Saturday, January 21, 2017

Meanwhile In Switzerland...

While we've been staring into the dark, distorted mirror that is our new American administration, the uber-rich and super-powerful have been gathering for the annual summit in Davos, Switzzerland. And they think the see a world a-comin' that looks very different from the one we're in.

The event's official name is the World Economic Forum, and it's a reliable source for pieces about how the uber-rich have mostly lost contact with reality as the rest of us experience it (oh, look! I wrote one of those myself). It's also a place where the Global Agenda to Monetize Education pokes its head out.

This year, however, arguably the largest education story out of Davos was Shakira speaking to advocate for more early childhood education. Really.

Instead, Davos participants were busy noticing that there are a lot of cranky not-wealthy people in the world, and that this crankiness has led to some sub-optimal election outcomes. That strikes them as a problem, though they aren't sure what to do. Or, as New York Times coverage frames the problem:

Finding a way to make the people who are driving populist movements feel like they are part of the global economic pie that Davos participants have created and largely own.

Reporter Alexandra Stevenson talked to a lot of attendees. None came up with the thought that actually letting people have a piece of the pie. In other words, an alternative way to frame the problem is "How do we hold all these non-wealthy people down, keep them non-wealthy, and get them to be happy about it?"

But the America and post-Brexit Europe's full-on retreat from globalization and free trade is not bad news for everyone, and this is the other part of the picture in Davos this year. Because this year's summit featured a full-on appearance by the Chinese.

Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared and delivered a speech with a clear and simple message-- if Trump's America doesn't want to be the world's leading economic power, China will be more than happy to step into the gap.

We've been seeing this in many smallish ways, from the increasing visibility of Chinese settings and actors in Hollywood film to outright Chinese investment in our entertainment industry (just this week we read of a billion-dollar investment of Chinese money in Paramount). But at the very moment we are telling the neighbors that we are going to stick to our own home and our own yard, the Chinese are getting ready to throw a block party. It should be noted that China has not yet proven that it can shift gears on its highly managed, highly protectionist economy. But something has clearly changed.

I mention all of this, in part, to note that it has nothing to do with education. China is not moving to the center of the world stage because of something to do with their students and standardized tests. America is not retreating from the world stage because of anything having to do with our schools. Other than, perhaps, an American electorate that doesn't know enough about economics, the world, and how to tell the truth from lies.

The implications for education, however, will take time to really absorb. Do we teach students any differently if we're preparing them to take their place in a world in which America is not the leader? Do we start teaching Chinese history so that we can better understand the dominant world power? Do we, at a minimum, teach them about how major decisions that affect the fate of us all are made by people we never see for reasons we never hear about in places we don't go?

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