The Future of Comparative and International Education Revisited*
Steven J. Klees
University of Maryland
Steve Heyneman’s (2009) article on “The Future of Comparative and International Education” is wrongheaded on many fronts: it looks more to the past than the future; it ignores the most interesting aspects of the field; it privileges a narrow vision of educational policy and practice; it has an erroneous view of the role of evidence; and it continues to privilege the social science disciplines, especially economics.
Much of Heyneman’s paper focuses on old debates in the field. The paper is an homage to the late Phil Foster, a brilliant academician who offered controversial opinions that are often as wrongheaded as Heyneman’s. Quotes from Foster pepper the paper uncritically. “Marxists” and Martin Carnoy in the mid-1970s are the bête noir of Heyneman and Foster. They argue that “structural functionalism and neo-Marxism constitute sociological cul-de-sacs; that they are couched at such a general level that they are singularly unhelpful…while their theories are largely spurious” (p. 2). First, this is simply ideology speaking and second, the left today has gone far beyond the neo-Marxism of the 1970s (see below). Heyneman and Foster are so unable to deal with these critiques from the 1970s that they make it personal and accuse Martin Carnoy of believing “in freedom only so long as the choices people make agree with his own value orientation” (p. 2). I think when you make your critique personal like this it reflects a fear of the substance of the critique.
Heyneman spends a part of the article going through old CIES Presidential Addresses, most particularly his own 1993 talk and responses to it. Heyneman’s talk in 1993 called the comparative and international education field “dead at its center.” It was as clear then as it is now that, to the contrary, the field was vibrant at its center where fundamental differences in perspective were and are the subject of continuing debate and reformulation. From my point of view, Heyneman and Foster were what we might call neoliberal triumphalists who simply saw neither the need nor the room for other perspectives that might challenge theirs. Foster actually became more open to the value of those debates over time; Heyneman has not.
Ignoring the Field
Heyneman singled out my Presidential Address (Klees, 2008) for criticism, offering the rather strange and insulting label of “dog’s breakfast” to my listing of areas that comparative educators of today must have some familiarity with.** There are many: students should know something about anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology, as well as debates within and across these fields; development theory and practice; globalization; postmodernism and the other posts-; feminisms/gender and development; race and ethnicity/multiculturalism/diversity/identity; current education and development issues; the nature and history of the field; critical pedagogy; policy studies, analysis, and planning; environmental issues; international institutions; the role of NGOs, civil society, and social movements; and participatory perspectives.
Heyneman distorted what I said by only mentioning a few of these areas, the ones he didn’t like, and then combining them with a list from a completely different part of my paper that had nothing to do with core knowledge. The latter list was of fields of study today that focus a critical view on marginalization. These alternative theories are worth listing here: dependency, world systems, critical, neo-Marxist, progressive economic, economic reproduction, cultural reproduction, resistance, feminist standpoint, gender and development, socialist feminist, critical race, queer, intersectionality, critical postmodern, poststructural, postcolonial, critical pedagogy, and critical theories within each of the social sciences. As I said, I did not argue that knowledge of all these theories should be core knowledge, but a number of critical views on marginalization were included. And, at the University of Maryland, I think most graduates have had at least some exposure to most of these. This does not have to engage a student’s entire program of study. Our three core courses cover much of the areas in both lists.
Heyneman thinks that none of the critical perspectives from either list above should be central to, or even part of, the comparative and international education (CIE) field. He thinks that the field should focus on what practitioners and policymakers need, and this is not it. Such critical perspectives, therefore, seem to be totally absent from the Vanderbilt curriculum as he lays it out.*** To the contrary, to me, such perspectives are as central to the field as human capital theory, and offer more to our understanding of educational policy and practice.
This openness of CIE to the theories, methods, practices, debates, and controversies from many fields continues to form the most vital part of our field today. And it is this integral and necessary permeability that forms both a great opportunity and a great challenge to CIE. Harold Noah once argued at a CIES meeting that the comparative advantage of comparative educators was our focus on education. I respectfully disagreed at the time and still do. The principal comparative advantage of comparative education is that the field is literally constituted by border crossings, and comparative educators, by necessity, roam far beyond education. In my view, no other disciplinary or professional field has such a broad, interconnected vantage point from which to view the dilemmas of our time. Education is the anchor that focuses us, but we know – and have to know – significantly more in some ways, for example, than economists or other social scientists even about their own fields, about the research methodologies used, about policy and practice. For example, a comparative educator today needs to understand economics’ human capital theory but also its complement in sociology, modernization theory, as well as the critique of both. This is as true for researchers as it is for practitioners.
