Education for Global Competence
and the Culture Wars
Dr. Anthony Jackson, Vice President for Education and Director of the Center for Global Education at Asia Society (retired)
Advisor to Community Catalyst Partners
I begin this article with a confession. My love for learning is deep. But while I am fascinated with human cognition, especially in the developing minds of children, I became an educator because I believe deep learning and the understanding it brings is the best possible means for all children to achieve equality as they grow to adulthood. That is my deeper passion. While I truly believe it is essential for all youth to learn about the world and how it works, my underlying if unspoken agenda for founding the ISSN in 2003 was about equality for all, regardless of background.
I provide this bit of autobiographical truth telling because ISSN leaders are today faced with similar considerations of the outcomes we seek for students and what’s required to achieve them within a turbulent political climate, much changed from two decades ago. On May 25, 2022, the leaders of Community Catalyst Partners, Gene Chasin and Donnie Turlington, convened a small group of ISSN school leaders to consider how best to strengthen and grow the network. The meeting focused on the question, given the “culture wars” in the US today which include a rejection of the concept of globalization as “anti-American’, does teaching for global competence make schools too vulnerable to political attack to be worth the effort?
The resounding response of the group was that teaching for global competence is precisely what students need, now more than ever, to understand the complexities of the world and how they affect their lives every day. If anything, we need to double down on educating globally competent students. But we need to be savvy in doing so and keep our eyes on the prize. For Peter Harris, Director of Learning and Design for Career Pathways Programs at the Ulster County BOCES, that means emphasizing the goal of developing “employable good human beings”. For Don Wilson, Superintendent of Vista Charter Public Schools, it means knowing your audience and choosing words that speak to the universal values inherent in the four dimensions of global competence: investigating the world, recognizing perspectives, communicating ideas, and taking action. “The goal is providing access for all students to determine their own futures. We can’t let words that raise red flags for some people keep us from doing that. We can change the words, but we should never change the mission.” To that end, CCP could help school leaders and others “sell” the ISSN by developing communication resources (“elevator speeches”) that enable people from different kinds of communities to understand the value of the four dimensions of global competence for their own children.
No matter how it is framed, teaching for global competence is, ultimately, a pedagogy to support students’ discernment and understanding of the truth about the world in which they live. Understanding how systems work to the benefit of some and detriment of others, seeing the world from others’ perspectives, understanding how others’ experience shapes interpretation of ideas, and illuminating the consequences of action (or inaction) will inevitably lead to difficult conversations. What resources and experiences do educators need to guide such conversations toward deeper learning and away from accusation and acrimony? How can school leaders create the conditions for challenging discussions amid emotionally fraught and politically charged environments? These are some of the questions the ISSN Advisory Committee will address its next meeting later this summer, toward a plan of action for the coming school year. Critical questions now as they were two decades ago.