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How Do You Teach About Race as a UN Sustainable Development Goal?

By Craig Perrier — October 03, 2017 5 min read
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Editor’s Note: You only have to look at the daily news to see why it is important to include discussions about race in our classrooms. Today, Craig Perrier, High School Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for Social Studies, Fairfax County Public Schools

, shares ideas on how to discuss race in a global context using the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Join Craig for an in-depth discussion of this topic on Twitter, this

Thursday, October 5 at 8pm Eastern time during #Globaledchat. (Just type #globaledchat into the search box to join the conversation).

I recently overheard someone say, “Everyone comes to me with their problems because I am empathetic. I listen to them and try to put myself in their shoes.”

As I heard this sentiment I remembered a short animated video by nonprofit organization, The RSA, of a presentation by Dr. Brene Brown titled, “Empathy versus Sympathy.” I have used it in teacher trainings because these words resonated with me: “Empathy doesn’t require that we have the exact same experiences as the person sharing their story with us ... Empathy is connecting with the emotion that someone is experiencing, not the event or the circumstance.”

That means we can all have this experience. But, hearing this stranger identify as an empath intrigued me. Was she taught this skill? Is she a global citizen? How empathetic am I?

I worked on answers to these questions in reverse. First, I found this online test from Psychology Today and took it. The result was interesting, but I am wary of these type of tests. They lack context and have an industrial-era feel.

Global Education Models

More importantly, how the test addressed empathy seemed a bit different than the type promoted by contemporary global education models. Global education models associate empathy with inter-cultural competencies and the ability to interact effectively with the “other.” Although not the only category that is relevant here, empathy in global education includes issues of racism and the realities of race-based constructs.

Framed this way, I moved back to my second question regarding global citizenship and their relation with empathy. Two resources came to mind:


  1. World Savvy’s Global Competence Matrix
  2. ASCD’s Globally Competent Continuum

For teachers who use these models, they will not encounter specific references to race. Still, let’s see how each frames “empathy.”

World Savvy takes its definition of global competence from Asia Society: “the disposition and capacity to understand and act on issues of global significance.” World Savvy goes on to define the key values and attitudes of globally competent individuals. As you can see in the image [to the right], they include “empathy” on this list.

And although the “Values and Attitudes” section flirts with using “race” (blue checkmark), the explanation referenced above avoids stating “race” or “racism” as part of the rationale.

ASCD’s continuum is an excellent tool with any group in your school community from student to school board members. ASCD’s take on global competence states:

“The global competencies are a set of dispositions, knowledge, and skills needed to live and work in a global society. These competencies include attitudes that embrace an openness, respect, and appreciation for diversity, valuing of multiple perspectives, empathy, and social responsibility; knowledge of global issues and current events, global interdependence, world history, culture, and geography; and the ability to communicate across cultural and linguistic boundaries, collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds, think critically and analytically, problem-solve, and take action on issues of global importance.”

Empathy is categorized as a “disposition” in the continuum and is partnered with “valuing multiple perspectives.” As you can see in the image below, race is not identified explicitly, but can be assumed to be part of the intention (see green brackets).

Additionally, the continuum suggests ASCD resources that support the teaching, learning, and development of the dispositions, knowledge, and skills they advocate. The collection of ASCD articles hyperlinked here are refreshing and inspiring. Among them are three that openly address the issue of race:


  1. The Difference a Global Educator Can Make, Educational Leadership (2002)
  2. What Are the Goals of Multicultural Education?, ASCD Express (2011)
  3. The Problem We Still Live With, Educational Leadership (2015)

But why does the continuum not use race in its own language? Why not be explicit here? A majority of teachers and students using these resources are in the United States. What are we to make of the absence of “race” in these two tools?

Uncomfortable Conversations

One answer can be found in H. Richard Milner’s 2015 interview with NPR titled, “Uncomfortable Conversations: Talking About Race In The Classroom.”

Milner’s interview traverses a series of explanations and commentary about educators and race, including general discomfort on discussing race, in part due to lack of capacity and resources to discuss issues of race and racism in all its complexity and lack of support from their districts and states, and how this discomfort ultimately underserves our students. He also touches on the school-to-prison pipeline and the systemic problem of students of color being set up to fail and consequently pushed out of school.

So, if race is not mentioned in state or content standards and is not explicitly mentioned in educational models, where and when and how are teachers to teach about race? Is there some contemporary educational movement and philosophy that states we should be teaching and learning about race? The answer is yes, there is.

SDGs as a Framework

I offer teachers the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) as a curriculum framework. Looking toward a global vision for education recognizes that what many of us teach in our classrooms is not contextualized and limited by the nation we live in. Moreover, teaching about race—not just as an American, but as a global, phenomenon—develops students’ world views.

The UN SDGs cover a lot of ground and can be applied to any content area and grade level. But, for this post, it is goal 10, “reduced inequalities,” that explicitly references race as a topic to teach.

Using goal 10 to teach about race and its relationship to inequalities can be a daunting task. There are some existing resources for you to explore.


  1. Global Dimensions
  2. The World’s Largest Lesson
  3. #TeachSDGs
  4. Goal 10 Infographic

Devote time to teaching about race in the context of the UN SDGs. Using that process, students can compare, explore, and analyze the US experience and framing of race over time. By having that “uncomfortable conversation” now in your class, students will begin to recognize perspectives and experience a different United States, and they’ll exit your class as more empathetic global citizens.

Connect with Craig and Heather on Twitter.

World Savvy image provided by author from this site.

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The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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