This I Believe

J. Michael - Teaneck, New Jersey
Entered on April 18, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
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NPR Essay – Final

The Power of Global Education

Growing up on the prairies of Central Illinois was very reassuring and very confining. I knew exactly where my world ended — I could see it seven miles away at the horizon — and I knew my role in that world. And then I went to college. Education stretched those boundaries and challenged me to reach beyond what I could see, and dared me to fulfill what I could imagine. So I believe in the power of education, but my belief is conditional.

Education is useless if it cannot adapt to the changing reality of the world today. One purpose of the modern public schools was to develop a sense of national identity and national community. They have well served that purpose. In Illinois, in the early 60s, I learned what it meant to be a good citizen of my state and my nation. I value those lessons and love my homeland. Today’s students must also gain a rich exposure to the stories and tales that make up the American ideal.

But so much more is needed. Today, students must gain a sense of what it means to be simultaneously an American and a citizen of the world. Too much is at stake to gain anything less. They must learn how their actions can impact our world and how their lives are interconnected with their fellow travelers aboard Spaceship Earth. They must gain a greater appreciation of those who are distant and different from us.

Our greatest challenges now come from problems that do not stop at borders. No passports are required for global warming, terrorism and conflict, and poverty and disease. No single nation can solve these problems.

To overcome such perils, we must learn to connect and collaborate with those from afar. But this is more than a humanitarian imperative. The professional demands of working in a global economy require global views, skills and attitudes.

Yet I believe many of our attitudes about education have not changed much from those in my 1960s civics classes. We need desperately to catch up. Schools and colleges can take many paths to incorporate global lessons, from learning languages, to using the Internet to link to students and scholars in other countries, to encouraging more study abroad opportunities, to welcoming more foreign students and scholars.

The most powerful force for change is the teacher. The content and impact of a global education comes down to how the teacher views the world and how the teacher helps students expand their worldviews.

Growing up in Illinois, I never once dreamed of becoming a college president. But education opened doorways for me and introduced me to a brave new world. Today’s brave new world has great promise but it also contains great dangers. To fulfill the promise requires a global education. H.G. Wells wrote that “human history is more and more becoming a race between education and catastrophe.” I believe education will win the race, but only if educators adapt and help students make global connections.