Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Globalization

The world is going global. It is not very hard to make a case to support that statement. When I was growing up in northern Alberta, Canada, as a young boy in the 60’s, living on a First Nations reserve without running water, electricity, and gas heating, we were literally cut off from the world. Our world was confined to our localized area in which we lived and depended upon for our sustainability. We carried the water from the river to the house; we used kerosene lanterns in the evening, and burned firewood to keep us warm. That was only forty years ago and yet the picture described is reminiscent of a Little House on the Prairies episode. But what stands out for me is how little information and news we had about the world as we know it today.

Today, I can go into any northern community in Canada and nearly every home has a satellite dish attached to the house with 200 channels and a computer is connected to high speed internet. The world has come to them. They still live in isolated, remote communities that may only be accessed by plane, but they are connected to the world events and people around the world. Recently, I flew into a northern community of Black Lake, Saskatchewan (north of the 59th parallel), where I met with the Education Director for the local school. On her computer, she had a live feed of a church service being held in Medigorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where thousands of devote Catholics make their pilgrimage to visit the statue of Mary. Her parents, along with thirty-four Athabascan Dene, were at the service half way around the world, and she was watching it live on her laptop.

Later that morning, the entire school of Dene students watched the inauguration of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America get sworn into office on CNN, being beamed into every classroom in the school. It was an historic day, and as First Nations people, we were able to share in that momentous event as if we were there in person.



Our world has become smaller in many ways. Suarez-Orozco & Qin-Hilliard (2004) suggest that “globalization means that the lives of children growing up today will be shaped in no small measure by global processes in economy, society, and culture.” Clearly, television and internet are shaping the Dene world that once was limited to hunting for caribou and fishing for livelihood, and celebrating cultural events with traditional drumming and singing. Now youth wear their iPods to schools loaded with the latest rap music downloaded from iTunes. These youth no longer understand their identity as a singular culture, but as multiple identities as C. Suarez-Orozco argues that require youth to “function in diverse, often incommensurable cultural realities.” Globalization has not necessarily taught our youth to be better individuals, but rather has appealed to mass conformity or homogenization of identity that looks more American than First Nations. Maira discusses how cultural citizenship among immigrant youth in the United States has shifted from their countries of origin to a more “flexible citizenship” representative of two or more cultural contexts. While this research was focussed around the immigrant context, this phenomenon appears to be happening in our remote, isolated world in northern Canada.

While globalization is neither good nor bad, significant changes are taking place in cultural values and identities that are causing confusion and a sense of loss for many First Nations people. The changes have taken place so rapidly, that it has allowed for little time for gradual adaptation and understanding of what is transpiring. Educational institutions can play a significant role in helping youth transition and understand the complexity of challenges that arise from being exposed to other cultures and other worlds. Along with the exposure comes an increased expectation for youth to possess higher order and diverse cognitive skills for dealing with the wealth of information being thrust upon them. But in order for educational institutions to assist youth, they must examine whether they adequately equipped or resourced to prepare our youth for lies ahead. Do they understand the real issues youth are facing today? Unfortunately, many educational institutions are still using pedagogical methodology from the distant past, and are not engaging our youth with technology and creativity that assists them in facing the global world.
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