Dr. Jana S. Eaton and Dr. Arnold Heller

Vocational education’s historic role of training workers for large-scale industrial enterprises and the unionized trades linked it to the “blue collar” working classes, resulting in a form of stigmatization.   In contrast, the professions’ specialized work functions within society prepared them for high status, lucrative occupations requiring extensive study and possessing a specialized knowledge or theory base, such as law, medicine, nursing and engineering. 

Today, the degree requirement for entry-level work in many occupations is a bachelor’s degree, as opposed to the high school diploma of the past.  We argue that this in itself is reason for aligning business and technical curricula with their more academic counterparts, particularly the social studies, thus giving traditional vocational-technical programs much more of a rigorous academic, college-preparatory focus.

Global education is now an integral part of most social studies curricula.  However, this trend has not carried over to “vo-tech” curricula to any significant degree. We are proposing that by a close alignment of the business and technical curricula with the social studies (NCSS and/or state standards), students will be much better equipped to thrive in an increasingly complex and internationalized economy. 

International work opportunities are increasing as the borders of the U S economy expand to embrace global markets.  Given NAFTA’s development and the rise of China, American workers need to develop global awareness and an understanding of competitive, cultural, and economic factors that influence ways of doing business in order to succeed in the international arena.  With the growth of multinational corporations and continental free trade zones, workers need to understand how changes in global conditions affect them, as well as the business alternatives, and variables that come into play in the international markets. It is no longer enough to have a firm grasp of the American version of microeconomics. If American workers are to succeed in the global economy, it is essential that they develop greater depth in their knowledge of world political issues, geography, history, cultural “dos and taboos,” world views.

Presenting a model academic – vocational curriculum underpinned by core social studies standards and curricula
The International Business Program (IBP) at North Atlanta High School was an example of an outstanding program that changed business and vocation education from a terminal secondary program to a college preparatory program.  The IBP was established in 1983 in the Atlanta, Georgia, public school system and offered a four-year course of study rooted in intercultural understanding and foreign language fluency.  Common internationalized and enriched courses included activities with real life applications.

The IBP curriculum included:
Junior Year: Internationalized entrepreneurship with a management focus and marketing with e-commerce applications.  Today we add “social media” to the mix. 
Senior Year: Economics with an international trade focus and a Regional Area Studies course – East Asia with a modern China, India, Japan, Korea focus.  Students, during the Spring Semester, are involved in a work internship in an international corporation. 

The Atlanta Caribbean Trading Company, ACTCo, was established in 1985 as a nonprofit corporation to provide import and export applications and develop cooperative global business education programs with foreign partner schools.  The Caribbean focus was derived because of the opportunities for foreign cultural exchanges and retail and wholesale activities within relatively close geographic proximity to Atlanta.  Students produced a full-color catalog to call upon merchants for onsite sales visitations. 

In 1995, the IBP web site, www.actco.org, was constructed to provide program information and Internet education applications and to launch ACTCo’s first e-catalog.  The global business and entrepreneurship education concept emphasized real life business performance standards – growth or risk decline, profit and asset building

IBP students, between1993 – 2003, grossed $72,610, earned $18,000 net profit, and imported more than $20,000 worth of goods from fourteen countries.  Many businesses and educational organizations, impressed with the program’s academic rigor and innovative business / vocational applications, rewarded IBP students with approximately $125,000 in awards, grants and sponsorships. 

International education: Getting involved in the world 1995 – 2003:
The IBP integrated educational travel into the program’s curriculum and between 1995 – 2003 involved students in twenty-two student exchanges. The aim was to build long-term partnerships through follow-up joint projects, ongoing trade, and inter-school communication. While abroad, each student group was hosted by one or more schools and lived in the homes of their host students.  Host schools were invited to develop an international business program, become active trading partners, and come to Atlanta for a reciprocal program.  The network of foreign partner schools grew so rapidly that annual exchanges with all partner schools soon became impossible to schedule. The scheduling challenges provided the impetus for several exchange innovations:

  • Five Super-Exchanges that included schools from 5 or more countries
  • Three IBP mini-conventions that brought together schools from 3 – 4 countries
  •  Fourteen school-to-school exchanges with the duration of 9 – 10 days, to limit time out of the classroom and host-school human and monetary costs.

