Tuesday, December 03, 2013

WERA Focal Meeting: Reflections from Guanajuato, Mexico

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the World Education Research Association (WERA) Focal Meeting held in Guanajuato, Mexico, November 18 to 22, 2013. WERA is an association of national, regional, and international specialty research associations aimed at advancing education research as a scientific and scholarly field. The Focal Meeting was part of the XII National Congress for Education Research, sponsored by the Consejo Mexicano de Investigacion Educativa (Mexican Society for Educational Research) and Guanajuato University.

The Focal Meeting symposia and paper sessions were comparative, cross-cultural, international or transnational in scope or design. Education research was presented from countries around the globe with issues often juxtaposed cross-culturally. For example, a session on fostering global citizenship through study abroad included presentations on South Africa and Mexico.  One of the speakers explored ways to foster social justice and counter stereotypes through study abroad citing examples of American students who had come to Mexico and learned new perspectives beyond what is typically portrayed in the American press. The research showed that student study abroad participants showed measured gains in global perspective, greater understanding of social justice issues, as well reflexivity. One of the session attendees, a teacher at an open enrollment Mexican university, agreed that it was important for US students to have this experience and the opportunity to change their perceptions of Mexico, yet she also felt that her Mexican students may have misconceptions about the US. She mentioned perceptions of US imperialism, as an example. “Unfortunately, I don’t think my students can have a similar opportunity to visit the US to be disabused of their prejudices.  They would not be able to get a visa.” Even the opportunity to study prejudice, global inequality, and social justice, must include the recognition that such an opportunity carries privilege within it.

In my session, several papers were presented that explored the intersection of education, corporations and government policy.  While three of the four, mine included, took a critical view of various incarnations of corporate involvement in education, one presented an alternative conception. Taking Costa Rica as a case study, the paper presented the positive impact of multinational corporations work in primary and secondary schools. Despite spending 7.2% of its GDP on education (the US spends 5.6%), Costa Rica relied on significant additional funding from multinational corporations to achieve gains in STEM education in K-12 schools in impoverished communities resulting in greater achievement and equity for students regardless of ethnicity, primary language, socioeconomic status or education level of parents.  While several in attendance took issue with the source of funding, the dramatic results of infusing schools with resources were irrefutable.

Heading home I continued to consider the various impacts of globalization on the lives around me including my own. I called my children from Mexico to remind them to do their homework, an experience my mother and I would never have had. In the long line at US customs, I met a man from the US, also on his way home.  Trained at his local community college in Indiana he had the expertise to build and maintain auto assembly lines. He works for Honda establishing a new plant near Leon, Mexico.  He had been away from his family, his three children, for 180 days.  He would be home for a few weeks, and then go back to work for another 180 days. Likely his local community college counts him as a success, “a completer,” but the local impact of his work seemed to me, hard to measure.  On the one hand, he has a job, no small thing in this economy. On the other hand, his family and community does without him for 180 days at a time. 

Several times at the conference I heard references to Clifton’s study finding that in the current global economy, what people want most, more than health, peace, or even happiness, is a good job (2011). Standing in line at the airport, waiting for delayed flights, that poll did not ring true.  Looking at the representative sample of humanity slouched against walls, heaped into airport chairs, scanning their phones, the impact of globalization did not seem to me to have altered the essence of human desire or humanities’ struggle all that much. Despite the tremendous technology in our hands and surrounding us, in the end, our journey was controlled by the weather, as it has always been. Regardless of the unequal impacts of globalization on our lives, whatever mobility had given or taken from us, whatever prejudices we carried with our baggage, we all watched the sky for the end of the storm and the resumption of flights.  What we all wanted most was to go home.

Clifton, J. (2011). The coming jobs war. New York, NY: Gallup Press

No comments: