Learning in the Global Era: International Perspectives on Globalization and Education

Learning in the Global Era: International Perspectives on Globalization and Education

by Marcelo Suárez-Orozco

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An international gathering of leading scholars, policymakers, and educators takes on some of the most difficult and controversial issues of our time in this groundbreaking exploration of how globalization is affecting education around the world. The contributors, drawing from innovative research in both the social sciences and the neurosciences, examine the challenges


An international gathering of leading scholars, policymakers, and educators takes on some of the most difficult and controversial issues of our time in this groundbreaking exploration of how globalization is affecting education around the world. The contributors, drawing from innovative research in both the social sciences and the neurosciences, examine the challenges and opportunities now facing schools as a result of massive migration flows, new economic realities, new technologies, and the growing cultural diversity of the world's major cities. Writing for a wide audience, they address such questions as: How do we educate all youth to develop the skills and sensibilities necessary to thrive in globally linked, technologically interconnected economies? What can schools do to meet the urgent need to educate growing numbers of migrant youth at risk of failure in societies already divided by inequality? What are the limits of cultural tolerance as tensions over gender, religion, and race threaten social cohesion in schools and neighborhoods alike? Bringing together scholars with deep experience in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, this work, grounded in rich examples from everyday life, is highly relevant not only to scholars and policymakers but also to all stakeholders responsible for the day-to-day workings of schools in cities across the globe.

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Learning in the Global Era

International Perspectives on Globalization and Education
By Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco

University of California Press

Copyright © 2007 The Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-520-25436-7

Chapter One

Veronica Boix Mansilla and Howard Gardner



Over the past decade, scholarship on globalization and education has shed light on multiple ways to prepare youth to meet current challenges. It has examined the impact of immigration on children's cognitive, emotional, and linguistic development in migrant and receiving communities (C. Suárez-Orozco & M. Suárez-Orozco 1995, 2001; M. Suárez-Orozco & Qin-Hilliard 2004; M. Suárez-Orozco, C. Suárez-Orozco, & Qin-Hilliard 2005). It has mapped the cognitive and socioemotional competencies at a premium in postindustrial market economies (Levy & Murnane 2004; OECD-PISA 2005). It has advanced educational policies to narrow the opportunity gap across nations. It has revealed the potential of information technologies to enhance cross-cultural learning (Battro 2004; Negroponte 2005; Turkle 2004; Rose 2005), redefined long-standing conceptions of "international education" and "cosmopolitanism," and assessed the impact of an "education abroad" (Fail, Thompson, & Walker 2004; Gunesch 2004).

Informed by these approaches, we explore a different means of preparing the young for our fast-changing times. Working in classrooms, we give students the opportunity to examine key forces shaping lives on the planet-for example, how the accelerated traffic of capital is transforming cultural values and economies in the developing world, and how cultural identities blend and collide as migrants respond to demographic, economic, and cultural impulses. We argue that, to thrive in a globalized world, young people must understand key patterns and dilemmas facing our planet. Indeed, student learning about globalization should include more than the acquisition of knowledge about world history and cultures. Learning should be inspired by the goal of developing global consciousness -a mindful way of being in the world today.

Our observations stem from an empirical study in which twelve exemplary Massachusetts high-school teachers, with the support of peers and researchers in the study, designed model experimental units of instruction on globalization. Teachers were identified through a multiphase process: Faculty, school principals, and teacher leaders affiliated with research and development programs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education offered initial recommendations. Forty-five potential candidates were interviewed over the phone to yield a subset of twenty teachers whom we interviewed in person after classroom observation in order to select twelve.

Selection criteria included a demonstrated commitment to excellence in interdisciplinary teaching, a clear constructivist approach to instruction, diversity in the sample in terms of disciplinary background, a reflective stance toward teaching and learning, and willingness to attend a biweekly seminar and design experimental units of instruction. Ten of the teachers were or became teaching award recipients (e.g., Massachusetts teacher of the year, biology teacher of the year, Abbot Scholars award). Such awards did not inform our initial selection. The teachers served a variety of student populations in their schools. Five teachers worked in urban public schools, four in suburban public schools, two in a rural charter school, and one in a suburban public school. Seven teachers were male, and five female.

Close documentation of teacher-seminar discussions and classroom practice, supplemented with in-depth interviews and examination of selected student work, shed light on the dilemmas these educators confronted when teaching globalization, and on the need to reconceptualize the purpose of the enterprise as one of nurturing global consciousness. In what follows, we begin with a portrait of good practice in teaching globalization and an outline of the pedagogical challenges it presents. We then introduce the concept of global consciousness as a desirable long-term goal for contemporary education. In conclusion we discuss implications of an education for global consciousness and propose lines for further study.


