Just as Baker and LeTendre wrote in “World Culture and the Future of Schooling,” it is no secret that state-funded public education is designed with an underlying. That is, mass schooling is intended to propagate basic knowledge that reflects a nation’s ideals, values and identity. We now find that education is no longer an elitist privilege; rather, it is a prized institution for most developed nation-states. In just the last 50 years, it is amazing to see how much education has standardized and globalized it has become, bringing both good and bad effects upon the institution of education itself.
When considering the worst that globalization has done to education, I can’t help but think of the documentary Waiting for Superman. I have watched it nearly four times now (I cried two of those times). The documentary was ultimately in favor of the charter school method over leaving gifted yet socioeconomically disadvantaged students behind; but the part of the documentary that struck me the most was the status quo of our public education system. The American education system used to seem like a global beacon of academic recognition, but with the onset of standardized testing and the effects of Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy, the American education system has changed irrevocably. (Not to mention that these factors have highlighted a correlation between standardized testing and increased social stratification).
Many critics comment that the American education system has become increasingly more like the Chinese model—meaning that American schools are increasingly focused on test results as markers of academic success and global status. But consequently, these critics are also insinuating that the American education system is losing its identity and failing to serve all of its students as it strives to gain global credibility and recognition. It is true that more American students are becoming part of the national and global community when they engage in standardized education and mass schooling. But what about those who cannot meet the standards?
While I was in Shanghai last semester, I found that Chinese parents were also struggling with how to interpret a global education and how to achieve it. Over the semester, I was tutoring a young Chinese girl, Zoey. A product of the one-child policy and middle-class status, Zoey was constantly busy and had a packed schedule that her parents had planned out for her. Sure, the parents enrolled Zoey in an expensive and well-recognized school in the city. But interestingly enough, they did not enforce the stereotypical Asian tiger-parent model upon her in her extra-curricular activities. Rather, they were anxious to embrace what they recognized as a more “worldly” education. They invested vast amounts of time and money into classes that Zoey herself picked and enjoyed. She took classes in dance, painting, drawing, robot-building and even Lego-building. But what is really the purpose in all of this? Is it all really for Chinese children’s intrinsic enjoyment? Or perhaps to create the illusion that upper middle-class Chinese children are engaging in a cosmopolitan approach to education?
It seems that nation-states inevitably face a dilemma. As they seek to meet global standards in education through developing an education system based on standardized testing, they must face the reality that not all students will meet expectations. Yet we look at case studies of Finland and their unconventional yet effective approach to education and realize that perhaps nation-states do owe more prioritization to their students rather than to the global competition.