Tag Archives: intercultural education

Neoliberalism and Global Citizenship Education

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

The four-day international Munich conference on global citizenship education and (foreign) language learning in the digital age ended today (cf. my previous post). In retrospect, it was well worth attending: very professionally organized, brilliant speakers, and inspiring, thought-provoking plenaries and talks.

Most talks and presentations I went to addressed contemporary issues and emerging challenges related to global citizenship education and language learning from a humanistic (or ‘philanthropic’) perspective. A humanistic concept of global citizenship is rooted in the supposition that there is a certain commonality among us, as we are all human, and that the notion of global citizenship education transcends the geopolitical borders of the nation-state, especially or even more so perhaps in the age of the internet, i.e. in virtual space. In the context of my talk on neoliberalism in (foreign) language education in Germany, I referred to this conceptualization as a romanticized, early 21st century interpretation of enlightenment. How appropriate, how realistic is this view?

As I see it, looking at global citizenship education in this way largely disregards that (foreign) language education in schools – and this is the context I wish to focus on here– is no longer seen in its educational context only. From the late twentieth century onwards, (foreign) language education has been coopted into other, political and socio-economic agendas and it is now conceived of by those who hold and control the political and economic power as a strategic instrument primarily (as well as a valuable commodity), which is declared indispensable for responding to (or even overcoming) real or imagined threats. The underlying narrative centers on the idea that educational ‘failure’ (whatever is meant by that und whoever claims the authority to define it) is detrimental to a country’s economic strength, competitiveness, wealth, and ‘well-being’. All this has culminated in the paradoxical, post-PISA logic of regulated deregulation (through standards-based instruction, testing of competencies and skills, monitoring measures, etc.).

In consequence, (foreign) language teachers are no longer viewed as (foreign) language educators primarly, but as political agents enacting neoliberal educational policies (which are, in essence, informed by a radical market orientation). I think it is high time to problematize how the humanistic (and as such utopian, idealistic, all too academic) approach to global citizenship is increasingly being turned into and misused as neoliberal propaganda. What about the ethics and moral implications of a neoliberal, radically market-driven, largely utilitarian approach to global citizenship education? In view of current, neoliberal regimes of educational governance world-wide and their reductive conceptualization and instrumentaliziation of education as performance training for international competitiveness and employability (the ‘can do’-perspective), how realistic is it to assume that (foreign) language learning in schools can be more than or different from producing useful multilinguals (in their role as consumers, employees, etc.) for the global economy? Language-sensitive global citizenship education, is this an educational (pedagogical) or a capitalist imperative (i.e. a global business model)?





Council of Europe: Autobiography of Intercultural Encounters

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The Autobiography of Intercultural Encounters has been developed as a follow up to the Council of Europe’s White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue : “Living together as Equals in Dignity”. It is a personal document which encourages users to think about and learn from the intercultural encounters that have made a strong impression or had a long-lasting effect on them. With its emphasis on the critical analysis of users’ intercultural experiences, it complements other Council of Europe Language Policy Division tools such as the European Language Portfolio .

This is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in promoting intercultural communicative competence both inside and outside the school sector. For details klick a) and

The Role of the Textbook in the EFL Classroom (2)

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

Back in 1934, McElroy stated that “the textbook is decidedly not the sole condition of an effective class; quality of teaching is more important” (1934: 5). 75 years later, an enormous body of research on the role of the textbook in EFL classrooms has accumulated around the globe, indicating that ‘successful’ learning and teaching in primary and secondary EFL school environments is dependent on a wider spectrum of factors, not only on the quality (or quantity) of English language learning materials. The importance of the teacher is, of course, undisputed (see, for instance, Butzkamm 2005).

Over the past decades, it has become increasingly clear that context-sensitive EFL instruction requires teachers to take into account many anthropological and sociocultural factors which influence the conditions under which English is taught. Currently, global textbooks produced for teaching and learning English as a foreign language in many different countries are criticized for paying too little attention to this, especially for largely failing to assist EFL teachers in bridging the cultural background(s) of ‘their’ individual learners and the diversity of English-speaking target language cultures.

In Germany, global textbooks are rarely used in institutional contexts though. Instead, local textbooks and related materials and media, produced especially for the ‘German school market’ by a few major German publishers are usually employed in EFL classrooms. In my view, the overall quality of these products is high. However, as commercial products textbooks and related materials are – in Germany and elsewhere – last not least designed to occupy the textbook market, offering whatever is seemingly necessary and useful in terms of target language und intercultural education (see Kurtz 2002). In consequence, German EFL teachers are flooded with materials and suggestions. 

Psychologically, this makes it difficult to think about teaching options which go beyond those suggested by the textbook authors in the teaching manuals (arguing from a Gestalt theoretical perspective see Kurtz 2001). Viewed from an international perspective, this is a luxury problem, but it is not unproblematic; the more the better?


Butzkamm, Wolfgang (2005). Der Lehrer ist unserer Chance. Essen: Buchverlag Prof. A.W. Geisler.

Kurtz, Jürgen (2001). Das Lehrwerk und seine Verwendung nach der jüngsten Reform der Richtlinien und Lehrpläne. Englisch, 36 (2), 41-50.

Kurtz, Jürgen (2002): Fremdsprachendidaktik als Dienstleistung und Ware: Verlagskataloge für das Fach Englisch unter der Lupe. Englisch,  37 (1), 8-12.

McElroy, Howard (1934). Selecting a basic textbook. The Modern Language Journal, 19 (1), 5-8.

Frank McCourt’s “Teacher Man” – Intercultural Education in the Classroom

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

I have only just completed reading Frank McCourt’s “Teacher Man. A Memoir” (London: Fourth Estate, 2005) in which he looks back at thirty years of English teaching in New York City high schools. Charming, partly irresistable, thought-provoking, slighty repetetive perhaps. Anyway, I was reminded of my own years as a secondary school teacher in Germany. The questions the book raises regarding the future of the teaching profession as a whole are fundamental and pressing. With regard to intercultural education, one of the many excellent dialogs is particularly interesting, funny and (slightly) depressing at the same time:

“Yo, teacher man. – Call me Mr McCourt. – Yeah OK. – So you Scotch or somethin’? – No, I’m not Scotch. I’m Irish. – Oh yeah? What’s Irish? – Irish is whatever comes from Ireland. – Like, St. Patrick, right? – Well, no, not exactly. – Hey mister. Everyone talk English over there in Ireland? What kinda sports didja play? You all Catlics in Ireland? Yo, teacher man. – Joey, I told you my name is Mr. McCourt, Mr. McCourt, Mr. McCourt. – Yeah, yeah. So, mister, did you go out with girls in Ireland?” (c) (2005, 20-22).

All the ingredients of trouble are visible in this exchange, and yet, there are so many starting points or critical moments for intercultural education. The question is how to exploit them in a systematic way. Classroom-based (rather than classroom-oriented) empirical research is needed which explores intercultural classroom discourse in more detail. And language teachers need to be equipped with the necessary know-how to identify these ‘fruitful moments’ or learning opportunities and react appropriately.