Sunday, August 29, 2010

Another Teachable Moment--The Ground Zero Mosque Controversy

How many teachers will use the recent NYC Ground Zero Mosque Controversy in their lessons I wonder? It is a difficult and sensitive issue to grasp particularly when the air has been made fairly radioactive by recent pronouncements from those right wingers who seek to use the issue to gain some personal partisan political advantage.

There are several entry points --among them the rights of religious minorities under the first amendment to practice their religion. I was reminded of George Washington's bold words in a letter to the Jews of Newport.

"The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens."

Washington was the President of a new national government in 1787 when he wrote these words that have become central to the country's view of itself as a tolerant home to all believers. It is important to remember that at this time the monarchies across the European continent were still denying Jews their citizenship and economic livlihoods among other indiginities. Each year, Newport’s Congregation, now known as the Touro Synagogue where I visited and first read and was stirred by these words, re-reads Washington’s letter in a public ceremony.

Why not have these magnificent words re-read in every classroom, every year not just in the Touro synagogue--and hear them echo--"to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."?

Teachers could also compare the ways not just the Jews but Catholics had to struggle for their place in the country's polity. As Greevy and Appleby remind us "

"It took Catholics more than a full century to attain their current level of acceptance and influence, and they made their share of mistakes along the way, occasionally by trying too hard to prove their patriotic bona fides. (Exhibit A: Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose name is now, paradoxically, a synonym for “un-American activities.”) But they earned their place, over the course of many decades, by serving (and dying for) their country, and building their own churches, schools and health care systems alongside public counterparts, which they also frequented and supported with their taxes."

The New York of Review writers also point out that,

"Like many American Muslims today, many American Catholics squirmed when their foreign-born religious leaders offered belligerent or tone-deaf pronouncements on the modern world. New York’s own Bishop John Hughes thundered in 1850 that the Church’s mission was to convert “the officers of the navy and the Marines, commander of the Army, the legislatures, the Senate, the Cabinet, the president and all.” The Syllabus of Errors, promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1864 denied that the Church had any duty to reconcile itself with “progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.”

In terms of media literacy the controversy could also allow students to dig into the real facts of the case which include that the idea for a community center dates back to December 2009, when (according to wikipedia) the religious leader Feisel Abdul Rauf "announced plans to build Cordoba House, a 13-story community center, including a mosque that would accommodate 1,000–2,000 Muslims in prayer, two blocks from Ground Zero. He won non-binding support from the local Community Board. He also received both support and opposition from some 9/11 families, politicians, organizations, academics, and others. The building of the mosque and community center, as well as the initiative itself, was supported by some Muslim American leaders and organizations, including CAIR, and criticized by some Muslims such as Sufi mystic Suleiman Schwartz, who said that a building built by Rauf barely two blocks from ground zero, is inconsistent with Sufi philosophy of simplicity of faith and sensitivity towards others. Supporters for Cordoba House point out that two mosques in Lower Manhattan have firm roots, and one of them was founded in 1970, pre-dating the World Trade Center.."

In other words the controversy is a lot more interesting than it might first appear and certainly highly teachable.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Globalization: A Very Short Introduction

The term "Globalization" is freighted down with multiple meanings. It is one of those words that are so large, abstract and all encompassing--very much like the word "education" or "culture" that can mean multiple things dependent on the context that the writer or speaker may or may not be fully aware of. One of the real benefits of Manfred Steger's Globalization: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford) is he introduces us to some of the most significant multiple meanings for the term and shows how and why the term is unavoidably a "contested one." Steger prefers to refer to the term as a "social condition" that is "characterized by a the existence of global, economic, political, cultural and environmental interconnections and flows that make many of the currently existing borders and boundaries irrelevant."

The term is interpreted by academics differently depending on their discipline and political disposition--some believe economics are at the core of the globalization, others believe political, cultural and ideological aspects, while others connect the term to environmental processes. He suggests that they are all guilty of the mistake of believing that globalization can be reduced to "a single domain that corresponds to their core expertise." Rather than going down the road of academic narcissism it is wiser to respect the varied and uneven ways globalization manifests itself--so that while various aspects of globalization have been present throughout history--it is "important to note the occurence of dramatic technological and social leaps that have pushed the intensity and global reach of these processes to new levels."

The short book is jammed full of good examples of how the uneven globalization forces work their magic in important ways today. Educators especially should pay close attention to a number of critical points Steger makes with respect to the ways globalization explodes our traditional view that nation states and home grown politicians and companies control our fates. A deeper understanding of globalization will reveal how more of the world's future is now subject to the interaction of global institutions and globalizing forces that are so powerful they cause sometimes massive political reactions. Reading this book can help educators see the sometimes yawning gaps in the picture of the world we portray to students. Some of the blank spaces include:

i) The diminished power of the state as a result of global corporations controlling as they do so much of the world's investment capital, technology and access to international markets are far more powerful than most states. Wal-Mart for example with sales of $166 billion surpasses the GDP of Poland, South Africa, Israel, Ireland and many other countries ad does Exxon, Shell, IBM and Siemens.

ii) The increasing power of international institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization which are largely invisible from the eye of the media and hardly feature in most curriculums are largely responsible for controlling the power balance between rich and poor countries which largely runs on a north south basis.

iii) The increasingly important work of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) sometimes referred to as the "global civil society" like Amnesty International and Greenpeace that account for millions of active citizens throughout the world interceding in local as well as global political events.

iv) The ongoing clash between what Benjamin Barber has referred to as McWorld vs Jihad that has helped spawn Islamic terrorism as some extreme fundamentalist Muslims reject Western values carried so widely through the modern US dominated media outlets which they see as threatening the purity of their beliefs.

