The New York Times featured an Op-Ed entitled “Justice Goes Global” by Thomas Friedman (June 14th, 2011) describing a new demand from students for ethical and philosophical content in education at universities throughout Asia and the world. I have been involved in efforts with friends to make the ethical content of education the central issue in education and give the central role in education to students for more than a decade. After much struggle, it is gratifying to see such issues raised by Mr. Friedman.
The article focuses on the teaching of Michael J. Sandel of Harvard University, whose highly accessible book “Justice.”is sweeping through Asia. We see his book in Korean translation for sale in every bookstore.
Sandel’s teaching at Harvard engages the student in a very positive manner. As Friedman says,
“Students offer competing answers, challenge one another across the hall, debate with the philosophers — and learn the art of reasoned moral argument along the way.”
The only concern is that such teaching has something of a “The Price is Right” game show quality that risks degenerating into a commercialized form of entertainment. Nevertheless, for the most part, the model Sandel offers to Asia is quite positive.
I was most intrigued by the very last comment by Sandel in the article:
“My dream is to create a video-linked global classroom, connecting students across cultures and national boundaries — to think through these hard moral questions together, to see what we can learn from one another.”
This idea of using video-linked classrooms to link students up with students across the world was of course exactly what I proposed back in June of 2000 at the University of Illinois with the consequences you are all familiar with. It is an valuable exercise, now that that moment is part of the historical record, to look at exactly what exactly I argued was the point of bringing together students from around the world in a “video-linked global classroom.”
I made four slightly different arguments in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean for four different institutions: University of Illinois, Peking University, University of Tokyo and Seoul National University.
The purpose of the proposal was to bring students and faculty together on a global scale, but it also had larger implications in terms of building a global civil society to reduce the tensions borne of globalization. Although eleven years have past, much remains true in these artifacts.