This web video pops up in my Simmons library science courses at least once a semester and, predictably, it turned up again today in the first session of my technology course.
Reactions in class were divided between, well, me and everyone else who spoke up.
Watching the video this time around, in the context of other reading I’ve been doing about conservative fears of a European “demographic winter” and non-Western population growth, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the way this data was presented had a certain element of xenophobia — specifically fear about the U.S. being overtaken intellectually and economically by Asian countries like India and China.
I was also struck by the way it frames achievement by conventional educational terms (for example, IQ scores and the concept of education as job training). The fear of non-American young people “out performing” American students has a long history in the American discourse about education (think of Cold War anxieties about Soviet students with higher test scores than American students). Watching the video in light of these two contexts (fearmongering demographic debates and anxiety about academic performance on the international stage) makes me distinctly uncomfortable about the way this data is presented and the way it is offered, for the most part uncritically, in our library science classes as a wake-up call for the future of information organization.
The other students in class seemed to think I was reading the film too negatively, and offered an alternative reading to the effect of, “look how much human potential we have in the world — let’s make the most of it!” Yet at the same time, they, too, were voicing competitive anxieties about how Americans can’t afford to rest easy in the assumption they have the technological advantage — an anxiety that I feel buys into an “us vs. them” framework that can slide into, well, xenophobia and isolationism. Particularly in a period of economic constraint.