Saturday, September 14, 2013

TRANSNATIONALISM: What is it?

A boy rides a scooter at an amusement center in Amman, Jordan
Transnationalism is a social concept that has emerged due to the increased global mobility of individuals and their resulting value-based choices. Most areas of society are impacted by transnationalism: education, politics and finance, for example. Transnationalism not the same as assimilation into a new country, and we can't assume that foundational learning experiences of transnational individuals are similar to the learning experiences of the previous generation in any nation. 

Educational institutions reinforce the foundational values of their societies no matter the culture or nation in which they operate. These practices have long aided the assimilation of immigrants into their new countries.  Whether it is an elementary school in middle America where children of immigrants say the pledge to the U.S. flag, or an elementary school in Jordan where children of Iraqi refugees learn the Jordanian national anthem under a photo of Jordan's King Abdullah, schools assist immigrants in assimilation into the culture of their new home.

In the past, most new immigrants experienced a lack of contact with their countries of origin during their time of resettlement.  Now, the current generation faces more choices and more challenges to reconcile their cultural affiliations with their civic duty to the country of their citizenship.  Increased global mobility for individuals has also impacted their identities, literacies and values. We need to know more about transnationalism's role in our developing global system.

Immigrants often bemoan the historical and cultural inaccuracies of their children's textbooks in regard to the parents' countries of origin. They are concerned that the inaccuracies will lead to misunderstanding of, and even alienation from, their parents' home culture.  To give an example from my own childhood: When I was ten years old I wrote an essay where I described the state of Israel as a land without people for a people without a land – a quote I'd obtained from a political magazine.  I was chastised by my mother for being ignorant of my cultural heritage, when in fact neither my school nor my hard-working, busy parents had been able to offer a different view.  What I should have known was that the land that became Israel was not a barren land; in fact, it is my father's country of origin: PalestinePalestine existed under the rule of the Ottoman Empire prior to experiencing significant immigration of European refugees before, during and after World War II. Palestinian immigrants to the U.S. have long challenged the versions of historical accounts of events surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in textbooks and the news media. 

Since U.S. foreign policy influences the viewpoints we learn in our K-12 schools, my elementary school's curriculum emphasized the history of the state of Israel and completely ignored the history of the Palestinians, my cultural heritage. This is an intellectual confusion I was not able to resolve until I was in my early 20's.


Now, however, immigrant families have more opportunity to keep the lines of communication open with family in their home countries due to improved and inexpensive means of communication, which often includes video conferencing. Cheaper forms of communication have allowed children of immigrants to have more interaction with their family members in their parents' home country.  Long-distance air travel has become more accessible for families who can visit the country of their birth for extended stays with relatives. They might spend summers in their country of origin and return to work in the fall in their new country of citizenship.  This fact has created a population of young people whose foundational learning experiences include immersion in their familys' cultural values, sometimes exclusive to that of their country of citizenship. In addition, the internet provides ready access to information on almost any topic, which increases the opportunity for all individuals to contribute to their learning on a constant basis. Transnationalism is an emerging personal, economic and social identity. If education helps us develop our foundational values, we need to consider the input of the transnational individual who until now has developed perspectives born of lived experience.  To do this, we must discover what transnational values are, how they originate and how they impact our world's social systems and practices.