Dovetailing social studies standards with academic – vocational education programs:
The underpinning of any global business education program with core social studies standards, such as those from the National Council for the Social Studies, or from any of the state Department of Education standards, assists students in becoming well grounded in both the business-technical disciplines and social studies.

The first strand of the NCSS standards addresses Culture: “Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.” The IBP met this goal by directly engaging in cultural exchanges with partner schools in Jamaica, Trinidad, Dominican Republic, Brazil, England, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Israel and Korea.  The exchanges were coupled with an East Asian Studies Course  (modern China, India, Japan, Korea focus) that included studying the culture, history, economies, politics, etc., of the partner exchange countries.

Time, Continuity, and Change:Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ways human beings view themselves in and over time.” It is imperative that students develop a thorough understanding of the history of their own countries and an awareness of the diversity of historical and cultural perspectives globally. No longer can Americans afford to ignore global connections and their implications for all of us. This is not to say that we should teach our students that all cultural practices are equally moral or valid, but they should know that major systemic differences do, in fact, exist and often clash. Tragically, we have learned that foreign problems do not always stay in foreign places and that we are inextricably intertwined with an amalgamation of economies and polities in what is now referred to as a “globalized” world.

Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of people, places, and environments.” Prior to 9/11, many Americans could not locate Afghanistan or Iraq on map of the Middle East, much less on world maps. (According to William Walstead, only 24% of the US students have taken a geography course in their pre-collegiate schooling.) The nation on that horrific day was jolted into the realization that it is imperative for our citizenry to develop a much deeper understanding of place geography, foreign cultures and divergent values and global issues and conflicts. The IBP model is an ideal one for integrating course materials based on social studies objectives furthering this standard.

Power, Authority, and Governance: “Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.” For international business students, concepts such as rule of law, government legitimacy, transparency, contract law, monetary and fiscal policies, and currency and export/import regulations help provide realistic business assessments and decision-making skills.

Production, Distribution, and Consumption themes: “Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people organize for the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Students need to study micro and macroeconomics relative to their own country and do so within the framework of a globalized world economy.  Comparative economic systems are introduced within this strand, for example China’s “market socialism” that may be compared with the US-style free market economy and with the former state-run communist economic system. While IBP students focus on the ins and outs of the firm (i.e. microeconomics), broadening the focus would ground students in a deeper understanding, one lacking in a nation where only 44% of American secondary students study economics, again according to William Walstead’s study.

Science, Technology, and Society strand: The IBP program featured an on-line catalog and extensive use of electronic research and communication.  All schools should be preparing students for a world of technology and outsourcing, technology and job obsolescence/creation, technology and trade, technology and marketing. The possibilities are almost endless.

Finally, Global Connections is the capstone standard: “Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of global connections and interdependence.” Students need to be taught to:

  •  Develop solid foundations in the geography, history, government, and cultural and socioeconomic institutions of the US.


  • Think “out of the box,” out of today’s national / cultural confines.
  • Learn how to adapt to the rapidity of change in today’s world and how to assess and choose among alternative approaches to problems in a world over which the US no longer has complete hegemonic control.


  • Learn that solutions to problems here cannot always be imposed top-down elsewhere and why.
  • Develop an understanding of those variables that impact on the success of programs and projects in the countries with which they are interacting, as well as the perspectives of others in their assessments and decision-making processes.


  • Develop a crystallized sense of values—a sense of what is right and what is wrong, judged by national and evolving world standards, and a core of commonality in our curricula to maintain sociopolitical stability and cohesion.

Essentially, then, the IBP framework is an ideal one for developing a curriculum that addresses business, vocational, and social studies standards to forge a cogent, academically challenging program for furthering greater understanding in each of these fields as well as of the interconnections between the many overlapping concepts within these disciplines. The idea is not to compromise or “soften” social studies standards, but rather to use the strength of these disciplines to bring more rigor and enrichment to what is already a model college preparatory international business program.