Empowering Global Citizens To Improve The World

These are extraordinary times for humanity. Never before have we had access to more effective means to advance social progress. Communication technologies, for instance, allow us unprecedented forms of collaboration and organization, with people all over the world. Developments in biotechnology, similarly, allow us to cure and prevent diseases and extend life in remarkable ways. These scientific and technological advances, and the forms of organization and collaboration they enable, can help us advance health, reduce poverty, promote environmental sustainability, or advance opportunities for people from all walks of life like at no other time in history. Achieving these results will require collaboration among people from different nationalities, religious creeds, races and cultural backgrounds. Our ability to come together across differences in our identities will enable us to address these challenges and improve the world. Developing an understanding of the ways in which we can help more people develop the competencies for that kind of collaboration, to work together as global citizens, is critical to enable and accelerate the process of using all we know and all the means we have available to make the world better.

These same advances can also be used by misguided individuals and groups to cause harm and to serve destructive purposes, of proportionately large scale and impact. Some of the risks we face together are the potential result of such misuse of humanity's scientific and technological advances. Risks such as terrorism, cybercrime, organized crime, environmental degradation, government breakdown, corruption, illicit trade, fiscal crises, social inequality, racial and religious violence, among others. Understanding what drives people to use their knowledge to serve destructive purposes, what about their life experiences leads them towards these various forms of violence against others, is essential to minimize those global risks. Equally important is to educate the public on those risks, so that more people can share the responsibility to manage them.

To some extent these opportunities and risks are two sides of the same coin. The opportunities that can help people develop empathy, compassion, deep knowledge and agency to collaborate with others in using what we know to improve the world are the opposite, the mirror image, of the conditions that drive others to alienation, marginalization and hatred towards other human beings, and lead them on destructive paths that endanger the world. The person who grows up to be an empowered global citizen benefited from educational experiences which helped them understand the world and discover their own capacity to improve it, from experiences that gradually built the mindsets and dispositions that produce agency, was taught to reason ethically and to have compassion for others in ways which lead to taking responsibility to advancing not just their individual interests, but the common good. They gained from opportunities to know others across many lines of difference which led to developing trust and appreciation of those differences. Conversely, the person who grows up to engage in the forms of violence that endanger others suffered from the alienation, marginalization and exposure to violence and indoctrination that led them to believe their rights to their beliefs are superior to those of others, to see others as less than human, and to see the lives of others as not worthy of value, to not trust others, the rule of law, institutions or governments, which leads to the use of violence as legitimate to advance their means.

For a very long time we have known that education can lead to peace, help prevent violence, help people and nations recover from violence, and that miseducation can lead to more violence. The very idea that all people should be educated was first advance by John Amos Comenius, a Czech philosopher who lived in the sixteenth century witnessing and experiencing religious intolerance and violence, which made him a religious refugee. Comenius proposed that the root of such violence was the inability of people to work out their differences in peaceful ways, which led him to propose that all persons should be educated so we could have peace in the world. Education was included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 also as a means to advance Peace and avert global conflict. We know also that education is not synonymous with years of schooling. Some of the major perpetrators of the Holocaust had advanced degrees, some had two doctorates, and the Third Reich rose in Germany with the support or complicit acquiescence of a population with the highest level of education in the world at the time. It is clear that if we want students to learn to improve the world and to work for peace we must do more than hope they learn this in school, we must teach them how.

Over the last century many different programs were created to help students develop the competencies that would help them be stewards for Peace and social progress. The United World Colleges, for example, created in 1962 by Kurt Hahn, bring together students from many different countries so that in their shared experiences over two years of high school they discover their common humanity and develop the character and the dispositions to advance peace and sustainability. Other programs provide students the opportunity to study global affairs, to learn foreign languages, to develop a curiosity about the world and to discover the opportunities to improve it.

A group of colleagues and I have just published Empowering Global Citizens, a new book (Reimers, Chopra, Chung, Higdon and O'Donnell. Empowering Global Citizens. 2016 available from Amazon) that examines these various approaches to cultivating global citizenship, and that discusses why global citizenship education should develop deep understanding of current global challenges, and build the skills and the dispositions that help students take responsibility to address some of these challenges. We demonstrate what these principles look like in practice in an integrated, interdisciplinary, problem and project based curriculum aligned with Human Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Risk Assessment Framework developed by the World Economic Forum. Our hope is to advance ongoing efforts in global citizenship education towards greater rigor, depth and access as we advance the conversation on global education and provide resources which allow large scale collaborations among teachers in developing the tools we need to offer transformative learning opportunities to our students. We published the book using a Creative Commons license, which enables the most extensive forms of use by others, including building on and repurposing our curriculum, as we hope that this book will invite collaboration among many teachers and other educators, as well as students, who, together, build new curricula and other instructional resources, using the ideas we offer in this book as they see fit. We published this book as a paperback and as an ebook as a way to enable the widest possible access to these ideas. We hope colleagues in other countries will be inspired to translate this book into other languages and to build on it as a way to make it relevant to their contexts.

One of the opportunities that technology offers us are unprecedented forms of collaboration among teachers and students. We hope that these choices we made regarding how to publish the book will support collaboration that leads to collective intelligence, as communities of teachers co-create the professional knowledge about how to best empower students as global citizens.

The opportunity to do this now could not be more timely, more urgent indeed. The Sustainable Development Goals , adopted by world leaders at the last general assembly of the United Nations, provide an aspirational vision of how to construct a world without poverty, with more social inclusion, without violence, with prosperity and sustainability. This world is within reach, and an index is now available which can help us assess how each nation in the world fares with regards to these goals (www.sdgindex.org). These goals provide direction for how to educate students to improve the world. The risks of not doing this are also clear. Daily news remind of the violence and the many challenges to peace which remain in communities around the world. It is up to educators now to work with our students in making our schools more relevant, around the world, so they truly do what they have always been meant to do, to prepare students to build a future that is better than the present, to truly improve the world. We hope Empowering Global Citizens will be helpful in that effort.