Advocacy-oriented global education in TLT special issues

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Trevor Sargent, Tottori University

In a special issue of The Language Teacher on Global Issues last year (March, 2003), Guest Editor David Peaty told us that "Teachers of ESL/EFL are in a unique position to incorporate education for global citizenship into their curricula" asserting that this latest issue "offers additional insights into . . . why they should do so" (2003, p. 1, emphasis added). However, there really is not enough information in this special issue to make an informed decision. For one thing, this issue does not tell us that there are at least two different orientations to global education , one of which—well represented in this issue—is very troubling for academia.

Confusion over Global Education

Ten years ago, Begler (1993) pointed out that "Most global education practitioners acknowledge that we still have a long way to go in conceptualizing the field" (p. 14), and Merryfield (1993) stated that "global education is one of the more ambiguous innovations in education today. Its many interpretations and diffuse nature can lead to confusion, misconceptions, and frustration" (p. 27). While influential proponents such as Lamy (1991) have argued strongly for the need to have "an intellectually sophisticated conceptual definition" (p. 54) of global education , there is also the view that "[w]e should not automatically assume that greater clarity about the goals of global education is necessary" (Case, 1993, p. 318). No wonder Schukar (1993) identifies "[s]truggles to control the agenda in both content and instructional strategies" as a major challenge for global education (p. 52).

Apparently, many educators simply do not know enough about global education before they try to teach it—often with adverse outcomes. Put simply, "[t]he most serious problem is inadequate teacher knowledge of the subject" (Smith, 2002, p. 39). Or, as Hicks and Bord (2001) recently observed, "An important Canadian study on the impact of teaching about such [global] issues . . . suggests that the learning process may be much more complex than was previously assumed" (p. 413) with the result that, "many educators, despite their commitment to global understanding, may make things worse for students" (p. 423). They go on to show how such teachers often get it wrong as a result of personal and professional limitations. These kinds of confusion and limitations have spawned at least two recognizable and divergent orientations in global education.

Academic Global Education vs. Advocacy Global Education

As pointed out above, there is no one definition of global education that all practitioners agree on. However, many still refer back to one of the early starting points for outlining global education , Hanvey's five dimensions of perspective consciousness, state of the planet awareness, cross-cultural awareness, systemic awareness, and options for participation (Case, 1993; Dyer & Bushell, 1996; Lamy, 1991). One of the reasons these dimensions have endured for so long is because they still address a fundamental notion in global education that, "education based on these intellectual dimensions will help prepare students to make informed choices in the future" (Lamy, p. 53) in order to "participate effectively in the globalized world" (Kirkwood, 2001, p. 14)—a world increasingly characterized by greater pluralism.

Referring once again to Hanvey's five dimensions of global education , and pointing out that, "This general definition of global education does not call for reshaping the world," Lamy (p. 53) also observes that many of the people who are attracted to global education have an activist orientation—many also lacking sufficient information and preparation to teach global education. As a result, "Many make poor teaching choices and simply present one side of an issue or design entire courses around normative goals that correspond to their worldview. This is polemics, not instruction. Advocacy-oriented educators deserve to be criticized" (Lamy, p. 60).

This sheds light on both the academic-oriented and advocacy-oriented approaches to global education with practitioners of the former being openly and highly critical of the latter. Schukar, for example, points out that at times global education practitioners themselves are directly responsible for the criticism they have been subjected to, adding that, "Among the principle problems cited by critics of global education is a lack of balance and scholarly integrity in teaching, curriculum development, and the selection of resources" (1993, p. 56).

On the one hand, academic approaches to global education are characterized by open-mindedness, balance, pluralism, "critical thinking and the weighing of evidence" (Lamy, 1991, p. 52). Accordingly, "well-constructed global education programs should introduce students to the research process—an information gathering process that involves the formulation of testable propositions and data gathering aimed at confirming or refuting these propositions" and "introduce participants to substantive and verifiable information that represents the findings of international scholarship" (p. 55). This approach recognizes that a global perspective is necessarily multifaceted and its "strategy is to build its programs around a clearly stated definition of global education that emphasizes substance over value-laden mush" (p. 53).

