As recent events in the global political arena has left masses collectively scratching their heads, musing on how, at this age and time, there could be a resurgence of primeval nationalist forces to turn back history, this time, even when so often educators have had to unfairly shoulder the blame for many unrelated evils, sadly, it is us who are at fault.
How can it be, we might ask ourselves, that within the age of global interconnectedness, when the flat world has transformed every single area of activity and redefined the knowledge paradigm, when opportunities are infinite, that we, the first generation in history to have access to all accumulated human knowledge, would be impotent witnesses to the seemingly perplexing triumph of irrational appeals to the basest aspects of human nature?
Unfortunately, we cannot escape the fact that education, or lack thereof, is at the root of the problem. It is through our combined inability so far to capitalize on the unlimited possibilities of globalization and a new learning paradigm that we have allowed this to happen.
The two most prominent political manifestations of this retrograde trend, the Brexit phenomenon and the out of body collective shared experience of seeing Donald Trump elected to the highest office in the world, have happened largely due to our failure to educate people to use the Internet to validate facts and our halfhearted and misguided attempts at dealing with globalization in school curricula.
Both the proponents of exiting the European Union in Great Britain and, most flagrantly, Donald Trump in the presidential race, based their respective campaigns in blatant mistruths and gross exaggerations, as well as blissfully dismissing their acts and statements of the past, which automatically should have invalidated their suitability to represent people. And yet, despite what should have been self-destructive lies and inaccuracies, both political movements have been able to simply ignore them and plough ahead with a straight face.
With their lingering and outdated obsession with spoon fed contents based curricula, schools have hopelessly failed to create autonomous learners, individuals who develop their own set of criteria and, lo and behold when it comes to one of those overused buzz phrases so common in education, critical thinking, to react in a thoughtful way to information that is presented. The fact that Trump and the pro exit British politicians have managed to get away with all kinds of unsubstantiated statements and misinformation is a reflection on the public’s inability to process information that is presented and discern truth from lies. The ageless old model where students are passive recipients of their education and conform to the teacher’s self-image of learning, most often assessed on an end of unit sit down closed book written test, has mass produced students who are largely unaware of their own responsibility about the lifelog learning process. If this were truly, as we grandly say, a knowledge society, Trump and Brexit would not have happened.
Even more disappointing is our ineffectiveness in harnessing globalization in schools. Actually, the writing was on the wall. It is not surprising that unscrupulous politicians were able to trigger off nationalistic fears against immigrants gobbling up the respective economies of the US and Britain when education’s approach at embracing globalization has been lukewarm, shortsighted and, if anything, reinforcing prejudicial stereotypes.
In my writing and speaking, I myself have long advocated the need to move away from the generalized misguided rhetoric on the need for our students to become global citizens lest outsourcing deprives them of the opportunity to secure a sizable income in the global economy and, thus, contribute to sustain their countries’ preeminent position in the world order. To start with, young people will never be motivated by the cursory goal of maintaining prosperity, both for the reason that rising to the top is far more motivating that staying there, and that they do not resonate with young people who will be moved by ideals and not the threat of losing out on semi-automated white collar jobs.
Many attempts at globalization have also been superficially stereotypical, advocating a model where culture is just represented by ethnic food and economic imbalances that lead to one-way service trips, well intentioned efforts that may backfire in reinforcing an asymmetric worldview where the powerful give and the impoverished receive.
To make matters even worse, policy makers have exacerbated global rankings (PISA) as a sort of world educational order where some of the most unforgiving environments to raise children (i.e. China and South Korea) are scarily hailed as the holy grail of education, and their heavily test based systems reincarnated in standardized tests, whilst many of these PISA winner countries are desperately looking to the West for the elusive creativity gen. This numeric comparison obsession has only further alienated the notion of foreign cultures.
Thomas Friedman’s flat world did give us, indeed, a leveled playground where we could learn from others, immerse ourselves in other cultures for the sake of global brotherhood, travel physically or virtually not only not losing but rather reinforcing our identity, finding, in the process, what is unique about our local community in the global world and celebrating diversity. We needed to have our students experience that globalization is not a zero sum identity game, that living other lives and having a broad worldview is not at ends with a strong sense of worth and a clear identity.
For years, we naively thought that we could just squander all these opportunities to reset our educational system for times that had decisively changed. Now, our errors have caught up with us and leave us wondering how it was that humanity as a whole seems to be on its way to receding back into darkness.
We can still make true on the promise of 21st Century Education and redo our schools into places that embrace the new paradigm and prepare our students to be fully fledged and cognizant citizens of the global world, autonomous learners who will not be duped by lies and evolve into higher order thinking and values rather than regress into the times that until not so long we ago we attributed to the fact that people, then, did not know any better. As a proud practicing member of this, the most noble of professions, I pray that, in the words of Tennyson’s Ulysses, “Tis not too late to seek a newer world”.