Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

International education. Topic raises controversy as well as consciousness

`INTERNATIONAL education has come of age.'' So states diplomat and now university chancellor Angiers Biddle Duke, a seasoned proponent of the movement. An array of recent developments would seem to confirm his observation.

Last month, after 15 years in foment, global education leaders gathered at the Asia Society in New York and resolved to establish a national alliance. Liaisons, representing 40 groups ranging from a public school consortium in Arlington, Va., to state education departments in Kansas and New York agreed that a charter for the alliance should be in place by next November.

About these ads

Internationalism as a trend at the higher education level began a decade ago. Schools, including Georgetown University, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Duke University, have active graduate and post-graduate international studies programs.

Corporations such as IBM and ITT now offer international fellowship programs to increase employee sensitivity toward client nations.

The term ``global'' or ``international education'' is protean, encompassing a variety of approaches and outlooks. ``What we have in common is an interest in the rest of the world and how it relates to us as individuals and communities,'' explains Pam Wilson, a coordinator of the New York conference. ``This isn't to get rid of boundaries. But we have to be able to make decisions about those boundaries, and sometimes to transcend them.''

Controversy is an occasional tag along of diversity, however, and global education has met its share of controversy. Earlier this year, at education settings in Colorado and Washington state, global educators clashed with members of the Eagle Forum, the activist conservative group best known for its antiabortion agenda.

Phyllis Schlafly, head of Eagle Forum, lists among her group's objections to global education what she calls ``the myth of equivalence - that no country is better than another.'' She further says the field ``de-emphasizes patriotism,'' and teaches ``that the world is running out of resources, which they say should lead to some type of world government. ... Their curriculum is designed to make Americans feel guilty because we have a higher standard of living. They should teach children that we have a higher standard of living because we have freedom.''

Andrew Smith, head of Global Perspectives in Education and another prime mover in the current momentum, characterizes Eagle Forum's challenge as ``their way of pulling together a coalition. ... I think healthy criticism is good. It will improve what we're doing.''

He agrees with Mrs. Schlafly that some politically skewed teaching, done in the name of glaobal education, ``isn't right in public education.'' Eschewing what he calls ``propaganda'' teaching, he denies that world peace or a world government is an aim of global education, countering that the actual goal is to raise the spirit of inquiry into world issues that will affect students in their futures.

About these ads

``I'm not sure what `peace' is,'' he says. ``What are its components? Are they issues like food and hunger? Are they human rights issues? ... We've avoided connecting schools with the `peace issue,' quote, unquote.'' While he may personally share the generalized concern for world peace, he adds, ``An educator has a responsibility above his own view.''

Angiers Biddle Duke makes a case for international education from a perspective of longstanding engagement. Currently chancellor of Long Island University, he was ambassador to El Salvador (the youngest American to be so designated), to Spain, Morocco, and Denmark. He also served as US Chief of Protocol during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations as well as treasurer of the Council of American Ambassadors.

The young, he believes, deserve ``a curiosity about the world.'' Knowing observers, he says, often draw an analogy between the contemporary tilt between East and West and the tilt between Christians and Muslims during the Crusades. ``The difference,'' he theorizes, ``will be in communications.'' But if communications are to bring about world stability, ``education has to play a part. Education must keep pace. It's a question of recognizing the need. ... It comes from leadership.''

Families, as well as schools, have a role, he continues. ``Parents can help [children] make the bridge of meaning to the world.''

Student exchange programs are another effective route, he advises. His grandson not long ago had an exchange experience with Morocco and returned ``very thoughtful. It woke him up.''

With evident satisfaction, he mentions that the boy, on the basis of his travels, concluded that the United States is a developing nation - ``a culturally developing nation,'' in comparison to more ancient societies he had seen.

Even with the humility gained with perspective, the ambassador notes, there is added pride. ``Sitting at home, we're always looking for the cracks and fissures. After we've been among others, we begin to find the positive side of our society.''

American patriotism can coexist with international understandings, he says. ``Patriotism is pride. I don't think they're incompatible. The new patriotism is a restoration of self-confidence, not arrogance.''

Among his priorities at Long Island University, he says, has been to instill through studies this sense of being at one with the whole.

Marine science is particularly strong at the university. There, for example, his hope has been for students to see the fullest implications of matters like species preservation and clean waters.

``All of these have to do with the existence of man on this planet,'' he observes. ``I've been trying to raise their eyes to the horizon as they read the small print.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.