Thursday, September 6, 2012

The First Globals

A recent report on NPR[i] alerted me to John Zogby’s book, The Way We’ll Be. The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream.[ii] This book is a joy to read, especially if you are interested in quirky polling questions, or if you want to know more about the correlation between shopping at particular stores and political party affiliation. Yes, if you shop at Target or Macy’s, you tend to vote Democratic, while a majority of customers at Sears and Walmart apparently lean Republican. At least this is what Zogby’s polling has revealed.

To me, though, the most interesting story line in this book deals with shifting attitudes among young people. Zogby calls them the “First Globals,” because this generation of 20+ year olds (at the time of the book’s publication in 2008) tends to be much more open to diversity and a global world view than older Americans or young people their age decades ago. “First Globals,” Zogby writes, “want a foreign policy as inclusive and embracive as they are. They expect impediments to trade to be removed so they can shop anywhere, and they want developing countries and their peoples protected from predatory multinational corporations and fiscal policies that hold the world’s poorest people ransom. For First Globals, the American Century is already over and the Whole Earth Century has begun.”

This is definitely a strongly worded interpretation of many different polls conducted by Zogby, and you may not trust the conclusion. We all know many young people who appear not to be interested in global issues. At the same time, take a look at the polls, and your impressions may shift. This may be a good time to adjust our own perceptions of who the young people in our schools are, what they think and believe in, and to what extent they lead and we follow. The dynamics of this conversation are complex and fraught with many questions, assumptions and stereotypes. That is precisely why I find Zogby’s thoughts refreshing: We can argue with his conclusions, but we will have to do so on his turf: What do his polls really reveal? Do his conclusions stretch the assumptions that underly the polling questions? Well, I invite you to acquaint yourself with Zogby’s First Globals and  to accept the challenges for educating globally competent citizens and employees.

These are some defining characteristics of this generation:

·         Eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year-olds actually care about more than just themselves.
·         Not only do young adults live in a world dominated by diversity, they celebrate it, and they expect marketers and politicians to realize that.
·         The entire world excites them, not just their community or nation of birth. The young think and buy globally, and they are sensitized to global issues from human rights to AIDS and poverty, even though they might not always command the facts.
·         They have passports, and they use them much more frequently than previous generations.

“What we do know,” writes Zogby,” is that the attitudinal and opinion gap between those who have a passport and those who do not is wide enough, particularly among the young, to suggest that foreign travel might be among the experiences that most separates Americans.”

Le t me return to the question of whether older generations, especially educators, lead or follow the emerging global mindset of our students. I think we have to ask if we encourage all students to learn world languages, if we encourage thinking globally, if we prepare students for opportunities well beyond their home communities, and if we are willing to help them to open their minds and not to close them. Whatever it is that we think we are doing or would like to do, and whatever the rhetoric of education policy makers suggests, this is the perception among the First Globals, again according to Zogby:

“When we asked First Globals if “high school programs in the United States are adequately preparing our young people to understand current international affairs,” a staggering 93 percent said no.”

So I ask you: Are we as educators serious about leading our students into a bright and exciting world with unprecedented opportunities and challenges? Are we?

[ii] Zogby, John. 2008. “The Way We’ll Be. The Zogby Report On The Transformation Of The American Dream. Random House: New York, NY.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Emperor's New Clothes

It’s not that getting older makes you any smarter. But if you pay attention during many years of professional engagement, you realize that issues are not always new, that past generations have discussed the same topics, and that the emperor tends to just put on new clothes every once in a while.

It is important for us as professionals to recognize what is at the core of “new” developments, that we pursue what is at the heart of our jobs of educating kids, and that we do not get side-tracked by peripheral issues. We always hope, of course, that each wave of new developments ultimately strengthens what we need to accomplish. And new wardrobes are not all bad.

This is my very quick elevator comment on what it is that world language and global education is all about:

Kids should know something about the world and participate in conversations with people around the world in as many languages as possible.

If that sounds too simplistic to you, it perhaps is. But I would challenge you to find a better five or ten second response to the question of what our subject area is all about. Young children tend to express the core of what they do very simply, often in ways that adults cannot. When ten-year old students in Lodi exchanged pictures of cranes with kids in Cuba, for example, a girl comments that “we know that our countries are not getting along that well.” The boy next to her chimes in, “And we want to change that.”[1] How simple is that? And how long would it have taken a teacher to say the same thing, how much longer would it have taken an administrator to say this, and how contortionist would a politician’s comment have been? So, at the core of the issue, things are very simple:  We see a problem, and we want to fix it. That’s it.

Keep this in mind when you “go global,” when you teach your students about the world. Don’t complicate things, keep it simple.

