What Is Global Education?


In January, I am headed to Finland to build a website that can be used by teachers and students to collaborate on the study of issues related to globalization. Few would argue that economies are more inter-related than ever before. Cultures too, the pace of interactions sped by the growing international movement of people, ideas, and things.

When we study the results of these processes, we turn to questions about free trade and the role of organizations including the IMF and the WTO. We wonder about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and how it will change lives in the nations of its signatories. We consider whether outsourcing manufacturing jobs from developed to developing nations is a net positive for anyone. And we ask whether the advent of the Internet, which brings Hindi pop stations onto my iPhone, makes the experience of culture more or less diverse.

These are some of the topics my students consider when we pursue global education. This phrase and its sibling, global citizenship, adorn the mission statements of independent schools and the homepages of liberal arts colleges. But what do these terms mean? Is this a field of study or merely a reorganization of what educators were already doing?

We might conceive of global education as an opportunity to examine new webs of interconnectedness. Studying the history of the United States tells American teens a lot about how things got the way they are and how society works. Studying supply chains, the global response to crises with the oceans, or efforts to slow climate change simply shine a light on forces shaping our lives that a course in a national history cannot touch upon.

So global education is a part of the globalization it studies. The Global Education webpages of Fairleigh Dickinson College wisely note “that not everyone around the world in fact views global education with indifference – some may see it as a vehicle for promotion of globalization, which might itself be seen as the West’s effort to destabilize fragile balances in world economic and political systems.”

Whatever one’s feelings about globalization, we ignore it (in our curriculums) at our own risk.

If global education is the study of interconnectedness and its consequences, definitions of global citizenship are often based upon particular actions that emerge from a growing knowledge of global economic, political and cultural inequalities. Learning how coffee production impacts poor farmers and their communities in Central America, for example, may inspire us to embrace fair trade coffee or simply stop drinking coffee altogether.

Coffee.elsalvadorJames A. Banks of the University of Washington argues that, “An important aim of citizenship education should be to help students develop global identifications and a deep understanding of the need to take action as citizens of the global community to help solve the world’s difficult global problems, such as conflict and war, the AIDS/HIV epidemic, global warming, and world poverty. Cultural, national, and global experiences and identifications are interactive and interrelated in a dynamic way.”

Global citizenship then, like national citizenship, is activist by nature. A good global citizen is aware of the new set of responsibilities emerging in recent decades. Climate change is a powerful example of such an issue. There simply isn’t a local, regional or national “solution.” A well-educated global citizen then would advocate for policy on every level of government that do what can be done locally (from transportation planning to diet to recycling) while also advocating for other strategies on the national and international levels.

In the United States, there are right-wing attacks on the notion of global citizenship as being anti-patriotic. Is being a responsible inhabitant of earth contradictory with being a faithful American, Briton, Chilean, or Egyptian? Perhaps, if we consider the economic interest of one nation to be predicated on the dimming of all others. Or if we are an imperialist. Otherwise, it is convincing that a concern for the health of the earth, respect for differences between peoples and a desire for peace do little to harm one’s love for country. “Love thy neighbor,” advocates of global citizenship argue, can be stretched without altering its obvious literal power.

Some advocates of global education trumpet the need for (and usually their school’s provision of) “twenty-first century skills.” Beyond the silliness of the term—what would have been on a list of twentieth-century skills published during World War I?—it diminishes the importance of understanding global systems of commerce and politics in favor of monetizing global education for success in the workplace of multinational corporations. As Corey Robin notes at Salon.com:

“Global society, 21st-century skills: These are buzzwords for the international capitalism the students of these schools are being trained to lead. Far from being educated to dismantle privilege, they’re being schooled to perpetuate and preside over it.”

My students are privileged to attend a caring, rigorous, and wealthy school. I hope my forays into global education teach interconnectedness and responsibility and not merely some advantage to “succeed in the global economy.”





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