Books: Preparing Citizens For An Interdependent World

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Recognition of the "interdependence of the world" is essential to reformulating the civic mission of American education, writes R. Freeman Butts in The Morality of Democratic Citizenship: Goals for Civic Education in the Republic's Third Century.

To prepare students for effective citizenship, he contends, school curricula must reflect "a broader outlook that honors the world's diversity of peoples but also seeks a new and larger cohesion based upon the concepts of common human rights."

In the following excerpts, Mr. Butts--professor emeritus of foundations of education at Teachers College, Columbia University--suggests the value of integrating three disparate elements in current social-studies curricula:

Global education includes a variety of efforts to internationalize the perspectives of American citizens in light of the realities of global interdependence of nation states and the need for a peaceful and secure world community. Multicultural education arose from the pluralist effort to enhance the distinctive cultural traditions of the different ethnic and racial groups that comprise American society. And the revival of citizenship education in the effort to generate greater social and civic cohesion and commitment to the historic democratic political values basic to a common American citizenship has often neglected the other two and been neglected by them.

Clearly, these three movements all directly address the national interest; they all three should aim to improve our capacities for living humanely and justly with one another; they all three aim to improve our understanding of intercultural and international conflict and our ability to resolve it.

Civic education for interdependence means that basic civic literacy for American citizenship must include a reasoned awareness and understanding of the varying ways of life in other cultures, the emerging world economic and political system, the role of international organizations in international cooperation, and the intimate ways in which global problems impinge upon American communities, large and small.

Basic questions of foreign policy and America's role in the world constitute a major share of the judgments that American political leaders must make and of the judgments that American citizens must in turn make of their political leaders and their policies. For that reason, the effectiveness of American foreign policy can be no better than the political sophistication of the decisions Americans make about their leaders.

And the quality of political decisions made by leaders and citizenry alike may well be more important than a single-minded stress on making America competitive in a world-wide economic marketplace. ...

My principal argument, then, is that these three major drives in American education are rightly interdependent; that keeping these movements separate is essentially artificial and constitutes a distortion of the logic that binds them together; that reasoned awareness of and respect for disparate cultures is increasingly necessary in a world of international conflict; that international security for the United States is inseparably tied to the maintenance of an intelligent, informed citizenry; and that an intelligent citizenry is necessary to the maintenance of a society free of intolerance, racism, sexism, and ethnocentric behavior.

Center for Civic Education, 5146 Douglas Fir Rd., Calabasas, Calif. 91302; 232 pp., $14.95 paper, plus 7 percent handling.

Institutional inertia and shifting conceptions of general education have hindered the development of appropriate curricula for contemporary schools, argues Ian Westbury, professor of secondary education at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

His view is among those expressed in Cultural Literacy and the Idea of General Education, the 87th Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part 2, which Mr. Westbury edited with Alan C. Purves. In his essay, Mr. Westbury outlines the need for a new vision of core studies in secondary schools:

The curriculum of the high school has remained largely unchanged for almost 80 years. As a consequence, the changing definitions of "culture" that have come to pass over those years have largely passed the school by, and where they have affected the school, they have done so in ways that reduced, not enhanced, the contribution the school might make to the ultimate participation of the adults in that culture. ...

[T]he ideal of general education is, in the collegiate tradition, closely associated with the notion of liberal arts. In the world of the high school, it also has this same association for some, but for others general education is ... a basis for that minimum of education which people must have if they are to live effectively both within themselves and in society.

It is the contest between these two different conceptions of general education that has made it difficult, if not impossible, for the high school to secure a sustained focus on such questions as: What might the core curriculum be? And how might that curriculum serve a goal of general education for all?

And, of course, if such a discussion of principles were possible, the working out of their implications in the real world of the schools would have to face the press of both the institutional and the organizational forces within and without the school which support the existing curriculum-in-fact if not the curriculum-in-principle. ...

[I]t is difficult to see how the social forms that controlled the distribution of knowledge thought appropriate a century ago are still appropriate today; mathematics and science are, for example, too important and too significant to be seen as the reserves of the "talented" or of elites and/or as mechanisms for winnowing those who will have a comfortable home in the higher reaches of the educational system and in the range of learned professions.

The world has become too small and too interdependent for the nation to be the exclusive focus for the social studies that the majority experiences. A lexicon of the words that would be a starting place for a curriculum for all must surely include terms like development, industrialization, Sahel, China, Latin America, the U.S.S.R., rain forests, Islam, and the like as well as enlightenment, separation of powers, Civil War, and New Deal.

University of Chicago Press, 5801 South Ellis Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60637; 272 pp., $26 cloth.

Vol. 08, Issue 01

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