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Reconceptualizing Geography as Democratic Global Citizenship Education

by William Gaudelli & Elizabeth Heilman - 2009

Background: Geography education typically appears in school curricula in a didactic or disciplinary manner. Yet, both the didactic and the disciplinary approach to geography education lack a serious engagement with society, politics, and power, or democratic theory. We suggest, from Dewey, that most students, the social studies, and indeed society are not well served by these approaches, particularly as we confront global challenges that demand geographic knowledge and insight.

Purpose: We propose that geography can and should reflect the interests of students and society and thus be what Dewey calls psychologized through a democratic vision of global citizenship education (GCE). Toward that end, we develop a typology of global education to identify those types most congruent with democratic citizenship (cosmopolitan, environmental, and critical justice) and those less congruent (disciplinary, neoliberal, and human relations). Drawing on our typology, we show how GCE can be a point of synthesis in practice, bringing together global education and reconstituted geographic knowledge.

Research Design: The method of this article is a secondary analysis of literature in democratic theory, global citizenship education, and geography education that synthesizes points of overlap.

Conclusions: Based on this analysis, we recommend that geography curriculum should be remade within a vision similar to GCE so that space and place can be socially understood.

The new global contexts in which we all live and interact demand that we think in new ways about what our world most needs from its citizens. We live in a world in which our geopolitical, environmental, and economic fates are increasingly interconnected, yet fragile. People are fearful about the environment and climate, maintaining economic competitiveness, securing strategic military advantage, and assuring personal and national safety in the United States. The catastrophic events of 9-11 generated momentary goodwill toward the United States because the country was victimized by a heinous international crime. Rather than respond to these events as a violent episode that called for justice and structural reforms, the Bush administration chose a different path. They championed a transformative diplomacy founded in the belief that the world could be remade in the image of the United States, embodied in a free-market utopia in Iraq (Kohut & Stokes, 2006).

The missionlike zeal and go-it-alone hubris of the Bush administration in fighting simultaneous wars in southwest Asia has had serious repercussions, however. Notably, historical allies have grown distant, U.S. standing in the world has decreased, and outright hostility has emerged in once-friendly nations like Jordan and Turkey (Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2005). Despite this arguably bleak circumstance, we believe there now exists a unique opportunity to rethink curriculum in the United States in light of the current situation, one that opens up to possibilities of learning about the world rather than remaking it in our image. Although our global challenges are undeniable, they are also fascinating and even hopeful to many who see potential for an increasingly interconnected, interestingly diverse, and mutually enhancing global community.

The state of knowledge about the world among people in the United States, however, presents a serious obstacle to moving toward these larger aims. Many Americans seem to have little critical capacity to understand complex global issues, such as the roots of terrorism or policy options for sustainability, not to mention rudimentary knowledge about the world. The 2006 Geographic Literacy Survey, conducted among high school students by Roper Public Affairs for the National Geographic Education Foundation, showed that not only is conceptual understanding sorely lacking, but there is also a dearth of knowledge related to locations, demographics, economics, and cultural characteristics among U.S. adolescents. For example, a third of those surveyed could not find Louisiana, and 50% could not find New York City on a U.S. map; 20% could not locate the United States on a world map. Three quarters could not identify Iran or Israel, and 54% believed Sudan, the largest country in Africa, to be in Asia. About 45% said Chinas population is twice that of the United States, rather than four times greater, and 74% thought English is the most commonly spoken language on the planet. These results are consistent with the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and with the most recent National Geographic survey (GfK NOP, 2006). According to the National Geographic Society Global Geographic Literacy Survey, Despite the threat of war in Iraq and the daily reports of suicide bombers in Israel, fewer than 15 percent of young U.S. citizens surveyed could locate either country and 58% of young Americans cannot locate Japan on a map (Trivedi, 2002). Given the very real issues we face and the immense power of the United States on the global stage, such ignorance is disturbing and dangerous.

In this article, we argue that the very nature and value of geography and citizenship education need to be reexamined in light of the changing global scene and apparent U.S. apathy about it. We wish to highlight the interplay between seemingly disparate events on the national and global stage, which are linked with the ethics and politics of citizenship that shape citizenship education. Most broadly, we argue that our world faces challenges that are more social, human, civic, and ethical than scientific, mathematical, and technical, and because of this, we call for a new priority to be placed on social studies, geography, and citizenship education. The technical capacity to feed and provide health care for the 1.4 billion people on our planet who live on less than $2 a day exists. We have the technical capacity for green energy and for environmental sustainability, and the scientific wherewithal to assert that racism rests on no biological or genetic grounds. Yet, it is the quality of our politics and ethics, our ability to talk with each other across difference, and the tenuousness of our collective commitment to shared humanity that get in the way of achieving our best national and global possibilities. In the last century, we turned to science and disciplinary knowledge for progress. We suggest, from Dewey, that most students, the social studies, and indeed society are not well served by these approaches. In this century, we must turn to ethics and the qualities of citizenship to realize a better world.

As in other disciplines, there are several paradigmatic ways to approach geography teaching. The most common are didactic and disciplinary approaches. Didactic teachers emphasize memorization, recall, and learning by rote of spatial facts and identifications. A discipline-centered curriculum positions students as budding geographers who attempt to construct (or replicate) knowledge of a discipline to develop geography-informed thinking. These have been the most common forms in K12 geography education. Didactic geography learning is hardly defensible in and of itself. Disciplinary approaches to teaching geography, although improving geographic learning for some and increasing Advanced Placement course offerings for a few, fail to adequately address the need to place geography in the service of citizenship.

A third and different approach to geography teaching, rare in most places, centers on democratic practice. We argue that this approach is most justifiable as citizenship education for a sustainable and ethical world. A democratic approach to geography education can be thought of through what Dewey describes in My Pedagogic Creed (1897a) as an education that attends to the two sidesthe social and the psychological. He explains,

I believe that the psychological and social sides are organically related and that education cannot be regarded as a compromise between the two, or a superimposition of one upon the other. We are told that the psychological definition of education is barren and formalthat it gives us only the idea of a development of all the mental powers without giving us any idea of the use to which these powers are put. On the other hand, it is urged that the social definition of education, as getting adjusted to civilization, makes of it a forced and external process, and results in subordinating the freedom of the individual to a preconceived social and political status. (p. 75)

A democratic education honors the individual and attends to the personal characteristics, curiosities, and growth of students. Yet, society is an organic union of individuals, and all individual development occurs in contexts of families, various forms of communities, and nations. As Dewey (1897a) explains, powers, interests, and habits must be continually interpretedwe must know what they mean. They must be translated into terms of their social equivalentsinto terms of what they are capable of in the way of social service (p. 77). Thus, learning worthy of its name must have meaningful social ends.