Advocacy-oriented approaches on the other hand, can be identified by the way they value some perspectives much more than others, and in the name of "global education" elevate and advocate these more valued, or "right" perspectives over other, less valued perspectives. The promotion of this "right" perspective is often carried out with little regard for developmental learning goals for students. For instance, Begler (1993) notes that recently the Native American perspective of Columbus's encounter with them is replacing the traditional European perspective in the classrooms of many well-meaning teachers. "But such an instructional response does not help students develop an open mind, resist stereotyping, appreciate the complexity and historic context of issues, or develop the ability to understand different perspectives. It simply replaces one "right" perspective with another "right" perspective" (p. 16).

According to the academic approach, there is a fundamental contradiction in the advocacy approach which openly takes sides on issues and entities, adopting them as the "correct" view, with the unfortunate and misleading implication that this is how one goes about developing a global perspective. Another problem from the academic standpoint is that promoting only one side of an issue does a disservice to students who are left ill-equipped to make informed choices because they have been ill-informed on the issues in the first place.

An example of this can be seen in the chapter: "Globalization: A critical view" in Peaty's (2002) textbook—reviewed in the recent TLT Global Issues special issue (Allan, 2003). While this chapter certainly captures some of the perspectives that see shortcomings in globalization, what academic objectives are met by presenting only a lopsided view of such a momentous issue? Without a balanced presentation of globalization, such cherry-picking of facts might be useful in investigative journalism, but does not meet even the most basic requirements of academic global education.

The treatment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) by Peaty in this chapter of his textbook is a case in point: The perspective presented highlights only a selection of its shortcomings, without informing students about it as a whole, even though ten years ago, Lamy told us that, "Global education efforts must take unusual care to introduce teachers and students to contending theories that explain the actions of state and nonstate actors" (1991, p. 54). Thus, an "empathic" (Case, 1993, p. 323) perspective of the organization—how the WTO would describe itself, its mission and its justification for existence, along with examples of some of its activities that demonstrate this—is conspicuously absent. And this necessarily works against meeting academic global education goals related to encouraging greater pluralism, balance and the academic weighing of evidence among students.

In discussing teacher education in relation to global education, Johnson (1993) makes it clear that teachers should be able to "see that their particular world-view and their special way of teaching about the world rests not on a chosen expression of universal truth but rather on a historically and culturally inspired set of assumptions that, in the context of the larger world, is but one approach among many others" (p. 11). As Case (1993) points out, global education practitioners who base their instruction entirely around their own "worldviews may be guilty of indoctrination if they fail to encourage students to reach their own thoughtful conclusions after a fair airing of opposing views" (p. 320, emphasis added).

One problem of course is, "How can educators present all sides of an issue when they are not well informed about contending views?" (Lamy, 1991, p. 62). Another is that even presenting multiple viewpoints can still potentially result in propaganda if it is over-simplified, superficial or lacking in sufficient analysis (Tye, 1991)—a notable challenge for global education EFL instructors.

Advocacy Global Education in TLT Special Issues

Global education in the hands of advocacy-oriented "Global Citizen/Educators" attempting to make "Global Citizens" of their students in their own particular image by promoting their own worldview, represents a significant danger to students—something that should be obvious by now. In light of this, there is a noticeable lack of unequivocal commitment to an academic approach to global education in some TLT special issues articles, which suggests something could well be amiss here.

In the most recent TLT special issue on Global Issues, Guest Editor Peaty (2003) tells us that, "It is clear that these problems [environmental deterioration, hunger, disease, war and oppression] will never be solved through increased globalization, but only through fundamental changes in how people think and act" (p. 1, emphasis added). Unfortunately, no one can possibly know this to be true in advance. Statements "that do not tolerate exceptions" generally reveal "an opinion, a guess, or a judgment" (Alloway & Weisbrodt, 1989, p. 9), and are often used as a persuasive ploy in the advocacy-rich worlds of propaganda, politics, and advertising, but are at odds with academic integrity.

Similarly, Dyer and Bushell (1996), in an earlier TLT special issue use the phrase "the existing international system that perpetuates injustice, conflict and inequality" (p. 12), as if this sufficiently sums up all one needs to know about "this system" in order to justify their advocacy-oriented view that global education is about promoting change to it. This is symptomatic of the advocacy global education groups "singled out for criticism [that] have advanced normative assessments rather than empirical studies of controversial international issues" (Lamy, 1991, p. 55).

