The Islands in Our Minds: Reaffirming Global Citizenship Education

It is the right time! Indeed, this is the right time to reaffirm global citizenship education and to encourage educators around the world to revisit their curricula and transform classrooms in order to foster the development of global citizens. We are witnessing a surge of groups that follow ideals that are incompatible with a concrete reality: our world is interrelated, interconnected and interdependent. These groups are now challenging the work and efforts of global educators, advocates, policymakers, writers and conscious citizens.

It seems to me that there are individuals who do not value the principles that provide the foundation for the development of global citizens. They validate their ideas and actions based on experiences resulting from isolation, lack of exposure to world views and lack of access to unbiased information and diverse opinions. It is possible that these factors have facilitated the establishment of “restrictive islands” in their minds, limiting their understanding of our world. Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that education is a powerful tool that allows us to open and expand people’s minds and helps people to become responsible and globally minded citizens.

We have arrived at a point when educators need to reflect on their role as global citizenship advocates and facilitators. A conscientious introspection can help us to determine if there are any insular viewpoints or “islands” in our own minds that need to be addressed for us to become efficient global educators and to effectively transform today’s students.

Educators must engage in a three-step process. First, we must continuously empower ourselves with knowledge and experiences regarding local and global realities and challenges. The resulting empowerment should drive us to examine and reflect on our ideas and opinions about the development of educated and responsible global citizens. Second, we need to think about the current generation of students. We need to plan courses and develop pedagogical strategies that will result in exciting and challenging classes and learning environments. Such strategies must take into consideration a new generation of curious and vocal students who integrate technology as their primary learning tool. Consequently, technology becomes a necessary teaching and learning resource that can motivate students to engage and think critically about various issues and information, while interacting with their peers, educators and well-informed groups around the world. Hence, technology and the Internet can provide bridges that will help our students to step out of their insular thinking. On the other hand, through technology, educators may also develop supportive networks with colleagues who are proactive in the teaching of global citizenship.

Third, educators, who view themselves as agents of change and advocates for global citizenship education, must commit to facilitating current or updated knowledge about the world, helping their students develop competencies and skills that will allow them to think critically and become creative problem solvers. Educators should also foster and model attitudes that reinforce, at a minimum, respect and empathy for others and that promote individual and collective responsibilities towards our planet and humanity. Thus, I strongly believe that professors and teachers must intentionally infuse their classrooms with information from a variety of sources to ignite passionate, informed and intelligent discussions and debates. It is important to explore issues that rely on rights, responsibilities, virtues and values. These are the elements that may promote or hinder the development of global citizens.

It is also important to provide holistic, cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary educational opportunities to motivate our students to express their points of view or opinions, while recognizing their educational level and respecting their learning styles, diversity and creative preferences. We must help our students to become more open to the outside world and warn them about the dangers of developing misconceptions that may create isolated islands in their hearts and minds. Undoubtedly, today, it takes a high degree of personal and professional commitment and responsibility to become an effective global citizenship educator.

I truly believe that an effective and responsible teacher, who provokes reflection and discussions, based on a challenging reading, can change students’ lives and world views. Whenever I try to find evidence of this very personal belief, one name comes to my mind.

As I approached the end of my high school years, my teacher, Mrs. López, felt that it was her duty to instil in us her love for literature, critical thinking and the humanities. This rite of passage was marked by an academic challenge: to write a paper about a book that she assigned each of us individually. As students approached her desk, we were presented with a book, which marked the beginning of the learning process. I was fortunate to receive the smallest and shortest book that magically came out of a box, placed right beside her desk. Relief was evident on my face, as I looked at my book and stared at my classmates. They received heavier books! I must confess that I hid mine, when I realized that I was assigned the smallest book in the classroom, and when I became aware that it had the shortest title of all the assigned readings: Insularismo!

Written in 1934 by Puerto Rican writer and educator Antonio Pedreira, Insularismo emphasizes the exploration of our identity and heritage, while provoking readers to think critically about the role of history, culture and race in the development of our island’s idiosyncrasies (think locally). In this book, Pedreira also forewarns us of the effects of insular thinking and the risks of getting caught in an insular mindset. He explicitly encourages young people to expand their horizons and to study, think and act beyond the limits of their island (think globally). Hence, in the 1930s the author was already promoting the importance of both local and global ways of thinking and learning (glocal mentality).

Mrs. López’s assignment and Antonio Pedreira’s book had a profound effect on my life. When my teacher assigned the reading and asked me to think critically about its main ideas, she purposefully directed me to reflect on our island’s vision and our insular mindset. At the same time, she planted the seed that led me to become a committed educator and a global citizenship advocate, through my current role as a senior internationalization officer.

Throughout the years, I had the opportunity to continue my academic career, to travel and to read other books. All those experiences shaped my perceptions regarding our world’s needs and challenges. The works of Nel Noddings, Peter Stearns, and Boyd Roberts allowed me to get a better understanding of global citizenship as an evolving concept. Their writings also led me to believe that we need to continue to educate others about the principles of global citizenship, as the world faces new challenges.

Fortunately, we can rely on a body of knowledge regarding international education that is based on the writings of Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Jane Knight, Hans de Wit, John Hudzik and Betty Leask. In addition, there are various international education projects and resources that are facilitated by professional organizations such as the American Council on Education’s Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement (CIGE), NAFSA: Association of International Educators and Oxfam. Furthermore, the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP) and the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) are some of the most effective organizations that provide opportunities to develop networks that would support education for global citizenship initiatives. These authors and groups provide much-needed information, resources and support to empower global educators.

We need to reaffirm global citizenship education by reconceptualizing or reframing this concept, in the context of current social, economic and geopolitical trends, as they affect our planet. Around the world, we still have isolated communities and organizations with insular vision and island mindsets. Within larger and smaller countries and regions, and even within technologically advanced cities and societies—regardless of their geography or location—we can still find isolated islands whose citizens need to be educated, exposed to world views, and challenged by global ideals and values. I propose that we continue to examine the purpose of global citizenship education. We must ask ourselves about the words that best define a global citizen and the ideas and concepts that are most relevant in the context of our current realities. Indeed, it is the right time to address the islands in all of our minds and to reaffirm the purpose and inherent value of global citizenship education!   

IT IS THE RIGHT TIME!

Let’s consider a basic exercise that can provide the foundation for the development of a comprehensive definition of global citizenship for our current decade. Based on the literature, a group of native islanders from Puerto Rico, have developed a list of the most frequently stated ideas, words and concepts regarding global citizenship. We would like to invite educators to complete a short survey that will allow them to select the most relevant terms that reflect their understanding of global citizenship. If you wish to participate in this global survey, please send an email message to the following address: unaiglobalcitizens@gmail.com