In her chapter “A Classroom as a Wide World” within Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ Curriculum 21, Vivien Stewart separated global demographic trends but lumped global security and citizenship together. But in my mind, each is its own trend while being part of a greater issue. What follows is another look these two (or three) trends and how multicultural education may help educators center their curriculum around content and activities that will build global skills students will need in light of these trends.
(This is the third of a series on global trends and global learning as defined in Curriculum 21. Read my musings from the beginning here.)
#Demographics Since 2010, immigration and migration have not only grown but exploded in some areas and the issue raises humanitarian and isolationists concerns. Rather than going into detail, here’s a list of some topical nouns – take it as a deliberate understatement knowing I can’t possibly give this the level of analysis it deserves: walls, Brexit, Syria, and children. I recommend this advanced copy of the United Nations’ International Migration Report 2015 for a better understanding.
Little did Stewart know what the future held when she said in 2010, “Life in the United States increasingly involves interacting and working with individuals from vastly different backgrounds and cultures – a challenge and an opportunity that requires new skills and perspectives” (99).
In many, many ways, the global perspective looks bad, but when we zoom in and see how local communities face these demographic trends, there is hope. On June 30, the White House recognized 50 U.S. cities that have joined its Building Welcoming Communities Campaign. My own city Atlanta was named, and on July 6, my local NPR affiliate WABE 90.1’s “Closer Look” talked with Rachel Peric, the deputy director of Welcoming Atlanta.
What is Atlanta doing right to help welcome immigrants?
- Partnered with libraries to make them hubs for resources and information on how to become citizens
- Supported programs like Soccer in the Streets that bring immigrants and existing communities together
- The Atlanta History Center hosts events and partnered with StoryCorps to highlight stories of recent immigrants and the existing community
- “Create a spirit and an identify for the city that makes it possible for everyone to feel valued here”
These programs are effective because they take a systemic approach to demographic fluxes. Programs address a need within the community, and they work alongside other programs and in conjunction with institutions. In order to continue to support future demographic changes, we need people who will be able to recognize needs within their community and find opportunities.
What skills must students possess? In order to identify problems, students will need both critical thinking skills and experience with design thinking. I’ve written on design thinking before, and you can read about the process here. In short, it focuses on the human aspects of a system/problem, and practitioners use interviews and anecdotes to discover the roots of the problem and to devise solutions. When prototyping solutions, students will need to be able to apply existing limitations and opportunities: this requires logical thinking and effect analysis (components of critical thinking). Solutions do not always come easily, so creativity and perseverance are key.
Yet, it is not enough to practice these stills without the context of social justice reform. Students will need to know their communities’ histories, conflicts and values, and they will need be aware of their own biases. Which indirectly leads to…#Security and Citizenship Confusing our response to the increase of global migration is how we as individuals, local communities, and nations approach security. The media say we are afraid, and individuals and organizations appeal to that fear by promising more security. Things (guns, opiates), people (refugees, terrorists), ideologies (extremism, racism), and systems (capitalism, fascism, communism) are all labeled threats. People and organizations wanting power offer security by promising to combat those threats: gun-regulation, prescription regulation, border control, surveillance, “See something, say something,” better police training, student debt forgiveness, deal brokering, and repealing trade agreements.
In 2010, Stewart wrote, “U.S. citizens will increasingly be called upon to vote and act on issues,” but before we should cast our vote, we need to first analyze our fears and discuss the correlating problems. Identifying target threats and developing piecemeal legislation ignores the systemic problems, which have laid dormant. What we are experience now is the effect of faster communications: unheard voices are now globally published, unseen sights are now trending overseas.
In 2010, Stewart names a few of the “most pressing issues of our time”: environmental degradation and global warming, pandemic diseases, energy and water shortages, terrorism, and weapons proliferation (100). She adds, “The effects of poverty, injustice, and lack of education elsewhere spill across borders.” Yet, I argue, before we can consider those issues, we need to first define for ourselves who we are as citizens in our local communities and as global citizens. Then as citizens, what are our responsibilities to keep each other secure, from safety against external threats (both physical and technological) to safety against societal cancers that drain our quality of life.
Finally, when we recognize our own citizenship, we must also acknowledge and respect citizens from other nations and other cultures. “More than ever, our security is intertwined with our understanding of other cultures.” This was true in 2010, and it is true now. We must learn other cultures, and by do so, fear them less.
A Case for Multicultural Education
You might wonder, “What is the difference between global learning (or global competencies) and multicultural education?” Both practices seem to embrace the inclusion of other cultures within formal schooling. The goals of both are similar, too: a respect for cultural differences and the acknowledgement of many cultures’ contributions.
They differ in that global learning focuses on the context of learning (within a globally connected system), and multicultural education focuses on the content and methodology (deliberately highlighting and including other cultures). To help students acquire the skills needed to face the demographic, security, and citizenship global trends, teachers and schools should consider the following:
- Content and projects that focus on social justice and equal opportunity
- Supplementing curriculum with the histories, values, and voices of different cultures
- Have students analyze concepts and themes from different cultural perspectives
- Identify, discuss, and research social issues within the local community
Multicultural education does not necessarily mean scrapping an entire curriculum. Rather, it’s about see issues from different cultural perspectives. With a more diverse world view, students will grow into their roles as dual citizens: of their local communities and of their world.