Globalize or Localize? Beyond the Post-American World

One of the examples of how increasing globalization of the U.S. led to decreasing localization can be taken from the history of education, one of my areas of specialization. Traditionally, public schools in the United States have been highly local in character. As Steve Caldas and I argue in our book, Public Education – America’s Civil Religion (Teachers College Press, 2009), calls for federal involvement with this localized institution began in the 1950s, largely because of fears that the United States would fall behind the Soviets in the international political competition. Federal involvement grew with the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965. The centralization of schooling really began to pick up, though, in the 1980s, largely because of fears that the United States would lose its global economic leadership position to Japan.

Concern over global competitiveness led policy makers, such as political economist Robert B. Reich, to argue that the United States needed a national industrial policy, directed by the federal government. Others might regard this type of economic strategy a form of “crony capitalism” and suggest that federal economic involvement, naturally favoring large firms and powerful lobbying organizations, helped to create the concentration of economic activity and wealth that characterizes the U.S. today. Every plan for a national industrial policy included educational directives as part of the overall project of federal administrative coordination.

The move toward national standardized testing took off in the 1980s, and proponents of standardization explicitly cited the need to be globally competitive as a rationale. The Charlottesville Education Summit took place in September 1989 atmosphere of urgency to train a more highly qualified workforce to increase America’s global competitiveness. Out of this centralizing imperative came the national education standards of Goals 2000, and then the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives, both of which grew out of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

As we point out in the book, success has been questionable and the performance of the top students in public schools has actually gone down. Why did this happen?  We argue that it was because the functioning of public schools is heavily dependent on connections with local communities and that distant control and the effort to consolidate American schools into a single big system severed many of those connections and diminished the autonomy and self reliance of communities.  This loss of connections was accompanied by declines in immediate political power,

Education is, as I have suggested, just one of the examples of how a globalizing state has hollowed out its own base by drawing all energies toward the center.  Perhaps in many ways, then, the United States needs not to “globalize” itself but to “localize” itself, to allow a “rise of the rest” inside the U.S., as communities look to their own affairs.  From this perspective, our concern would not be how we can play a leadership role on the world or even who will play such a role, but how can the people in cities, towns, and rural areas across the United States build their own institutions and communities.

Carl L. Bankston III is an eighth generation native of what is now the State of Louisiana. He is currently employed as chair of the Department of Sociology at Tulane University.



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3 comments on this post.
  1. D.W. Sabin:

    The Globalist Agenda, a Freebooters Paradise has decided long ago that it shall use the checkered history of the United States of America as an example of insufficiency despite worse examples all around.

    We slouch in this nation, to surrendered Gomorrah.

    To date, the local has been cast overboard without a thought to the consequences. These chickens are coming home to roost now.

    The United States of America remains one of the more quixotically productive ideas of humanity, deaspite the flotsam and jetsam which encrusts it. Ask an average man on the streets of Tehran and he or she might tell you their mother or father attended University of Michigan or Utah State University and so wishes their country might become that indispensable ally beyond Israel we so need in the Levant and near east.

    But, the play has been written until it stalls and we are well within a period of STATECRAFT, a recipe book that produces inedible tripe and markets it as prime rib. Nationalized Testing codifies the dysfunction.

  2. Fr. Cassian Sibley:

    Thank you for this very clear, educational, and persuasive post. I will be sharing it with anyone I can get to read it!

  3. William Gall:

    Yes, indeed. But this may happen only as we rise from the ashes of our present insane course. But I hope not.

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