How Not to Educate Students for the Future

The current political climate in the US is so harsh and it seems every topic cleaves us into two antagonistic camps.  Take climate change and migration, for example.

Looking through the new Finnish Core Curriculum,  on the other hand, I am powerfully struck by the calm assurance of the authors. In an English-language report about global citizenship in the new curriculum, Liisa Jääskeläinen of the Finnish National Board of Education provides translated paragraphs that I find stunning. For example (the emphasis is mine):

“Pupils are guided in how to live modestly and to share what they have. They will also learn how to act as enlightened consumers. The intangible elements of welfare will be highlighted. Pupils are encouraged to reflect on how to transform their lifestyles so that raw materials and energy can be saved and biodiversity safeguarded. Special attention is to be paid to climate change. Basic education will open views to global responsibility beyond generations. Through their choices and actions schools express their responsible relationship to the environment, and choices that may be harmful to the existence of raw materials, energy or biodiversity are to be altered in a sustainable manner.”

An easy contrast to this comes from presidential candidates who deny climate change or try to brush it away. Senator Marco Rubio, for example, recently admitted that, “Sure, the climate is changing. And one of the reasons why the climate is changing is because the climate has always been changing. There has never been a time when the climate is not changed.” And of course, there is Donald Trump and his imagined wall on the US-Mexican border. As you can see from the nice graphic below from the Wall Street Journal, both immigration from Mexico and the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico in the US have been falling throughout the Obama years.


So our political class cannot be trusted to educate the people about these complex issues. They have too much to gain by muddying the facts. The mainstream media has not proven very helpful either. So, once again, it is up to the public schools.

Since education is largely left to the states in the US, what they do matters in terms of preparing American children for the challenges ahead, like climate change or the loss of American manufacturing jobs. These are not issues touched by Common Core or by most state standards, including in my liberal home state of Oregon.

Instead, many states are turning to private education companies for solutions. Twenty states are working with a company called the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. (Am I wrong to be annoyed by the missing hyphen in the name?)

Guess what? This company, which calls itself P21 for short, will create even more standards for students and teachers to follow, will hand teachers content to teach, and will “Implement a recognition system—such as badging–for teachers, principals, and school district instructional support personnel to support and inspire professional development on global issues and competencies.” Yuck.

Not surprisingly, sponsors of P21 include large corporations with complicated outlooks on global education, including Ford and Disney. Pearson, the world largest publisher of books is also a “platinum member.”

P21’s documents call for a lot of involvement of “business leaders.” Why? Why not let teachers craft what they teach?

P21’s website has a whole section on “Citizenship.” But what is striking (and keep in mind, twenty states work with this group) is the complete absence of the term “global citizenship” in the materials of a group focused on teaching students about the skills needed for the future.

This is contrast to Finland where the national curriculum states,”Basic education will set out the foundation of global citizenship based on the respect of human rights and it will encourage pupils to act as agents of change.”

To P21, although students in the US need to be trained for “success” in a global economy, citizenship in the 21st century is not global, it’s … “21st Century.” Citizenship has a time but not a place.

I can only think that this brings us back to Trump and Rubio & co. It appears to be too political to call for empathy and solidarity with others, even as we live in a globalized world–of shrinking glaciers and rising seas (like in Miami Beach, as Marco Rubio has seen). We have Zika and other health threats that do not stop at borders. We have radicalized groups seeking to destabilize modern society.

We can only solve these problems together. Rubio is correct in a way when he says a law can’t change the weather. We need hundreds of laws and binding international agreements to slow the impact of climate change. But the organization seeking to shape our students’ vision of the world, will not say the words “global citizenship” in its documents.

As Corey Robin wrote, at “Global society, 21st-century skills: These are buzzwords for … international capitalism ….  Education is the quintessential American hustle.”

Alternatively, Americans could, like the Finns, at least express the desire that “Global education [work towards] the preconditions for just and sustainable development in line with the development goals of the UN.”



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