This is how a Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction report[2] framed this issue in 1943, a war year:

In more than one respect can the high school be considered a training ground of citizens of the post-war world, who are to be endowed with the human and social qualities required of the builders of such a world….The hope of understanding other peoples in the world made small by post-war means of communication and transportation rests on the hope that more persons than ever before will know languages other than their own; and through those become acquainted with the manners and customs, the psychology, the spirit, the ideals, and the aspiration of other nations. The new methods in teaching emphasize the role of language as an art, and its influence on human relations.

Indeed, this is what we are trying to get accomplished, what we have been trying to get accomplished for decades. There has been progress, there have been improvements in teaching methods and resources; there has been huge progress in the immediacy of communication in the digital age. But let us ask ourselves to what extent we have made progress on the core purpose of what we do in our classrooms on a daily basis. Let us ask ourselves what we need to do to strengthen the core mission of world language education. If you think that more needs to be done, ask what it is that could be done.

As a ten-year old would put it: We don’t have enough students (or adults) who know something about the world and who speak several languages. We want to change that.

[1] Global Wisconsin Video Series. Watch
[2] Frank J. Klier (1943) Language Teaching in Wisconsin Public High Schools. 1941 – 1942. Madison, WI: Department of Public Instruction.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Global Education Certificate

It does not exist yet but everyone seems to like the idea. The idea was born at the Global Education Summit in February at Madison’s Monona Terrace Convention Center and bundles many suggestions made at the concluding roundtables. Work on the specifics of this idea will begin this summer.

The concern is obvious: Many school districts struggle to meet even the minimal state requirements for world language learning. As you know, school districts must offer the opportunity to learn a world language in regular instruction beginning in grade 7. Many school districts do a great job and try to expand their world language programs. More often than not, though, electives such as world languages take a hit, both in staffing and in the number of languages offered. DPI’s last meaningful data tell us that just 54% of our high school students are enrolled in a world language class. In most cases, students are enrolled for two years only, as this satisfies most college entrance or exit requirements. The School of Education at UW-Madison, for example, requires the equivalent of two high school years of world language study at the time of graduation from college. In turn, this means that most teachers in our schools have only had minimal experience with world language learning. In the absolute majority of cases, this also means that most of our teachers have not had any significant international learning experience. This scenario is not conducive to a school climate that supports global and world language learning.

Let me be on record with the good news:
• Many school districts do an excellent job with global education. Our Global Wisconsin video series is testament to that.
• Wisconsin still leads the nation in the percentage of students enrolled in a world language class.

But we also know that this is not at all competitive in an international context. In countries such as France or Germany, you cannot even enter college unless you have studied one world language for a minimum of eight years and a second one for six. All students, regardless of their future career and job training track, are required to take at least one world language. It is generally understood that global knowledge and language learning are cornerstones of educating enlightened citizens. This understanding is reflected in their education policies and school curricula. In that way, the US is seriously falling behind other nations. “If we are to have a globe worth inhabiting,” Howard Gardner writes , “we must attend unflinchingly to the kinds of human beings that will inhabit it.” As public attention focuses on test scores in only a few subject areas, Gardner comments that “the world will not be saved by high test scores… What we need is a laser-like focus on the kinds of human beings that we are raising and the kinds of societies --indeed, in a global era, the kind of world society – that we are fashioning.” In other works, we need to be able to communicate in other languages, and we need to understand issues of global significance.

The good news in Wisconsin is that State Superintendent Tony Evers asked Gilles Bousquet, chair of the state superintendent’s Statewide International Education Council, to submit some policy items for his consideration, policy items that are designed to support global education and world language learning in our schools. It is understood that these would be non-budgetary items. This is the context in which we are beginning to discuss the Global Education Certificate.

What might this certificate look like? Well, imagine students would receive this certificate on their high school diploma for the following types of learning scenarios:

• Points for taking world language classes
• Points for engaging in international experiences, such as participating in a student exchange.
• Points for taking classes in world history, world geography, world literature or music, etc.
• Points for engaging in school extracurricular events such as International Education Week, membership in the French, Spanish, German, etc. Club.
• Points for being an honors student in a particular language.

These are just some criteria that come to mind. I would love to hear your suggestions and ideas, so please send them my way and engage in this conversation.

What would have to happen to turn the Global Education Certificate into a meaningful piece of high school graduation and not simply a gold star for a job well done?  For one, institutes of higher education would have to acknowledge this as an important admissions criterion. Many colleges already do so informally, but it would help to have their official and public support. Employers would also be asked to sign on to this initiative. Since they keep telling us that they expect their future employees to have the kinds of skills that we cultivate in world language and global education, this should not be too much to ask.

