America’s Educational Exceptionalism

UPDATE: On March 2, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) issued a new Independent Task Force report on U.S. Education Reform and National Security. The report states: “The United States’ failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country’s ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role.”

If US education reform is national security issue, it should be funded as a national security issue. Without a significantly increased investment in educators, students, parents and communities, this national security message from the US policy-makers and local and national leaders will be less effective and likely to be dismissed by most Americans as a theoretical policy paper, rather than an actionable plan for global engagement. 

Worldwide, “global education” is simply known as “education.”  In contrast, the United States education system resists the idea that teacher and students need to learn about and engage with their peers worldwide. Children with globe US policy-makers range from being ambivalent to completely freaked-out about global education and collaboration in the classroom. The Obama Administration has clearly stated that the need to prepare the next generation of US diplomats, military officers, and global leaders in finance, health, science, technology and entrepreneurship is a national security issue.  Yet, there has been no significant federal investment in international education and exchange programs for US schools. Despite the US Department of Education’s National Educational Technology Plan recognizing that teaching and learning is becoming increasingly (if unevenly) global, networked, personalized and mobile, there has been no significant federal investment in preparing administrators, teachers, students and parents for globally networked, personalized “anytime, anywhere” learning.

Nor have most states, districts, foundations or corporations embraced global education and collaboration. Check out the new list of 23 Investing in Innovation (i3) finalists or the Imagine K12′s 2011 Startup Class and you will not find a single project that focuses on learning about the world or collaborating with partners abroad. The Common Core Standards makes one passing reference to learning the “fables and folktales of diverse cultures,” but nothing that reflects the national security priority of our students understanding or interacting with their peers worldwide.

The main context in which most Americans frame the conversation about engaging with the world is in the need to “out-compete” it. With the exception of Alfie Kohn and a few others, our society hammers this detrimental zero-sum message into our children and their parents starting at birth. Still, despite the messaging, Americans yearn to engage and do good with the world, as exemplified by the historic Sister Cities movement, the Rotary campaign to eliminate polio, and Room to Read, as well as new efforts like The School Fund, Kiva in the Classroom, this Zynga school support in Haiti.

At a time when ALL US students need global competence to excel in the 21st century, collaborative movements like Connect All Schools can change the world in 2012 by sharing the global stories of US teachers and students who are re-framing the conversation. As Carol Black, the director of Schooling the World, says, there is nothing about learning that requires it to be competitive. The Connect All Schools consortium offers the US education system a model of collaboration on which to build.   US teachers and students have a passionate community across the country that is committed to supporting such efforts.  If we set a goal in 2012 to internationalize education for all US students, future generations of Americans will be outward-looking, locally and globally engaged, multilingual, and empathetic.

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10 thoughts on “America’s Educational Exceptionalism

  1. US education definitely should step up it’s “international awareness” a bit more. It’s not uncommon for us to have American intern teachers who, as bright and ambitious as they may be, often struggle a lot when they are first introduced to Chinese society and culture. The culture shock seems to last the most on them. Surprisingly, our US interns are the ones who are often characterized by our partner schools as “unsociable” or “socially unwelcoming”.

  2. Thanks for the thought. Do you have interns from other countries? Which countries would you say prepare teachers well for teaching abroad?

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  5. Pretty distressing facts but I won’t comment as I am not American.
    I am not aware of the political decisions related to education in the U.S. , but from what I see on twitter daily teachers and principals DO create bridges and collaborate with educators and schools everywhere.

    • Hi Cristina,

      Twitter, Skype, e-mail, holiday cards – no matter the method, these bridges have positive impact upon teachers, students, parents and the wider community. How do we make sure that all classrooms worldwide have the opportunity to connect?

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