Teaching Profession Opinion

Reflection, Action, and Variation Within Global Citizenship Education

By Jason Harshman — November 13, 2015 6 min read

Becoming a global citizen is a process that is never complete—we are always working toward greater understanding of the world and the people living in it. Today, Jason Harshman, Assistant Professor of Social Studies and Global Education at the University of Iowa, shares ways that teachers can assist their students in this journey. And mark your calendar for Thursday, November 19th at 8pm ET for a special #GlobalEdChat on Twitter hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and the Peace Corps (U.S. Department of State). We will discuss providing access to global education for all students.

Educating for global citizenship involves fostering curiosity about, and a desire to learn from, people who see the world differently than you. Of course, developing these dispositions to learning, as well as the competencies associated with global citizenship, take time to develop and require continued and critical self-reflection. Although inherently complex, global citizenship education must be an integral part of PK-16 education.

I offer suggestions for global educators to consider when reflecting on what informs their worldview and how their perspectives color their pedagogy, the possibilities and limitations of classroom projects designed to promote active global citizenship, and the complex as well as liminal nature of what it means to be a global citizen.

Reflection in Global Citizenship Education
Reflecting on our perspectives can be challenging and at times uncomfortable because it involves admission that our understanding of a given issue or topic is incomplete and perhaps biased. In thinking about this challenge as an opportunity to learn, and by admitting that we possess biases, we recognize that if this is true for us, it must be true for all people. That is, if we make decisions based on cultural values, familial traditions, socially constructed norms, and educational experiences, then it is true that all people develop worldviews based on myriad influences and inherent biases. By acknowledging that how we think about the world is only one of many valid perspectives, we begin the important work of reflecting on the deeper influences that consciously or subconsciously influence our worldviews.

Educators working to develop the skills and competencies that come with developing open-mindedness are encouraged to create cross-cultural learning opportunities for themselves and their students. These can include inviting guest speakers to the classroom from local cultural and nonprofit organizations that work with people who are newly arrived in the country, collaborating with organizations that use technology to connect classrooms in one country with classrooms and organizations across the world, or partnering with nearby college and university faculty and offices that work with international students. Developing a more open-minded worldview involves being uncomfortable, and global educators should let students know that being uncomfortable with difference is an integral part of the learning process, and that they should avoid judging the beliefs and practices of others simply because they are different.

Questions that educators can ask themselves and students as part of the reflective process within global citizenship education include:

  • Whose perspective is missing?
  • What influences my global perspective and how does my perspective inform my decision making as an educator/student?

Action in Global Citizenship Education
Global is not a term we should use to generalize the nature of how people around the world interact or describe multiple systems associated with globalization. Becoming global is a continuous process that takes time and requires regular reflection on what informs our perspectives. One goal of global citizenship education is for students to be informed, responsible, and culturally sensitive agents for change. And, while developing a state of being that involves working for change is a desirable outcome of global citizenship education, so too are changes related to habits of mind, consumerism, environmental stewardship, and dispositions toward social justice—and injustice.

When teaching for global citizenship, educators should provide students with opportunities to select issues that interest them, even if they appear small compared to the enormity of the world’s needs. As a global educator, you can help students understand that they can work to reduce poverty and assist them in establishing a plan to sustain their involvement with issues related to it. Achieving this goal, however, is not possible with any one assignment, project, course, or even total time in PK-16 education. Providing multiple learning experiences, in different contexts, that encourage students to make personal connections for prolonged periods of time contributes to their development as global citizens.

Questions that educators can ask themselves and students when determining the actions they will take as part of global citizenship education include:

  • In what ways are the people we intend to help involved in deciding what we intend to do?
  • How do we guard against perpetuating inequity and social injustice while promoting responsible and active global citizenship education?

Variation in Global Citizenship Education
The competencies students develop by working and reflecting on their connection to complex global issues in and out of school will develop at different rates over the course of their lives. Even though students may participate in the same or very similar projects within a social studies or science course, they will likely be at different points in the process of becoming a global citizen when those projects begin and conclude. Global citizenship education includes shifts in thinking, and while some may experience changes considered to be progressive, others might regress in their thinking, depending on the circumstances in which they work, the biases they demonstrate, or the habits of mind they do not unpack. Consequently, the outcomes of global citizenship education will vary because such pedagogy is dependent on place, positionality, context, and reflection upon learning and actions taken rather than a prescribed, universal, or mono-directional orthodoxy.

A project-based learning approach within global citizenship education provides multiple opportunities for differentiation, offers multiple learning outcomes, and provides a variety of entry points for students who find themselves at different points on a global citizenship spectrum. Recognizing that there are varying degrees of willingness to engage in one’s responsibilities as a global citizen, educators must be mindful that even if students comprehend the inequity and complexity related to global issues, they may not be inclined to generate transformative and sustained actions for change. Additionally, it is necessary to assure students that because of the complexity associated with global issues, such as working with people with different worldviews, the solutions students propose or the actions they take may not eliminate a problem or even improve a situation. Consequently, when developing and evaluating student projects, global educators are right to allow students to demonstrate their competencies, and the extent to which they identify as global citizens in a variety of ways.

Questions that educators can ask themselves and students as they assess the degree to which they are global citizens include:

  • What role does privilege play in my ability to be a global citizen?
  • To what extent do the actions I consider to be positive examples of global citizenship adversely affect people and places I do and do not know?

The questions offered above can inform the critical self-reflection teachers and students are encouraged to engage in when evaluating their own global citizenship.

The author can be reached at jason-harshman@uiowa.edu and followed on Twitter @tchlrnchnge.

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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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