Global Education vs. Globalization

Globalization has become a widespread idea in national and international dialogue in recent years. Global education has become a widespread idea at Fairleigh Dickinson University. But what do we mean when we invoke each of these terms, and is there really any meaningful distinction between the two?

Globalization’s shifting and controversial parameters make it difficult to define. It is clearly a dominant force, both positively and negatively, shaping the multiple environments in which we live. Motivated by economic forces and driven by digital technologies and communications, globalization links individuals and institutions across the world with unprecedented interconnection and immediacy. In doing so, it in some ways democratizes and intensifies interdependence, and in other ways creates new forms of local reaction and self-definition. While it may spread certain freedoms, higher living standards, and a sense of international relatedness, it also threatens the globe with a conformist “universal” economy and culture rooted in North American and Western ideas and interests. Despite the ambiguities in definition and significance, and the anxieties and backlashes it generates, globalization will remain a dominant paradigm for the foreseeable future. We have seen this fact rectified in our national challenges over the past several years. Especially in America, which is so closely associated with economic and cultural globalization, the task of higher education must include the examination of and reflection on globalization as a force shaping the world in which we live.

Global education, as a distinct construct from globalization, does what higher education has traditionally aimed to do: extend students’ awareness of the world in which they live by opening them to the diverse heritage of human thought, action, and creativity. Global education places particular emphasis on the changes in communication and relationships among people throughout the world, highlighting such issues as human conflict, economic systems, human rights and social justice, human commonality and diversity, literatures and cultures, and the impact of the technological revolution. While it continues to depend on the traditional branches of specialist knowledge, global education seeks to weaken the boundaries between disciplines and encourages emphasis on what interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies can bring to the understanding and solution of human problems. Global education also implies, and should teach our students, that not everyone around the world in fact views global education with indifference — some may see it as a vehicle for promotion of globalization, which might itself be seen as the West’s effort to destabilize fragile balances in world economic and political systems.

At a time, such as this, when we feel increasingly and often indiscriminately awash with information, and when we sense a decentralization of the traditional forms of political and intellectual authority, global education places a premium on the ability to think critically and ethically. The ability to effectively access, interpret, evaluate and apply information is essential for facing a constantly changing work environment, for continuing self-education, and for participation as an ethical and responsible member of a global society. A global education can also be an antidote to the sadly universal human tendency to lose track of the experiences of others as seen through their eyes.

In trying to elucidate the concepts of globalization and global education, what needs to be recognized is that juxtaposing them is, to some extent, misguided. Globalization is an inter-national and intra-national force, while global education is a teaching/learning paradigm. Thus, their areas of focus are in different domains. Yet global education to many around the world merely invokes the notion of globalization with all its potentially American-centric and negative attributions. Thus, one of the biggest challenges in realizing the distinction is that, unlike with global education, globalization is an inherently anxiety-provoking term. While it frames the world in communal terms, it also, and more explosively, threatens many with a loss of individuality.

As the leader in global education, Fairleigh Dickinson dedicates itself to forging the real distinctions between globalization and global education. We are certainly not the first higher education institution to invoke the term global education, yet we are a leader in its implementation. It’s similar to what the beaver said to the rabbit as they stared up at the immense earthworks of the Hoover Dam: “No, I didn’t actually build it — but it’s based loosely on an idea of mine.” Fairleigh Dickinson is building the Hoover dam of global education through efforts such as our new Global Virtual Faculty Program. When you bring together, as we have done, adjunct scholars and practitioners from around the world in partnership with our faculty teaching online courses, an experience of creative synergy is almost irrepressible. This experience emphasizes the very simple fact that we need to talk to each other, to see the world through the eyes of others. In the absence of this, we remain myopically self-referential. As globalization takes hold, the world needs global education now more than ever, and, in higher education, FDU is committed to a leadership position.