Report Urges Schools To Think Globally In Changing World

By Robert Rothman — May 20, 1987 7 min read

In recommendations praised by Secretary of State George P. Shultz--and characterized as “wishy washy’’ by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett--a major study released last week urges schools to “keep up with a changing world’’ by giving coursework across the curriculum a global perspective.

“The world has changed faster than the content of schools,’' said Clark Kerr, president emeritus of the University of California and chairman of the Study Commission on Global Education, which prepared the report. “We are asking for a catch-up process.’'

Such an effort is timely, added Willard Kniep, the project’s co-director, because the class entering kindergarten next September will graduate from high school in 2001.

“The 21st century is entering the school door this fall,’' he said.

To help the United States prepare for its future, the report says, schools must develop students’ understanding of the world as a series of interrelated systems, provide more training in policy analysis, and devote greater attention to cultural diversity and the development of world civilizations.

The report stops short, however, of calling for specific new courses in global affairs.

“We don’t feel they are needed,’' said Andrew F. Smith, president of Global Perspectives in Education Inc., a New York City group that sponsored the report. “In fact, we would argue against it. To think all you need to do is mandate a course is wrong. [A global perspective] has got to permeate everything you do.’'

In addition, said Franklin Wallin, project director for the commission, new courses would be expensive, and the report’s aim was to suggest practical steps schools can take, rather than present a utopian vision of curricular change.

“We are not trying to leap ahead 10 years,’' he said. “We are trying to help people move ahead the next couple of steps.’'

The commission’s report was funded by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Exxon Education Foundation.

In addition to Mr. Kerr, the 19-member commission included John I. Goodlad, director of the National Network for Educational Renewal at the University of Washington’s school of education; Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association; Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas; Ruth E. Randall, commissioner of education in Minnesota; and Frank Newman, president of the Education Commission of the States.

‘Wishy Washy’

The report was issued last week at separate press conferences in Washington and New York City. Before presenting it to reporters in Washington, officials from Global Perspectives in Education met with Secretary of State Shultz, who praised the commission for providing “guideposts’’ to help the nation “grapple with the information/technological revolution.’'

“The question you have addressed in your report--what knowledge and skills should our students have in order to function most effectively in a changing world--is precisely the question American educators should be asking themselves,’' Secretary Shultz said. “Our capacity as a nation to play a leadership role in the 21st century will depend in large part on how our educators answer this question.’'

The group was unable to meet with the Secretary of Education, who said later that the concept of “global perspectives’’ appeared “wishy washy.’'

“When I hear ‘geography’ and ‘history,’ I am pleased,’' Mr. Bennett told the Associated Press. “When I hear ‘global perspectives,’ I’m usually a little nervous.’'

Curricular Themes

Mr. Bennett has argued, most recently in a speech last month at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., that it is especially important that Americans study Western civilization. “We need to know the story of Western civilization,’' Secretary Bennett told students at Smith, “for that is where our institutions and society were made.’'

While members of the commission agreed, they added that citizenship in the 21st century also requires a broader perspective. Their report stresses four themes that a school’s curriculum should emphasize.

In particular, it states, students should understand the development of modern civilization.

“An historical perspective enables people to place themselves in a temporal sequence that has a future and a past, and a particular location geographically,’' the report says. “Without a general sense of time and place, it is difficult to understand who you are or where you are in the long train of events that make up human history. Without it, one may become a prisoner of the present and the proximate.’'

Diverse Population

In addition, it states, students should be able to understand cultures other than their own.

“Students need to become aware of their own unique personal perspective that is not shared in its entirety with anyone else, and to appreciate that others’ perspectives may have validity,’' it states.

The increasing ethnic diversity of the school population makes such an appreciation particularly vital, said Donald H. Bragaw, a member of the commission who is president of the National Council for the Social Studies and chief of the bureau of social-studies education in the New York State Department of Education. “Fifty percent of the urban school population is now made up of people of backgrounds other than white, Anglo-Saxon Americans,’' he said. “We need to recognize the heritage of diverse populations, as well as the universal cultural heritage we all share.’'

To enable students to appreciate “the vast interdependent nature of the world,’' the commission proposed that students be given an understanding of the world as a series of physical, biological, political, economic, and communications systems.

“No major event occurs anywhere around the globe that does not personally touch some group of families in the United States, whether it is an earthquake in Mexico, a famine in East Africa, a nuclear accident in the U.S.S.R., or a revolution in Iran,’' the report states.

Finally, the report suggests that students be actively engaged in analytical and creative thinking at all levels, to prepare them to make decisions that affect public policy.


Reforming the curriculum along these lines will require educators and policymakers to work with publishers to develop new materials and train teachers to use them, the commission concluded.

“So many textbooks focus on the United States as though it happened all by itself,’' said Mr. Kerr. “A good deal of their emphasis is quite ethnocentric.’'

In addition, the report recommends that classrooms be restructured to allow students to play a more active role in learning, and that teachers be given the chance to participate in policymaking at the school level, by selecting curricular materials and evaluating student learning.

To implement the reforms, the report suggests that states and districts highlight in their policy directives goals for citizenship education and global awareness, and make the attainment of these goals part of a long-term development plan.

Many have already taken steps to achieve such reforms, the report states. “Studies of state and district documents reveal that many states already have goals for students that, if implemented, would provide a basis for citizenship education and global awareness,’' it states.

The report also recommends:

  • Reforms in teacher education similar to those proposed by the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, which would enable teachers to bring to the classroom a broad but integrated education that encourages curiosity about connections among the classroom, the school, and the world at large.
  • Collaborations between schools, universities, and communities to improve teacher education and aid the development of new materials for classroom use.
  • State-funded curriculum-development and -design centers to help evaluate materials on their effectiveness in increasing knowledge, fostering global awareness, and stimulating analytical skills among students and educators.
  • Support from private-sector organizations, especially philanthropic foundations, in the development of curricular materials, the organization of school-college consortia for global education, the sponsorship of conferences on global-perspectives curricula, and program evaluation.

Copies of “The United States Prepares for its Future: Global Perspectives in Education’’ are available for $10 each from Global Perspectives in Education Inc., 45 John St., Suite 1200, New York, N.Y. 10038.

A version of this article appeared in the May 20, 1987 edition of Education Week as Report Urges Schools To Think Globally In Changing World