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Imagine All the People: Literature, Society, and Cross-National Variation in Education Systems

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Martin, C. J. (2018). Imagine All the People: Literature, Society, and Cross-National Variation in Education Systems. Talk presented at Öffentlicher Vortrag am MPIfG. Köln. 2018-12-04.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-82CE-1
Diverse education systems present a paradox. Northern European education systems have much higher levels of educational diversity (with strong secondary vocational programs and few national standards) but higher socioeconomic equality. Liberal education systems have more uniform (and arguably equal) secondary programs but higher levels of socioeconomic inequality. This incongruity reflects different cultural beliefs about the central role of education. In Britain, education was viewed primarily as a vehicle for individual self-development, whereas in Denmark, expansion of schooling was part of a national, patriotic project to build a strong society. Martin’s project draws on a close reading of texts and computational linguistics analyses of over 1,000 Danish and British works of fiction from 1700 to 1920 to demonstrate how authors historically portrayed education. In her lecture, she shows how historical cultural differences have contributed to lasting economic disparities between the Anglo and Nordic political economies. Where collectivist views predominated, a desire to build a strong society produced a mandate to educate all the people: neglect of low-skill youth was viewed as a waste of societal resources and a threat to social fabric. Where individualistic views predominated, one found socially-substandard education systems and disregard for those left out of mainstream markets.