A Changing Vision of Education
by Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Linda Lantieri
(First published in Educating Global Citizens: Challenges and Opportunities, Teachers College Press, 2004)
Young people are growing up at a time when the environment, health, economy, nuclear weapons, and international conflicts are increasingly intertwined at a global level. What then is the role of schools in preparing young people to see themselves as part of this larger whole that includes not just their neighborhood, community, or country, but the world? Research shows that the nurturing of global consciousness requires that young people a) experience a caring environment, b) have opportunities to engage in decision-making and prosocial action, c) see prosocial behavior modeled by adults, d) develop skills such as perspective taking and conflict resolution, and e) have opportunities to confront injustice. Such knowledge and skills are constructed by children slowly and over time, beginning in their earliest experiences and evolving as children develop. These learnings are given meaning through the connections children themselves make. Yet today's educational climate of high stakes testing means teachers spend more time teaching to tests, leaving less time for children to pursue such meaningful connections that lead to responsible global citizenship. Fortunately, the tools offered here such as class meetings; the infusion of critical thinking, problem solving, and conflict resolution skills into academics; and the opportunity for children to take meaningful action in the world, as well as other promising curricular frameworks, can help schools teach academics in the broader context of serving the goals of global citizenship education.
In Quincy, Massachusetts, where many of the seeds of our nation’s struggle for freedom were sown, middle school students at the Broad Meadow School banded together in a campaign to free Third World children from a life of indentured labor. It all began with the visit of a Pakistani boy named Iqbal Masih to their school. In a schoolwide assembly the young people sat in rapt attention as Iqbal recounted how he had been sold into bonded labor to a rug factory at the age of four because his parents were in debt. He told the children that his dream had been to go to school. Now, instead, at the age of eleven, Iqbal considered himself lucky to be free to tell his story to others.
Two years later, fueled by the suspicious shooting death of Iqbal, these middle school students successfully mounted a campaign to raise both awareness and money to free other Pakistani children from a life of bonded labor. Using the Internet to gather the support and donations from children and adults from around the country, the small group of middle school children met in the same church in Quincy where patriots had met to plan the American Revolution. As they held hands in a circle with the adults watching on, the children shared their hopes and inspirations. They decided that with the substantial sum of money they had raised in Iqbal’s memory, they would start a school in Pakistan for children who otherwise would never have an education. Because this group of young people decided to act, a school in Pakistan is permanently endowed; a loan program has been established for Pakistani mothers to buy back their children from bonded labor and a United Nations resolution to toughen international child labor laws has been ratified by 132 nations.
This story may seem extraordinary, but we are living and educating our children in an extraordinary time in human history. Young people are growing up in an increasingly interdependent world. News from around the globe is available in an instant; the Internet and mass communications give young people instant access to ideas and people from all over the world. In addition, multinational corporations spread cultural messages to young people via this rapid form of mass technology. There is, therefore, an increasing awareness among students that a great many issues--the environment, health, the economy, nuclear weapons, international conflict--are intertwined at a global level.
The reality of our shrinking planet and its impact on young people has implications for how and what we teach them in school. We educators hold in our collective hands the responsibility to help young people become active, caring citizens of the twenty-first century who can understand that the future of their world depends on global cooperation and peace.
What does it take for young people to see themselves as part of a larger whole that includes not just their neighborhood, community, or country, but the world? How can we make schools places where children learn to make choices that support the individual and collective good and actively engage in making a meaningful difference? What is it that makes some children turn to such acts of conscience as the Broad Meadow Middle School students did?
The Seeds of Global Citizenship
In his book Children’s Social Consciousness and the Development of Social Responsibility, Sheldon Berman talks about four basic processes that nurture and promote social responsibility and activism in young people:
- A nurturing and caring environment where children are involved in decision-making and prosocial action in the home and at school
- Modeling of prosocial and ethical behavior by the adults in a child’s life
- Development of perspective taking skills that allow young people to enter the world of another and identify with the victims of injustice
- Confrontations with injustice and development of effective ways of handling conflict (Berman 1997)
Schools are clearly one of the places where children learn what it means to be a member of a community and where skills such as effective ways of handling conflict, effective decision-making, and prosocial behaviors can be nurtured. But these skills and awareness are not lightning strikes or knowledge that one can pour into a child’s brain like sand into a pail. Children develop an understanding of the social world through a long, slow process of construction. They use what they see in their lives as a basis for constructing an understanding of how people treat each other. New learnings continue to build on earlier ideas through a dynamic process in which increasingly sophisticated ways of dealing with social concepts and skills develop and gradually expand to include more of the wider world beyond children’s immediate experience (Carlsson-Paige and Levin 1992).
