Six Myths of Global Education
Our world is changing rapidly as cultures, ideas, conflicts, and viruses transcend borders. The global pandemic COVID-19 highlighted the multitude of ways the world is interconnected socially, technologically, environmentally, economically, and politically. Local-level responses alone have not been enough to mitigate the virus. The World Health Organization and United Nations have called for global coordination, information sharing, and most importantly, global solidarity to solve the crisis. As such, COVID-19 also illustrates the importance of globally competent teaching to build global solidarity, combat xenophobia, understand global systems, cut through misinformation, learn from other countries, and respond with empathy. Globally competent teaching prepares students to communicate and collaborate across borders in an effort to solve global challenges.
Figure 1. Created by authors in Piktochart.
In addition to global interconnectedness, the United States is more locally diverse than ever before with increased immigration from Asia and Africa as well as continued immigration from Europe and Latin America. Therefore, we must teach students about the world, and be inclusive of and responsive to the racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse students in our classroom who come from all over the world. Young people deserve to have teachers, both present and in the future, who know about global issues and cultures and have the skills to teach global competence because they are globally competent themselves.
To reach this goal, we advocate for internationalizing teacher education across the curriculum. Some people are hesitant to accept this call because of misconceptions. A review of the research allowed us to debunk six common myths about global education.
Myth # 1. Global education is something social studies and world language teachers do.
The reality is that global learning may not be being taught in social studies and world languages classes to the extent that today’s students need to participate, collaborate, and work anywhere with anyone in the world. Students are asking for increased attention to global education. The Cambridge Global Perspectives 2020 survey reports that 96% of students ages 13-19 from around the world believe global learning is important but 31% say they do not have the opportunity to in their content classes. The truth is that global learning can be taught in all content areas and grade levels by integrating global readiness with the curriculum. The 17 sustainable development goals put forth by the United Nations, pictured below, are transdisciplinary and will require disciplines outside of social studies and world languages working together to reach.
Figure 2. UN Sustainable Development Goals https://sdgs.un.org/goals
Myth #2. Global Education is too abstract a concept for young children to understand.
In reality, early childhood is the prime time in which to instill concepts of global education and world views in children. Early Childhood Education (ECE) is a pivotal time in growth and development when children work to conceptualize the world around them, make connections, and learn to interact with and around others. Understanding that childhood is both culturally and socially constructed, educators must work to recognize their own positionality and its implications for teaching. This is not a question of appropriateness for an age group’s exposure to world views, but rather a concerted effort to ensure all children’s experiences, histories, and values are at the center of their education. Research has offered countless positive outcomes resulting from global education being thoughtfully woven through educational spaces for young children. The National Association for Multicultural Education reports increased interpersonal skills, engagement in diverse perspectives, orientations toward social justice, self-identity, and academic success have all been linked to deep and intentional multicultural education in early childhood spaces.
Moving beyond food, festivals, and fashion is attainable in the early childhood sphere. As educators, we can challenge ourselves to move through levels of superficial curriculum by moving beyond and ultimately to a deeper and more meaningful environment in which children have active engagement with the world around them. The following ideas have been adapted from Ogletree and Larke (2010). In ECE classrooms, this might mean contributions of content integration as the most accessible form of implementation, including multicultural books and photographs, dolls representing different races and abilities. At the additive level, early childhood teachers may discuss a general topic, such as transportation, by sharing boats, cars, and other modes of transportation that can be found in diverse cultural settings, not just the mainstream or majority population. Transformational elements in an early childhood setting might include sharing stories that originate from individual children, families, and teachers. Results of storytelling allow for children to hear and consider diverse perspectives, while also offering teachers insight into the lives of children and families in their classrooms. All of these ideas and efforts ultimately support children’s understanding of the world around them and create spaces for them to explore the foundations of global education.
Figure 3. Adapted from Banks, 1988.
Myth #3. Global education means teaching about flags, foods, and festivals.
In reality, global education means including heritage and international cultures beyond the surface level. The cultural iceberg metaphor can help us envision the deeper aspects of culture beyond what we can see. These deeper parts of culture include differences in communication styles and approaches to problem solving. Global education promotes perspective-taking and empathy across differences in culture.
Figure 4. Adapted from James Penstone.
Myth # 4. Global education is important in places like Europe and New York City, but not in rural communities.
The reality is that there are international ties socially, technologically, environmentally, and economically in all regions of the United States., a country where nearly 20% of students are considered “rural.” The U.S. Department of Education’s mission statement, like many other countries, highlights “ensuring equal access” as a primary goal. For this to be realized, all students are entitled to global education in ways that are contextualized within the local communities. Research by Ariel Tichnor-Wagner (2019) highlights the impact of integrating global issues into curriculum including benefits in student engagement, college and career readiness, social-emotional learning, and student empowerment. Clearly, all students deserve this support. As Maya Angelou said, “We are obliged to know we are global citizens.” Our hope is that all students have an opportunity to explore their place in the world and see how they are an important part of an interconnected global community.
Figure 5. From www.Mapping theNation.net
Myth #5 Global education is something extra I have to do as a teacher.
The reality is that global education means helping learners see how they are already globally connected. It is not something to be added to the already full plate of teachers. Rather, by acknowledging education is embedded in global foundations, that becomes the plate upon which knowledge is constructed. Learners are then recognizing the global interconnectedness that already exists in today’s societies and their own lives.
Figure 6. Created by the authors in Piktochart.
Myth #6. Global education means telling students what to believe politically.
The truth is that we want to make sure that we are not miseducating our students or teaching them in a way that is ethno-centric or American-centric which gives them a distorted view of the world. An example of how we may have been miseducated about the world is through maps in textbooks. When the 3-D world is placed on a 2-D plane, the size of the landmasses become distorted. This means that Africa and India look smaller and the United States and China look bigger on the 2-D version than they really are. True Size Maps website harnesses the affordances of digital media to allow learners to explore the true relationship of landmass sizes.
Figure 7. From thetruesize.com
For that matter, why have people been conditioned to see the world in a certain orientation? In many globes and maps, north is positioned as being in the upper half, while south appears below. Though not explicitly stated, the upper half is more visible and therefore may appear more significant. The earth is not fixed, and a north up model of mapping is based on ethnocentrism, that is perceiving the world according to preconceptions, often based in the dominant majorities. A key of global education is challenging these perspectives and opening spaces to consider multiple and diverse perspectives. Might perceptions change if visual representations change? Along those same lines, might these six global education myths be debunked by additional perspectives?
Figure 8. From travelinglight.com via OpenStreetMaps.
Banks, J. A. (1988). Approaches to multicultural curriculum reform. Multicultural Leader, 1(2), 3–5.
Ogletree, Q. & Larke, P. (2010). Implementing Multicultural Practices in Early Childhood Education. National Forum of Multicultural Issues Journal 7 (1), 1-9.
Tichnor-Wagner, A. (2019). Globally minded leadership: A new approach for leading schools in diverse democracies. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 15(2). https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1208569.pdf