Home Alone: The Domestication of U.S. Global Education (Part II)
What sort of things do U.S. students actually learn when they study abroad?
August 6, 2009
Is there learning going on in all this global education?
I'll go out on a limb here and say that learning means 'changing your mind.' You go to school to change your mind.
Even if you come back to a position you had long held as wholly unassailable, and assail it to new heights of personal security, then you have indeed learned. But porting ideas around the global experience as part of your carry-on luggage makes study abroad, at best, a finishing-school experience.
As Alex Neff says: "At least part of the blame for the failure of study abroad to change our ugly American image falls on the study abroad profession itself. International education is still struggling to find its place in academia.
“To many professors, study abroad is viewed as glorified tourism. Those of us in the profession are accused of trying to pass off a semester in an idyllic location with a low drinking age as a creditable academic experience."
Unsurprisingly, American edubusiness now has global awareness tests — the study abroad counterpart of the idiotic critical thinking assessment batteries. Such is the consequence of the U.S. outcome fetish.
Here is one of the questions from an online global awareness test:
"Question One: In which of the following countries in South America is Spanish NOT an official language?
This seems awfully simple to me. You don't need any global experience to pass this global awareness test!
I will bet that the majority of those who emerge as "certifiably global" are still frightened to be lost in a foreign country, unable to marshal their French or Spanish to any productive extent, and, if white, uneasy about going into ethnic neighborhoods in American cities.
America's fashionable global education has more to do with the competitiveness mantra than with anything like meaningful global experience. This is why India and China have become the latest preferred landing spots.
It is also the very strategy that President Bush used to justify increases to the National Science Foundation — for the competitive advantage, not the epistemic one.
If we can churn out cadres of young and certified globalists, then we can "keep our rightful place as the world leader…." Whew! I thought we might slip there!
To do so, we must manipulate the framework for judging global advantage and promote the business of certified global competency. But that's marketing, not manufacturing — and we're good at that too.
The global certification industry, like the other educational certification ventures, is a warranty service. I thus predict a boom in global certification providers. But I wonder: can you then sue your college and its certification provider if your global equipment fails you?
In a review of Parag Khanna's The Second Worldin the Washington Post, Charles Gati remarks that America's global leadership deficit lies in our substitution of "lecturing for leadership." Gati's observation also says much about the true agenda of America's professed global education commitment and its implicit domestic character.
Global educational experiences are supposed to cultivate an attitude of convening — a sense that when we are engaged in an experience of difference, we can lower our world views and take someone else seriously on their terms.
Leaders don't lecture. Leaders are willing to be convened, by which I mean that good leaders are those willing to be called into discussions that they did not originate, even if those discussions are convened by people who report to them. And convenability is what is to be learned from a global mind-changing experience.
Don't get me wrong — inane "We Are The World" hand-holding also gets us nowhere. But I do think that the verbal aggression and dishonesty of many official U.S. positions on global issues bolster, if not motivate, the frauds of our supposed global educational values.
The last factor domesticating the American global mind is values. Like learning, values are both a commercial educational product and a bulwark of flimsy American eduspeak.
Here's a values question: What are we putting aside in order to let the global have a seat at the table?
The answer is simple: very little. The American definition of global is really a reaffirmation of traditional domestic values such as altruism, cooperation and instruction in a classroom.
But imagine a global educational program that required students to spend eight months in a centralized bank in, say, Bolivia. Now that's an immersion experience without worry for classroom instruction. What values would that teach?
Or imagine a global service program that required the establishment of Alateen programs (which help young people with family members and friends who are alcoholics) in Poland — again an immersion, non-classroom experience. Now that would be a values lesson.
While some think that U.S. education is too leftist, in truth, American higher education is a very conservative force and takes very few risks — as the great values gaps in study abroad and global education attest.
The Forum on Education Abroad has developed a code of ethics for study abroad. It recently offered an "ethical compass" for global programs that includes truthfulness and openness.
Am I the only one stunned by the self-evidence of this ethical compass? Don't students get those ethics and values in their non-study-abroad experience? And in any case, isn't it like saying that the epistemic compass of biology is connected to teaching evolution?
The Forum's proposal is but another example of the growth of higher education sub-industries. This one is in the morals and ethics business. I note also that there are now moral and ethical awareness tests which can be administered to judge the success of moral inculcation.
Pretty soon we will just send students abroad and then give them a battery of awareness tests when they return. Or maybe we will just keep them "home alone," teach them global ethics and then test them on their moral awareness — that would save a lot of time and money!
Here's a value taught almost nowhere (except for the University of Wisconsin): Breadth comes from depth, but not vice versa.
The programs that provide depth over breadth include extended linguistic immersion, a concomitant home stay, courses in the language organized around a theme, and some kind of hands-on out-of classroom experience in the language. This model goes the most distance toward breadth from depth.
The huge majority of programs unfortunately just kill time globally, ultimately doing little more than exotically keeping students out of the workforce so as not to cause an economic crash.
The business of America is business — and so is the business of American education. Globalization is just the next product.
It turns out, in the end, that study abroad is just darn good for domestic edubusiness. At a university, you can offload 300 bodies a year to foreign countries, charge them more than full tuition for a global experience, and then bring in 300 more new students and their tuitions to fill in the spaces.
Compare the global appreciation experience with another American educational movement that has had some teeth: undergraduate research. At almost every school now, we have undergraduates doing real research under the mentorship of faculty from freshman year on — writing original papers, doing lab experiments, tracking down manuscripts, etc. This is how students gain breadth from depth.
We should make global education like research-based education. Make it a requirement and give it depth and intensity.
Higher education should also look elsewhere in the world. Go to Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Mali and Brazil. These are the hot places. Make the experience intense, theme-centered, hands-on, long-term and in the native language.
And finally, keep the certifiers and awareness testers out of it. One man's empirical outcome-certifier is another's barrier to a truly open mind.
Editors Note: This is the second installment of a two-part series. Read Part I here.
Porting ideas around the global experience as part of your carry-on luggage makes study abroad, at best, a finishing-school experience.
Unsurprisingly, American edubusiness now has global awareness tests — the study abroad counterpart of the idiotic critical thinking assessment batteries.
Study abroad is just darn good for domestic edubusiness. You can offload 300 bodies a year to foreign countries and charge them more than full tuition for a global experience.
America's fashionable global education has more to do with the competitiveness mantra than with anything like meaningful global experience.
Pretty soon we will just send students abroad and then give them a battery of awareness tests when they return.
William J. Frawley
Cognitive Scientist and Linguist, Center for Applied Linguistics William Frawley is a linguist and cognitive scientist affiliated with the Center for Applied Linguistics, in Washington, D.C. He has held professorial appointments in linguistics at several major universities and has published more than a dozen books on language. From 2002 to 2006, he was the dean […]