Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The most important rationale for global education comes from within the classroom (and has nothing to do with "economic competitiveness")

"Nuth, there is nothing you are going to be able to teach me in this class that's going to make me like Arabs," remarked Austin. 

He was one of my more outspoken sophomores a few years back, and I distinctly remember him saying this rather enthusiastically immediately after I passed out The Arab-American Handbook by Nawar Shora, one of the many texts I use in my Global Studies/English class.

I was caught completely off-guard. 

I hastily responded, "Austin, I bet you five bucks that you have a broader perspective by the end of year."  He said, "It's on," and we shook hands. 

This was the first time (and last time) I bet a kid money.  Of course, I wouldn't make him pay in the end if I won, but it left me wondering whether it was an act of confidence or whether it was merely an act of desperation.  Did I really think that I could change his assumptions, or was I just trying to act confident in front of a group of thirty 16-year-olds staring at me with the "what's-she-going-to-say-to-that" expressions on their faces.  (It should be noted that over the course of the school year, I proceeded to completely forget about the bet.)

Austin (by the way, his name has been changed for privacy), was always one of my most vocal students and was completely unafraid to express his beliefs.  He was influential, loved by his peers, outgoing, opinionated, and infused with a single narrative of Arab culture.

Over the course of the year, Austin was exposed to many globally diverse perspectives, narratives, and histories, including those of Arabs and Arab-Americans.  He also blogged with a group of students in Morocco regularly through our class, and although his grades did not necessarily reflect this, he was one of the most engaged students I'd ever taught. 

On the last day of school, right after school, Austin came into my classroom and walked up to my desk.  He asked me to put out my hand, and into it he slipped a $5 bill.  I had forgotten all about our bet.  He told me that I won, and that he would never be able to view people in same, narrow way again.  He looked me straight in the eye, and Austin told me that it was our class he thanks for that.  We hugged and had a little cry together.  It was one of my most moving experiences as an educator.

Global education makes young people more aware of their cultural lenses and the ways in which their cultural lenses shape their beliefs and perspectives.  It helps them understand that the nature of culture and conflict is complex and that there are never clear-cut "good guys" and "bad guys."  It exposes to them the danger of single narratives of a group of people.  It makes them aware of the ways in which adhering to singular sources of identity contributes to violence.

But you would have no way of seeing or experiencing this if you were not in the classroom.  The dominant rationale for global education coming from policy makers, various private organizations, NGOs, and non-profits, is that we need to teach globally so that the United States can remain economically competitive in a global marketplace.  I think that it must not be forgotten that there is a whole body of more compelling rationale for global education related to enabling our students to challenge their own assumptions, stereotypes, and single narratives, to challenge the idea of American exceptionalism, and to encourage our students to engage in important debates and conversations about the state of our democracy and human rights.


  1. What a wonderful way to launch your blog! Thanks for sharing your insights and giving us a great story to illustrate your point. Having spent a day with you and your students earlier this year, I know your students are really digging deep into global perspectives and insights. They're lucky to have you. Keep writing!

  2. Stories from the classroom are critical. Keep on sharing.

  3. Beautiful! I really look forward to hearing more about what you have done in your classroom to get students like Austin to broaden their perspectives.