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Education and Social Change: Connecting Local and Global Perspectives

reviewed by Susan Jean Mayer - August 01, 2013

coverTitle: Education and Social Change: Connecting Local and Global Perspectives
Author(s): Geoffrey Elliott, Chahid Fourali, & Sally Issler (eds.)
Publisher: Continuum, New York
ISBN: 0826444091, Pages: 336, Year: 2010
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Education and Social Change: Connecting Local and Global Perspectives usefully situates a good deal of the rhetoric one hears regarding global educational goals and outcomes within a range of illustrative settings, while also maintaining an all too rare attention to the complex dimensions of the concept of social change. However one might choose to theorize the relationships among economic, political, and cultural vibrancy, the authors represented in this volume continually remind us that these are interpenetrating dimensions of human experience and that creating more vibrant 21st century societies therefore demands a nuanced attention to the relationships between them.

Chapter authors strive throughout the volume to articulate transnational values capable of leading the world toward economic and ecological sustainability and intercultural acceptance and understanding. The majority of the twenty chapters focus on recent and ongoing European Union efforts to promote economic growth and social integration throughout the EU and beyond. The present and potential roles of multinational organizations such as the World Bank and NGOs are discussed as well as the tensions that can arise between such organizations and the peoples they seek to serve.

Regarding economic growth, the Lisbon strategy, adopted by the EU in 2000, has drawn focused attention to vocational education and training (VET) programs which were cast as crucial to economic goals set at that time. Chapter Five discusses the pedagogical shifts required if VET providers are to educate for today’s knowledge-based economies and argues that the professional stature of vocational teachers and trainers will need to be enhanced as part of this project. Chapters Fifteen and Twenty further illustrate and analyze an array of related practical and interpersonal challenges, such as the need to respond sensitively to the needs and desires of potential VET students, within the European and Australian contexts respectively.

As to social integration, Chapter Eight tells the inspiring story of a group of preschools founded by parents in Northern Ireland in 1965 that have since then provided one of the very few educational settings where both Catholic and Protestant families are welcomed and children are taught to respect their differences. Chapter Ten employs community engagement programs in the UK as a lens to consider contemporary efforts to inspire a civic sense of citizenship and greater interest in the process of deliberative democracy. Chapter Sixteen treats the contributions NGOs have made in promoting social justice, human rights, and global citizenship within the English educational system since the strong shift away from such aims there in the 1980s.

The predominantly European backdrop provides a particularly illuminating array of interwoven yet distinct perspectives due to the complex relationships between various EU member nations as well as between individual member nations and various culturally linked lands near and far. Though the editors apologize in advance for all that has inevitably been neglected or given relatively short shrift, Chapter Nineteen on a transnational collaboration between English, Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, and Turkish research partners on supporting disabled learners demonstrates the potential generativity of a research context wherein culturally diverse member states have jointly established a single articulated set of aims. Unsurprisingly perhaps, basic conceptions of disability were found to differ, challenging participants to rethink this central term and so their organizing purposes.

Moving further from the European theater, Chapters Three and Twelve consider the educational status of women in Ghana and of Afghan refugees in Iran respectively. In each case, pertinent statistical reviews are enriched by grounded research into the cultures of the schools and communities in question, revealing the sometimes subtle cultural pressures that continue to constrain the education of girls in Ghana and that seem to have hampered a meaningful transition to a more student-centered pedagogy within the UK-funded program for Afghan refugees in Iran.

Chapter Twelve on school expansion in Ghana provides an interesting case study of how the efforts of governments and multi-national organizations intersect to construct the realities lived within so called developing nations over time. Chapter Thirteen, on the decentralization and marketization of adult higher education in China, suggests that a return to greater government direction may be advised in order to assure that short-term market pressures do not limit the socially constructive potential of these programs.

Connecting local realities with more theoretically informed global perspectives also encourages readers to interrogate and complicate common assumptions regarding the unidirectional relationship between policy as legislated and the implementation of those policies on the ground. For example, Chapter Four describes how the independent state of Jersey imported a self-assessment protocol seen as a current “best practice” in England and, in sensitively realizing that framework within that relatively close socio-political context, is now able to offer insights that might improve implementation efforts within larger nations. Chapter Nine provides a glimpse into the enacted culture of athletic participation at a specialist school designed for elite athletes in England, demonstrating the critical importance of such grounded feedback if policy is to play a truly effective role in achieving stated aims.

A handful of more theoretically oriented chapters lift the book’s gaze toward sets of possibilities and challenges that are seen to characterize the contemporary efforts of diverse nations to work together toward greater purposes more generally. Chapter Eleven, for example, develops a primarily theoretical argument for the importance of work-based learning within today’s knowledge economies, calling for programs that encourage the broader world to recognize workplaces as sites of knowledge production. This argument can be seen to support other claims noted above regarding the need to socially reposition VET providers and their students.

In their move toward the general, Chapters Six and Fourteen felt a bit too schematic to this reader and, perhaps as a result, overly upbeat regarding the transformative possibilities of the concepts of social marketing and ‘essential attributes,’ respectively. Nonetheless, each chapter represents a set of ideas worth pursuing and perhaps grounding more convincingly in an anticipated second volume.

Through the stories they share, many of these scholars return us to the large question posed in the title regarding the possibilities of educating for social change given the complicated relationships—and unavoidable tensions—between local and global perspectives. Once again from divergent vantages, Chapters Two and Seventeen each emphasize the inevitability of conflict and contradiction within all democratic deliberations about schools. Chapter Two argues for the place and importance of parents in decisions related to their children’s schooling—in the developing world as elsewhere. Chapter Seventeen reminds us that no single vision or set of pedagogical aims can be credibly claimed as universal any longer.

The volume begins with an ethnographic portrait of a young Tibetan nomad named Stanzin, a six-year-old girl who is in the final year of the three years she has spent boarding at a Montessori preschool. Stanzin’s removal from her family and from daily contact with the inherited ways of her culture clearly places her at risk and yet also provides a sense of promise regarding her potential place within a greater India. Stanzin will live between cultures, and it is the hope of the authors of this volume that she will be supported in her efforts to build a personally meaningful, culturally rich, and economically viable life rather than living at the mercy of political and economic forces beyond her understanding or control.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 01, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17198, Date Accessed: 10/18/2021 1:47:27 AM

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About the Author
  • Susan Mayer
    E-mail Author
    SUSAN JEAN MAYER studies and writes about democratic learning processes in schools. Her recent book, Classroom Discourse and Democracy: Making Meanings Together (2012) provides a number of practical conceptual tools for drawing out and engaging student understandings within classroom discussions. Mayer has recently lectured at Brandeis and Northeastern Universities and is currently at work on an edited volume on the use of student-led learning experiences within teacher education programs.
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