The seeds for global citizenship are, therefore, planted early and nurtured throughout a child’s life. As Berman points out, this kind of education “is not a list of values and behaviors we need to instill in young people, but rather they are behaviors and values we need to recognize and encourage as they emerge” (Berman 1997). Any discussion of how to nurture this sense of global citizenship must, therefore, look at how equipped schools are to play this sustaining role in the lives of young people. (Endnote 1)
Our schools function against a backdrop of social ills that try the best of our intentions to teach for global citizenship. There is a widening gulf between rich and poor in the United States. For example, one out of five American children lives in poverty (Children’s Defense Fund 2002). In such a society, stress of all kinds falls unevenly and unfairly onto children. A host of risk factors such as poverty, violence, racism and poor health add up to what James Garbarino (1995) calls a “socially toxic environment” for many children. Law enforcement agencies in the United States made 2.9 million arrests of persons under the age of 18 in 2000 (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention) and the Surgeon General issued a call to action in 1999 due to alarming rates of suicide in adolescents.
These risk factors are compounded by the negative effects of media culture with its aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at children and teens; corporations spend billions of dollars annually to market to this target group. Consequently, many young people growing up today, from the poorest to the most affluent, are imprisoned by our culture’s obsession with material things. From an early age, they get the message that to feel good about themselves or to be loved, they need to look a certain way, to own the latest Star Wars toy or designer jeans. Young people have killed one another over leather jackets; children can be bullied or excluded in school for not wearing the “right” sneakers or T-shirts.
While schools may have been places in the past that helped young people cope with social risk factors in their lives, today’s schools are increasingly driven by standards, tests, and accountability. Teachers spend more and more time teaching to tests; as the curriculum narrows, students have less and less of a role to play in their own learning. Instead of fostering meaningful discourse, exploring multiple perspectives, examining how power shapes world views and getting to know ourselves and each other, schools today look more like what social psychologist Alfie Kohn calls “giant test prep centers” (Lesley University’s Peaceable Schools Summer Institute 2001). In this climate, the aspects of the school curriculum that young people most need for the world they are living in and will inherit are disappearing: the social curriculum, multiple ways of knowing and being, multicultural curriculum, civic engagement, and global education. At the very time that young people need an education that equips them with awareness and skills to live in this global, multicultural world, the depth and breadth of school curriculum is shrinking. Fewer schools than ever now offer courses with a global perspective; in fact, many schools have cut back on social studies offerings altogether (Smith and Czarra 2003). At the very time that children and adolescents need support in dealing with the harsh world they are living in, a large number of educators are convinced that schools are failing them.
When the American Association of School Administrators asked 50 education leaders the following question: “What behaviors would students need in order to thrive during the next century?” civility and ethical behavior were among the most frequent responses (Uchida et al. 1996). In a similar international study of 267 global thinkers representing a range of cultural, religious, political, and spiritual perspectives, five shared values seen as critical to effective functioning in daily life emerged: compassion, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect (Loges and Kidder 1997). Thus, many educators do agree that the fundamental tasks of education go beyond academic achievement and keeping young people out of trouble. Yet, we still have only a sketchy road map to show how values, civility, and ethics can be taught, or how to promote the knowledge, attitudes, and skills to bring about peace, nonviolence, and democracy in the world.
Despite these obstacles, there are educators who have been learning how to implement this kind of education for global citizenship. They are finding ways to teach the concepts, values, and skills of civic and global education as they provide each student with authentic experiences that actively engage head and heart. They are learning that schools can be places where young people practice constructive ways of being with others and learning about the world at the same time that they meet high academic standards (Aber, Brown, and Henrich 1999). Schools can be places that not only promote in young people a unity of one’s sense of self but also an interconnectedness to others and a sense of meaning.
