What it takes to develop skillful global citizens
"Peace is not won by those who fiercely guard their differences, but by those who with open minds and hearts seek out connections." —Katherine Paterson, author
There are currently 196 countries in the world, yet we share one planet. Buckminster Fuller, systems thinker and futurist, liked to call our one world "Spaceship Earth" as we collectively share one human experience despite our differences. Co-operating and connecting over the issues of global harmony, peace, education, political stability and stewardship of resources allow us to collectively focus on improving the lives of every person on the face of the earth. Learning to hold these conversations and collaborate in a way that is respectful and knowledgeable of the "other" are critical competencies that define the skillful global citizen.
The other represents any combination of people's differences, including ethnicities, socio-economic class, political leanings, education levels, religious beliefs, cultural traditions and values, and gender and sexual orientation. The fact that we have differences does not negate that we also have great similarities. The goal, for us and our students, is to learn to value and respect the differences, understanding that they are grounded in cultural heritage while celebrating and exploring our sameness, our common humanity. The global citizen can equally use her intellect to develop deep understanding of the other and her compassion to make collaborative connections around shared interests and goals.
Chris Harth, in his Independent School magazine article "Going Glocal: Adaptive Education for Local and Global Citizenship," offers a guiding question that illustrates the interconnectedness and emotional smallness of our world: Who exactly are our neighbours? Thanks to technology and the efficiency and effectiveness of the 24-hour news cycle, our neighbours are the Haitians who suffer a devastating earthquake, the people of Myanmar who are besieged by an unexpected tsunami, and the children of war in places like Kabul, Kosovo and Angola. Their strife, struggle and ongoing reality are also ours emotionally because we are made familiar with them through the news as well as the global relationships we develop in our mediasaturated lives.
Our emotional connections inspire us to determine the specifics of the other (both the differences and the similarities) and to act across geographic boundaries, language barriers and other distances. This is the mindset and the motivation of the global citizen. A forward-thinking global learning environment is intent on developing in students the capacity and the disposition to understand and act on issues of international significance. Starting with the youngest students, the intention must be to integrate global awareness in all subjects and across all grade levels so that they can develop a far-reaching global consciousness that informs both their local surroundings and their understanding of the world context in which they live.
"We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools."' —Martin Luther King Jr.
How can we best prepare children to be skillful global citizens who will meet the challenges and reap the benefits of the increasingly diverse world they will inherit? We can raise children to celebrate and value diversity and to be proud of themselves and their family traditions. We can teach children to respect and value people regardless of the colour of their skin, their physical abilities, or the language they speak. We can teach children to be critical thinkers, specifically about prejudice and discrimination, by examining and questioning automatic actions and assumptions so that they can form new beliefs through experience and interaction with people whom they meet and get to know.
To begin the process of developing learning environments that foster global awareness, cultural sensitivity and global competence, we must ask new questions to guide our learning:
- Which countries will be relevant and significant for our students to know in depth in the 21st century, and why?
- How can we study and understand non-Western history, politics, religion and culture?
- How can we globalize teacher preparation, teacher learning and teacher interaction?
- How can we create opportunities for children to develop understanding and empathy for the other?
- What experiences can we create that develop global skills?
- What is our role in global problems such as poverty, health, water availability, education, endangered species and environmental sustainability?
Education that fosters deep knowledge of other cultures, other religions and other traditions is paramount in deepening respect for difference and celebrating common humanity. Cultural acceptance and effective cross-cultural collaboration are limited only by our individual and collective understanding and knowledge.
Our cultural ignorance then leads to and perpetuates tension, conflict and intolerance of people unlike or unfamiliar to us. We have a great opportunity to alleviate cultural tensions by increasing and enriching the global learning and experiences our students develop from a young age. By exploring questions of global significance in education, we will change ourselves, the learning environments we create and our students into skillful global citizens who can better lead us toward harmony and prosperity in all neighbourhoods.