Educating Citizens for Global Awareness
reviewed by Ethan Lowenstein - 2006
It is fairly easy to list off the ways in which our fates are intertwined with those of others around the globe at the turn of the twenty-first century. What is more difficult to do is to argue for an understanding of global citizenship sophisticated enough to stand up adequately to the challenges of social life in the global village. Even more difficult still is to map out what teachers need to know and be able to do in order to educate students for global citizenship. The implicit purpose of Educating Citizens for Global Awareness is to do just that, and the books editor, Nel Noddings, has done an excellent job, through her selections and her own contributions, in tacking back and forth between big-picture philosophical theorizing about what education for global citizenship is and why we need to do it, and concrete approaches to curricular transformation.
Noddings book is a refreshing read. Unlike some edited volumes it successfully navigates the tension between covering conceptual ground and maintaining coherence. Across the board the short chapters are well-written, conceptually rich, and practice-based. Though each chapter certainly stands alone, a picture of what the work of educating students for global citizenship looks like arises from the chapters viewed together.
Building on decades of feminist scholarship and her work with the SEED Project, Peggy McIntoshs chapter, Gender Perspectives on Educating for Global Citizenship argues convincingly that we must redefine citizenship away from the language of rights and duties to focus on the habits of mind, heart, body, and soul that have to do with working for and preserving a network of relationship and connection across lines of difference and distinctness, while keeping and deepening a sense of ones own identity and integrity (p. 23).
As Noddings discusses in her writing throughout this volume, approaching citizenship education from this angle is a necessity given the complexities of the challenges we face in the twenty-first century. But wow does it raise some prickly questions and dilemmas. For example, when we consider diversity, which of the differences in life experience should we treasure and preserve? Which do we want to eliminate, and when we have eliminated the undesirable differences, on what basis will we argue (if we continue to do so) for diversity? (p. 13) Should we sanction cultural practices that to us clearly dehumanize women? If not, how do we dialogue about this issue respectfully across cultures? Noddings writing and Robert J. Nashs chapter on teaching about religion in the schools are peppered with questions of this kind, the types of essential questions that are useful for teachers in organizing instruction, linking content to student experience, and creating controversy in the classroom.
Teachers certainly need meaningful questions such as these, questions that cut against a feel good and simplified we are the world approach to cultural study and education for global citizenship. But the complex work of teaching for civic understanding in todays schools, as this book recognizes, demands much more of teachers. For example, in our current era of high stakes testing, teachers need to be able to educate for global citizenship and prepare students for high-stakes tests. How do you do this?
Given the current social context of schooling in this country, Stephen J. Thornton in his chapter, Incorporating Internationalism into the Social Studies Curriculum, suggests that thoughtful social studies teachers must move to view the subject matter not as historians do but through selecting concept-rich historical case studies that have a high probability of connection to both current events and students lives and interests. In his chapter Thornton walks the reader through an example of what this approach looks like in practice in order to demonstrate how internationalism can be woven throughout existing curricular content. Thornton warns that teaching as he suggests still places significant subject matter knowledge demands on teachers. In Thorntons view, most social studies teachers just dont know enough about internationalism to teach it well.
Seemingly in answer to the challenge that Thornton puts forth, Nancy Carlsson-Paige & Linda Lantieris chapter and Stacie Nicole Smith and David Fairmans piece The Integration of Conflict Resolution into the High School Curriculum: The Example of Workable Peace provide introductions to systems or partial systems for approaching issues of citizenship with students. Smith and Fairmans description of the Workable Piece program reinforced my strong belief of how useful a well-conceived systematic approach to civics education can be in helping teachers to connect history, current events, and students experiences around the purpose of education for global citizenship.
But, having systems for organizing subject matter conceptually, even when they come with well-developed case-study materials are still not enough. As teachers we must also engage in the very demanding work of modeling the habits of mind, heart, body, and soul that McIntosh speaks of (p.23). We must develop along with our students, not in superficial ways, but in ways that sometimes challenge the core of who we are as people. As Smith and Fairman ask, How can we expect teachers to teach conflict management skills when they have not been taught such skills themselves (p.54)?
Teachers and teacher educators will appreciate Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Linda Lantieri, and Peggy McIntoshes efforts to concisely describe theories of child and adult development in relation to education for global citizenship. They will also appreciate Gloria Ladson-Billings description of why students from communities that the system has not served well often fail to connect to civics education that stresses obedience and conformity and treats all students as if they were white, middle-class, and natural-born citizens (p. 75).
Teaching is certainly complicated and messy business, and educating students for global awareness, as this book illuminates, is unbelievably so. Implied, but perhaps understated in this excellent collection is the need for teachers, teacher educators, and reform advocates to explicitly push for a re-conceptualization of curriculum in civics education. Curriculum is not something that sits on a shelf, teachers read, and then implement. Contrary to policy-maker and public perception, its not a textbook or a set of standards. In fact the very notion that teachers can implement a lesson in civics, abstracted from who they and their students are at that particular moment in history is ridiculous. Instead lets look at curriculum in civics education not as a thing but as a dynamic process. As a society, do we recognize the complexity of this process, and help schools, teachers and students to engage in the real work of civics education? Though the words sound trite, they ring true as I write themour childrens future and the future of our country and world depend on it.