For two years (2003-05) our research group at Harvard's Project Zero worked closely with twelve teachers representing a range of disciplines and serving various socioeconomic and ethnic communities. Collaboratively, we developed experimental units on globalization that were woven into teachers' regular courses and designed to expand students' learning by inviting them to examine our changing world. In a humanities course, a study of late-nineteenth-century immigration was extended to consider contemporary migration and the reshaping of cultural identities taking place in increasingly cosmopolitan cities. Students historicized their own experience of migration, borrowing insights from literature and anthropology to understand themselves and others in their largely immigrant community. In a science class, students moved beyond understanding why the climate is changing to considering local and global approaches to redistributing the indirect costs of greenhouse gas emissions. A course in dance reframed a focus on hip-hop and the use of Laban notation to spotlight an examination of transnational youth cultures. Students discussed the homogenization and localization forces at play when youth in Brazil, Japan, and the United States re-create movements and meaning in the dance. Similarly, a course in photography led students to explore how to create visual portraits that depict hybrid identities and ambient signs of globalization.

Michael K, a tenth-grade history teacher in a suburban public school, led a unit on the impact of outsourcing on developing countries. The idea for his unit emerged at an early seminar meeting in which teachers and researchers were assessing the value and viability of globalization as a focus of instruction. "Globalization is everywhere!" Michael pointed out. "It is changing our lives and the lives of our students in every way." Pointing to the label of a plastic orange juice bottle standing on the table, he read: "Orange juice concentrate from USA, Brazil, and Mexico.... Customer information 1-800- ... website.... Se habla español."

Who picked the oranges for our juice? Michael passionately asked the seminar members. Under what working conditions and with what new opportunities? Who benefits from new patterns of trade production and consumption? Does knowing about Mexican farmers demand a new form of consumer responsibility? With these questions in mind, Michael prompted his students to investigate the transnational production of a familiar object of their choice (e.g., Apple iPods, Motorola cell phones, Reebok sneakers, Fender guitars). Over six weeks, students investigated the impact (positive and negative) that job migration is having on job-receiving communities in Mexico, India, and China.

Group presentations provided a climactic ending to the unit. Before an audience charged with deciding whether the community should approve a new sneaker plant, each team presented the promise and the risk of building a new plant in the group's region. When the group that studied Reebok in the province of Guangdong took the floor, three students representing corporate interests sought to charm their audience with detailed descriptions of job opportunities, working conditions, and health standards. They emphasized the company's compliance with articles 4 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-(banning slavery and maltreatment), as well as its voluntary compliance with European standards for greenhouse gas emissions. Preempting citizens' concerns, the corporate spokespersons spoke of the hardships of Chinese migrant workers facing shifting values in society, and introduced the company's programs to help them maintain mental and physical health.

A student representing an environmental NGO's perspective explained short- and long-term consequences of deforestation on nutrition cycles and the extinction risk for endangered species such as the giant panda and golden monkey. Another student was quick to denounce Reebok's labor violations in the early 1990s, including cases of child labor, compulsory overtime, and limited freedom of speech. Her critique, that corporate principles of conduct were not being enforced on the ground, met the energetic response of a student who outlined the measures taken by Reebok to prevent new violations. The latter student described monitoring procedures in detail and Reebok's labor standards, recognized by UNICEF, Time magazine, and the Boston Globe as corporate models. Members of the audience challenged presenters with questions about the prospects for small local businesses, long-distance relationships in families, intergenerational tensions, and the impact of urban development on rural China.

After deliberations, the class approved the construction of the new plant but requested that local authorities develop stricter monitoring procedures (e.g., surprise visits) to enforce compliance with labor standards. They proposed the involvement of independent monitors represented by NGOs. In a shift from several students' initial orientation, environmental degradation was a minor concern when considered in light of economic development and social mobility. In feedback to the class, Michael pointed out this change of heart.

Michael's unit placed his students at the center of globalization's core dilemma-the inescapable association between economic growth afforded by the transnationalization of production and the destabilization of social, cultural, and natural capital that puts social cohesion and sustainable development at risk. Students' assumptions were challenged: "I always kind of thought globalization was a good thing, a sharing of ideas, lowering boundaries," one student (Jenna) said halfway through the unit. "Something most of the world had in common. Everyone has a stake in [the] world economy. But it is much more complicated. The strong, like the U.S., can easily use the weak and manipulate them ... for higher profit, without thinking about the person working hard for pennies. In part because the person working for pennies feels he got a great deal with a new job anyway! It's a catch-22 and it will never get better! ... That's it."

Michael was pleased with students' grounded understanding of the promise and perils of off-shoring. Students addressed matters of economic growth, environmental survival, and cultural and social cohesion sensibly, employing concepts and modes of thinking novel to them-from considering indicators of the investment climate and a country's GDP, to interpreting data on social mobility and biodiversity. What was striking about this unit is how effectively it raised students' awareness of the global connections present in their daily lives. "They owned the problems that they studied in a deep way," Michael explained as he described the unit as being about today, about the products the students buy, the world in which they live, and ultimately about themselves as participants in such a world.