Frameworks for Educating Global Citizens
How then do we begin to envision a framework for educating global citizens? One framework that addresses the set of concepts, skills, and behaviors young people need in order to nurture the protection of human dignity worldwide is the model provided by the Earth Charter, a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the twenty-first century. The final version of the Charter was written through a process of worldwide dialogue. Meeting at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, the Earth Charter Commission approved a final version of the Charter in March 2000. At a time when major changes in how we think and live are urgently needed, the Earth Charter challenges us to examine our values. It calls on us to search for common ground in the midst of our diversity and to embrace a new ethical vision that is shared by growing numbers of people in many nations and cultures throughout the world.
In terms of the concepts and content that need to be taught to young people across the globe, the Earth Charter lays out a strong foundation under the following four themes (Earth Council 2002):
- Respect and Care for the Community of Life
- Ecological Integrity
- Social and Economic Justice
- Democracy, Nonviolence, and Peace
The Global Campaign for Peace, launched at the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in 1999, offers another useful framework that challenges us to make educating for peace an essential part of the curriculum. It gives us this charge:
A culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems; have the skills to resolve conflicts constructively; know and live by international standards of human rights, gender and racial equality; appreciate cultural diversity and respect the integrity of the Earth. Such learning can not be achieved without intentional, sustained and systematic education for peace (Hague Appeal for Peace 2001).
Imagine what might be possible if schools across the world took on such an “intentional, sustained and systematic education for peace.” For the past 20 years, Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR) has been helping administrators, teachers, and parents carry out the charge outlined in documents such as the Earth Charter and Global Campaign for Peace in their homes, schools, and communities. ESR has developed a model called “The Peaceable Classroom” that highlights the skills and areas of focus needed to educate for peace, social justice, and global citizenship. The Peaceable Classroom is defined as a caring classroom community based on the following interdependent principles:
Building Community and Mutual Respect
Creating a safe and nurturing environment in which everyone participates and to which everyone belongs. Nurturing mutual respect among students and teachers becomes the starting point for creating a positive and effective learning environment and reducing adversarial relationships.
Using a variety of decision-making processes in the classroom. Helping young people affected by decisions made to consider the consequences and implications of choices before making a responsible judgment.
Participating in non-adversarial dialogue and using controversy constructively. Encouraging open-mindedness and the right of everyone to be heard. Practicing the arts of compromise and consensus.
Acting on your concerns in ways that make a positive difference for oneself and others. Developing the convictions and skills to shape a more just and peaceful world.
Appreciation for Diversity
Exploring individual and cultural diversity in ways that help young people move from tolerance to genuine regard, appreciation, and acceptance of people who are different from themselves. Learning skills to become allies with others to counter bias, interrupt prejudice, and help build positive inter-group relations.
Affirmation and Acceptance
Finding ways to affirm the dignity and value of each person in the classroom. Helping students accept each other’s strengths, needs, and idiosyncrasies.
Creating ways to link personal stories, perspectives, and experiences to learning activities and outcomes. Developing personal relationships with each other and making time to stay connected.
Caring and Effective Communication
Encouraging active listening, assertiveness, and open, honest dialogue. Allowing time for students to disagree respectfully and hear other points of view.
Allowing time for expressing and responding to feelings appropriately. Developing the capacity for empathy through perspective-taking and the inclusion of multiple points of view. Learning ways to manage emotions constructively.
Cooperation and Collaborative Problem-Solving
Using cooperative learning and collaborative problem-solving in ways that make each person’s contribution integral to achieving the goals of the group.
Managing and Resolving Conflict
Helping young people to develop a “toolbox” of strategies and skills that help them manage and resolve conflicts positively, constructively, and nonviolently. Developing effective negotiation and mediation skills using win-win ways that meet the needs of all parties involved. Identifying options in a conflict situation.
In classrooms that promote the kind of education we are talking about, there is a congruity between content, teaching methods, and classroom structure. Each integrates and highlights the other. Young people develop the skills they need to problem-solve and then are given the opportunity and support they need to solve real problems (Lieber 1998).
A Holistic Pedagogy for Global Citizenship and Development
The frameworks and principles described above begin to offer an outline for what global citizenship education looks like, but what pedagogical approach might best serve to implement the concepts, values, and skills described in these frameworks and principles? Guidance for implementation comes from cognitive researchers, the vast majority of whom subscribe to a constructivist view of education that emphasizes the active role of the learner in the learning process (Kohn 1999).