A Deweyan perspective of democratic theory suggests that subject matter education, like geography, needs to be taught in a way that contributes to both personal and social growth rather than solely for academic socialization. Disciplinary geographic thinking certainly has value, but geography for citizens is only justified in democratic theory to the extent that it contributes to personal development and to the extent that it serves as a method of social progress and reform (Dewey, 1897a, p. 77). The worth of geography is not rooted in the nature of the discipline, but instead by the use that we make of it in our lives and in society. In his essay, The Psychological Aspect of the School Curriculum, Dewey (1897b) explains the more specific implications of democratic education for school curriculum:

From the psychological standpoint, we are concerned with the study [a subject matter] as a mode or form of living individual experience. Geography is not only a set of facts and principles, which may be classified and discussed by themselves; it is also a way in which some actual individual feels and thinks the world. It must be the latter before it can be the former. It becomes the former only as the culmination or completed outgrowth of the latter. Only when the individual has passed through a certain amount of experience, which he vitally realizes on his own account, is he prepared to take the objective and logical point of view, capable of standing off and analyzing the facts and principles involved. (pp. 168169)

We propose in this article that geography can and should use experience and be what Dewey calls psychologized through a democratic vision of global citizenship education (GCE). We begin by illustrating how both didactic and disciplinary approaches to geography education fail to seriously engage with society and politics, moving to consider how geography might engage both the personal and the social and political. We offer a typology of global education to identify those types most congruent with democratic citizenship, namely cosmopolitan, environmental, and critical justice, and those less congruent, such as disciplinary, neoliberal, and human relations global educations. We then explain how GCE can be a point of synthesis for global education that reconstitutes geographic thinking and knowledge in a manner that has great utility for students and society in an increasingly global world.


There have been many debates about the relationship between democracy and education and ways to understand liberty, criticality and justice. Whereas the classical liberalism of John Locke and Adam Smith focused on market capitalism and a minimum of state control over individual lives and group cultures, the contemporary liberalism of Mill, Dewey, and Rawls asserted that the state should take a more active role in advancing liberal identity formation, and thus engaged the issue of culture as a liberal good or hindrance. Contemporary liberals generally imagined the public school as a place for deliberation and exposure to multiple ideas and cultural ways of being. Exposure to diverse ideas and cultures was believed to promote childrens autonomy. Dewey offered rich theories about the active creation of democratic environments, and these served as the foundation for many progressive schools. Rawlss legalistic formulation of redistributive justice helped reveal how policy makers could open up more equal opportunity.

This liberal democratic view of cultural diversity did not long stand unchallenged, however. Critical theorists argued that when the illiberal market economy is associated with the liberal school and public sphere, hegemonic forces will seek to colonize the life world and spread consumerism and illiberal identity formation. Theorists such as Will Kymlicka and Charles Taylor argued that counterposing the individual with the social and cultural was a mistake because people are inherently formed through cultural contexts. In this argument, the liberal interests in creating tension between the individual and his or her family, and cultural ideas and ways of being failed to acknowledge that culture is not a buffet choice but can be constructive of identity and the good life. Critiques of liberalism and an identity politics understanding of culture have had a real influence in how culture is understood in education policy, manifest in public funding for private schools, promotion of specific cultural visions within schools, and programs for citizenship curriculum.

Debates about democracy and citizenship have resonated in the discourse of social studies scholars and educators generally. Walter Parker (2003) pointed to various tensions within pluralistic notions of democratic citizenship, namely participation as being direct or as spectator, outlook of democracy viewed as a path or an accomplishment, and cultural difference as pulled between pluralism and assimilation (see Chapter 2). He argued that schools have supported a republican notion of citizenship in which students are taught to be law-abiding spectators participating in an accomplished democracy that prefers assimilation. Parker animates in a curricular frame arguments articulated by Benjamin Barbers (2004) strong democracy about the excesses of privatization, alienation, and paralysis that besets the United States and other democracies. These excessive polarities lead to a schizophrenic polity that oscillates between radical extremes, such as fear/love, force/freedom, and terror/anarchy, which leads not to a resolution of these tensions but an anomic nihilism.

Furthermore, debates about the nature of democratic citizenship education occur both within and across democratic societies. Liberal democratic societies ranging from the United States to France to Sweden to Singapore to India have somewhat different debates about citizenship education. Various democratic nations also conceive of democratic values and rights somewhat differently and thus adjudicate them somewhat differently in law (Dahl, 2001). The U.S. Constitution, for example, features the right to bear arms as one of the central rights and does not mention education or housing, whereas the Swedish constitution states in Chapter 1, Article 2, Section 2 that [I]t shall be incumbent upon the public administration to secure the right to work, housing and education, and to promote social care and social security and a good living environment (Constitution of Sweden, n.d.). Although it is arguably unconstitutional for a Swede to be without housing, it is arguably unconstitutional to deprive an American of a gun. In spite of all of these debates and differences, however, the basic principles and processes of democracies are remarkably similar, including liberty, human rights, equality, and the privileges and duties of citizenship.

The preceding discussion details that there are many debates about democracy and democratic education, but there are also a few principles. One principle is that all people are equally endowed with rights and are individually and collectively capable of self-governance. From this point of view, whatever the important elements of human well-being are, these elements belong to all human beings, such as nutrition, health, shelter, security, happiness, autonomy, and cultural freedom. The United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution articulate these principles, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) expresses such values on a global scale. Another conception of humanity that underlies democratic governments and education is the idea that all people are equally capable of enough reason and decency to justify government of, by, and for the people. Citizens have the capacity, right, and duty to examine the appropriateness of all ideas and public policies, and they have the capacity, right, and duty to engage in dialogue, think about the public interest, take into account multiple and opposing viewpoints, arrive at suitable compromises through social institutions, and do practical work with others to create a more perfect union, a more just society.

Democracy requires education to develop our personal and collective democratic capacities. Democratic capacities include the ability to critically examine and explore knowledge and values from a range of sources and orientations, considering uses, utility, purposes, and persuasive qualities. This includes considering the social, political, and cultural contexts of ideas and a consideration of who benefits from policies. Deweyan education that honors both the social and individual experience implies that complex issues are fundamental starting points for curriculum. Dewey calls for ongoing social reconstruction of practices, processes, and institutions, a fundamental democratic precept.

In such a society, disciplines should explore what we do and why we do it and should not be taught out of context or abstracted from the social world in which they arise. As James Beane (1997) argued, following Dewey, democratic curricula should include the integration of students past and future experiences and be organized around personal and social issues developed from students lives, communities, and the world in which they live. It requires social integration as students bring their own frame of reference to a shared democratic learning process. In this way, disciplinary knowledge is a resource that makes sense only in personal and social contexts rather than as a self-contained end (Beane).

