Forces Affecting Education in the Twenty-First Century

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Practices regarding education in America have changed from one generation to the next. Our perceptions about child development and learning styles change as new studies and findings present evidence to confirm or modify one theory or another. Evolution is natural and ongoing as research and empirical studies continue.

In addition, social changes, political forces, economic pressures, plus beliefs and values continue to develop in our country. These are bound to influence educational practices. Futurists study signals and societal trends and make sobering pronouncements about what will come about in future decades and generations. As writers of this text, we resist any urge to speculate on how new movements will fit into this overview of historical patterns of philosophical outlooks. As observers of current practices and new developments, however, we conclude that the following topics will likely have a significant impact on future school objectives.

Population Diversity

The rapidly expanding mix of culture and ethnicity in America will continue, and the changing demographics will affect U.S. education. Although some legislation and judicial decisions that affect amounts of immigration, employment practices, and educational opportunity in the United States exist, these guidelines will be revisited in the years ahead. American culture has changed rapidly since civil rights legislation was passed in the 1960s, and most agree that minorities, recent English-language learners, and foreign-born residents meet greater acceptance in the majority culture and find more positive responses than before.

Ethnocentrism is less prominent than in previous generations, and most Americans are confident and positive about the “tossed salad” quality of American communities in the 21st century. Multicultural curricula and pointed attempts to foster antibias programs have made a positive impact on American schools and neighborhoods (Derman-Sparks, 1989; Edwards, Derman-Sparks, & Ramsey, 2006). Emphasis will continue, and partnerships formed by families, schools, and communities are the best possible ways to promote the advantages of diversity and demographic change.


Interest and concerns about global issues will affect our country’s schools and our attitudes toward education for years to come. In a space of two decades, much of American cultural life has been influenced through connections to worldwide products, information on different values and beliefs, and shifting job markets.

Americans have been forced to shed their traditional insular stance and to focus on events taking place on all continents. We rarely think now of a self-sufficient “fortress America” that peers inward for inspiration and services. Each year, new electronic developments tie our U.S. economy and lifestyle to other parts of the world. The end of the Cold War and the beginning of new conflicts brought about a dramatic change in American influence and interest in other regions. A new feeling of “what happens in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America” engages Americans as never before and is bound to affect all education. Major educational associations in the United States now have an international department, and the increase in international conferences highlights this trend. The achievements of American students have been compared to those of foreign students for more than 50years, but in the last decade, the intensity has increased and comparisons are now made yearly. All this comes from the question, “Will Americans be able to compete in the global marketplace?”

New comparative education procedures are helpful in using global perspectives on education, and this practice provides a logical extension for our need to extend educational partnerships to another level. Already, many schools have established connections with “sister schools” in foreign lands to enhance the notions of worldwide common interests and concerns (Swiniarski & Breitborde, 2003). The Internet and other electronic communication devices make the thousands of miles distance a trivial variable in worldwide communications.

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