Cooney (2003), advocating the idea to teach students English to "raise their global literacy and empower them as global citizens," makes it clear that one such use of English she has in mind for empowered global citizens is to use it as "the global language of resistance to the dominant world view, challenging the established powers" (p. 4). Assigning a policy agenda to a definition of "global citizenship" is anti-pluralistic and anti-academic. Lamy (1991) warns that while "[i]t is impossible to present an entirely objective view of public issues . . . instructors should neither promote a specific policy agenda nor unfairly discourage students from conducting critical analyses of policy decisions" (p. 55). After all, although "a global perspective is not value-neutral, it does not prejudge for educators or students the particular position they should adopt in contentious issues such as the merits of maintaining the current world order" (Case, 1993, p. 320).

While Small (2003) does state that "any sort of coercion, censoring of a student's viewpoint or judgmental preaching is an aberration of global education" (p. 10), his article still reflects an advocacy-orientation. Although he points out that some academics object to global education "because it has an agenda, or takes positions that are supposedly political"—a fair description of an advocacy orientation—his response is that, "any classroom content constitutes a presentation of a worldview" (p. 10; emphasis in original) as if this observation in some way justifies promoting agendas and political positions. He makes no mention of the academic need for balance.

Small takes great exception to the latent worldview he sees in many EFL textbooks, which he unfairly exaggerates with caricatures such as "material wealth equals happiness; working in the business world is the key to success in life; . . . we live in a just, peaceful world" (p. 11). More accurate and fair characterizations might be: material security is important for happiness; success in one's career is a significant part of success in life; and most people value justice and peace in the world. It is hard to see how any of these restated values preclude the taking of a global perspective or undermine the pursuit for global citizenship. Curiously, though, Small suggests that while impoverished people in Bangladesh striving for material security with the help of bank loans represents the "right" values (p. 9), EFL textbooks implicitly reflecting similar values of material security represent the "wrong" values (p. 11).

Just like the switched "right" views of Columbus, pointed out above, Small then hails the benefits of replacing a homestay in America with an apparently more valuable endeavor for global citizenship—volunteering in Cambodia—on the assumption that this might inspire students and "give them the tools to help create a better world" (p.10). What is left unexplained is why it is necessary to make this switch—why the American homestay for a Japanese student cannot deliver the same thing; what makes it "less global"? Instead of making a more defensible argument on the grounds of greater diversity and representation in EFL textbooks, Small bases his argument on his own moral grounds—implicitly casting his "alternative" perspective as the "right" view, again on the basis of unexplained assumptions. All in all such morally loaded reasoning is inconsistent with an academic orientation, because such "value-laden positions do not encourage a pluralistic approach (i.e., one with contending perspectives) to education" (Lamy, 1991, p. 57).

An Alternative to Global Education in EFL

Education that aims to help students prepare for living in a world that is becoming increasingly characterized by pluralism has a great deal of support among educators from a wide variety of disciplines currently engaged in this process. Global education is not the only attempt in this area, and not necessarily the most viable either. For those educators interested in engaging the students in their weekly EFL classes in this process via the introduction of high-interest controversial topics, but have no desire to try and deal with all the obligations associated with global education, or risk making things worse for their students, there is a relatively straightforward way to do this while maintaining academic integrity.

Brown, outlines a middle way "between usurping our positions of power through indoctrination, on the one hand, and meekly avoiding all controversial issues and topics in the classroom," on the other, where he asserts it is possible "to assume our responsibility as agents of change while at the same time respecting the autonomy of the learner" (1997, p. 25). Two of the four principles he proposes for dealing with these kinds of topics in class are, "Encourage both/many sides of an issue" and "In so far as possible, withhold your personal opinion on an issue; if a student directly requests your opinion, offer it as equally worthy to contrasting views" in the effort to not try and "force students to think just like you" (p. 26).


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Trevor Sargent teaches EFL at Tottori University. Some of his recent research has involved an investigation into possible relationships between cross-cultural adjustment and a global mindset among expatriates and sojourners.