International Opinion

The Particle Theory of Global Competence

By Anthony Jackson — June 19, 2012 5 min read
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Jennifer Manise of Longview Foundation shares a theory. Can we, as a field, validate her prediction?

I spent the last month and a half traveling to different parts of the United States to participate in events focused on international education. I’ve met people who are passionately engaged in providing students and teachers with opportunities to build international understanding and further develop global perspectives. This work is going on in classrooms, buildings, districts, campuses, and beyond. All of these conversations remind me of the biggest story in science in the last decade: the building and use of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN on the border of France and Switzerland.

From Wikipedia: “The Large Hadron Collider allows scientists to explore really big questions on particle theory. Hadrons means ‘composite particles composed of quarks held together by a strong force (as atoms and molecules are held together by electromagnetic force.)’” The large Hadron Collider validates certain predictions and furthers the theoretical field within physics. What does this have to do with global competence?

As I mentioned, fantastic work is going on in classrooms across the United States. In these classrooms, students are engaged with rich content that provides them with deep understanding of the world and the complex problems facing mankind. These are the “quarks.” And if my meetings are any indication of what is going on throughout the country, there are millions of quarks.

The problem is the teacher in the classroom next door may not know about it—or maybe it is a couple of teachers but the principal is unaware. Or the superintendent.

On the flip side, schools and districts with a clear mission that fully supports all teachers connecting students to the world as a regular part of learning often have trouble filling vacant positions. Recent graduates of teacher education programs often cannot confidently demonstrate how they will build lesson plans to promote knowledge, skills, and abilities reflecting global content. This is further evidence that we still have a pipeline issue despite the existence of campuses and systems that robustly challenge their education faculty to internationalize their coursework.

With this disconnect between practice in the field and teacher preparation, there is tangible evidence that needs to be scaled and theoretical concepts that need to be put to a test. Here are the pertinent questions:

Research validates that students who are engaged in understanding the world are more deeply engaged learners in other areas. Why doesn't policy systemically reflect this reality? Why do teachers embrace this work more readily when it is part of an independent quest for further knowledge rather than a mandate? What role do mentor teachers play in this process? Who is offering them professional development in international understanding and global awareness? Why is it that so many excellent teachers regularly engaging in this work are prophets to all but those in their own building or district?

  • The work of a school in Boston that spends three months on a project to build a scaled model of the Forbidden City and incorporates every student and subject into the process, connecting China to Africa, while engaging kids all and teaching to standards.
  • Resources such as units on access to clean water, that are aligned to the Common Core and provide readings, formative assessments, and assignments for junior high and high school teachers.
  • Universities collaborating with one another to envision what a certificate program in global education might look like in their state and still retain their respective strengths and focus.
  • States committed to the exponential growth of dual language programs or committed to making the case for global through data as discussed previously in this blog.
  • Or, more simply, the professor that starts a brown bag seminar program in her university with a different faculty member presenting each month on how international experiences inform their teaching and the opportunities to internationalize coursework to produce teachers ready to engage students deeply in understanding how their community relates to the bigger picture. The reward for participation is a free lunch!

These bursts forward represent creative thinking, strategic policy, and forging relationships and are a clear testament to the commitment educators and policy makers have to making this all more systemic. At the same time, those presenting and conversing articulated a deficiency beyond their immediate setting.

Is it true that “other people don’t get why building a global perspective matters” or is it a lack of systemic efforts in how we make the case?

Is our silence our success—by doing so we keep this out of the politics of education and instead focus on the craft and kids? Or have we failed to integrate sound practice into a policy agenda with our lack of evidence-based action plan?

States are unique educational systems although more is shared in common: budget woes, disconnect between federal requirements and federal dollars, and huge challenges in implementing the Common Core, to name a few. The same is true of university systems: each a distinct culture and all considering how to transform as providers in a digitalized world.

In the midst of all that is out there, have we extended our hand to build partnerships with foundations and government entities that ensure the vision will remain integrated long beyond our careers?

Can we do more to align our efforts while still maintaining the ability to innovate and inspire in peer settings? The Goldman Sachs awards through the Asia Society contributed greatly to the overall knowledge of what great things were happening in the field. As we have progressed beyond those award into our own digital realities, is it time for us to find a way to share best practices and more systematically make the case of how this is an issue for the health and happiness of future generations?

Is it time for an international education equivalent of the Hadron Collider?

What do we do until our collider is built and available?

Summer is upon us and with it, a pause from routine. Regardless of your position, what is your plan for connecting with your colleagues, or your supervisor or your professional network during this pause? What opportunities are you taking to further your own international perspectives and who will you share your learning with? Incremental change must precede large-scale change. Teachers get their best ideas from other teachers. As your corridors empty out and you pack up for summer, challenge yourself to find more of those quarks—close by and far away—and see where those discoveries might lead you.

CORRECTION: The original post misidentified the location of the Large Hadron Collider. It is located on the French-Swiss border.

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