"I went right home, turned over all the dishes in my house, and found that they were all made in Malaysia. Pretty much everything in my house seems made in Malaysia!" commented one student, exhibiting a new sensitivity for transnational production and lamenting knowing "almost nothing" about the people who made the dishes on which she eats. Another student noticed that her father's latest issue of Time magazine had a special report on China's record economic development. "It was exciting -I was feeling like reading Time magazine cover to cover. I asked Dad if I could borrow the magazine ... he was surprised and glad."


As Michael's example illustrates, teaching globalization places students at the center of contemporary debates-the immediacy of which they begin to recognize in the products they purchase and the newsstands they walk past. Globalization is in the air, and by treating it explicitly as a phenomenon for exploration, students learn to recognize the symptoms of a changing planet. They reflect on their experiences outside of school with the aid of conceptual tools and perspectives that challenge or expand their initial commonsense intuitions. Teachers in our group recognized the opportunity to enhance the contemporary relevance of their curricula. Although exciting, designing quality instruction about globalization presented abundant pedagogical conundrums.

Finding Focus in a Ubiquitous Phenomenon

At multiple points, teachers' experience of globalization was complicated by its hyperconnectivity. As a member of the group put it, "It relates to all disciplines, all places, and all cultures ... all sections of the New York Times." Identifying a feasible focus for instruction became teachers' first challenge. What about globalization, exactly, was worth teaching and why? The problem of finding a workable focus was exacerbated by teachers' partial and unsystematic understanding of globalization. Members of the group spoke past one another as different teachers emphasized distinct focal points: the post-Cold War zeitgeist, the decline of the nation-state, imperialism, McDonaldization, the Internet, migration, outsourcing, and so forth.

To support teachers' decisions about focus and offer a common ground for exchange, our group developed a conceptual map highlighting four core problem areas that embody globalization's central tensions and dilemmas for inquiry: Economic integration emphasized the opportunities and costs for economies, societies, cultures, and individuals associated with the flux of capital and production around the globe. (Michael's unit focused on this quadrant of our conceptual map.) Environmental stewardship concerned the state of the global environment (including global health) and what we can and should do to ensure its long-term sustainability and well-being. Cultural encounters focused on the forces of homogenization, hybridity, and localization that shape how nations, cultures, and smaller groups exchange ideas, people, and cultural products. Governance and citizenship referred to emerging tensions between national and supranational forms of government, as well as the extent to which individuals enjoy global rights and bear responsibilities as a function of their humanity.

Scholarly work on globalization in economics, anthropology, sociology, law, and philosophy informed our understanding of each problem area. By placing their unit designs primarily within one problem space, teachers were able to locate their interests and instructional emphasis in relation to those of others on a common conceptual landscape. They were also able in each unit to focus selectively on aspects of everyday experience (e.g., consumer products, migrant friends, hip-hop music).

Helping Students Understand Culture

Cultural globalization is a familiar experience for teachers and students alike, even though it is unrecognized as such. Visibly present in urban centers around the globe, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Reebok, and Motorola billboards stand as reminders of the impulse toward cultural homogenization. Yet helping students understand how individuals in various cultural contexts make sense of these icons differently presented an unprecedented challenge for teachers.

The difficulty had multiple roots: Students were often anxious as they addressed issues of "culture." They tended either to minimize cultural differences or to feel paralyzed by the fear of producing politically incorrect accounts. Teachers felt anxious about helping students understand human experience in cultural contexts with which they were themselves unfamiliar. In their work, competing definitions of "culture"-often echoing debates in anthropology (Borofsky 1994)-led them to ponder whether we can we talk about a "Chinese culture," equating one culture with one society, seeking coherence across clearly dissimilar subsystems of beliefs. Conversely, can students understand the personal meaning-making act by which hip-hop dancers perform in the Brazilian favelas or workers punch their timecards at a Guangdong Reebok factory without placing the favela and the factory in a broader context-a more stable and cohesive set of beliefs and values? In watching their students learn, teachers also considered the degree to which intercultural understanding means having information about how others lead their lives and whether it should also require engaging affectively with others' experience. And if the latter is the case, is emotional engagement an illusion of understanding?


Excerpted from Learning in the Global Era by Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco Copyright © 2007 by The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco is The Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education and Co-director of Immigration Studies at New York University. He is also Co-Director of the Institute for Globalization and Education in Metropolitan Settings. He is coeditor, with Mariela M. Páez, of Latinos: Remaking America, coeditor, with Desirée Baolian Qin-Hilliard, of Globalization: Culture and Education in the New Millennium (both from UC Press), and is the author of many other books.

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