Education for A Better World Imaginarium: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Global Education Lesson Plans

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This study explores instructional materials available to teachers at the upper-elementary grades 3, 4 and 5 to teach about global social issues and develop global competence with their students. The choices that teachers make with regard to curriculum and instructional materials influence how their students will see themselves, construct their relationships with others in the world, and interpret world affairs. Global Education is broadly defined as activities in K-12 education settings related to teaching about world regions and about global issues in order to increase global competence. The introduction also broadly defines the closely associated terms: International Education, Internationalization, and Globalization. The remainder of the study explores the embedded sociocultural meaning of these terms and other not commonly understood terms, such as literacy, citizenship and nation-state; immigrant and transnational migrant, Third World and development; and lesson plan.

The methods of critical discourse analysis--the study of language-in-use--are used to describe the enterprise of global education-as-discourse. Critical discourse analysis is described as an action paradigm, as much as a research method, analogous to the theories and practices of critical literacy promoted in the multicultural education literature. As a multidisciplinary approach, critical discourse analysis draws on the methods of critical language awareness and other tools of critical analysis as needed, to bring to the foreground embedded constructions and representations of the terms above, as represented in global education lesson plans. A discourse approach is used in this study to include the context of production of global education lesson plans as part of larger discourses of global education policy and practice that contribute to the continued marginalization of global education, especially at the upper-elementary level. 

This study collected lesson plans designed for children in the upper-elementary grades which were submitted by a small sample of teachers, discovered through a search of lesson plan databases, or  produced by organizations engaged in development and humanitarian aid projects. Sixty lesson plans were coded for content and this study finds sustainable development to be the most prominent global education theme addressed. The study focuses on a subset of these 60 lesson plans and describes rhetorical means, such as the choice of vocabulary and metaphors, and the interplay of text with images in order to identify embedded messages reflecting the ideologies of the entities producing these lesson plans. It was discovered during this analysis that lesson plans for young children do not always provide adequate context or information to be able to explain the causes of global social issues and many invoke self-sufficiency discourses which perpetuate hierarchal relationships and embedded power relations. This study has implications for a) educators in K-12 settings who need high quality tools and preparation, b) faculties of education assigned the role of preparing future educators in K-12 settings, c) curriculum writers at NGOs producing curriculum materials, and especially, d) educators influencing global education policy discourses that conflict with the goals of critical global education for a peaceful, collaborative future.