International Opinion

A Call for Global Citizenship Education

By William Gaudelli — July 17, 2015 4 min read
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At the World Education Forum recently held in Incheon, South Korea, global citizenship education was identified as part of a quality education for all students. William Gaudelli, associate professor and chair of the Department of Arts and Humanities at Teachers College, Columbia University and co-founder of the Global Competence Certificate Program, outlines the reasons why it is critical to raise global citizens.

We are at a moment in time where we face the paradoxical capacity to destroy much of what the modern era has achieved. The challenges are myriad: climate warming and environmental degradation, regional insecurity and severe intolerance, grave injustices, and a growing North/South gap are just the beginning of what quickly becomes an overwhelming litany of world problems. My aim is not to overwhelm. Rather I want to suggest ways that educators can think about these problems differently—about what it means to educate for global citizenship.

The 22nd Century
A child born in your community today will still be here into the 22nd century, alive and well in the year 2115. As difficult as it is to imagine, we would be wise to begin to think of the quality of that child’s life over the duration of the next century. Will she know peace or war? Will she experience the joys of living in diverse communities with others or the anxiety of living in isolated fear of others? Will she know the aesthetic and material blessings the biosphere provides or experience only environmental deterioration? Thinking about the world temporally, we are reminded of the lovely Kenyan adage: “This land was not given to you by your parents, it is on loan to you from your children.”

My first suggestion for global citizenship education is that we begin to think of ourselves, our earth, and each other, in a temporal way, in light of time. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of learning to think globally since people are notoriously bad—all of us—at understanding time. I’m reminded of this when I look in the mirror some days and expect to see that 25-year-old version of myself looking back. When he’s not there I use this humbling moment to recall how incapable we are of grasping the slippage of time even when we are aware of this incapacity.

Speaking of humility, I want to suggest that this too is a crucial element of global citizenship education. This may seem odd given that we usually feel proud when we know more things or feel satisfaction at possessing knowledge about the world. In fact, global citizenship education is less about knowing more about all that we do not know—about each other and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. That is not to suggest we should revel in our ignorance but rather recognize our limits and be open to all that can be learned from myriad points of experience beyond those limits. In the Jewish tradition, a yarlmuke or kippah is, among other things, a tangible reminder of the limits of people’s knowledge and heart before God. It seems that this simple reminder is one that could benefit all of us as we encourage and invite people to comprehend, or know, the world and to act in solidarity within it.

Everyday and Transformative

Lastly, global citizenship education ought to be simultaneously everyday and transformative, at once mundane and transcendent. What does that mean? How does one ponder the meaning of the universe and one’s miniscule place within it while eating a sandwich? I want to suggest that both activities—pondering and eating—are fundamentally wound within what it means to be a global citizen. Thinking big about ourselves and our lives is perhaps the same insight that inspired Diogenes to utter his famous phrase, “I am a citizen of the world” over two millennia ago. And our daily eating habits are so intimately woven into the fabric of a networked world in a beleaguered biosphere that one is literally eating from around the world at every meal. As Martin Luther King reminds us, “All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly...before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world.”

How to Start
How might educators engage young people in global citizenship education? I have a few starting points to suggest:

  • Develop curriculum to illustrate how interdependent the world is by having students look at international trade and where everyday items come from and how they will be disposed of;
  • Create opportunities for educators and students to learn about how other people live, those living 5, 500, and 5000 kilometers away, through exchange programs and online dialogs about common interests and shared problems;
  • Build gardens and grow food while studying how food, water, and power is sourced, generated and supplied to their school and community.

Whatever path you choose, the work is complicated and demanding, and yet so necessary—to live in a way that recognizes the immediacy and interdependence of every interaction, while accepting how our connectedness winds us into events much larger than ourselves.

In each of my examples, I highlight simple, everyday tasks—wearing a hat, glancing in a mirror, or eating a sandwich—that symbolize much more profound matters. This is an enormous task but it is what we must do—to educate the child born today in your community, in a manner that imagines a world that is not yet—one of peace, respect, justice, and sustainability—in a way that perceives time with a sense of urgency, hears others with openness and humility and moves to inhabit our daily practices with a profound sense of life.

A version of this text was presented to the United Nations Academic Impact meeting in Seoul, May 2015.

The author can be reached at gaudelli@tc.columbia.edu.

Follow Heather and Asia Society on Twitter.

Photo credit: iStockPhoto.

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