Yet, this is not an either/or choice between student and society. In The Child and the Curriculum, Dewey (1900/1990) explains that the teacher connects the learner to the discipline by identifying elements in students experiences that are usable with respect to the discipline and also uses discipline-based knowledge to identify students needs and activities. A democratic approach to geography teaching makes use of disciplinary subject matter through the needs and interests of the child and society. Democratic geography thus includes the critical thinking of disciplinary teaching but goes further to develop a democratic criticality that is both personal and political. As Burbules and Berk (1999) explained,

The Critical Thinking tradition concerns itself primarily with criteria of epistemic adequacy: to be critical basically means to be more discerning in recognizing faulty arguments, hasty generalizations, assertions lacking evidence, truth claims based on unreliable authority, ambiguous or obscure concepts, and so forth. . . . The Critical Pedagogy tradition begins from a very different starting point. It regards specific belief claims, not primarily as propositions to be assessed for their truth content, but as parts of systems of belief and action that have aggregate effects within the power structures of society. It asks first about these systems of belief and action, who benefits?


There has been a resurgence of geography curricula in the last two decades, resulting from the creation of national standards, such as Geography for Life (Downs, 1994), and federal funds for geography teaching provided beginning in the 1980s (Bednarz, 2002). This move is principally concerned with reorienting geography teaching away from a didactic tradition and toward a more discipline-centered approach. Didactic teaching focuses on the what of those spatial pattern distributions, whereas the discipline-centered teaching seeks to engage students in the what, but also, more important, the how, of these patterns. Disciplinary geography focuses on critical thinking, reasoning, the use of data, and suitable methods of analysis. Questions of how places came to be aim to reveal processes that may be complex but that are largely deducible and have right answers.

Didactic geography curriculum is presentist and ahistorical; students are compelled to recall place names, for example, without any regard for their historical antecedents. The same cannot be said of disciplinary geography curriculum, yet the history and political awareness brought to bear in disciplinary geography is a disciplinary historya narrow history rather than a critical, interpretivist, or feminist one. Disciplinary history allows that although many data sources need to be located, there is a correct storysomething close to a historical truthto be told. In addition, disciplinary geography tends to segregate whole places and experiences into subcategories such as physical geography, cartography, biogeography, cultural geography, economic geography, and political geography, that, although highly useful, are not reintegrated for students and used to make sense of their immediate, complex lives and issues.

Further, disciplinary geography curriculum is a-critical. Teachers who prefer a didactic geography will be satisfied to find students learning the boundaries of the nation-state system and accurately identifying those boundaries on a blank map of Southeast Asia, for example. In contrast, those who advocate a discipline-centered perspective want to examine how political boundaries are cast in light of social and physical terrains and why they are significant for both. But neither aims for multiple interpretations of social and physical terrains, for personal connections, nor for critical explorations of whom the terrains and boundaries serve and marginalize, separate and join. Such questions, however, are vital for a democratic society.

Textbooks reveal that didactic geography, and a colonizing didacticism at that, has indeed been the norm in schools. Coltons (1863) American School Geography, for example, is an encyclopedic textbook of 588 pages that documents the Earth as a spatial phenomenon, addressing domains such as astronomical (or mathematical), physical, and civil geography. The volume aims to present geography purely as a science . . . root(ed) in a thorough mastery of first principles (p. 110), which means a thorough (if distorted) factual representation of the Earth. The notion of geography as a science is, of course, problematic, illustrated in this volumes articulation of human races existing as separate categories hierarchically arranged from White to Black, with Caucasians who are beautiful . . . intellectual, refined, and progressive, Ethiopians who have quick intellect but without any great depth of comprehension, and Negroes [sic] who are so uncivilized as to not merit cultural description (pp. 111112). Coltons text is indeed scientific, or congruent with science of 1863, but it is also completely erroneous.

A geography textbook from the early 20th century, The Americas by Wallace Atwood and Helen Goss Thomas (1938), also illustrates a didactic approach, though with some added questions designed to elicit student inquiry. Students are asked to view a map of the coastal southeastern United States that depicts trade routes and commodities, followed by a question, Cotton leads among the exports of Savannah and Charleston, but tobacco is first among the exports of Wilmington. What reason for this can you discover from the map? (p. 27). So, although the aim is reading maps for content, there is attention to the development of analytic abilities throughout. This shift signals, it seems, moves later in the 20th century away from a didactic pedagogy of geography and toward an analytic, disciplinary geography curriculum.  

The didactic type and discipline-centered comparison, though roughly hewn and not mutually exclusive, is most evident as emphases in contemporary curricular goal statements. Compare, for example, Floridas and Colorados state standards for geography at the conclusion of eighth grade:

Extends and refines use of various map forms and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report geographic information about the United States (for example, tracing the Oregon Trail). (Florida Department of Education, n.d.).

Students know how to use and construct maps, globes, and other geographic tools to locate and derive information about people, places, and environments. (Colorado Department of Education, 1995)

The former shows an emphasis on the acquisition and recitation of geographic information (didactic), and the latter highlights the construction and interpretation of spatial data (disciplinary centered). To say that either formulation is democratic or critical would be a misrepresentation because each clearly arises from a positivistic notion of geographical truth.

As geography has received renewed attention over the past 25 years, a discipline-oriented approach has become the gold standard in the field. This change, despite what seems to be fairly wide acclaim of it in the scholarly literature, has generally not taken hold in schools. Munroe and Smiths (1998) review of state implementation of Geography for Life (Downs, 1994) national standards, for example, found only three states that moved beyond simple memorization and place names when analyzed against the following criteria:

The evaluation . . . sought standards that would cause students who attain them to comprehend and apply geographys spatial perspective: the knowledge that physical and human phenomena are distributed across Earths surface in patterns, coupled with the ability to employ maps and other geographic tools to seek out, observe, analyze, and explain these patterns and the relationships among and within them. Standards that only emphasized knowledge of where things are locatedadmittedly a vital building block for geographic competencywere judged to have fallen short if they did not also demand that students ask why things are located where they are and present the knowledge and skills that would enable students to derive reasoned answers to such questions. (p. 9)

Their study suggests that although some states are moving toward teaching geography in a disciplinary manner, most states continue to cling to a conception of geography education that is didactic and factual.

Classroom materials have been developed by geographers and geographic educators to teach the field as a discipline rather than through fact and recall. The following map activity derived from a federally funded project called ARGUS (Activities and Readings of the Geography of the United States) illustrates this direction (Bednarz, 2002). Students are asked to review area maps and proportional-circle map data to make conclusions about the environmental conditions of Native American Indians. The materials are intended to:

Cast the students as researchers who use geography to solve real world problems. Each activity:


introduces a skill for analyzing data geographically


provides information about a specific place


employs a specific kind of map (isoline, choropleth, profile, etc.)


illustrates a useful explanatory theory of modern geography

(Bednarz, 2002)

Teaching geography in this manner is far better than didactic traditions if one values critical thinking and the development of transferable student insight about spatiality. Yet this still falls short of what we have described as democratic citizenship education.