A Focus on Education Policy and Practice
Most, if not all, programs in CIE have a focus on education policy and practice. The University of Maryland does. But it is not the narrow view that Heyneman advocates. For Heyneman, the “guiding principle” of CIE is “the degree to which it…respond[s] to questions of practitioners and policy-makers” (p. 3). At Vanderbilt, Heyneman claims this is the source of the curriculum: “course content is decided on the basis of [these] questions” (p. 3). Of course, question of practice are important, but that is not the entirety of the field. The field also must examine broad-based social and educational theories regardless of their immediate implications for practice. Moreover, Heyneman has a very a narrow view of what is relevant to practice. Judging by Vanderbilt’s curriculum, he does see theory as relevant, but only one theory, economic theory and only one version of that. What about sociological theories? Feminist theories? Other theories of marginalization? Simply read the Comparative Education Review and note all the varied theoretical perspectives that are drawn upon to inform policy and practice. Heyneman also approvingly describes Vanderbilt’s split of the doctoral program into the Ed.D. for practitioners and the Ph.D. for researchers. Despite continuing efforts in the education field to resuscitate the Ed.D., this separation relegates practitioners to what is widely seen as a second-class degree. In CIE, I believe, that the Ph.D. is the appropriate doctoral degree and that researchers and practitioners should receive similar mixes of theory, method, and practice. This is especially true since increasingly CIE graduates spend time in both the worlds of research and practice.
Heyneman also has an erroneous view of the role that evidence can play in policy and practice. He again follows Foster in criticizing the “explicit political agendas” of some scholars, pretending that disciplines and investigators can take a “neutral” stance (p. 1). As I have detailed elsewhere (Klees, 2008), our research methods are such that there is not and cannot be agreement on the answers to even the most straightforward questions of policy and practice, such as: Do voucher schemes increase student achievement? Is decentralization efficient and equitable? Contrary to Heyneman’s assertion, all research has an explicit or implicit political agenda. This should be obvious to Heyneman who spent decades at the World Bank where a neoliberal political agenda determined the research topics, methodology, and findings that the Bank then marketed. Instead of pretending to engage in a search for objective, unbiased evidence, research and decision-making must focus on the implications of our debates about theory, method, and evidence.
"Today, CIE is a very exciting field
that draws upon a wide range of expertise.
Limiting it to and focusing it on the traditional disciplines does it a disservice."
A Note on the Disciplines
Early on in his paper, Heyneman underscores the difference between the social science disciplines and CIE, an applied field of study. This difference has long permeated the field. In some ways, I think we have gone overboard in privileging the disciplines – too often, fetishizing theory and positivist methodologies to the detriment of understanding. The emphasis on the disciplines has also given us a CIE training model, exemplified by Stanford University’s Ph.D. program calling for specializations in the social sciences. This is still common, especially for those who want to be academics, but my sense is that the model is changing and should change. For example, while some Ph.D. students at Maryland may emphasize one discipline, most are interdisciplinary – which, as indicated earlier, is where the intellectual action is -- and even those with an emphasis on one discipline are much more broadly educated than they used to be. University job announcements in CIE often do not call for specialization in one of the social sciences. Today, CIE is a very exciting field that draws upon a wide range of expertise. Limiting it to and focusing it on the traditional disciplines does it a disservice.
Heyneman’s concluding sentence sums up the extent to which he misses the mark: CIE “as a field will be sought after as a source of insight on the most important issues rather than as a source of argument over whose perspective is more correct” (p. 5). As if you could separate the two. The insights we offer have to be understood in the light of our disagreements. Insights not couched in our disagreements come from those sources, like the World Bank, who have monopoly power and a captive audience who must listen.
Heyneman (p.2) criticized my presidential talk for dividing the world into good and bad scholars. I never did that, but I did talk about three schools of economics: neoliberal, liberal, and progressive. By my standards there are good and bad scholars in all three groups. But good scholarship doesn’t mean you are correct. I generally agree with the views of progressive economists; Heyneman with neoliberal economists. Who is correct among economists and among other perspectives – and thus which solutions are best -- is a central question we face in the CIE field and elsewhere and is of the utmost importance to educational and social policy and practice. Heyneman, in this paper and others, sees the future of the CIE field in narrowing its approach to theory, method, and practice. This is exactly the wrong strategy. The future of CIE lies in its cross-disciplinarity, in its openness to and engagement with theory, method, and practice at the borders, and most fundamentally in incorporating the ensuing debates into the center of the field.
Heyneman, S. (2009, September) “The Future of Comparative and International Education,” CIES Newsletter, 151, 1-5 (paper version). URL: http://cies.us/newsletter/sept%2009/Heyneman.html
Klees, S. (2008, August) “Reflections on Theory, Method, and Practice in Comparative and International Education,” Comparative Education Review, 52, 3, 301-28.
* I would like to thank Susanne Clawson, Jing Lin, Vandra Masemann, Joel Samoff, and Nelly Stromquist for comments on a draft of this paper. The views expressed are those of the author alone.
**This list is the result of many years discussion with colleagues at the University of Maryland and Florida State University as to what constitutes core knowledge.
***As Heyneman laid it out, the Vanderbilt curriculum seems focused predominantly on education in the United States.
Steven J. Klees
Donna C. Tonini
Mariella I. Arredondo
Mary Mendenhall and Juleen Morford
William C. Brehm, and
OSI 2010 Travel Grant Recipient:
Dr. Subba Rao Ilapavuluri
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