The mounting body of literature known as constructivist education is united by the central idea that students construct their own understanding as they actively engage in meaningful, relevant learning experiences; learners are not passivethey actively make their own meanings. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences expands our understanding of the multiple ways children learn (Gardner 1993). Not only do they read, write, and use numbers and logic, but children also learn through drawing, drama, music, social exchange, and inner exploration. Real learning is holistic and real understanding emerges from active experiences that make sense to learners. Because of this, the developmental changes that occur over time in children and young people play an important role in the learning process. Knowing about development--how different age groups think and behave and how each student’s development is embedded in family and culture--is a critical competency for global educators. We want the concepts, values, and skills of global education to be learned in a deep and genuine way that becomes part of each learner’s repertoire for acting in the world. As David Elkind says, once growth by integration has been accomplished, it is difficult--if not impossible--to break it down (Elkind 1998).
The frameworks and principles discussed in the previous section encompass a broad sweep of concepts, skills, and values that cannot be taught directly from the outside-in or taught quickly. These concepts, values, and skills grow over time; they look one way in a five-year old, another in a ten-year old, and yet another in an adolescent. But they are built gradually in a hand-over-hand way, with new learnings building on earlier ones through a long, slow developmental process. David Elkind describes this growth process as a continuous one of differentiation and integrationseparating out concepts and feelings and putting them back together again in a higher-ordered whole; a process, he says, which is time-consuming, conflictual, and laborious (Elkind 1998). And while all new learnings need to be practiced, the concepts, values, and skills of global education must be tried out, practiced, consolidated, modified, and refined every day. The essence of these learnings is in their application to real situations and in the connections to self and others that give them meaning. All young people have their own unique ways of seeing the world that are different from adult ways of seeing. Probably young children (preschool through second grade) have the most radically different lens for understanding the world than any other age group. Jean Piaget helped us to see how unique the view of the world is before logic sets in (Piaget 1952). Young children can believe that the sun follows only them; they can believe they caused the thunder, or that they can put out a real fire with a pretend hose. This is because young children tend to think in a static way, one idea at a time; they have a hard time relating ideas in a logical way.
Piaget showed how young children think there are more pennies on the table if they are spread out and fewer if the same number is scrunched up because at this stage they make their judgments based on what they see and not on what lies beneath the surface (Piaget 1952). Thinking of one idea at a time makes it hard for young children to understand someone else’s point of viewtheir heads are usually full of what they need and want. These pre-logical ways of seeing the world have important implications for how teachers begin to bring the concepts, values, and skills of global education to their work with young children.
As children gradually grow into logical thinking, beginning usually around the age of six or seven, they begin to be able to think of more than one idea at a time, to relate ideas logically, and to understand causality and number; they now know that the number of pennies laid out on a table doesn’t change when the position of the coins changesthey can hold onto the logic of the number despite its appearance. They can also think now about feelings and intentions that lie under the visible surface, can cooperate with others, and follow rules; they can understand someone else’s point of view, especially if it is in a concrete, immediate context.
Throughout the elementary school years, a child’s ability to handle increasingly complex ideas grows slowly; children can think logically in relation to materials and activities that can be subjected to real activity. For a long time, children tend to reason about two properties or relations at the same timethey often look at problems as either/or propositions. So, although they have made many advances in thinking, they are still most at home dealing with concrete reality. Older elementary students love to examine problems of all kinds with data first-hand, to collect and categorize, to make detailed drawings of the world they know, to write and act out plays, and to learn about far away places.
The gradual shift into more abstract thinking begins around the age of 11 or 12 and grows throughout the adolescent years. Thinking takes flight as adolescents begin to be able to think hypothetically and imagine possibilities they have never seen. They can begin to deal with abstract conceptssuch as democracy and justiceseparate from concrete experience. They can now imagine what might be instead of what is. They become interested in analyzing their own thoughts and motives, as well as those of others, and can use their new reasoning to examine several perspectives at once. They become more introspective and self-aware as their sense of self becomes more abstract: Who am I? What do I believe? What do others think of me? Am I accepted by my peers and the wider society? They open up to an expanded thinking that was not possible when they were younger.
