I have been thinking about this a lot lately, is it possible to have a comprehensive “global education” or perspective, without ever leaving the comforts of home? This is a tough question. My gut instinct says, “no way”. You can’t understand it until you’ve been there and experienced it. But I don’t know that that is necessarily true. Ideally, each school district would have the funds to send their students abroad for a chunk of time (6 weeks to 1 semester) during their high school years to help broaden their awareness and enlarge their scope of understanding of the world. My experience with students in the high school age range is that they often times find it difficult to see past the ends of their own noses, to actually recognize that there is a whole world out there that in fact doesn’t not revolve solely around them. I do not say this with any malice in tone, I am simply stating a fact. Most children, ages 13 – 18, have a very narrow view of their world because it does not directly affect them personally. I believe that it is during this period of time that it would be wholly beneficial for them to experience other cultures and learn about other peoples.
However, the question is not about the validity of travel, the question is can you truly become invested in global education and develop a global perspective without ever going? With the world becoming smaller and technology so readily available, we can learn and understand what is happening in other countries around the world on a moment’s notice. It is easy to be self and family centered, to worry about our own children/friends/family and forget that the world is made up of a spirit of people that are and have children/family/friends. To recognize that my children are no more important to and loved by me than a mother in India or Africa. To understand that just because I have access to different resources that my love is no more important or better. A purposeful and positive connection with the world outside the borders of our country broadens horizons, keeps our problems in perspective, and gives us ideas of how we can help around the world when needed.
To begin to gain this perspective, I would hope that a child be exposed to other cultures when they are young. You can expose children to new cultures through food, music, literature, learning a new language, discussing issues when they come up, documentaries and movies. I have never censored my son from real-world understand (keeping in mind that he is 5). We listen to NPR on the way to school each day and he listens to the news stories from around the world, asks tough questions, and I answer them as best I can. He was as up-to-date on the Ebola outbreak as I was when it was burning full fledge and we talked about that and what that means for these countries in Africa. My husband and I adopted Halidou Souley through Plan International about 8 years ago and Cyrus knows all about him and where he is from and why we support him financially. I don’t want my son to think of the rest of the world as “less than” or struggling but so much of my focus is on these countries that it is hard not to.
From a school’s perspective, I think elementry classes have a much easier time incorporating global experiences into their classrooms because the curriculum has more wiggle room at that level (I hope that does not come across as offensive to Elementary teachers). As the child moves up through his/her grades, the content becomes heavier and the curriculum becomes more focused. I think if every teacher bought in to the important of enhancing the collective global perspective and found a way to tie it into their curriculum to enhance what is currently taught and allows for some external thinking and some true reflection, it would become more ingrained in student’s minds. I try to incorporate global education whenever I can, but it’s really easy in science, especially what I teach. There are endless examples of Biology, Forensics, and Infectious Diseases on a global scale and I incorporate them whenever I can. But, as with travel abroad, the important piece, and one that I struggle with, is the debriefing with the students after the fact. Really getting down to it and finding out what they think, what they learned, what they liked, what they found shocking, etc….the reflection piece is always the hardest.
In short, or should I say verbosely, I do think it’s possible to provide a global perspective to students without them actually traveling but it is much more difficult. It has to be a very purposeful curriculum intertwined k – 12 and have major buy-in by all faculty. That is a tough sell when people get very territorial about their curriculum that they have developed from the ground up. I do think it is only a matter of time before this kind of education is required though (thankfully).
It was George Bush that said, “America’s leadership and national security rest on our commitment to educate and prepare our youth for active engagement in the international community.” back in 2000 in response to the proposed International Education Week, which President Clinton also supported. This definitely shows that International Education is a bi-partisan ideal (we knew there had to be something, right?). You can read more from the Strategic Task Force of Education Abroad here. Very important ideas recognized by Washington.
What are your thoughts on gaining a global perspective from the comforts of your own home?