I found Steger most impressive on his critique of the ideological dimension of globalization--the assumption taken up by writers like Tom Friedman and politicians like Bill Clinton that globalization is an inevitable force that will benefit mankind and only needs free markets to enable this force to fully flourish around the world. Steger takes apart these naive view and criticizes globally controlled media outlets such as the Economist and the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times etc. for mindlessly subscribing to this ideological view. Steger acknowledges that what he refers to as "the globalists"--have the benefit of a "strong discourse" that is "notoriously difficult to resist and repel" --it is far from a water tight one and it would pay to actually look at the facts. It is not the case for example (as the globalists like to argue) that globalization has narrowed the gap between the richest and poorest countries. Using UN data he shows that while the income ratio between the richest and poorest countries in 1973 before the rapid onset of globalization was about 44:1 --in the remaining quarter century it had risen to 74:1.

Reading Steger's book can remind us that globalization is a force that can go in many directions and that it is dangerous if the term gets captured by one ideological group such as the globalists. His own view is expressed in the introduction:

"I believe we should take comfort in the fact that the world is becoming a more interdependent place that enhances people's chances to recognize and acknowledge their common humanity. I welcome the progressive transformation of social structures that goes by the name of globalization, provided that the the global flow of ideas and commodities and the rapid development of technology go hand in hand with greater forms of freedom and equality for all people, as well as the more effective protection of our global environment."

Good words and ones I can fully subscribe to. It is now up to educators to make this more open and more challenging view of globalization come alive in the classroom.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tony Judt 1948-2001: Global intellectual

Tony Judt was one of a vanishing breed of public intellectuals who thought and wrote about hard subject such as the fate of democracy,why we should oppose ideological fantasies of the 20th century and the prospects of peace in our late stage of capitalistic excesses.

His best known book, Post War: Europe since 1945, carefully showed the formation of a new Europe from the rubble of 1945 and intertwinned in the masterful narrative was the way many post war intellectuals have been trapped rather than liberated by some of the same ideologies that led to the last disastrous European war.

Judt died last week after a long and painful bout with Lou Gehrigs disease. He fought his tragic fate with enormous dignity and bravery, managing to use a specially adapted voice translator for his severely compromised lungs.  Some fine obituaries have been penned this week. The one in The Guardian finely appreciates the contributions he made to modern European history and his effort to reframe the so called two state solution in the Middle East. His passing leaves a huge gap in our intellectual life. Let us hope that other brave independent minds can use his example and try to find a way of talking about the global issues that matter so they reach beyond just a narrow academic audience.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Universities Go Global

Until fairly recently universities thought they were doing a good job in terms of presenting themselves as a global institutions if they had an active student exchange program. Many university leaders now are realizing that they have to do more as they recognize we are in a new globally connected era. While many mission statements may have been revised to include the term "global" and many high level statements about the intent of many universities to become a truly global institution have been issued, the follow through has often been quite disappointing. A recent report by the American Council on Education, Mapping Internationalization on US Campuses: 2008 edition found that:

" * Many institutions do not see internationalization as integral to their identity or strategy. Less than 40 percent of institutions made specific reference to international or global education in their mission statements, although that's up from 28 percent in 2001.
* The percentage of colleges and universities that require a course with an international or global focus as part of the general education curriculum dipped from 41 percent in 2001 to 37 percent in 2006. Fewer than one in five had a foreign-language requirement for all undergraduates.
* The majority of institutions do not have a full-time person to oversee or coordinate internationalization.
* Despite reports showing growth in study abroad participation, the ACE survey found that 27 percent of institutions reported that no students graduating in 2005 studied abroad.
* Ten percent of responding institutions offered degree programs abroad for non-U.S. students. Forty percent of these programs were established in China and another 16 percent in India."

Although some progress has been made since many colleges and universities now require students take at least one course on a global topic.

I recently visited Tanith Fowler Corsi who is the Vice President for Global Education for Catholic University housed in Washington DC and if anyone can help really overcome the many obstacles thrown in the way of highly territorially minded departments, she looks like the one to do it. Her global perspective started at a young age--born in Monaco of US parents she attended French schools and is comfortably trilingual, she has run global education center at George Mason University and is widely traveled. Her task is to help implement the university's commitment to internationalizing more of the curriculum, linking professors together and develop worthwhile sustainable international projects that produce real value to its more than 6.000 students students. The task is formidable since the tools to change any institution as large and complex as a modern university come down really to persuasion and leadership by example. Clearly we are just starting out down this global road in both K-12 as well as higher education. It is an exciting journey and we will see how both schools and colleges fair as they attempt to redefine themselves and their mission for the new century.