A discipline-oriented approach will also support student success in college geography courses. At least some of the interest among university-based geographers in geography education is to create a pipeline of future students. Bednarz (2002) stated that the implementation of an AP Human Geography course was an exciting development with a likely benefit to raise the status of geography and attract the best students, who intend to go to college but might otherwise never enroll in a geography class (p. 164). The resurgence of geography as a disciplinary curriculum will not only support college programs but also the profession because more students are likely to pursue geography careers. The idea that geography teaching can be improved by making it more academic would seem to have few detractors just as geography as recitation of facts would enlist few advocates. Who among academics will caution against the use of an academic discipline? How many parents and community members will lament a disciplinary approach in teaching their children? How many teachers would prefer a recitation of geographic facts to an investigation of hypotheses through using a variety of map-based programs like Arcview?

The focus on discipline-based geography curriculum has developed in a new direction of late, reflecting a wider change in the field of geography. The trend toward teaching human geography has been notable and illustrates a type of discipline-based curriculum, though one that approximates Deweys notion of a psychologized disciplinarity. The College Board (2007) described human geography in its introduction of AP Human Geography as focused on human social organization and its environmental consequences (p. 3). AP Human Geography has become quite popular in U.S. high schools, with a greater than four-fold increase in the number of test takers from 2001 to 2005 and a marked increase noted by reviewers in the ability of students to use geographic concepts appropriately (Gray, Hildebrant, & Strauss, 2007). That said, the aim of human geography is not necessarily to produce better citizens but to accurately reflect the discipline and prepare students for success in college geography programs and related studies.

A didactic approach to teaching geography has little educational value, whereas a discipline-based approach generally does not avail itself to a robust notion of citizenship. These limits of geography curricula generally suggest the need for a third way. Following Dewey, we argue that the democratic vision that socially roots geography and psychologizes geography, thus instantiating spatiality in experience and power, is a more desirable and democratically legitimate alternative than existing curricular options. Given the pressing global issues of our time, such as poverty, global warming, fresh water scarcity, nuclear proliferation, famine, refugee crises, and war, it is imperative that we not give up on teaching geography. Geography has tremendous potential to shape and inform discourse about problems on the near horizon, and it must be called to serve these ends. But given the paucity of democratic approaches to geography, it is challenging to envision what such a curriculum may resemble. To give a sense of what a democratic geography within GCE may look like, we develop a typology of global education to identify those types most congruent with democratic citizenship. We then articulate through illustrations of practice how GCE can be a point of synthesis for global education that reconstitutes geographic thinking and knowledge in a manner that has great social utility.  


We believe that we cannot speak about geography education without referring to global education. All iterations of global education require knowledge of world places such that the fields of geography and global education are necessarily intertwined. Even national and regional geography are increasingly studied through transnational themes. We also cannot speak about democratic citizenship education without considering both the national and global conceptions of citizenship education. Citizenship status is inclusive but also exclusionary in the sense that some people have different national political rights than others. And yet, the moral justification for democratic citizenship as duty and practice makes reference to universal notions of human rights and democratic capacities. Philosophically, it is very difficult to argue that the democratic conception of humanity is exclusive to those who hold the certain forms of legal national citizenship. The rationale for a national democratic citizenship of human equality, human reason, and faith in democratic dialogue and rights cannot justifiably be thought to be qualities of Americans or those in the West alone. Thus, at their most inclusive, both democratic citizenship education and global education rely on an idea of citizenship with a global reach. This incorporates both national emergent conceptions of citizenship based on supranational bodies such as the European Union.

The notion of a global citizenry with inherent rights and reasoning ability is not the only rationale for global education, however. The ambiguity of global study, seen by many as a hindrance and reason for its marginality, can be viewed beneficially because it allows for greater latitude in curriculum enactment (Davies, Evans, & Reid, 2005; Gaudelli, 2003; Kirkwood, 2001). The looseness of global education curriculum, what Popkewitz (1980) called a slogan system, however, should not preclude careful analysis of the terrain of global education as enacted. Global education includes broad and diverse curricula that can be categorized into at least these six different types, articulated in Table 1.1

Table 1. Global Education Typology


Related Discourses

Curricular Goal

Civics Lesson

Disciplinary Global Education

Critical thinking;

Discipline based. Learning global dimensions of disciplinary topics such as history, economics, geography, or literature.

Enhances intellectual understanding of civics and power as a topic addressed in a discipline primarily in a school context. Avowedly apolitical.

Human Relations Global Education

Corporate personnel management; counseling;

human relations; multiculturalism

Socially based. Develop social skills and cross-cultural understanding; assert core human values and cultural universals.

Enhances personal identity and empowerment and the ability to achieve aims in social and business relations.

Neoliberal Global Education

Neoliberal economics;

vocational education

Focused problem based. Understand the global in order to maximize personal, national, economic, and geopolitical power/capital.

Solidifies typically uneven power relations to maximize the economic power of a person, group, business, or nation.

Environmental Education

Critical science; deep ecology; postmodern ecology; ecofeminism

Focused problem based. Provide awareness,

inquiry, and skills to help foster innovative technical and human solutions to create a sustainable future.

Develops both technical scientific power and democratic civic power synergistically.

Critical Justice Education

Critical theory;
postcolonial studies;


education; liberation education

Critique based. Explore and critique universal and inevitable experiences of oppression and exploitation.

Critiques typically uneven power relations and develops resistance and transformative potential.

Cosmopolitan Global Education

human rights education;

liberal theory;

Inquiry based. Explore global experiences, power, and processes to foster personal and collective responsibility toward universal human rights. Question universals and problematize cultural conflict.

Explores power and cultural experience on many levels and develops a range of responses and actions rooted in democratic processes, principles, and institutions.


What notions of citizenship lie within these various global educations? Which ones are consonant with democratic geography education? Although this typology is certainly not exhaustive of all types of global education, it allows us to preview certain emphases while examining how each instantiates, or fails to develop, the democratic theory articulated herein. To begin, disciplinary global education can manifest in a number of typical secondary courses, such as world history, geography, and international relations, and it is also found beyond social studies in Earth science and world literature and language courses. Disciplinary thinking, or learning to use the analytical tools of a geographer, historian, or political scientist, is the main intent of such courses. Proponents of disciplinary education typically assert that they have no civic agenda; they are just teaching the knowledge and skills.  Jerome Bruners work in psychology of disciplinary thinking, articulated in The Process of Education (1960), is the intellectual forerunner of this pedagogical tradition. Given the disciplinary global education focus, curriculum in this area generally lacks a robust notion of citizenship, seeing global citizenship, whatever it may be conceived to be, as something beyond the goals of the course. And perhaps most daunting of all the global educations outlined in the typology, it is this type of approach and style, of course, that is most commonly offered to promote global understanding and prepare students to live in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Human relations global education is also very common, particularly in higher education. Michigan State University, for example, offers this as one potential goal for internationalizing the student experience.

Graduates will have the Cultural Competence to:


Engage with people, ideas, and activities from other cultures as a means of personal and professional development. (Renn & Lucas, 2007)

Such approaches are problematic for two reasons when viewed in light of democratic theory. First, these are goals that direct the benefits of global learning to the private individual rather than to the service of both the individual and the social. Although engaging others is a worthwhile activity, it does not sufficiently move beyond personal experience. Liberal curricula in classical antiquity refers to designated education proper to a citizen or freeman (Latin libera, free), as opposed to a slave. Both liberal and democratic education must have application to civic life and personal interests rather than to a singular focus on professions or vocations that chooses not to engage the social.

