Perspectives on the Transition to Sustainability. Sterling, Va.: Earthscan, 2001.

Parker, Walter C., ed. Educating the Democratic Mind. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

Southern Governors' Conference. Advisory Council Report. Atlanta, Ga.: The Association, 1986.

Spring, Joel H. American Education. 11th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Tye, Barbara Benham, and Kenneth A. Tye. Global Education: A Study of School Change. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

United States, National Commission on Excellence in Education. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Washington, D.C.: The Commission, 1983.

John A. Xanthopoulos

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