Educating Global Citizens

by on May.02, 2011, under general

From the Telegraph:

HOLLIS – Brookline resident and parent Valerie Ogden talked dirty to the School Board on Tuesday night.

In the two minutes she was allotted during the public comment part of the Hollis/Brookline Cooperative School Board meeting, Ogden recited a run-on sentence of sexually explicit words excerpted from a memoir on the high school reading list.

“I’m astounded by what we’re allowing our students to get their hands on,” Ogden said.

The audience cheered.

Over the past year or so a small group of puritanical parents have emerged from the ooze to terrorize my old hometown. Beginning with last year’s challenges of various books and documentaries – one parent, “disturbed after learning students viewed a film about drug use in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina”, is apparently disturbed by just plain learning – and continuing through the stunts at school board meetings this spring, this small group of radical anti-intellectuals have attempted to strip the school curriculum of anything that would teach senior students about important issues.

Unlike many stories, which become more important the closer you get to them, the problem of small minds in small towns becomes even more urgent the further one draws away from them. Because these crusades aren’t only happening in Hollis. They’re happening all over the state, region, and country.

When I worked on the banned books map I thought that book challenges would be concentrated in certain areas – the South, the Bible Belt, etc – that we elite, effete liberals of the northeast think of, snobbishly, as cultural backwaters. I was wrong. Anti-intellectualism is endemic, and present wherever there are people:

View Book Bans and Challenges, 2007-2010 in a larger map

A few weeks ago, one of the book banners published a similarly stupid op/ed in the town paper:

To the Editor:

I recently came across a draft of the SAU 41 mission statement. It read like a United Nations charter for global childhood education. There were references to a global society, to a world community, to environmental initiatives, and to philanthropic activity. The students apparently will become stewards of the environment and will appreciate diversity and complexity.

Although training good global citizens is, of course, an admirable goal, I would be more impressed if there had been more emphasis on academics. Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe that a school’s primary function is the education of its students, not the development of global citizens.

I would suggest that students first learn to be good American citizens, and the first lesson should be why they are so blest to live in this country. In a world full of war, poverty, and starvation, only a relative handful of nations enjoy freedom and prosperity. The United States has enjoyed more freedom and prosperity than any other nation in the history of the world. Millions of people have come to our nation to live a better life, and no other nation has attracted anywhere near the immigrants that we have. Students should understand the reasons why.

Our success derives from our adherence to the Constitution and to capitalism. The prosperous nations around the world are those who have adopted capitalism. The Constitution is unique among world documents in that it guarantees our citizens individual freedoms and liberties. I know that this may not sit well with people more interested in developing global students, but students need to first be stewards of the Constitution and of capitalism. Only then will their special role in the world be clear: to continue to be a shining beacon of hope and encouragement for people living in less fortunate nations.


I wrote the following in response, which was published the next week:

In last week’s issue of The Journal, Alfred F Chase Jr criticized the SAU 41 mission for being too globally minded. A school, he said, should function to educate its students, not to develop global citizens. He then praised capitalism and the Constitution for awhile, before thrillingly concluding that these domestic institutions were the true proper subjects of study so that students might understand their “special role in the world.”

As a proud alumnus of SAU 41 I dispute Mr Chase’s first premise: that a global perspective is incompatible with a proper education. Indeed, as the unresolved internal tensions in Mr Chase’s own letter demonstrate – after all, what is our “special role in the world” if not a function of our global citizenship? – they are in fact inseparable.

When students graduate from SAU 41 the vast majority of them leave home for school or work. Outside of our small, safe, sheltering community, they confront actual problems in the world: problems of the poor, the disadvantaged, the subaltern. And they become members of a broader, interconnected society that operates locally, nationally, and globally.

What are we educating students for if not to prepare them for this world in which they will live? For that matter, what meaningful distinction is there nowadays between “education of students” and “development of global citizens,” beyond a knee-jerk reaction against anything that sounds vaguely un-American?

Mr Chase calls his opinion “old-fashioned.” It isn’t. It is merely ill-considered, with more good snark than good sense. It is of a kind with the sentiment to sanitize our schools of any allergens from the actual world that may have contaminated the curriculum. Both do much more damage to the development of our students than any global education – or banned book – ever could.

Hollis/Brookline is pastoral in its landscape, but it need not be provincial in its perspective. Our small towns should not be small-minded. Whether Mr Chase likes it our not, graduates of SAU 41 will become citizens of a global society. It is the duty of the schools to prepare them for it.

I’ve been encouraged by the hundreds of HBHS alums who have joined a Facebook group to voice their support of teachers and education and against censorship. These issues are small and local, but there are many small localities; fight them where you find them.

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