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Teaching Global Competence Against a Wave of Anti-Globalism

By Ariel Tichnor-Wagner — January 19, 2017 5 min read
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The 2016 U.S. presidential election, Brexit, and other upcoming elections have raised a lot of questions for those of us working in the field of global education. Ariel Tichnor-Wagner, Ph.D., senior fellow of global competence at ASCD, explores those questions and attempts to answer them.

As the dust settles on the bitterly contested 2016 U.S. presidential election, many educators are seeing a clearer vision of what we must teach the next generation of voters. This election revealed that our diverse nation remains deeply divided by race, socioeconomic status, region, religion, and political leanings. This election also embodied just how interconnected we are with the rest of the world. For example, issues such as global trade agreements and immigration galvanized voters throughout the long campaign season.

One could argue that the outcome of this election, along with the outcome of Brexit in the United Kingdom earlier in 2016, was a referendum on globalism, so why teach “global education” at all? But the fact that globalism and diversity were front and center in U.S. presidential campaign is precisely why global competence should be a featured part of education for all students. Lessons learned from this election point to three facets of global competence that educators might start with as they begin to build bridges of understanding within our country and across borders:

1) Valuing diverse perspectives and experiences to counteract intra-school divides,

2) Understanding global trends and current events that influenced voters, and

3) Critical thinking so that when students do vote, they will make evidence-based decisions.

Bridging Within-School Divides by Valuing Diverse Perspectives
The campaign discourse was divisive, to say the least, and, for many students who identify as racial, ethnic, LGBT, or religious minorities, downright hurtful and scary. More frightening were the actions students witnessed in the aftermath. In the weeks since November 8, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported over 1,000 hate incidents across the country. Reports and videos have abounded of students coming into school fearing deportation and targeting hateful speech at others, be it through graffiti or hallway chants. For educators to uphold a vision of schools as safe, inclusive places of learning for all students, teaching global competence is one place to start.

Recognizing and valuing diverse perspectives is a key component of global competence and key to helping students treat their peers, regardless of background or circumstance, with respect. Educators can model this competency to create a safe space where all students know that their backgrounds, experiences, and opinions are appreciated; bring multiple viewpoints into any topic they teach; and stop class when teachable moments arise; for no lesson is more important than how we treat our fellow human beings. Teaching students to value diverse perspectives is not just about preparing students to work or interact with people in different countries, it is also about building social cohesiveness in our own classrooms and communities.

Investigating Global Trends and Current Events
This election also taught us that issues high in the public consciousness truly are global in nature: immigration, the effects of global trade on local jobs, terrorism, and cyber warfare, to name a few. These global issues are complex, and understanding them requires knowledge of geography, history, religion, and global systems. Schools should provide ample opportunities for students to investigate these global issues—civically minded and globally engaged students become civically minded and globally engaged voters as adults.

Unfortunately, glaring evidence suggests that students in the U.S. are graduating high school without even basic knowledge of geography, global current events, and international foreign policy. In a survey on global literacy conducted by the Council on Foreign Relations and National Geographic, only 29 percent of current or recent graduates of American colleges and universities earned a minimal pass of scoring 66 percent or higher.

Educators can take immediate action to reverse this trend by incorporating global issues into their standard courses of study. This can be done in any number of ways. For example, during English language arts, teachers can use student news publications to cover current events or teach informational text. They can also select stories and novels that take place in different parts of the world or whose protagonists are immigrants, victims of war, etc., using literature as a catalyst for building student background knowledge on world geography, cultures, and current events. During math, students can analyze data associated with international trade to draw conclusions about the effects of certain trade deals on jobs and the cost of imports and exports. Educators should simultaneously model that they value diverse perspectives by presenting multiple sides to any global topic they introduce.

Thinking Critically about Global Issues

This election cycle also demonstrated the power of fear over facts. The proliferation of fake news and the sheer number of falsehoods paraded on Twitter, the debate stage, and campaign rallies emphasizes the urgency of teaching students how to discern valid sources and to evaluate evidence carefully before jumping to conclusions. This need is further amplified by the recent study by Stanford University that found that more than 80 percent of middle school students cannot distinguish real news from sponsored content. For the next generation of voters to make educated decisions about what policies they support requires critical thinking. As Asia Society’s definition of global competence articulates, when students investigate the world, they do so by using varied relevant sources to collect, analyze, integrate, and synthesize evidence, and they use that evidence to draw defensible conclusions.

For students’ safety, survival, and success, teachers need to step into the role of educating all students about issues of global importance and teaching them to respect differences. Global competence is not antithetical to national identity and pride. Guiding students to develop global competence is preparing them to navigate the diversity of people and places they will encounter regardless of whether they step foot outside their local community or country. It prepares students to make informed decisions about global issues with local ramifications. We must be deliberate in preparing students to engage in a way that betters themselves, each other, their community, and the wider world.

Connect with ASCD and Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Photo credit: GraphicStock.

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