Bo White

Ideas and Grace over Coffee

Our Access Based Life


A friend framed something for me yesterday at lunch when she made a distinction between needs and access to those needs. Yesterday, I also saw that Russia may plan a University near China and Chicago is still recovering from the recent teacher’s strike. And perhaps education is one of those things that is not only a need for human and community development, but lies well within the scope of things that is truly access based. With this in mind, the following are some thoughts I’ve had on the subject related to education and globalization….Are we living in a time where access separates us all? (I originally posted some of these thoughts at Conversant Life).

In the next 30 seconds, a little boy or girl in Africa will die of malaria.[1] Other research tells us that nearly 1 billion people in the world are illiterate[2] and another 1.4 billion can’t get to clean water[3].  So, what would those stuck in poverty have to add to a discussion about education and what could they possibly teach those of us who not only have drinking water flowing from a faucet, but who also sleep free from mosquito nets, with the ability to read ourselves to sleep? Let me pose the question a different way: are there universal methods of education that transcend cultural and socioeconomic lines to the point that we can articulate a core set of principles that may guide educators around the world, thus forming an international set of ideals that blurs the lines of the literate and illiterate and transcends the borders of East and West, North and South?

From another perspective, the utilization of Western educational methods also reiterates a power position in which those with economic wealth exert further influence over those living below the poverty line. The posture of ‘we know more,’ was unwittingly, but consistently communicated. Don Eberly proposes valuable counsel when he writes, “Whether liberal or conservative, work to ensure that your agenda and message are shaped with input from the poor themselves, and not merely from intellectuals, ideological activists, and other elites who presume to know what the poor want or need.”[4] For the NGO or other organizations to truly take an international approach to its internal staff development and interdepartmental educational plans, issues related to educational principles and economic power must both be addressed.

So, do you support globalization, internationalization, multiculturalism, or multiethnic diversity? If the list of big words and big ideas seems daunting, consider for a moment how either you or others are using such words. Do you feel these words clarify or further confuse issues? At the risk of simply adopting en vogue language without definition, let me explain my own position that will shape the context of the discussion that follows.

Globalization is a slippery word. “Part of the problem in thinking about the nature and effects of globalization is the term itself. There is no agreed definition of globalization for a number of reasons. It represents an uneven process that has no ending.”[5] Despite the vague definition, globalization seems to have dug its heels in to the mainstream lexicon. “In the early 1990’s, globalization was greeted with euphoria. Capital flows to developing countries had increased sixfold in six years, from 1990 to 1996…Globalization was to bring unprecedented prosperity to us all.”[6] So, globalization itself, historically tied to economic goals and realities, has been used as an all encompassing word in recent years to represent increased connectivity and opportunity. For many globalization is a fire sparked by the promise of increased wealth or prosperity and technology is the accelerant. “The current wave of globalization seems to be beset by paradoxes. Our world grows more fragmented even while it becomes more interconnected.”[7] Perhaps, the unique aspect of globalization lies in the speed at which these paradoxes occur.

“While on the one hand, the communication revolution of the last few decades—the irrepressibility of the CNN camera, the satellite dish, the mobile phone, the fax machine, and the internet—are influencing many countries toward more participatory forms of governance and more global interdependence, at the same time they have bombarded the ‘have nots’ with images of precisely what they don’t have, breeding resentment, anger, isolationism, and even aggression….The promise of globalization is a fallacy if it is not shared.”[8] Globalization, then, in its current form is a limited and often unhelpful descriptor. Is there a better word? Time will tell. For now, it is an umbrella term under which sits more specific, more tangible phenomenon.

Internationalization is a word that describes the effect of an interconnected world and interdependent world. The economic evidence is a bit obvious. In 2008, when the news of the recession in the United States grew, the Asian markets and European markets reacted within hours. The reports reflected the inescapable truth that what happens in other countries economically really does matter. In the world of education, top Universities are trying to do more than react.

“Where universities are heading now is toward becoming global universities,” said Howard Rollins, the former director of international programs at Georgia Tech, which has degree programs in France, Singapore, Italy, South Africa and China, and plans for India. “We’ll have more and more universities competing internationally for resources, faculty and the best students.”[9] And so the posture isn’t simply a reaction to ‘globalizing’ forces, rather there’s also an intentional element where cultural diversity and a clearly international classroom is desirable and increasingly common. In other words, the abilities forged in globalization empower many to intentionally ‘internationalize’ their work and their classroom. A global economy is becoming increasingly wed to international integration. Yet, it’s this wedding that remains a bit troubling. The enjoyment of email, internet, and global travel remains limited to those who can afford it or rather those who have access to it. Perhaps, the issue isn’t always the have or have nots; the rich or the poor; but those who have access and those who have practiced excess. The difference is humbling.


[1] Dale Hanson Bourke: A Skeptic’s Guide to Global Poverty.  Authentic Books, Colorado Springs, CO; 2007, p. 55.

[2] Ibid, p. 27.

[3] Ibid, p. 73.

[4] Don Eberly: The Rise of Global Civil Society.  Encounter Books, New York; 2008, p. 293.

[5] Hugh Lauder, Philip Brown, Jo-Anne Dillabough, and A.H. Halsey: “Introduction: The Prospects of Education: Individualization, Globalization, and Social Change,” from Education, Globalization, and Social Change.  Oxford University Press, Oxford; 2006, p. 30.

[6] Joseph Stiglitz: Making Globalization Work. W.W. Norton and Company, New York, NY; 2006, p. 7.

[7] Queen Noor of Jordan: “Globalization and Culture,” the 50th anniversary address of the Aspen Institute, August 22, 2000, p. 2

[8] Ibid, p. 3.

[9] Tamar Lewin: “U.S. Universities Rush to Set Up Outposts Abroad,” in the New York Times, February 10, 2008.

photo credit: mugley via photopin cc

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