The Possibilities of Global Studies
A great deal of discussion about casinos in Massachusetts has been in the news lately, but one brief comment by Governor Patrick really caught the attention of many educators. "Global education" and the subsequent "competitiveness" of Mass students were listed as reasons for needing the funds that casinos could bring in. On a related but unreported note, Massachusetts won the 2007 Goldman Sachs Foundations Prize for International Education in recognition of educators and administrator’s efforts to infuse curriculum and classrooms with a global perspective. The Massachusetts Initiative for International Studies has been instrumental in framing this discussion. This prestigious award is perhaps not as sexy as casinos, but it is noteworthy as forward thinking people across the Commonwealth continue to evaluate what and why we want our students to learn. Governor Patrick’s vision for the future includes global education, something that many in the Commonwealth are interested in, but what does this mean?
In my second year of teaching public high school, something interesting happened within the twelve easily distracted young men in third period modern world history class. In desperation after winter break, I raided the English teachers’ supply room and swiped a classroom set of Hiroshima, by John Hersey. I figured that this group of low-level readers would get the clear-cut story line of the atomic bomb detonation, and knew they would get into the gory details. In order to get these 15yr olds thinking about the topic before opening the book, I asked them how they felt about the use of nuclear weapons. Their response was overwhelmingly positive; bombs were “awesome, funny, cool” etc. Then we thrashed through the text, examining photos, video, and other primary source documents along the way. After reading the last pages out loud and taking a deep breath, I again asked how they felt about the use of the atomic bomb. The boys were quick to answer that they felt it was extreme, that it was cruel to punish people for wars declared by governments, and that innocent people should not be killedd. I was surprised by the visceral level of their reaction. This same group had embraced the idea of vaporizing unknown people around the globe days earlier, but seeing the faces of bomb victims and making personal connections to the impact of something far away had clearly moved them.
This was my first concrete taste of how global studies can move students, and it left me wondering about the process. It is possible, even in that poorly planned unit years ago, to impart to students the interconnected humanity of people around the world. As we look to issues that will impact our young learners’ futures: the environment, immigration, nuclear proliferation, and fresh water, it is apparent that there are a couple of ways of looking at global education. We can strive to prepare students to be “competitive” as the Governor said, which could mean simply employed in our post-“flat world” view of the economy. Then again, it could mean something more meaningful and ultimately useful.
This spring, an article in Educational Leadership asserted, “Competition is yesterday’s challenge. Today’s challenge is collaborating to solve global problems that spill over national boundaries.” Our students need to be able to communicate and empathize with others around the world as technology and immigration bring the world to our classrooms and beyond. To educate a young person so that they can exploit those in less economically developed regions is not an intended outcome of the global studies movement. For students to collaboratively work to solve problems in a future that we can not yet imagine; that is the mission of global studies.
–Rachel Zucker, History, Burlington High School