Teacher Quality in an Age of Resurgent Chauvinism

We have seen the resurgence of nationalist parties and chauvinistic sentiment in many nations around the world. Elections in England, the Philippines and the U.S. have dramatically shifted global relations, and foreshadows the rise to power of neo-nationalist parties. Often aligned with “conservative” social movements, chauvinistic politicians typically focus on old tropes – a call to reassert a “national identity;” a retreat from internationalism; and a reaction against immigrants. What do these trends bode for teacher quality?

At the most basic level, chauvinism undercuts international exchange – the unhindered movement of goods, services, and people – but also diminishes concerns for human rights. It prioritizes ideologies of national identity, and thus opens the way for schools to become vehicles for social repression. National difference will mean that the effects on teachers are expressed in distinct ways, as each nation has important path-dependent trajectories that condition the expression of jingoistic sentiment.

In the U.S., chauvinism tends toward regionalism and anti-federalism following a pattern dating as far back as the Whiskey Rebellion. Local autonomy (e.g. “states’ rights”) have long been used as a foil to preserve power and social status for ethnic groups (e.g. whites). Ironically framed as a violation of “local autonomy,” resistance to the imposition of federal mandates typically reduces individual freedom. The last two decades of U.S. conservative educational reform efforts have played out along these lines: reassertion of a “local” control over education means the ability to defy or ignore federal rules that guarantee the basic human rights of all students. Secretary DeVos’ promotion of vouchers and privatization efforts suggest a retreat into a “know-nothing” education mentality (Anbiner, 1992) that places parental values and family religious orientation above empirically proven educational interventions.

In such a highly decentralized system as the U.S., teacher quality, in schools “freed” from federal oversight may become synonymous with parental values and morals. This has far-reaching implications for human rights. Neo-nationalists have resisted schooling that challenged parental beliefs on racial integration, and continue to resist schooling that promotes a rationalist view of human life and interaction. “Safe subjects” – such as math and physical sciences and engineering – can be promoted, but in all others, the primary measure of “teacher quality” will be an alignment of teacher beliefs with the dominant parents in the community.

But the U.S. is an outlier in many respects. Chauvinism in Russia and the Philippines appears to be expressing itself in renewed state control. In many nations, the right of the state to educate citizens was historically given privilege over the right of citizens to an education. Take Japan for instance. From the modern period on (1868), Japanese elites have defined education as the right of the state to inculcate its citizens, even, as evident in the old Imperial Rescript on Education, with a desire to devote their lives to the state. This reached its apotheosis in the state educational propaganda of the early Showa to inculcate a suicidal desire to give one’s life to the Imperial State.

Under the imposed “peace constitution,” schools were liberated from State Shintoism, but the post-war history has shown a steady reassertion of the state in asserting its role to define what a “good citizen” should learn. The long-term resistance of Japanese teachers and teacher unions to this neo-nationalism is well documented (Duke, 1973), but conservative factions have managed to re-introduce the national flag, the national anthem and distorted history texts into the daily life of schooling. More significantly, the government has effectively undermined teacher political opposition, and has pushed forward with the promulgation of a new era of “morals.” Under strongly state-centric systems, teacher quality may assume a more technocratic aspect, with more and more emphasis placed on those skills that elites value in promoting state economic competitive advantage in the global economy.

Chauvinistic sentiment also poses serious challenges to what some scholars have dubbed as “global governance” in education (Martens, Knodel, & Windzio, 2014; Meyer & Benavot, 2013; Verger, Novelli, & Altinyelken, 2012). Global government effects may emphasize too narrow a focus on human capital development. Some scholars have asked the OECD to significantly modify its testing process arguing that data sets like PISA and TALIS negatively affect national policy around teachers . But, “neo-liberal” ideology also encodes a significant emphasis on internationalism, free trade as well as human rights, and many of the policies promoted by the OECD actually call on nations to support greater professionalism for teachers.

Chauvinistic sentiments, at their core, are intolerant of human rights and individual freedom. Under chauvinistic regimes, promotion of nationalistic “values” will be emphasized over empirical standards for teacher quality. Teachers are likely to face increased attacks on their professional autonomy, especially their work to assure that all their students have access to education. Chauvinism, as an ideology, is threatened by the free exchange of ideas, by rationality, and by educators who have the courage to stand up to political oppression.

References

Duke, B. (1973). Japan's Militant Teachers. Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press.
Martens, K., Knodel, P., & Windzio, M. (Eds.). (2014). Internationalization of Education Policy: A New Constellation of Statehood in Education? UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Meyer, H.-D., & Benavot, A. (2013). PISA, Power, and Policy. Oxford: Symposium Books.
Verger, A., Novelli, M., & Altinyelken, H. K. (Eds.). (2012). Global Education Policy and International Development. New York: Bloomsbury Press.


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Gerald LeTendre

Dr. Gerald K. LeTendre is professor of education and international affairs and head of the department of education policy studies for the Penn State College of Education. He is currently co-editor of The American Journal of Education. He received his B.A. (magna cum laude) in sociology from Harvard University and completed his graduate work at Stanford University where he received his Master's (sociology) and Ph.D. (education). He was a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the University of Bremen in Germany (2003-2004) and a Fulbright Research Scholar at Sophia University in Tokyo (2016). Dr. LeTendre has published on a broad range of topics in comparative and international education.

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