The second problem with human relations global education is its advocating engagement with people, ideas, and activities from other cultures from different perspectives. Such maxims disregard the ways that liberal democratic theory views interaction with others. Students, for example, are taught in human relations global education to respect the right of certain cultural groups to restrict education for women. But to emphasize democratic citizenship requires that people should also be able to make the judgment that systematically denying women education is an inherently undemocratic policy. Liberal theory and democratic practice do not ever ask for resolution and full understanding across mutually exclusive agendas. Democratic theory begins with the perspective that modern society and the global world inevitably, and even desirably, comprise different groups with varying and not infrequently conflicting values and interests.

In education and in cultural life in the democratic public sphere, differences in belief, including metaphysical beliefs, are to be explored and aired. Yet, when people in a democracy must inevitably make policy decisions around areas of disagreement, they need real skills to achieve practical fairness, though not necessarily understanding. Formal democracy simply mediates conflicting interests rather than resolve them.  In other words, a democratic education asks, Because we wont always get along, what do we do? instead of asserting that we will get along and appreciate difference. Christine Sleeter (1992, 1996) described this type of curriculum as human relations multiculturalism, which seeks to teach similarity out of difference and ignore institutional racism, sexism, and discrimination; this fits quite well with the asocial, ademocratic thrust of this type of global education. That is not to say that learning about others and developing understanding and empathy are not worthy goals, because they indeed are, but rather to suggest that human relations global education is necessary but insufficient in fulfilling the need for a democratic theory of education, particularly when contrasted with others included in our typology.

Neoliberal global education, like human relations varieties, is also directed at private interests. What makes this form of global education neoliberal is that it replaces the liberal myth that government can solve all problems with an equally uncomplicated myth that the market can make the world right (Barber, 2004). Put another way, if governments cannot help people around the world to get along, then surely the market can do so as it unites them around the goal of accumulating wealth and pursuing material well-being. Thus, this form of global education is primarily concerned with readying entrepreneurs to develop capital in previously unexplored global markets, preparing consumers to purchase goods from distant locales, and helping corporate leaders to move easily and without offense in a global market. The global consumer can enjoy the food, music, art, textiles, and consumer goods of many places and comes to embody the neoliberal ideal of a commerce-driven citizen whose participation is expressed daily in his or her economic choices, or voting with dollars (Barber, 2000).

This education tends to be problem based, and the problem is how to maximize economic advantage. Individuals are not tethered by their identities, or in Friedmans (2000) terms, olive trees, but can leverage self-conceptions to participate more fully and fruitfully in a Lexus ethos marketplace. People are viewed as transformable agents (with human relations skills) who can travel to Sydney, Singapore, and Sao Paulo and be comfortable and conversant because of increasing homogenization and the related hybridity brought about by globalisation. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals can be, as Thomas Friedman wrote, a super-empowered, or global, actor, if they learn how to push the economic system for social ends: Thats how you change the world . . . by becoming a shaper who doesnt just wait around for global government to alleviate poverty but instead uses the new system to mobilize the big, cold, selfish market players to the right thing for the wrong reasongreed (p. 211). But citizenship within this conception is limited to the economic participation of consumers, entrepreneurs, corporate salaried workers, and investors in a global economy.

Cosmopolitans address the educational significance of globalization in reshaping society, relying on a more robust notion of democracy coupled with a transcendent view of citizenship. Many theoretical efforts have been referred to as cosmopolitan citizenship, including David Held, Mary Kaldor, Martha Nussbaum, and Ulrich Beck, among others. Nussbaum (1996) argued that forms of patriotism that emerged from the modern nation-state system are largely defunct because globalization has created a need for multinational solutions and concern for all of humanity. Hers is a moral outlook, one that seeks a transcendent notion of self based on the commonness of being human. Held (2006) argued for a cosmopolitan citizenship in which democratic principles of equal moral standing, equal freedom, and equal participative opportunities are entrenched in all spheres of life, such that citizenship is not territorially bound. Held (2004) identified eight core cosmopolitan values: 1) equal worth and dignity; 2) active agency; 3) personal responsibility and accountability; 4) consent; 5) collective decision-making about public matters through voting procedures; 6) inclusiveness and subsidiarity; 7) avoidance of serious harm; and 8) sustainability (p. 389). Unlike Nussbaum, Helds cosmopolitan values need to be, and increasingly are, instantiated in international law that has transformed sovereignty and, thereby, citizenship (see Held, 2004).

Citizenship among cosmopolitans is often enacted through both formal governmental channels and NGOs. These are especially prominent with respect to human rights and ecological protection. Notable NGOs such as Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and Greenpeace, along with tens of thousands of less well-known organizations operating within national jurisdictions, provide channels for discourse and action irrespective of boundaries. Unlike neoliberals, the cosmopolitans stress global grassroot coalitions that serve public interests for the good of humanity, irrespective of national borders. Further, they abide a notion of scalability such that the cosmopolitan values of citizenship should exist in forums from neighborhood and city to national/regional and global (Held, 2006).

Environmental global education tends to be problem based, and the problem is creating global responsibility directed toward sustainable societies. It often emphasizes the placed-quality of being such that students develop an appreciation for, and therefore commitment to preserving, ecology through technical and nontechnical means. The participatory bent of such efforts is evident as students are encouraged to learn about their local environmentsspecifically how human development has shaped the landscape, what resources are employed, and the various effects of consumption patterns. Environmental education is closely tied to the goals of sustainable development, or the means by which societies can meet current needs while preserving the capacity of the environment to meet the needs of future generations. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has played a pivotal role in developing this dimension of the work by producing policy statements, supporting programmatic initiatives, and setting a global agenda for sustainability (United Nations Environment Programme, 2007). Environmental education programs like UNESCO and numerous others funded by national governments and NGOs represent widespread environmental global education. David Gruenewald (2003) has argued that renewed interest in place as a theoretical construct has the potential to recast earlier formulations of environmental education, however. The move toward revitalizing attention to place, though, runs counter to a fully global orientation, preferring a local/regional lens. Bioregionalists, by insisting that human cultures must learn to live within the natural limits of their bioregions, pose a huge challenge to educational institutions that, aligned with global economic practices, refuse to acknowledge the existence of ecological limits and the significance of ecological well-being (p. 634).

We recognize that environmental global education is appropriate in the former case (i.e., UNESCO) but less so in the latter because place-based studies are locally derivative. The point remains, however, that the continuum of what constitutes environmental education both has global significance and is resonant with a Deweyan construction of a democratic society. Environmental education can be comparatively narrow, however. In its more democratic expression, it helps students understand the connections between environmental issues and other aspects of life.