These general developmental changes can guide educators in their work with students of all ages as children move very gradually from concrete to more abstract ways of thinking; from thinking of ideas one at a time to thinking about several ideas at once; from egocentric thinking to being able to understand the perspective of others. These changes develop in the context of each child’s family and culture; they affect every aspect of a child’s developmentsocial, emotional, moral, and cognitive life. Coupled with principles of constructivist education, this broad developmental framework can guide educators as they approach teaching the core concepts, values, and skills of global citizenship education.
The Classroom as a Community
The creation of the classroom as a community of learners who work together interdependently in a climate of respect and creativity forms the basis of an environment where global citizenship education can be learned. Teachers and students live out the global ways of being, as described above in ESR’s Peaceable Classroom model, in all aspects of classroom life. Teachers bring students into decision-making on many issues, showing how a “power with” model can work; students are celebrated for their cultural and racial identities and all perspectives are valued equally; social and emotional life is as important as cognitive ability, and space is made for integrating the head and the heart; and, when conflicts and problems arise, a win-win approach is used to work them out.
In class meetings with young children, teachers play a very important role. They often pose problems for children to discuss such as this one: “There has been a lot of arguing and fighting in the block area lately. What do you think about this?” Because of their developmental level, children need help listening to each others’ views, understanding how their actions affect one another, and finding solutions that the whole class feels okay about. But through the direct experience of class meeting and the teacher’s help, children begin to lay the foundation for conflict resolution skills that will grow over many years’ time (Carlsson-Paige & Levin 1998, Levin 2003).
In her curriculum guide entitled Partners in Learning, Carol Miller Lieber emphasizes how important class meetings are to the optimal functioning of a learning community in secondary school. High school students become able to take more responsibility for generating the agenda and facilitating class meetings. As they become comfortable, students can take on the roles of facilitator, summarizer, note taker, time keeper, and person who gives feedback. In so doing, they are practicing the many skills that have been used in class meetings throughout their school experience, but they are now integrating these concepts and skills at yet another level. High school students can hold meetings on many topics, some of which are unique to their age group such as discussions on hypothetical topics (e.g., “What would a world without wars be like?”) and discussions about school-wide issues such as policies, events, and ways to change the overall school climate (Lieber 2002).
The following example of a class meeting in a high school classroom shows students using the many skills they have learned from participating in class meetings to bring healing and resolution to a situation involving a classmate.
Raymond, a mediator from Central Park East High School in East Harlem, arrived at school one day profoundly upset and without his coat. He had left the subway stop near school and found himself surrounded by three guys who demanded he give up his jacket. The teacher called a class meeting immediately, with Raymond’s permission, so he could share his story and express his rage.
Teacher: Raymond I know you are very upset. Could you tell us what happened?
Raymond: I was getting off the subway stop right here in East Harlem and all of a sudden I was surrounded by three guys who told me that I better give them my sheep skin coat. One of the guys had his hand in his pocket and I thought maybe it could be a knife there. I don’t know. (pause)
Teacher: Go on Raymond. We’re right here listening to you and all of us care a lot about you and what happened.
Raymond: Well, before I could even think, I started to unzip my coat, and I said to the guy who I thought had the knife, “This is incredible. I was just getting ready to do that”you know, give him my coat. I said, “Who should I give it to?” One of the guys snatched the coat and all of them started to run off as fast as they could. Then, of course, I wanted to pick up some rocks and throw them at them, but I didn’t.
Student: I can’t believe you did that. I think you saved your life. How come you didn’t try to say “no” or fight back? I think that’s what I would have done.
Raymond: I don’t know. It just came to me, but now I feel so angry and humiliated and I can’t believe I don’t have my coat. It’s 20 degrees out there today and I walked three blocks without a coat.
Teacher: What do you think was happening for you, Raymond? How were you able to respond in this way and--I would agree with Marie--probably save your life? Remember just last week this same thing happened in Queens and the young man didn’t give up his coat and was shot to death.
Raymond: Well, I was actually thinking of what we were talking about last week of what makes violence even worse and that’s more violence. I also remember you saying, “Remember, you are not your coat” last week when we were talking about what happened in Queens to that guy. So I guess I decided to do something that would de-escalate the conflict and not give back more violence, and so that’s what I did.
