Thursday, April 17, 2014

Developing Global Expertise: 2 The Reason for 'Globalism'

Before we talk of the mechanics of how to develop global expertise, we must attempt to answer whether such an endeavour is worth it. The education system as it stands today has changed its goals, from the modernist vision of 'Reason' to the promotion of National 'Culture' in its glory years, to the current idea of Developing 'Excellence', which, as Bill Readings argued, means very little. But even if the efforts to promote a national culture looks spent, and the universities today are multinational corporations with great sophistication, they are decidedly in the business of 'soft power', which is, crudely put, about exporting 'national culture' to faraway lands. The object of the universities, therefore, is grounded on national values and cultures, or what goes in its name, and 'globalism' of the kind we are talking about is quite alien to its DNA.

This is not to deny some parts of our education system is more global than others. As one would expect, Business Schools have adopted a decidedly global perspective, and their rhetoric, over time, has taken globalism as the default state of the world. Pankaj Ghemawat of IESE Business School in Spain calls this 'Globalization Apocalypse' and has argued that such triumphalism is premature. However, rather paradoxically, such view is 'Post-globalist' rather than a commitment to globalism: This assumes that the differences do not matter any more (and Prof Ghemawat's argument is directed at disproving this). This view of the world presupposes a world of 'Coffee-coloured' people, as the evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry at LSE argues that all human race will eventually become (see this BBC story about the future of humanity circa 3000AD), or more modestly, of 'Global Cosmopolitans' as INSEAD's Linda Brimm calls the new generation of people emerging right now. 

But the idea of a global education is more than about creating a foot-loose elite, which is what global cosmopolitans are. The idea of Global Cosmopolitans, eloquently portrayed in Professor Brimm's book (Global Cosmopolitans: The Creative Edge of Difference; INSEAD), brings out many of the advantages of globalism, which we shall return to later, but perhaps eludes the question whether this is applicable outside the hallowed halls of a world-famous business school. Because, failing to do so is precisely what gives globalism its bad name: It remains an elite plaything which touches everyday life but on which very few people have control.

Developing a theme of globalism in education is therefore a matter of democratising global thinking and that way, legitimising it. The globalisation of capital, consumption and businesses are not sustainable unless there is also globalisation of ideas, people and values. The first set is the Business School globalism, the globalisation apocalypse that we have all loved to hate: The second one is supposed to be the educator's globalism.

There are different reasons why educators should embrace it, and this is not just to catch up with businesses and capital. The reasons could be any of the following, or all of the following:

One, because that seems to be the way of the world. One could deny globalisation and even try to resist it: Indeed, one can point to the rejuvenated national chauvinism across the world, in the West as well as in the Emerging world, as evidence of this. But the nationalist feelings are not progressively disposed - they may use the rhetoric of compassion, such as Gordon Brown's 'British jobs for British workers', but essentially these are reactionary stances mainly aimed at electoral pandering - and mostly abandoned in favour of global businesses and capital. The other side fighting globalisation is also trying to raise a global resistance, the global '99%', and hence the ideas need clarifying. The best way to shape globalisation is to engage with it, rather than denying it: This could be one reason to put globalism at the heart of education.

Two, education is essentially global anyway: If education is about finding ways to engage with the world, one can't do this hiding away at home. If education is about critical consciousness, that can't be achieved through fanatic rejection. If education is about change and new ideas, globalism provides an excellent basis, and a great starting point, for the same. Professor Brimm talks about the advantages of global cosmopolitans: Seeing change as normal; being outsiders to fixed cultural rules and creativity as a way of life; experimentation with identity and constant quest to reinvent self; expertise of the emotional and subtle aspects of transition; and, ability to learn and to use new ways of thinking. The rootlessness that she is celebrating has its great advantages. 

Three, One could argue that being global has great advantages in terms of reinventing the local. Hiding our heads in sand is hardly the way to keep our communities functional: However, rediscovering the contexts and reshaping those communities perhaps is. This is what Eliot was alluding to, perhaps, in "knowing the place for the first time" in Four Quartets. In more modern terms, this is what Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist is all about. And, indeed, this is what Pico Iyer sees as the point of answering 'where are you from' question. (See the video)


Indeed, this is not a new thing. Gu Yanwu knew this in Ming times: "To be wise, you need to read 10,000 books and walk 10,000 miles", he said. The Enlightenment reason was secular and global, to be embedded into education, though the ensuing imperialism had a different agenda. It is only at the twilight of nation states, today, education can rediscover globalism. In a way, this is not something new, but just going back to basics after all the other options have been exhausted. This must not be about surrendering to the idea of a global super-race: This should be about unlocking the human potential everywhere.   

 

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