Responding to Article #32 of The Globalization Reader, “World Culture and the Future of Schooling”
In this article, Baker and LeTendre seek to outline the expansion of education as a phenomenon that is no longer only national, but global in nature. Within this argument, the division of children into a hierarchical system is mentioned, but no analysis of such a system is offered. It’s important to recognize this lack of critique, because without further discussion, the authors appear largely apathetic to the issue of social stratification that exists within many school systems. In what Baker and LeTendre refer to as “the real world,” social barriers that arise because of various characteristics (gender, race, learning and physical disabilities, etc.) are often reinforced by schools, where students are frequently profiled and treated differently based on these supposed indicators of their academic potential. In this way, mass schooling is far from “revolutionary.”
Just as past articles in The Globalization Reader have suggested that the benefits of globalization for some make it worth the losses of others, Baker and LeTendre seem to believe that the “success” of modern mass-schooling far outweighs any downsides it may present. However, in contrast to past articles, there is no discussion of those students who, to use a common expression, slip through the cracks, and are unable to maintain their place in the education system; the fact is, there are many of these children, especially when we discuss schooling on a global scale. While dropout rates in the United States are decreasing overall, many states and counties still struggle to keep kids of all ages in school. My home state, New Mexico, is ranked 49th in the National Education Report. But the problem is global: some more extreme examples include girls in developing countries who miss school for days each month because of limited access to menstruation products or sanitary bathrooms, or children in war torn areas like Syria, who are forced to sell products in order to support their families or flee as refugees rather than attending school. To laud the success of an educational system without even recognizing issues like these seems grossly irresponsible, and ultimately dishonest.
Similarly, Baker and LeTendre explicitly say that “there are no real alternatives to mass schooling anywhere,” which seems to be an enormous simplification. It is true that there are no schooling systems that are as large or as extensive as the ones discussed in the article, but that does not mean there are no other feasible options for education. Especially in recent years, the movement for non-traditional schooling has increased, to include things like homeschooling, montessori schools, etc. One example of alternative schooling can be found at Davidson’s own Green School, which promotes experiential education and an integrated curriculum. Of course, options like these are largely inaccessible to low and middle class families, and vary widely by region and country. However, simply expanding the services of schools like these to more people won’t address the real problem; instead, we need to change the focus of our education systems everywhere. The article frequently references success in relation to “labor markets,” citing that as the reason for stratification within schools; while we want children to be economically successful and learn practical skills, they should also have some freedom of choice in what and how they learn. I think it is safe to assume that each of us, at one point or another, has had a moment where we participated in an activity in school and thought “this could be done better.” It is not ridiculous to assume that a measure of agency actually improves the learning experience, and can often lead to a higher level of interest and engagement, as discussed in many academic writings, such as Gerald Graff’s “Hidden Intellectualism”. All in all, it would be well worth our while to put more effort into creating education systems that allow children to learn about things they care about, even if their interest in action figures or the history of ice cream won’t necessarily land them a job.