“Global education” has become a hot buzzword, especially in the independent school world.
Many schools more or less promise the same thing: To educate the whole student by providing him or her with a “global perspective,” however defined, to succeed in an increasingly flat, digital world. This is a noble endeavor, even if nobody fully agrees upon what “global education” actually means or entails—or how schools should go about pursuing it.
I certainly don’t know the magic approach, nor am I confident that just one exists. Still, I feel strongly about what global education shouldn’t be…
#1: Global education shouldn’t be a mere marketing gimmick.
Schools are going to great lengths (and expenses) to advertise global education programs to prospective families, promising that their children will receive a top-rate global education. The competition has grown fierce between rival institutions. I’ve seen everything from flashy websites to glossy mailings, even to the point where it seems more effort has gone into marketing strategies than actually implementing a worthwhile global education program. I really hope this isn’t the case, and that communication offices aren’t promising something in writing that isn’t delivered in the classroom. For any global education program to be successful, especially one in its infancy, the entire community needs to be onboard with what the school is selling. And everybody should know how to make good on the sale, with tangible results. That means serious professional development, with administrators encouraging teachers to update their curriculum in line with the school’s developing mission.
#2: Global education shouldn’t be a glorified study-abroad program, only for wealthy students.
Plenty of schools promise students the chance to study abroad, far from home. I’m all for kids expanding their horizons, while meeting new and interesting people. But before launching any sort of global studies program, schools should have in place a healthy endowment to subsidize or pay for the travel costs of less affluent students. Otherwise, the entire independent school community risks being perceived as even more elitist. More still, I don’t believe that studying abroad in a far-away country should be a requirement for any global education program. For students who wish to remain at home, schools should offer alternative opportunities to fulfill requirements.
#3: Global education shouldn’t be just a world history program.
A global education program shouldn’t consist merely of encouraging students to study or visit other countries. Good schools have been doing those things forever, even if the term “global education” didn’t yet exist. The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT, for example, does much more than rubber-stamp its global program. With its Center for Global Understanding and Thinking, Hotchkiss places equal emphasis on how learning about the world can make students into change agents, with a stress on environmental stewardship. “We try to relate complex environmental issues, like climate change, to students’ everyday lives in developmentally appropriate ways,” the Hotchkiss site says. “We endeavor to provide students with the interdisciplinary tools they need to understand this region, and where they come from and where they will go to after graduation.” In Ashburnham, MA, Cushing Academy’s “21C Initiative” helps students develop essential skills to succeed and help others. Through experiential opportunities, students can explore and refine their interests at some of New England’s finest hospitals, firms, museums, and laboratories. Ideally, most of them will use their newfound expertise to make this world a better place.
#4) Global education shouldn’t be optional.
I understand the good intentions of schools that offer special recognition—often on high-school diplomas—for successfully completing a global education program. It’s always nice to offer praise. But global education, especially the way it’s practiced at Hotchkiss and Cushing, is simply too important to be optional. Every student should receive a global education sticker on his or her diploma. The best schools should live and breathe global education—so much so, in fact, that it’s indistinguishable from whatever else that institution does.
#5) Global education shouldn’t reinforce the traditional sage-on-the-stage dynamic.
Global education also means that schools must rethink how to teach constantly evolving and developing skills. In her article, “Problems with Global Education: Conceptual Contradictions,” J. Melanie Young, a professor at Douglas College in New Westminster, BC, writes, “Global education is intended to be a response to our changing world, another education for an interconnected and interdependent planet. Yet if our approach to curriculum and knowledge remains the same, if we do not challenge dominant views of knowledge, dominant practices in classrooms, then we may be simply reproducing what we struggle against.” I couldn’t agree more. We are facing an unprecedented challenge to prepare students to succeed in a constantly changing world. We must reevaluate everything we think we know about teaching and learning.
In short . . .
Schools need to do more than pay mere lip service to global education, however defined. Otherwise, schools risk losing face by false advertising, in their desperation to compete against better schools with genuinely advantageous programs.