But we cannot reduce our conversation simply to jobs and economic competition. Since their inception, American public schools have served a purpose much greater than providing students with job skills; they have served a purpose that is greater than employment and economic competition. American educators and policy makers understood that public schools engage students in the making of a democratic society and nursing the best and finest in each student. Therefore, the curriculum has always emphasized the arts and all of the humanities. In the best tradition of the Jeffersonian ideal, American educators understand that their students must be educated in all matters that affect a great and democratic society. This effort includes knowledge about global issues, it includes learning other languages, and it includes learning the skills that enable us to understand people from other cultures and civilizations. Combined with the technical skills needed for employment, these elements create a strong society without which a strong economy cannot exist.

Let us see if we can strengthen what we all believe to be true. World language education is an important and central key to understanding the world. If a Global Education Certificate steers more students to our classrooms, we will have made an important contribution to educating the enlightened citizens that Jefferson was talking about.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

About Elisabeth

My aunt Elisabeth grew up in the far northern region of Germany, close to the Danish border. Her family and other relatives resided just north of that border in Southern Denmark, and depending of which decade and which war we are talking about, that population has always been either Danish or German. Germany has had strained relationships with many of its direct geographic neighbors, as we all know, and one of the central questions after World War II was how to move forward, how to heal wounds, and how to create a modern, open, and welcoming society. Political leaders in several countries started work on shaping a continent with fewer conflicts, more economic weight, and with greater mutual understanding.

Remember post-war Germany and her neighbors: What is now western Poland had been part of Germany. The Alsace is bilingual and bicultural because it has switched back and forth between France and Germany throughout modern history. East Germany was a Soviet satellite state for many decades, and backward looking Sudeten German land ownership and relocation disputes with the Czech Republic still play a role in reconciliation efforts between both countries.

I grew up in West Germany, went through their public education system, and prior to coming to the U.S., I taught in their schools for about a dozen years. While I don’t intend to paint a naïve and false picture of harmony in contemporary German and European life, I will say that the transformation from outright hatred and distrust of one another, of atrocities and war, to today’s society in just a few decades is absolutely astounding. Many factors contributed to this success, some having to do with wise policies, some with wise leaders, and others with economic necessities. Looking back, though, education and the power of human compassion are at the heart of this transformation.

Political leaders did what they could: Education policies and guidelines ensured that students learned about the world. They ensured that we learned world languages as the key to healing and communication with others. The original impulse to do that was not economic, it was not to get better paying jobs. The original impulse was to heal and to promote understanding. Student exchange programs were created, especially between France and Germany and the U.S. and Germany. French high school students lived in German homes just ten years after their fathers and grandfathers had been recruited to shoot one another. German kids were exchange students in England, France, and the U.S. Textbook commissions with specialists from different countries made sure that students received unbiased information about neighboring countries in history, geography, or literature classes. And a young man by the name of Marcel Reich-Ranicki advanced to become the most influential literary critic in Germany, appearing frequently on German television and in major publications. As a young Jew in Poland, Reich-Ranicki had fallen in love with the German language and literature and was able to distinguish between Nazi atrocities and the majority of Germans he chose to live with after the war.

And what did Aunt Elisabeth do? She married a British “occupation” soldier right after the war and moved to England with him and their children in 1951. She taught in an elementary school in a small town in Yorkshire, where she still lives today. I asked her a few years ago if that had ever been a problem—a German woman teaching English kids right after the war. She looked at me as if she did not understand the question. “No,” she said. “Why?”

These kinds of stories motivate me in my daily work trying to strengthen global education in our schools. Perhaps knowing something about the world helps with employment and job opportunities. But most of all, we need to create the kinds of conditions in our schools that make stories of compassion across countries and cultures possible. False notions of exceptionalism and superiority—and the resulting isolationism—are counterproductive. As Howard Gardner says, “What is needed more than ever is a laser-like focus on the kinds of human beings that we are raising and the kinds of societies—indeed, in a global era, the kind of world society—that we are fashioning.” (1)
(1) Boix Mansilla,Veronica and Anthony Jackson. 2011. Educating for Global Competence: Preparing Our Youth to Engage the World. New York, NY: Asia Society and Council of Chief State School Officers. (p. ix)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

 “What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar.”