Global critical justice education is among the more political genres discussed herein. As Marx proclaimed, and as others from Freire to Foucault to Frankfort school theorists reiterated, domination fosters resistance. Critical justice education theories are all concerned with the intersections among power, knowledge, and identity and are motivated by an ethos of social justice. Yet the ways that oppression, emancipation, agency, subjectivity, knowledge, and power are thought about and described vary. Curriculum here focuses on power and how it manifests, the weight of capital and of bureaucracy in its wielding, and the counterweight of empowering citizens vis-à-vis the system. The best exemplar of a global critical justice orientation is offered in Bill Bigelow and Bob Petersons (2002) Rethinking Globalization. Through a wide range of narratives, cases, and illustrations, they provide a rich compendium that urges students and teachers to act with knowledge about and for those who are oppressed.

We hoped that students would consider that whether one works in a sweatshop or not, our lives here are directly affected by the global race to the bottom that pits workers around the world against one another. People here do have a moral imperative to help people everywhere. But we also have a personal stake in challenging the poor conditions around the globe that exert a downward pull on conditions here. (p. 5)

Global critical justice education seeks to illustrate the intricate ways in which people are related to each other around the world and how these relationships are set against a historical legacy of hegemony. Raising student awareness about these issues is done in hopes that they will develop an appreciation for their complexity, a stake in their world, and concrete options for acting on these issues.


GCE centers on principles such as nonviolence, human rights, cultural diversity, democracy, and critical tolerance (Osler & Vincent, 2002). GCE tends to be issues-based and concerns matters such as environmental degradation, cultural identity, war, economic trade, nuclear proliferation, and migrant labor while casting them in localglobal contrasts. But most significant is GCEs overt commitment to citizenship because it aims to enable young people to learn about their rights and responsibilities and equip them with skills for democratic participation, at all levels, from local to global (Ibrahim, 2005, pp. 178179).

Three types of global educationcosmopolitan, environmental, and critical justiceforeground the democratic theory that we articulate within GCE, one rooted in Deweys pragmatism. GCE of the variety that we envisage for schools and curriculum is one that amalgamates the unbordered respect for human rights and species identity of the cosmopolitan, the reverence and recognition of places and ecology of environmental, and the social awareness of inequality and call for social justice articulated by civic justice global education. GCE does not reject the tools and critical reasoning of disciplinary geography. Instead, we argue that these must be taught within a larger and more self-conscious civics context. Similarly, neoliberal, vocational, and private visions will inevitably be expressed in schools. We suggest, however, that in a public school or in a college that focuses on liberal and vocational education, such visions must be reflected up through broader democratic public values.

GCE is thus a both/and approach that is both disciplinary and interdisciplinary, both local and global, that questions and claims global allegiances and power. GCE crosses the terrain of multiple epistemologies from technical and empirical to aesthetic and spiritual. It is democratic and inclusive in its use of theory toward pragmatic democratic ends. We think that local inquiry and civic participation are important, but so is systemic inquiry into global processes and sometimes global solidarity toward transformative action in areas such as world health issues, global warming, and fair trade and labor issues. GCE allows both connections across lines of cultural and social difference, and collective action dependent on local and global similarities.

GCE needs to encourage the thoughtful use of power through ordinary and extraordinary civic engagement, though we contend that it is important to critique who has power and who acts for whom. One challenge for any critical pedagogy in the fostering of civic identity is that citizenship work is often compromised and impure. It is generally unheroic and, in an important way, even somewhat uncritical. When action is taken, and one affirmatively does this and not that, multiplicity and critique temporarily fall by the wayside. What if one is complicit with oppressors in action? What if one is acting on behalf of others who could and should act for themselves?  What if there is a better solution? There is a purity, clarity, and beauty to theory and critique when it is uncomplicated by the exigencies of practical work for change. It gives a different satisfaction and perhaps appeals to a different type of person than the sometimes boring, frequently imperfect, and always incomplete work of action for social justice. There is not a lot of purity in working with actual legislative bodies and real people and groups who hold contrary views. Indeed, successful action requiring accommodation or compromise is unheroic, plodding, and rooted in a leap of faith.


GCE appears in several contexts, as documented in a small body of literature, despite its relative scarcity in school curricula. Bullen and Whitehead (2005) examined trends to rethink the state-bound and presentist orientations of existing civic education models under the banner of a sustainable global citizenship in Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government mandates curriculum such that [students] develop their knowledge and understanding of a wide range of people, places and environments and their understanding of the changing nature of geographical patterns and processes over time and space&thus leading to geographical issues and decision-making which impacts upon the quality of life for present and future generations (p. 508). This postnational variety of citizenship education stretches the notion of temporal responsibility to include both the legacies of privilege and advantage to which people are born and the responsibility to future generations of people in the present (Bullen & Whitehead). Geography curricula in the Welsh context draw heavily on notions of space as socially, ecologically, and economically relational rather than eternally bound and static (Bullen & Whitehead). Students critically examine media portrayals about other parts of the world, for example, to dialogue about contested and stereotypic depictions of other places while exploring their dynamism. GCE in Wales, then, is a means of remaking citizenship in a postnational manner that draws out core geographic elements (relational space), yet purposely juxtaposes itself to the strictly national emphasis of the more politically dominant English curriculum.

This sort of governmental support for GCE is relatively unusual in the literature, though schools and teachers still engage GCE without official aid. GCE has ebbed and flowed in Canada, for example, maintained in some schools by teachers with support of teacher education institutions. Schweisfurth (2006) used an exemplary case method and found that Canadian teachers who were committed to engaging students in GCE did so robustly despite a relatively weak conception of global citizenship within official curricula. The 6 teachers studied were deeply committed to GCE and saw it as an emerging reality and positioned the schools as aloof in their inattention to it. Teachers relied on professional networks beyond schools, including centers like the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, to develop teaching materials. Students engaged a variety of activities, such as distributing leaflets to four-wheel-drive vehicle owners about the environmental impact of their fuel consumption; advocating for fair trade coffee; raising awareness about labor issues globally; organizing a diversity benefit concert; and conducting a schoolwide awareness campaign about weapons trade and armament proliferation by covering floors with landmine symbols (Schweisfurth).

GCE-like efforts in the United States have been noticeably less robust than in other locales due in part to a dominant and ethnocentric view of the United States as exceptional and set apart from global affairs. Myers (2006) identified a few schools with this GCE as an overt mission and conducted case studies of those schools. The two high schools in his study were similar in that they based curriculum around multiculturalism/diversity in the United States, yet excluded global human rights issues, affirmed national sovereignty, and were generally unaware of scholarship related to global education. He concluded that the United States has not overcome the political and cultural stigma of globalism as anti-American (p. 389). Myers found that both schools were doing GCE as an add-on such that it affirmed existing nationalistic curricula present in many U.S. schools.

