Global Education and Global Citizenship
Global Education and Global Citizenship

Globalization brings the traditional concept of citizenship into question as it becomes easier to identify oneself with a set of common global interests shared by many.  Some of these universal interests include sustainability, human rights, and economic stability.  Certainly, the linking of educators and students through technology creates an international network that fosters a sense of global community.  Unlike nation-states, digital networks have no borders and allow people to build relationships that transcend distance, geo-politics, and in some cases, economics.  It is in this digital global context that many of today’s students identify themselves.

If a genuine understanding of the complex world coupled with a 21st century skill set is the goal of global education, then many educators see global citizenship as its key precept.

However, the notion of global citizenship has proved contentious as some worry about its compatibility with national citizenship.  Consequently, the role of education in creating global citizens has been debated since it has historically been used as a tool to promote accepted social norms and patriotism on the national level.  

While global education does not seek to undermine nationalism, it does strive to create citizens with a global scope that are thoughtful about the problems facing their world.  Just as globalization is an agent for positive change, it also aids the growth of portentous problems such as global terrorist networks, environmental degradation, and sex and drug-trafficking.  This being the reality of the world, students must be able to place global happenings in proper context in order to understand how it impacts their local and international community.

Defining Global Citizenship

Because there is no widely accepted definition for global citizenship, educators often use the term loosely. Derived from the word city, citizenship tends to evoke allegiance to one’s town or nation.  Certainly the notion of citizenship has taken on new meaning from its historical usage as it has gone “global”.  As scholars and educators continue to discuss what it means to become a global citizen, we can identify some common themes within the discourse.

Of course, in order to create an identity within the global context, one must first understand his or her local milieu.  In his article “Educating Global Citizens in a Diverse World,” Dr. James A. Banks, Professor of Diversity Studies and Director of the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington, Seattle,  argues that “citizens in this century need the knowledge, attitude, and skills required to function within and beyond cultural communities and borders.” Banks goes on to say that “students need to understand how life in their cultural communities and nations influences other nations and the cogent that international events have on their daily lives.”   

Banks’ definition focuses mainly on knowledge and understanding as important components of global citizenship.  Many educators use the term “global citizen” to describe someone who knows and cares about contemporary affairs in the whole world, not just in its own nation (Dunn, 2002).   But as we move along the spectrum of global citizenship, it is no longer enough to simply identify and even “care” about global issues, one must develop empathy as well.

The belief that global citizenship goes beyond the realm of knowledge into one of empathy is a commonality in the discourse taking place.  In her essay Gender Perspectives on Educating for Global Citizenship, Dr. Peggy McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, associates “the idea of a global citizen with habits of the mind, heart, body, and soul that have to do with work for and preserving a network of relationship and connection across lines of difference and distinction, while keeping and deepening a sense of one’s own identity and integrity.”   

Clearly, the notions of knowledge, caring, and empathy toward one’s local, national, and global community are emerging as the overarching themes of global citizenship. However, teaching facts or telling anecdotes that relay an accurate message of an interconnected world to students is difficult.  Educators are now trying to figure out how one teaches understanding and empathy.

There have been many attempts in education to carry out this dual mission as the principles espoused by global education gain ground within the international educational community.  Schools K-12 and institutions of higher education work to provide students with increasingly multicultural and cosmopolitan perspectives while teaching those highly coveted 21st century skills. 

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