There is a straight line from Herbert Spencer’s essay (1860), “What Knowledge Is of Most Worth?” to Larry Summers’ recent article in the New York Times entitled “What You (Really) Need to Know.”  (January 20, 2012). This straight line provides the dominant narrative in US education, one that argues that “objective” and “scientific” management of education can determine precisely what it is that students need to learn. Along with “objective” assessment tools and efficient management, so the argument goes, we will cut out the waste and make this a prosperous society. Charles Dickens ridiculed this Victorian approach of the Industrial Age in “Hard Times.” His character Thomas Gradgrind insists on “facts, facts, facts” when asking what a horse is. A boy named Bitzer gives him those facts (quadruped, forty teeth, etc.) and is praised. Sissy Jupe, a circus girl who loves horses and is around them every day of her life, is reprimanded for her lively explanation. “Now,” says Gradgrind to her after hearing Bitzer’s definition, “Now you know what a horse is.”

In 1860, Spencer tried to set up a clear taxonomy of curricular needs. He argued that all that mattered was science, because science alone puts humans in the position of controlling and mastering life in order to guarantee survival.  Literature and foreign languages, on the other hand, were purely ornamental and could therefore be neglected.

In 2012, Mr. Summers argues that a substantial investment in learning “a foreign tongue” is not “universally worthwhile.” Since English has emerged as a global language, he continues, “it [mastering a foreign language] will over time become less essential in doing business in Asia, treating patients in Africa or helping resolve conflicts in the Middle East.”

Mr. Summers’ line of argument undoubtedly resonates with many Americans. And again, it reflects the dominant narrative in K-12 education that wants us to believe that we can really objectively control input and output and that clear controls on the output (objective assessments) lead to an efficient and successful education system.

The contrasting narrative is best articulated by John Dewey, but also by Boyd Bode, Professor at the Department of Principles of Education at Ohio State University. In his article “Why Educational Objectives?[1] (1924) he takes exception to Mr. Bobbit’s activity analyses to determine a school curriculum. He questions the validity of the emerging scientific method of curriculum making (not in the sciences) and sheds interesting light on the word “need”: “No scientific analysis known to man can determine the desirability or the need of anything. Statistical investigation, for example, may show that a certain number of burglaries occur annually in a given community, but it does not show whether the community needs a larger police force or more burglars.” Fair enough! In other words, decisions about the value of the humanities as opposed to the sciences are exactly what the word suggests: value judgments. Mr. Summers and Mr. Spencer appear to agree that learning a foreign language is not worth very much. Today’s business leaders appear to disagree, when they tell us that their employees need language skills and global knowledge. They know that their economic success depends to a large extent on their ability to interact in global markets. They know that success depends on their ability to communicate in languages other than English.

Why, to this day, do we still struggle with a rationale for including global education and learning other languages in the core of the curriculum? Why are we still fighting the fight of  the Industrial Age and Victorian fascination with social efficiency and scientific curriculum making? Some of the answers can be found in The Good Society, a book authored by Robert Bellah et al. in 1991. “Among educated and ever more secularized Americans,” they write, “the social sciences reinforced the language of utilitarian individualism, and its assumption that social problems are primarily technical rather than moral and political.” (p. 163)

Decisions about education, decisions about what to include and what to exclude in the curriculum, are inherently moral and political. Those moral and political choices are all too often based on long standing cultural traditions and ways of knowing and arguing. Decisions about the place of world language learning are made in a cultural context. The cultural context is different in this country than in most other countries. And decisions about the curriculum in countries that we want to compete with around the world include the teaching and learning of world languages in the core of their curriculum.

We may want to begin the process of change in education in this country by strengthening Dewey’s and Boyd’s narrative and by moving away from social efficiency models and the illusion of scientific curriculum making.

Howard Gardner writes in his preface to “Educating for Global Competence” that “what is needed more than ever is a laser-like focus on the kinds of human beings that we are raising and the kinds of societies … that we are fashioning.” That view of education requires moral and political decisions. It requires an open debate of how Americans see themselves as part of the family of nations. The views implied in Larry Summers’ statements are, for my part, not very appealing. They also have no future.

Boyd Bode, in his discussion of Bobbitt’s activity analysis, comments that even Bobbitt “does not rely upon scientific analysis, but upon the “common judgment of thoughtful men and women” for the determination of desirable abilities as educational objectives.” He then comments on apparent disagreement in different parts of the country. In fact, he says that “in the halls of Congress, there is certainly no similar agreement as to the needs of the community. In fact, as far as I can recall, the only suggestion emanating from that quarter that ever carried with it anything like unanimous approval was the sentiment that “What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar.”

Need I say more?

[1] Journal of Educational Resarch, Volume X, Number 3;  College Teacher of Education. October 1924.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wisconsin in the World

This post was originally written for the electronic newsletter of the Asia Society's Partnership for Global Learning and appeared in the January 17 edition.