GCE has also emerged in nonschool educative spaces, such as on the Internet and in various new media forms. The Global Teenager Project involves students and teachers from over 30 countries in online dialogues about issues of local concern and global resonance. Organized in learning circles, this initiative aims to develop links across countries to promote inter-cultural awareness and sensitivity by opening up regular, lively classroom debates in a safe, structured environment, comprising secondary school pupils from all over the world (Trio Consult, 2007). Blasco and Hansen (2006) surveyed a variety of GCE efforts in new media in Latin America, suggesting that education is being transformed by optimism about new media and a desire for cosmopolitan integration expressed by the students involved.

Each study about curricula operating under the aegis of GCE invites the Deweyan psychologizing of geography around matters of space and place. Efforts in Wales to center geographic education on notions of relational space, postnational citizenship, and temporal responsibility fit precisely with the argument of this article. Curricula like this help demonstrate how geography can contribute to student experiences and engage their spatial insights toward developing a more vibrant and participatory democratic culture. Global citizenship may conjure images of a distant citizenship engaged by elites, though GCE can and should be taught such that it has local resonance, global connection, and community participation. Raising consciousness about coffee in Toronto schools, for example, illustrates the vast reservoir of meaning that such spatial GCE teaching offers. Coffee is farmed in particular places such as Western Kenya. And although the geographic interpretation of this phenomenon focuses on the climate of this region, this is not the whole story. Colonial exigencies forced many subsistence farmers in that region to switch to cash-cropping, which has undermined local food security and separated food producers and consumers through a many-layered and inequitable distribution network. Such global integration of seemingly distant Kenyan farmers has led to greater economic dependency on the economically advantaged world. Thus, not only has their place partially determined their situation, due in part to climate, but further, because they inhabit a global space whose sole purpose is to supply a commodity, they themselves have become tools of commodity development (as opposed to broader social development). They exist for the coffee, the coffee does not exist for them.

Inhabiting this space as an economic niche has tied Kenyans into a cycle of cash-cropping that has degraded subsistence farming. It is one thing to know that coffee is a valuable crop in Western Kenya because of climate and topography, but quite another to understand it in its historical dimensions and social implications. Lessons like these can push the discourse beyond the boundaries of what otherwise is thought of as geography curriculum while returning it to the experiential realm of most secondary students, encouraging them to thoughtfully engage the discussion of issues as global citizens. Coffee is an artifact of adolescent life in the United States, more so than ever before, as coffee outlets have increased a staggering 500% over the past decade. Teens use coffee as a stimulant to manage their overscheduled lives, as a means of socializing and being cool, and as yet another moniker of brand acculturation (Needham, 2003). Because adolescents experience coffee as a commodity, they should also explore its social and spatial implications, with an aim toward acting differently in light of the knowledge they gained.

With respect to Myerss (2006) GCE curriculum case study, the spatial dimensions are all too evident. The relative isolation of the United States historically from world affairs has generally supported an international go-it-alone policy, in a sense placing itself either above the fray of global issues or at the helm of military action. Thus, it is not surprising to find schools reticent to join a GCE movement because such a curriculum contradicts how the United States has geographically positioned itself as a nation apart. Yet, globalization has contributed to the shrinking of global space such that few nations, and certainly not the United States, are separate from it or unrelated to the larger world. This shrinking is a long-standing process and is rapidly accelerating with expanding effect. Adolescents in the United States have the highest proportion of disposable income of any population. They are, often unknowingly, deeply enmeshed in the global economy and yet have few opportunities to sort out how these entangling connections shape their choosing and have an effect on the choices of others. Bigelow and Petersons (2002) simple yet elegant example of a classroom activity in which students explore the social and economic implications of purchasing a soccer ball is richly textured with spatial considerations related to global sweatshops, labor, and resource distribution. This lesson, which allows students to make both a tactile connection to a family activity like playing soccer and an emotional connection to youth their age who sew such balls, has an immediacy for students that other lessons on global economics lack.

The GCE example related to new media, typically embodied in computers and available via the Internet, potentially raises rich discussions about the nature of where, what, and how we connect in the world, and indeed who we are. Cyberspace, for example, is often conceptualized as a commons of interaction where one can instantly go to new places. The truth and irony in such heuristics is revealing, because engaging the Internet does not physically transport one to another place, and the inscription of patterns of dominance through the digital divide confounds such utopic visions. This begs the question, is a screen image truly a new space-place? If so, what does it mean to be in a place, or what are its qualities? How do certain places render space in particular ways, perhaps didactic, reflective, or dialogic? What are the implications of those renderings? Further, who is a global teenager? Can someone be one despite never leaving the space-place of his or her laptop computer? Also, what of students who do not have a computer and an Internet connection? Are they further excluded from global discourses, only to be spoken of and for? Questions like these can guide students to critically engage the nature of spatiality in ways that they experience daily.


Students need integrative GCE approaches to deal with severe problems that are on the horizon. What are those conditions? In just the first six 6 years of the 21st century, great social and ecological catastrophes have occurred, including Hurricane Katrina and its woeful social response in North America; a massive tsunami and cataclysmic social upheaval in South Asia; migrant labor riots in European cities; the nuclearization of Pacific Rim countries and potentially countries in the Middle East; a rekindling of deforestation in Latin America; rapid desertification along with an HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa; genocide in Darfur, Sudan; and unprecedented glacier loss in the polar and subpolar regions due to global warming. Globally, mass extinctions, burgeoning human population growth, resource exploitation, wars, genocide, and nuclear proliferation continue to threaten the sustainability of many life forms on the planet, including human beings. All of these are fundamentally about space and place, such that they deserve careful attention by GCE.

GCEs integrative, impressionistic, and fluid style is of value here. In disciplinary inquiry, domains of knowledge control what questions can be asked and what data can be brought to bear. As James Gee (2005) noted, if one goes so far in a given theoretical area as to question the domains basic assumptions, one is forced to exit the theory and enter a new one. Applying this idea to geography, then, there are certain areas in which the discipline of geography does not provide guidance. If a student asks, for example, why people continue to drive SUVs in light of ominous warnings about global warming, geography offers little insight into the psycho-social-spatial-economic-political tension embedded in such a question. In GCE, however, no question falls beyond the pale, making it a troublingly broad area to teach, but one that is less restrictive and more dynamic.

A GCE focus on space and place as we describe it herein, rather than a disciplinary geography, has the advantage of making explicit the imperial heritage of disciplined geography. Geography traces its roots to the ancient Greeks, becoming a modality of war and conquering during the Roman Empire, a necessity for Hajj-bound Muslims during the 7th century, and a mapping of Gods dominion among Christian monks in the Medieval Period. Despite these precursors, the acceleration and attention that geography received is largely a historical artifact of European overseas exploration, trade, and, eventually, colonization in far-flung parts of the world. Historically, locating others required a map both to place them and ultimately to identify and extract their resources. Geography was born, thus, out of the utility of empire.

