Getting a Global Education: What does it actually mean?

global (adj.)- of or relating to the whole world; worldwide; relating to or embracing the whole of something, or of a group of things.

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Think of a globe— that colorful sphere that defines our conception of the world, how it turns, its size, its shape. It shows us the many countries and nations that define its masses of land, the continents they are grouped into, and the countless bodies of water that separate them. The globe shows us how all of the landforms and seas are connected together, flowing into one another in a careful balance of give-and-take.

But not once on that representative object were we ever shown the faces of those who inhabit that globe. The millions of bodies that live in those brightly painted shapes were left out. We never were told exactly how they streamed together either. For much of history, we have been taught that peoples have stood separated or strategically connected rather than freely flowing like the land they live on.

And much like the globe, our education system in the United States largely leaves them out, too.

Despite the many ways that developing technology like the Internet has connected peoples, it leaves an empty space in its wake as it moves across the world in patterns of globalization. You can meet someone from anywhere on the planet online, and you can perhaps even seen their face— but what does it mean if you can’t personally communicate with them?

Now, imagine that even if you can communicate with this person from halfway around the world, what if their culture doesn’t make sense to you…but just simply because you’ve never learned about it.

Our education system here in the United States (for the most part) would lead you to believe that it is not your fault for misunderstanding, but rather it is your new friend’s, for not learning English and for not assimilating into the culture that comes with the English language’s hegemonic dominance in many nations of the world in our modern moment.

Examples of this occur in our everyday— with ESL students being grouped into special education classes or low-level academic groups beneath their ‘abled’ English-speaking peers; with native peoples’ schools existing with sub par physical structures, an extreme lack of funding, and barely any teachers; with foreign-language study in the United States dropping for the first time in twenty years.

Let’s turn back to our globe. If language teaches us anything, it is first and foremost that word choice matters, correct? Here then we will read that sentence again: “Let’s turn back to our globe.” It is not just the globe, this globe, a globe. It is our globe; that which embraces all those who inhabit it regardless of privilege, color, belief, class, identity, culture, or language.

As we recognize that the globe is ours as a collective unit, with each small action or word taking up time and space in the grand scheme of worldwide interactions, education comes to the forefront as a means to shape our globe. When we speak to a global education, it is not just one that occurs within the confines of a classroom precisely for these reasons. A global education cannot focus on one language over another, one learning style over another, or one setting over another.

Of course it will be a challenge for educators to grant access to this kind of education to every student, and the means to do that will be battled in education system reforms (especially in the US) for many years to come. Without such access, results such as inequality of learning standards, lack of domestic and international aid, and stark worldwide poverty are not far-off from reality. And to think… all of these things could be different if we simply began talking with one another at a base level— what can a conversation really do?

Here is where we can start today through talking. Together we must develop a mindset towards what global education actually is, what it can be.

If a global education is, as the definition would have it, truly ‘global’ then it must:

  • broaden our conceptions of history beyond nationalist borders and state-centered perspectives, opening up the narrative to more than one voice;
  • bring more speakers to the conversation, one that is no longer one-sided (i.e. English or nothing) so that there is dual learning going on in our person-to-person exchanges;
  • and recognize that we are each individuals made of a rich background of cultures and traditions that should be cherished and shared.

Global education doesn’t start in a classroom— it starts in a conversation. It starts with a joint understanding that you and I, regardless of our viewpoint, are worthy of one another’s attention. If global education is to be the great equalizer, then it begins in a one-on-one interaction.

What will your next conversation open up?

Kirsten Craig

Kirsten Craig

Kirsten is a graduate student in Columbia University’s Masters of Global Thought program. A lover of anything friend and everything sweet, she is passionate about the environment and the many ways our communication is intricately linked to its preservation.

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