Student: Raymond, I think it was more courageous to not fight back and use your skills, but I don’t know if I would have been able to do that either. And I feel angry, too, about your coat. No one has a right to take something that is yours. No one!
Teacher: So Raymond, it looks as though you really put your skills to use in a horrible situation. And when you asked who you should be giving the jacket to you were also de-escalating the conflict by staying neutral.
Student: How much was that jacket?
Raymond: Well, it was $119.00.
Another student: There are 92 seniors in this schoolthat is a little over a dollar each.
Teacher: What are you thinking here, Maria?
Maria: I’m thinking that if I had help I would be willing to collect this money for Raymond to buy another jacket. I think Raymond did the right thing, but how is he ever going to get another jacket?
Another student: I would be willing to help. I can’t believe you were able to do what you did Raymond.
Teacher: Well, this sounds like a wonderful plan. Do we need to do anything else to make it happen? How do you feel about that Raymond?
Raymond: Wow. I can’t believe you would all do that. But I know, given my mother’s situation at home, I would never be able to buy another coat like this. Maybe don’t ask everybody or say, “Only if you can afford the dollar.” That would make me feel better, Maria.
Teacher: Sounds like a great plan. What are some things the rest of you are taking from this situation?
Student: These skills work, but you have to have them inside you, because you couldn’t think that fast if you are in a dangerous situation like this. They have to be automatic.
Student: Also it is better to get the anger out, just not where it is not safe.
These students are using many skills hereeffective communication, understanding each others’ perspectives, seeing problems as shared by the group, finding solutions that can work for everyonethat they can use and call on when they need them; skills they have developed over many years and which belong to them. The teacher’s role is still very important, but it has changed from the class meetings of earlier years. The teacher here facilitates the meeting, setting a tone of compassion and trust. She asks open-ended questions that lead the students to reflect on their feelings and behavior with an abstract understanding they are now capable of using. The students share a deep sense of being in what Martin Luther King called a “beloved community,” where they experience being their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
Social Justice Inside and Outside of School
Teachers can work with children of all ages on social justice issues both inside and outside of schools; as children grow and change, so will the approaches and techniques teachers use. An almost universal issue that arises in the late elementary school years when children develop cliques and begin to experiment with the dynamics of social power is bullying. Cruel, exclusionary acts against those perceived as “different” in some way will almost always occur unless schools take active steps to counter this developmental phenomenon. The “Don’t Laugh At Me” Program of the organization Operation Respect, founded by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary, does just this (Operation Respect and Educators for Social Responsibility 2000). Through this program, children become sensitized to the hurtful effects of ridicule, bullying, and intolerance that arise within their social group. Through many different activities used over time--discussions, role-plays, music, art, and writing--students come to look at the roles of bully, victim, and bystander and to explore the feelings of each to reflect on their own behavior and the behavior of others.
Social action can also extend beyond school walls to the wider world. Rethinking Globalization (Bigelow and Peterson 2002) is a book packed with examples of teaching about world justice issues to children as young as nine and ten years of age. In his fifth grade class, Bob Peterson uses simple stories and a problem-posing approach to help students connect their own lives to the lives of children they don’t know. He tells his class that 30,000 children die daily from malnutrition and preventable illness. He asks, “How many schools with the same student population as ours would it take to equal the number of children who die each day?” In this way he creates a math lesson that helps raise his students’ awareness of social justice in a way that fits with their development.
To begin to introduce issues of globalization, a complex topic that many would say is too abstract for fifth graders, Bob Peterson places a shopping bag in front of the class and asks the students to guess what’s inside. Out come a T-shirt, a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy, and a Nike shoe. He asks how far these items have traveled. At first students answer, “from McDonalds” or “from the store.” Then he has students come up and read where each item is from. As a class they locate the country on the world map. For homework, students do a “Where Are My Things From?” activity in which they list 10 household items, the brand names and where they are made. In school, they share their lists and label and color maps that show the origins of their things. These activities integrate developmentally-appropriate math, reading, social studies, and science skills. Later, he shows the video When Children Do the Work which portrays the harsh conditions child workers endure. He uses photos of child laborers to spark poetry writing. These concrete experiences connect these fifth graders to other children in the world and a larger social justice issue. Invariably the students ask: “What can we do?” and he helps them figure out how they can write letters, buy things made in places that don’t use sweatshops, educate young children about the issue, and set up their own organizations. One year his students set up the “No Child Labor Club” which included third, fourth, and fifth graders. Among other things, they marched at a rally sponsored by labor organizations against NAFTA and two of the children spoke there.
