ACSI — Vol 17.3
Global Citizenship Education for Christian Schools Shall We Clothe This Mannequin?
Where does global citizenship education fit into the priorities of Christian school education? Is this to be viewed as a threat to be combated or a priority to be affirmed with careful definition?
Global citizenship education is one of the fastest growing educational reform movements today (Dill 2013). It is an educational goal that is being increasingly promoted and assumed to be essential for the twenty-first century. UNESCO publishes a global education quarterly, and it just hosted a fourth world forum on this topic. American accrediting associations now expect schools to evaluate their expected learning outcomes in light of the need for all students to have global competencies and global perspectives.
Global Citizenship Education’s Loose Definition
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) describes global competencies and perspectives as follows:
Global competencies include 1) the use of concepts, knowledge, skills and languages of various disciplines to research current global issues; 2) the understanding of the interdependence of economic, political, technological, environmental, and social systems worldwide; 3) the understanding of multiple perspectives; 4) the valuing of diversity; 5) the ability to communicate with multilingual skills, through fluency in reading, writing, speaking, and listening and through the use of technologies; 6) engaging responsibly in action and service to improve conditions both locally and globally; and 7) the ability to function effectively in an interdependent world. (Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges 2013, 67)
Although the term global citizenship education might raise a red flag in the minds of some, the term citizenship is not any kind of political citizenship. Jeffrey Dill’s extensive study determined that as used by the educators promoting this goal, it “is not political citizenship that assumes a world-level state or constitution … It is rather a moral ideal … a vision of what the good person should be, and what he or she needs in order to flourish and thrive in a cosmopolitan age” (Dill 2013, 3).
Possible Christian Responses
Some ACSI member schools are willing to affirm the terminology and goals of global education, but they do so, as Dill explains, from different philosophical sources. Whereas groups that pursue “internationalism,” such as the International Baccalaureate Organization (IB), have their philosophical foundation in secular humanist education, these Christian schools seek the same competencies but base them upon their Christian worldview. Quoting Dill, “These teachers contextualized their vision for global citizenship in their own particular traditions, but [are] also quite eager to mark distinctions and point out differences between their approach and its ‘secular’ version” (2013, 122).
Contextualizing global citizenship education, or redeeming this admittedly vague educational goal, seems to be a biblically legitimate and strategic endeavor. Surrendering the term as inappropriate for Christian educators is another alternative, but it seems more driven by fear and it ignores the reality that our students face challenges and opportunities for which new skills will be advantageous. By framing the competencies and skills within a biblical context, we can agree with the general concepts but provide a biblical rationale, motivation, and particularity of meaning. We can answer the question, “What will this actually look like?” in our own way. We seek to increase the competencies of our students so that they are well equipped and they desire to partner with God in seeking His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven—living faithfully as kingdom people until He returns.
From this perspective, every Christian school, domestic or international, can see the advantage of incorporating global citizenship education in its instructional program, service projects, and even admission policies. International students attending our schools become far more than revenue sources or evangelistic targets. They are God’s provision to help us equip all our students to gain new competencies for the years to come.
Global education is not a redirection from patriotism, and it need not be an acceptance of relativism. It promotes an increased understanding that in our interconnected world, what we do locally has a global impact. It extends our sense of responsibility to be wise stewards of God’s creation and helps us to teach our students that the kingdom of God, of which they are a part, is from every nation, tribe, people, and language. Should our students develop the skills to communicate with and learn from people of other language groups, or is all the knowledge worth knowing, and all the people worth collaborating with, solely from our own nation or language? Global education articulates the goal of equipping the next generation to be cross-culturally competent disciple makers.
Can we “get away with” redeeming this educational concept so it is completely consistent with our Christian schools’ mission and vision? The head of an IB world school that is accredited by ACSI and a regional association responded to that question:
We have no problem with WASC including a reference to “global education” or “internationalism,” as the IB likes to call it. We have had robust discussion with them as to what they actually mean by it (because it is quite vague), and even at a recent IB professional development day in Jakarta, the session on internationalism was still quite vague. It does have a humanistic foundation to it, but like much of the rest of their program, we reinterpret it to incorporate a biblical perspective.
To live in the current times people cannot expect to live in isolation, and if Christians are going to engage the world they have to know about its different cultures, languages, etc. The caution is that understanding multiple perspectives doesn’t have to mean giving them equal value. Tolerance is not approval. Rather, it is respecting someone else’s right to think differently. (Nash 2013)
Global citizenship education is not going away. Schools seeking accreditation from secular associations will increasingly see an expectation that these perspectives and skills are incorporated in schoolwide learner results. Some Christian schools have proven themselves to be proactive, and they are contextualizing and incorporating these concepts from a Christian perspective. They all suggest this educational priority is consistent with preparing effective followers of Jesus in a rapidly changing world.
The work of careful definition of terms cannot be avoided or its importance minimized. Embedded in the perspectives of global citizenship education are mannequin words—words on which one can place whatever clothing of meaning one’s values support. We must clarify phrases such as valuing diversity. Our Christian schools pursing global perspectives speak of diversity as the welcoming of students from many lands and ethnicities, gaining perspectives and insights from them so as to promote critical thinking, and learning to love those different from oneself. It also involves inviting speakers of other faith and non faith perspectives.
While secularists might want the mannequin of global citizenship education to be clothed with a rejection of any truth that claims to be absolute or revealed, strong Christian schools have shown they can continue to pursue their mission of promoting kingdom-minded followers of Jesus Christ without any compromise while incorporating the desired skills and perspectives envisioned in the concept of global citizenship education.
Reflecting on the effect of global education from a Christian perspective, one school head wrote, “Our students increasingly think outside of themselves, with more and more looking for opportunities to serve and participate. They are less fearful and more excited to engage the world than I and my peers were when we were their age.”
David K. Wilcox, PhD, is assistant vice president for ACSI Global.