Wisconsin’s oldest international partnership dates back to 1976, when Governor Patrick Lucey and Minister President Albert Osswald of the German state of Hessen signed an agreement of cooperation in the historical context of the American bicentennial celebrations. While this partnership honors the strong German heritage of our state, the reason why Hessen chose Wisconsin over the heavily favored California or Texas was uniquely personal: The Minister President’s press secretary had spent a rewarding high school year in Wisconsin in the early 1950’s and suggested this particular partnership in memory of his beloved host family.
The significance of personal international relationships cannot be over-estimated. They provide the energy and bond for active connections; they drive meaningful partnerships and bring well-intentioned yet often abstract partnership agreements to life. And they close a perfect circle: Those who have personally benefitted from international study-abroad experiences give back to future generations: Formalized partnerships eventually pave the way for similar growth experiences for the youngest generation of students. This is what sustains Wisconsin’s most successful international partnerships.
Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction has active partnership relationships with regions in Germany (Hesse) and France (L’Académie d’Aix-Marseille and L’Académie de Bordeaux), with Japan (Chiba Prefecture), Thailand, and China (Heilongjiang Province). The ultimate goal is the same for all of them, even though the specific approaches differ depending on what is possible in different regions of the world:Connect students through learning, familiarize communities in an otherwise domestic-centric country with people from other cultures, and contribute to a future of a globally connected and competent population.
Wisconsin school districts make their own decisions about international partnerships, but the state can build the bridges of opportunity for them to walk on. And here are some examples of how that works.
Under our agreement with Thailand, we host thirty of Thai students and six teachers every spring. They are in Wisconsin for three weeks and spend most of their time in six different school districts, hosted in the homes of Wisconsin families before coming back to Madison for a couple of days of activities in the state capitol and on the university campus. Some of the hosting school districts have launched their own partnership programs with the schools of the visitors. Lodi and Sa-nguan Ying School in Suphanburi now even teach online classes to each others’ students in real time.
Our ties with Hessen have included ten bi-annual teacher professional development seminars, strong school partnership programs, and a unique full-year student exchange program. Up to fifteen students in each state spend one semester in each others’ homes and schools annually, a full-year exchange program on two continents. Our “Trading Places” online video is powerful evidence of the relationships forged through this program and reminds us of the roots of this sister state partnership in a study-abroad experience many decades ago.
The French partner regions send many student groups every year. We have held professional development seminars with their teachers and again witness the power of personal relationships among young students. “American teachers are cool,” say fourteen-year old French students visiting Lake Geneva (Wisconsin) from their partner school in Terrasson (France). Their two teachers met during our Department of Public Instruction Teacher Seminar in 2008 and started working together immediately. All our teacher seminars include one week of sessions and workshops on cultural and historical topics, followed by a week of stays in the homes and schools of their partners.
Chiba Prefecture in Japan has connections with Wisconsin that go far beyond education and have long been supported by Kikkoman Corporation in our state. This partnership is strengthened by Wisconsin-Chiba Inc. through the exchange of citizens all over the state and several school and sister city partnerships. The Department of Public Instruction partners with Chiba Prefecture in the selection of young assistant language teachers (ALT) to spend between one and three years in schools in our partner region. The program is similar to the national JET program [link], yet our ALTs appreciate the small size and close relationships provided by regional oversight. In any given year, Wisconsin places up to fifteen young people in Chiba’s schools as cultural and linguistic ambassadors.
How can one possibly plan all the desired yet unpredictable outcomes of such international partnerships? The knowledge that people tend to form strong bonds when they get an opportunity to meet and get to know each other is what drives our work. The Dean of the Division of International Studies at UW-Madison, for example, was raised in France and received his PhD at the Université d'Aix-Marseille. You can imagine the strength and sincerity of his support for our partnership with L’Académie d’Aix-Marseille. How can you possibly plan the unlikely friendship between a superintendent of a 200-student K-8 school district in northern rural Wisconsin and a middle school principal in Daqing, Heilongjang? They stayed in each others’ homes through our principal and superintendent shadowing program, and they have started to exchange students and teachers with much bigger ideas for the future in mind. And finally calculate the odds of this scenario: A visiting teacher from Thailand and one of the host moms, herself a former AFS student in Bangkok, discover that his sister is one of her former teachers in Thailand.
None of this can be planned, but we can create the conditions and prepare the ground for such personal relationships. And that is precisely how we view our work on international partnerships at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction: We construct the framework and build the bridges, our school districts follow through, and our students benefit and it creates a better future for our state and nation. This is rewarding work. It requires personal investment beyond job descriptions. It is one of the best investments in the education of our students.