Bill Bigelow of Rethinking Schools is a brilliant curriculum developer and high school teacher who has designed many different activities for his students on globalization, which are presented in Rethinking Globalization. With the help of these activities, secondary students begin to discover some of the abstract economic and political concepts underlying globalization. Through participation in a simulation that he invented called Transnational Capital Auction: A Game of Survival, Bigelow’s students learn how governments lure transnational corporations with attractive investment climates that maintain low wages, use child labor, and harm the environment. Through acting out roles as Third World elites trying to attract corporate investors, students come to understand abstract concepts such as capital and the complex social, economic, and ecological consequences of globalization. They look at global sweatshops and, through poems and videos, students see the lives behind the products they buy. Students are encouraged to write in the voices of those who make these products for pennies an hourclothes, soccer balls, and Barbie dollsand to feel what their lives are like. Students look at the “Nike Code of Conduct” and do a “loophole search” that makes full use of their critical thinking skills. Towards the end of the unit, Bill steers his students to their final projectto do something positive with the knowledge they have gained. He gives them a “Making a Difference” assignment sheet full of possible ways to take action within or outside of school.
Some of the projects students have developed include giving presentations on global issues to other classes, writing articles for local papers, and writing letters to Phil Knight (CEO of Nike) and to Disney. One student discovered that at the five nearby Portland schools, the soccer balls were made in Pakistan, where children as young as six work in factories making these balls. Some children working in the factories are sold and resold as virtual slaves and treated with extreme cruelty. This student wrote to the school district’s athletic director describing the conditions under which the soccer balls are made and asked school officials to rethink their purchasing policies.
This entire unit captures the developmental energies of adolescents: their sense of justice and their ability to imagine a better world; their ability to think abstractly and critically and to relate several complex ideas together; their ability to empathize with how someone else feels and to imagine their life through role plays, drama, and writing. This unit captures the momentum unleashed by the developmental changes of adolescence and gives it meaning and purpose through new knowledge, awakened compassion, and social action.
A Vision of a Positive Future
The good news is that inspiring educators such as Bob Peterson and Bill Bigelow are showing others of us how to put the principles of global peace education into practice with real curriculum content for students of various grade levels. They show us how schools can teach academics in a broader context of social values. They inspire educators to pursue a kind of teaching that will outlast test scores. But, we need to work for these exceptions to become the norm in education today. We need to insist that schools develop policies and approaches that enable all young people to have their ethical, political, social, and emotional selves welcomed, their spirits uplifted and their capacity for active, meaningful learning fully engaged as a normal, natural part of their education. We need nothing less than compassionate, insightful, and committed young people and adults who will learn how to do the extraordinary things necessary to tackle the profound political, emotional, social, and spiritual issues of our time. Our task as educators who are preparing young people to be global citizens is to make sure that no child is “left behind” and that every aspect of the human being is welcomed into our schools.
As 1999 drew to a close, the final meeting of the UN General Assembly declared the first decade of the new millennium the “Decade of the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World.” With this challenge, our work is clearly cut out for us. Our task is to figure out what actions we can take today in our own sphere of influence to educate our children to think, act, and feel first, as global citizens and second, as national citizens. Becoming a citizen of the world involves a change in consciousness. As Parker Palmer often says, we are “living in an ecosystem much larger than a neighborhood or nation.” We are all one. Our best hope for humanity is to fully engage young people with this global reality in ways that interest and inspire them to understand themselves, others, and the interdependent world in which they live; to come to love and believe in justice and peace, and to take active steps in their own lives to bring about a better world.
Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D., is a Professor of Education at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA where she has taught teachers for 30 years, and a research affiliate at Lesley’s Center for Children, Families, and Public Policy. She has co-authored four books and written numerous articles on media violence, conflict resolution, peaceable classrooms and global education. Nancy is a consultant for public television, and has worked on shows for Arthur, Postcards from Buster, Zoom and Fetch. Her latest work is a book for parents and all adults concerned about children today called Taking Back Childhood.