Teaching Students to Improve the World

Published on Tuesday, 10 January 2017
Teaching Students to Improve the World Credits: UNDP via Flickr

The Southern Poverty Law Center in the United States documented a record figure of 867 bias incidents in the ten days following the Presidential election, arguably a result of the very divisive presidential campaign in the United States, with its anti-immigrant and anti globalization undertones. This development, and others such as the Brexit vote in Britain, signal that a significant proportion of the population does not embrace the increased frequency and intensity of interactions with people from many different identities which characterize globalization. At a speech given on December 1st, by President-elect Donald Trump to celebrate his victory, he expressed clearly this anti-globalization sentiment:

“We hear a lot of talk about how we are becoming a 'globalized world.' But the relationships that people value in this country are local."

"There is no global anthem. No global currency. No certificate of global citizenship. We pledge allegiance to one flag and that flag is the American flag," he continued. "From now on it is going to be: America First... Never anyone again will any other interests come before the interest of the American people. It is not going to happen again."

In October of 2016, Theresa May had expressed similar sentiments:

“if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don't understand what citizenship means."

The anti-globalization sentiments expressed by Prime Minister May and by President-elect Trump, however, are contested and do not reflect the views of a considerable part of their electorate. A poll conducted by GlobeScan for the BBC World Service shows that, in the 18 countries surveyed, more than half of the population see themselves more as global citizens than as citizens of their country.

At best, this resistance to a world that is coming together at accelerating speed will exacerbate tensions, and cause us to miss many opportunities to collaborate along lines of difference in improving the world. At worst, this rejection of the results of globalization and the contention of views among people in the same nation over the value of global citizenship will lead to social instability and conflict.

Given that public schools were created to help students develop the capacity to collaborate with others, along lines of difference, in improving the world, it is imperative that the teaching profession leads in preparing students to understand the world in which they live, in all its complexity, to recognize the way in which global and local affairs are intertwined, to understand globalization and its consequences, including global risks, to appreciate the strength that lies in our diversity and differences, and to have the skills and the desire to contribute to improving the world. In short, the profession needs to advance global citizenship education. In that process, high quality curriculum and resources will be critical.

With a group of colleagues, I have developed a curriculum to help empower students as global citizens. We have published this curriculum in a new book (Reimers, Chopra, Chung, Higdon and O’Donnell, “Empowering Global Citizens” 2016) in which we explain why global citizenship education is an imperative of our time, review alternative approaches, make a case for a 21st century approach to global education and on that foundation build an interdisciplinary K-12 curriculum of global citizenship education. We have used the least restrictive Creative Commons License to encourage collaboration and building by others upon our work. The book is available as a kindle book for $1, and is also available on paperback from Amazon.

Even though global education is not a new idea, there is a new urgency to be more intentional in pursuing it. Not all students who have the opportunity to go to school learn to recognize their common humanity with others across lines of cultural, racial, religious or national difference. Not all learn to be curious about those differences, or skilled at finding ways to use those differences for the benefit of more collaboration in jointly addressing the challenges we face in the world.

These challenges are well summarized in a global compact that articulates what we must do to secure peace in the world, what is necessary to create conditions that eliminate poverty, reduce gender and social inequality and promote health, education, sustainability and social and economic progress. This compact, called the Sustainable Development Goals, provides a framework to guide the efforts of individuals, organizations and nations so we indeed improve the world. To achieve those goals, we will need more determined and more effective education programs to help students understand the importance of these goals, and of the specific targets for each one them.

At the core of what must be done to achieve these goals, which is to say an inclusive world in which we live in peace with one another and with the earth, is to educate all people, so they develop the capabilities, and the willingness, to do their part in the achievement of each of the seventeen goals. In “Empowering Global Citizens,” we offer an integrated, multidisciplinary, project based K-12 curriculum that illustrates how to offer students opportunities to develop those capabilities. The curriculum is designed not just to help students understand the world, but to improve it. We invite leaders of teachers organization to build on that work, and advance a global movement of global citizenship education that prepares all students to recognize their common humanity with others, and to develop the capabilities and the dispositions to collaborate across all lines of difference in addressing the challenges we share, including the challenge represented by the growing intolerance and bigotry and the risk that they will normalize the violation of human rights and civil liberties around the world.

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Fernando M. Reimers

Pr Reimers focuses his research and teaching on innovative global education policies and programmes that help students develop competencies necessary for civic participation and work in the twenty first century. He also works in the area of global citizenship education and in how to align education policies with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. He teaches a graduate course that examines the core global education challenges and the role of policy analysis in addressing them, and a course that studies innovative education programmes and the role of social entrepreneurs in generating and scaling up change.
Reimers is a member of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, a fellow of the International Academy of Education, as well as a member of the United States National Commission for UNESCO. He serves on the board of several educational organizations and foundations.

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