Approaches to #GlobalEd: Exploring Varied Perspectives

9/22/2013

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“The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”  –Alvin Toffler

A primary goal of global education is to expose students to a variety of global perspectives, and to help them learn to honor experiences and points of view which are vastly different from their own.  Exploring perspectives includes learning about the cultural and political roots of opinions on any given topic, whether historical or modern, as well as recognizing and celebrating our shared human experience and values.

While this strand of global education has often been considered “fluff curriculum” by traditional educators, developing students’ global pluralism is actually a foundational building block for work in international diplomacy, development, business and politics.  Most global educators will agree that we need to foster students’ empathy for others at a young age—from that empathy comes students’ urge to think critically about how to understand others and contribute to positive change.

It’s important, too, for students to learn how to think about and communicate a critical message when they feel a global practice is harmful, but to be able to balance that critique with respect for the cultural and/or religious roots it comes from.  I used to use Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as an example in my all-girls high school classroom because it elicited such a strong emotional response from students.  We explored the historical, cultural and religious roots of the practice, tried to trace where it was in practice and why, and explored our own ethical reactions while seeking a deep understanding of why it continues to exist.

These topics bring up important questions for students: How do we collaborate globally when our values and goals are often different?  Who gets to decide what “right” looks like, and are we allowed to enforce that right on others?  How do we ensure that our increasingly globalized world doesn’t destroy the best in individual cultures while we seek to eliminate the worst, and that we can come to see all countries as partners in a common human effort toward growth and improvement, equality and justice?

One of my favorite examples of perspective building in action comes from the collaboration between the Centre for Global Education(Alberta) and TakingITGlobal (Ontario) which has produced Global Encounters, a powerful video conferencing program for young people.  In Global Encounters, students participate in online and in-class discussions and student-driven explorations of a given topic, and then come together in live multi-point events designed to bring students into contact with experts and a network of classrooms.

For example the Middle East in Transition series includes video conferences each year on Peace and Conflict, Poetry of Witness, and Resistance Art.  In all cases, students learn about the perspectives and experiences of young people and experts in the Middle East, but are also invited to explore and express their own perspectives on whether, for example, violence is ever a justified response to oppression–and who gets to decide.  In other programs, such as those focused on climate change and other global challenges, students participate in Model United Nations-style dialogue and resolution building to solve real, relevant global problems.

Try this in Your Classroom:  
Choose a recent event in global news, and have students research online to collect as many different news pieces as they can on that one event, from a wide array of global news sources.  Ask students to identify key points they want to compare (title, tone, who is blamed in conflicts, cultural or other perspectives represented, etc.), and have students chart out their comparisons.  Finish by having students craft a news piece of their own, written or video, which brings at least four divergent perspectives together in one product to honor all views, not dilute them.  In a more complex variation, students can develop a Model UN-style debate in which they represent different countries’ viewpoints on an issue and work together to reach a resolution which benefits as many players as possible.