Ironically, painfully, it’s International Education Week. It hurts to say this out loud. The meetings of earnest teachers seem hopelessly outgunned as the UK trudges towards its Brexit and the USA begins its transition to Trumpism. Across the West, nationalism is on the march and global citizenship feels in retreat.
This can’t be good news for those of us who want to educate our students to tackle the global challenges that lie ahead.
How should we respond as educators to the rising voices of nationalism, nativism, and xenophobia? At times lately, I’ve felt that there is something radical about seeing people far away as valuable and worthy of care. Is global education hopelessly political, by default the province of “the globalizers?” Some clearly think so. Writing in the New York Times in July, columnist Ross Douthat dismissed global citizenship:
The people who consider themselves “cosmopolitan” in today’s West … are part of a meritocratic order that transforms difference into similarity, by plucking the best and brightest from everywhere and homogenizing them into the peculiar species that we call “global citizens.”
This species is racially diverse (within limits) and eager to assimilate the fun-seeming bits of foreign cultures — food, a touch of exotic spirituality. But no less than Brexit-voting Cornish villagers, our global citizens think and act as members of a tribe.
What Douthat completely misses–because he hasn’t bothered to look–is that the idea of global citizenship is most popular away from wealthy nations. In a survey by the BBC, Americans were at about the global average when asked if they saw themselves more as a global citizens or a citizens of the USA. Where was global identity strongest? Kenya, Nigeria, Peru. Lowest” Russia, Germany, the UK, Chile, Mexico.
So-called “cosmopolitanism” and global citizenship are not the ethos of an elite tribe that rules the world. They are the recognition of interdependence between peoples around the earth. We need this kind of thinking.
I also have to wonder: what is the nationalist solution to climate change? To the migration crisis? To the bleaching of the great corals in our oceans?
When I look at Trumpism, or any other form of developed-world nationalism, one thing I perceive is a lack of empathy. An inability to remember that someone reached out to our ancestors when they crossed oceans leaky ships or struggled to find their place in a foreign land. This is combined with a willful ignorance about the reasons why millions of ordinary people are unwillingly on the move, why global markets are jittery or why the stomachs of seabirds are filled with plastic bottle caps. None of us are not implicated. Trump’s recent roar that “They hate us,”shows his utter lack of interest of curiosity about the world. It doesn’t make me optimistic that he will use the power of the USA to spur global development and peace.
As a teacher of global studies, I feel my job has shifted from the academic consideration of free trade or the globalization of American culture to an emphasis on having my students communicate with young people elsewhere on earth. I am working to have them collaborate with Finnish teens on global outlooks and South African teens on issues of climate and migration.
Similarly, each unit of my course will have an action step. Sometimes this will simply be the communication with other young people. But I don’t feel like I can “teach the migration crisis” at this point without trying to help. Luckily my city hosts the offices of Mercy Corps: hopefully they can help me find meaningful work for my students to do on the issue of refugees. Perhaps we can host a movie night in our community to raise awareness and a few dollars.
The educational networks that exist across national boundaries, from e-Twinning to Google for Education to my own Global Schoolroom (still just getting started!), have never been more important. It’s hard to drop bombs on someone you know, as the old expression goes. Hopefully, I can widen my students’ outlooks to include a greater empathy while inspiring them to feel empowered as helpful actors in these great dramas of our age.