Geography is an inheritance of efforts to divide the world, to construct places in a static way, to name people and their regions, and, ultimately, to assign value to those people and places. Geography was, in short, a means of empire that was conceived as a bridge between the hard sciences and the humanities (Willinsky, 1998). John Willinsky critically examined National Geographic for capturing the other in a photo-realist take on the world . . . within easy and engaging reach (p. 148). Geography thus promoted notions of exotic others naturally placed within certain landscapes, as if their human essences were fundamentally of the particular land they occupied. In implicit contrast, then, is the Western man liberated from places and confines, focusing his gaze on others; studying lives-so-removed-from-[their]-own . . . turn[s] students . . . into educational tourists (p. 156).

Geography as we reconceptualize it offers a recursive use of geographic insight that is itself suspect of the processes that bring the data to bear originally. Edward Sojas (1989) work, for example, is critical of the epistemic heritage of geography while employing the rudiments of spatialization in the service of a new perspective on urban landscapes. Soja seeks to re-entwine a more flexible and balanced critical theory that re-entwines the making of history with the social production of space, with the construction and configuration of human geographies (p. 11). Soja employs the backdrop of Los Angeles to identify the cyclical nature of capital's use of space and place to serve its ends by fragmenting communities in times of economic crises and redistributing populations and means of production to suit the furtherance of capital. Consequently, the urban landscape is modified to serve capital rather than social needs. Such analysis is critical in understanding how and why resources have been spatialized as belonging to a certain group, region, or nation, how such stratification has contributed to the gap betweens global haves and have-nots, the ways in which resource extraction and development have deteriorated ecology, and what can be done in local communities and elsewhere to address differential access to resources.

Another challenge for GCE is to integrate aesthetic and spiritual aspects of human experience. Understanding our selves and our society, particularly in an increasingly global era in which localities are linked and fragmented through complex global ties, requires interdisciplinarity, spirituality, and criticality so that key Western, modernist, and market ways of understanding can be refined and improved. One of the long-standing debates about public education in the United States has to do with the role of religion and morality in the curriculum and, more broadly, the relationship between spirituality and democracy. After decades of struggle to remove explicit Protestant teaching from school practices and curricula, public education had largely retreated from religion and, correspondingly, from spirituality.

Public educations failure to engage with issues of spirituality has had certain costs, including the loss of shared knowledge about diverse belief systems, along with a sense that school is further alienated from students who long to engage in soulful learning about the meaning of life. Space and place are integral to the exploration of matter for existential, aesthetic, and spiritual meanings. The image of Earth floating in spacelonely, fragile, and smallhas had a profound effect on human consciousness. The rise of environmental awareness and, to some degree, the very project of global education, have been linked to this iconic vision (see Gaudelli, 2003). On a small scale, it is the sort of reverence that one feels when watching the Sun slip beneath the horizon over the ocean, the passion generated by standing on a mountainous ridge, or the solemnity offered by a walk on a wooded path. All these experiences spring from a common and deep impulse that the places we inhabit and visit are transformative and potentially transforming.

Attending to this spiritual reality both in curricula and in the professional personae of teachers represents a defensible way that a democratic institution should reflect and serve its larger community. One of the more prominent voices calling for a spiritual perspective in education is Parker Palmer (1998), who explained that he wants to shake off the narrow notion that spiritual questions . . . must include the word God. He noted, [as] I explore ways to evoke the spiritual in education, I want neither to violate separation of church and state nor to encourage those who would impose their religious belief on others (p. 6). Although we support the separation of church and state, we believe that it is a mistake for progressive-minded educators to abandon issues of spirituality in education and to leave this basic human need as the exclusive claim of the Right, similar to the way that the Right seems to claim patriotism as its preserve (Waltzer & Heilman, 2005). Spirituality is central to fostering a democratic community and a global citizenry, each of which requires compassion, imagination, and grace.

We believe it is high time that curricula of all sorts recognize such profound aspects of living and honor the potential reservoir of commitment to places, to the Earth, that beckons from such experiences. GCE, as we conceptualize it, does not degrade such student experiences as either beside the point, not required by the test, or just a feeling, but rather honors these insights as profoundly important and generative.  


Curriculum can never be transparent and unmediated, especially in school.  Issues of space and place and their connections with student lives can result in a wide range of curricula devoted to many political and social ends. Yet all curricula are political and social. Dewey was keenly aware of the disjuncture that students felt about academic learning and was eager to explore lived experience with its inevitable contradictions rather than deny or sanitize life with a curriculum devoid of passionate meaningor indeed, of any meaning. He related a telling anecdote offered by the superintendent of schools in Moline, Illinois, wherein some students were learning the geography of the Mississippi River but did not connect the body of water that flowed through their town with the one studied in their textbook (Dewey, 1900/1990).

Deweys example reminds us both that the experiential world is filled with teachable contents and that the most useful beginning for meaningful study is in communities. Warrants for a GCE within social studies are, analogously, flowing through educations backyard as the complexity and urgency of global issues implore our curricular attention. And yet, to this point, these issues have gone largely unnoticed. Rather than teach geography in a didactic way or as a discipline, we have argued that geography curriculum should be remade within a vision similar to GCE so that space and place can be socially contextualized and psychologized. Suggesting that geography curriculum be reworked to such a degree may seem like an unwarranted departure from a tradition, however unexamined, in schools. Yet, we are reminded that any education worthy of its name needs a careful examination of the personal through vibrant analysis of the social.

I believe that the individual who is to be educated is a social individual and that society is an organic union of individuals. If we eliminate the social factor from the child we are left only with an abstraction; if we eliminate the individual factor from society, we are left only with an inert and lifeless mass. (Dewey, 1897a, p. 77)

We are not suggesting in any way that disciplinary geography be removed from school curricula altogether, because there is a place for advanced geographic study for students who choose such specialization and hope to pursue such study in college or as a career path. These must remain options, of course. But for the vast majority of students, the sort of specialized study advocated by disciplinary scholars is beside the point of a comprehensive education for democratic life in a global context. Still, what is needed are integrative studies that address social problems and that are accessible to all students in light of their previous experiences, contemporary problems, and shared global futures.


The authors wish to thank Kenneth Waltzer and 2006 CUFA session participants for their thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of this work.


1 Parts of this article and some ideas for the typology are based on Gaudelli (2006, 2007) and Heilman (2005, 2006, 2007).


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 11, 2009, p. 2647-2677
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15450, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 7:44:07 PM

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About the Author
  • William Gaudelli
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    WILLIAM GAUDELLI, EdD, is associate professor of social studies and education in the Department of Arts and Humanities at Teachers College, Columbia University. His research areas include global education, teacher development, and media as curricular material. He is the author of more than 30 articles and book chapters, and two books, including World Class: Teaching and Learning in Global Times (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003).
  • Elizabeth Heilman
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    ELIZABETH HEILMAN, PhD, is associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. Her work is characterized by interdisciplinary scholarship and explores how social and political imaginations are shaped and how various philosophies, policies, and pedagogies influence the practice of democratic citizenship, especially global citizenship. She is the author or editor of more than 35 book chapters and articles and five books, including Reclaiming Education for Democracy (Routledge, 2008).
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