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Essential Question

My essential question for this program underwent a few revisions and refocusing, but during our orientation in Bangalore, I worked out this: What is the relationship between communication and attitude in developing global community? I knew I wanted my essential question to involve communication—maybe it’s my bias as an English teacher in the United States, but I think communicating is among the most important skills children and adults can learn. But I wanted to focus on attitudes as well because too often learning to communicate globally gets bogged down in the low-cognitive skills of recalling local technicalities or using a specific piece of software (which will probably be upgraded or outdated in a couple of years anyway). The more I learn about multiculturalism and global citizenship, the more I think it’s less and less about understanding and recalling the various beliefs and facts about a culture, and more and more about generating an effective attitude toward the variety of peoples one may encounter.

I didn’t think I would find such a clear answer to my essential question during my visit to India, but after visiting schools in Bangalore and Jorhat, as well as travelling through rural areas, I did. Developing connections with the global community is happening in India, and often those connections are valued over custom and comfort.

The effort to connect globally is supported by an education policy that was probably originally instituted as a haphazard effort to establish some order out of chaos. India is a land of multiple cultures and multiple languages, each written (if written at all) in its own script. Chiranjiv Singh recommended during our orientation we think India more like Europe than a country—a good comparison considering the many languages—but, like many things in India, the reality is even more complicated. Even in polyglot Europe, those languages are written mainly with two alphabets, Cyrillic/Greek and Latin. The back of an Indian rupee note will show 15 different scripts, and these are just the main ones. To provide some national unity while still respecting regional difference, the “three-language formula” was developed in 1968: all students learn English, Hindi, and a local language (or Sanskrit) starting from Class I. Because multilingual instruction starts early, students are able to pick up languages quickly and gain a multicultural attitude while still learning to read and write in a local tongue. This policy, like any, is not without its problems, one of which is the disappearance of less-used tribal tongues not taught in schools (see But the policy does have the lucky coincidence of ensuring educated children learn English, a language which puts them in prime position to participate more smoothly in the global marketplace, where English is a dominant language of international commerce.

As India’s economy has grown over the past decade, parents are recognizing the importance of learning English in giving their children an opportunity to join the rising middle class. In every city and neighborhood we visited, we saw advertisements for English-medium private schools and after-school English tutoring. English education is clearly a thriving market with strong demand, albeit little regulation—who knows if the teachers you’re signing up for are as fluent in English as they claim?

Still, the desire for English to me seemed a symptom of a larger desire: to connect with the world outside of one’s locality. Even in some of the dingiest rural houses and urban slums, we would see satellite dishes and people with cell phones, which—along with SIM cards—seem to be available in many kiosks and market stalls. In their limited purchasing choices, poorer Indians are willing to choose the communication connection (the satellite dish, the cell phone) rather than the creature comforts. This observation was the strongest support for my conclusion that developing global connections is often valued over custom and comfort.

This conclusion I hope will make us look at ourselves and our potential to develop global community, while also help us anticipate some of the issues India will face as it transforms itself into a major world economy. Are Americans willing to sacrifice some comfort and custom to build global connections? Compared to other nations, we are weak in foreign language education and global awareness—ironic considering we are the largest nation whose population traces its ethnicities to immigration (both forced and voluntary). Also, in India, as the middle class grows and gets more comfortable, will the desire for global and multicultural connection suffer? We have already seen pluralism and globalism suffer with the 2002 riots in the state of Gujarat (see U. S. Department of State report here: Gujarati Chief Minister Narendra Modi was cleared last year by the Indian Supreme Court of instigating the riots, but some in India still suspect he gave tacit support for the violence. However, the economy of Gujarat has improved so much under Modi’s watch, that pundits consider him to be a serious contender to become Prime Minister after the next national elections in 2014.

I had never made a connection between communication and comfort before my trip to India. Perhaps they are not entirely mutually exclusive, but in that initial impulse to reach out to another—whether globally or locally, electronically or face-to-face—one must experience, even if only briefly, some discomforting vulnerability. But when that attempt at connection works, the discomfort and the vulnerability dissolves away for broader, stronger interpersonal—and global—bonds.

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