On the Formation
An International Forum on Education and Society


In The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, economic historian Karl Polanyi suggested that under the rule of an unregulated international Market System, the first thing to suffer would/will be any sense of "society" wherein people could be dedicated to a common understanding of the common good. Instead, global economic competitiveness would produce social formations in which self-interest would be the only guiding rule.

Writing toward the end of World War II (1944), Polanyi was part of a movement that saw the necessity for economic development to be linked to politics that not only protected citizens from the vagaries of The Market, but also that actively and creatively sought ways of society-making that were as equitable and fair as possible.

Today, we live in a world in which the post-WWII welfare state has been devolving rapidly, since the 1970’s. This devolution has been radicalized even further since the end of the Cold War. It is a complex story, linked to the emergence of the Asian economies in the 1960’s and ‘70’s; and the rise of computer technology that wrought both the decline of the middle classes that anchored paper-driven state bureaucracies, and a crisis of labour as technology revolutionized the means of production. Also, during the Reagan/Thatcher era, the deregulation of international finance led to the virtualization of international capital flows and the economic destabilizing of countries like Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, and more lately, Russia.

For educators, the implications have been broad, deep and problematic, including, but not exclusively: 1) Education has been gradually delinking from an older conception of national citizenship formation, toward a conception of education for participation in a new global economy; 2) National governments have essentially lost control of their economies under pressure from transnational business such that it is now the business agenda that sets educational policy rather than any broader civic agenda; 3) Computer technology has revolutionized both the production and processing of information, such that prior assumptions about the relationship between knowing and being are being reconfigured; 4) Deepening social inequalities that are part of the processes of globalization are producing new forms of violence both domestically as well as in youth culture, forms of violence that make teaching an increasingly challenging occupation; 5) Within the globalization paradigm, education should be subject to the rules of The Market, with consequent cutting of public funding to schools and universities, resulting in larger classes, higher tuition costs, and pressures to commercialize educational systems in general; and 6)in the last five or six years, youth culture has been identified as the last great untapped marketting target in the world, with efforts now aggressively in effect to "brand" children and young people to ensure their brand loyalty into adulthood.

The proposal to establish an International Forum on Education and Society(hereafter referred to as The Forum) within the Faculty of Education of the University of Alberta represents an attempt to create a space with strong university-community linkages in which the present condition of public education can be more focally and publically discussed, and first and foremost as an issue about "society", not just economics. Under current political dispensations, educational policy in its broadest reaches is being defined not by educators or citizen’s groups but by institutions linked to the processes ofcontemporary economic globalization - the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Trilateral Commission, the Conference Board of Canada, etc.

The Forum will be based on the following propositions:

1) It will be both interdisciplinary and international in its addressing of education as a political, social and cultural concern. This interdisciplinary and international discipline arises from a recognition that in the contemporary context such a concern requires a more full- partied kind of "intercivilizational dialogue" (Pasha and Samatar 1996), in which the fundamentally philosophical nature of economics is given priority over its scientific pretenses. Also, the postcolonial critique of the Western episteme requires that any proposals about the future have to acknowledge and refuse to repeat the legacies of exploitation that were at the heart of the Western drive for global ascendancy, a drive in which educational practices were firmly implicated.

2)The Forum takes as normative the commitment of educators to stand, in life, on the side of children and the young - those whose future is still open. Such a stand requires a systematic and sustained decrying of all those forces in society that would exploit the young, and by implication, the processes of education, for commercial gain.

3) The Forum recognizes the fact of the computer revolution, a revolution which is changing the rules surrounding the production and procedures of knowledge. At the same time, the Cult of Information (Roszak 1989), which inspires the logic of education to be the production of "knowledge workers", is seen as highly problematic, and not to be accepted at face value. The Forum will work to make debate on this question more open and widespread.

4) "Intercivilizational Dialogue" assumes that the world’s human condition is composed historically of a number of what can be termed "strong" cultures, and that Western identity is not a univocal, pure thing, but saturated with historico-cultural dependencies. Intercivilizational dialogue aims at recovering and naming those dependencies as a first step in showing the possibilities for new kinds of intercultural partnership in deliberating educational futures.