About global discourse competences – transforming the classroom into a global arena: we need to talk!

The last blog entry gravitated around the idea to develop global discourse competences to underscore the aims of our project. In other words, bilingual lessons in Politics, Economics & Culture should be characterized by a discursive environment, which is global in its nature.

The question what we exactly mean by global discourse competence thus now moves into the focus of this entry. At first, I want to focus on discourse theory in general. There is a rich body of literature dealing with the nature of discourses per se, most prominently represented by Habermas and Foucault. Habermas calls discourses “a ‚reflective form’ of communicative action“ (Stanford Encyclopedia), which under ideal conditions meet certain universal criteria. Foucault, in his book The Order of Discourse (1971), argues that discourse constructs the topic and defines reality. He also underscores the structure of power in society, when it comes to the construction of reality. We should keep these general perceptions in mind, when designing the classroom content for fostering global discursive competencies. From the Oxford Dictionary, we can conclude for the purpose of promoting discursive environments in schools, that communicative aspects, along with a close focus on subject-reasoning, are important, when students deliberate on controversial society-related questions/content. This includes, inter alia, accepting a general set of communicative and discussion rules, which are outlined in their subject-specific terminology and methodology, as in turn defined by the overall content of the subject.

Contemporary challenges faced by society are increasingly dealt with at a global level by the institutional setting, although their implications and effects are felt locally by the people. For them, local surroundings designate the space in which the world population is exposed to relevant issues. Thus, these localities constitute the place where discourses and negotiations occur at a grassroots level. In this context, classroom environments offer an appropriate arena to carry out discourses about global questions. It is a big challenge to equip students with knowledge and competences to participate in these discourses, while monitoring a certain standard to be kept.

In the following, I will make a case why the discourses competence in the subject Politics, Economics & Culture should thus be global in nature, prompting for the name global discourse competence for the subject Politics, Economics & Culture. So far, lessons in foreign language classrooms are mainly directed towards improving intercultural communicative competencies, in accordance with the present federal standards for education in English. Ever since bilingual lessons have been introduced in German schools and are becoming more popular and so a more common day phenomenon, they have had an impact on the general outline of the teaching of foreign languages, due to the promising evaluation results. Foreign language education is generally being rethought and redesigned, because bilingual lessons encapsulate the opportunity to proceed with a stronger basis on content, beyond “only communicating” – the technical term Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) speaks for itself. To say it in a nutshell, content has become more central, as it is de facto inseparable from language. And as it has been shown very well by Kramsch in her book Language and Culture (1998) that language is culture. Thus, education in Politics, Economics & Culture in the English language (remember, English as the global lingua franca) renders access to material, vernacular voices and so on, which are global in nature. We can imagine the foreign language classroom classroom as transcultural and hybrid space, in which an interplay of culture occurs in a discursive environment, leading to new and more global views and interpretations of the world, encompassing perspective changes. National and cultural boundaries blur increasingly, as a result. Hence, as we can infer, something like a global culture, with its roots in diversity, starts to develop during bilingual lessons, especially with a comparative approach, which should be constituent for bilingual lessons. This prompts me to argue that global discourse competencies encompass the needs that have developed in the wake of cultural studies and cultural didactics juxtaposed to the global political developments, at a grassroots level. In other words, students should be primarily involved in the process of discourse and negotiation, for the sake of direct participation in global discourses. We can also summarize this train of thought as the overall promotion of democracy competence – which is more needed than ever in the light of the most recent global developments.

We believe that the promotion of global discourse competences caters the needs as a general orientation for bilingual lessons in Politics, Economics & Culture. The next steps of the project will be to define subcompetencies that more closely explain global discourse competence as a concept, and make the same operational.

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