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October 1, 2002
Vol. 60
No. 2

Shaping Global Classrooms

In-depth study of other cultures, exposure to new people and ideas, and opportunities to apply what they've learned have changed these students' views of the world and their place in it.

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Students glare at one another across the room, pound on desks, point their fingers, and grab from other students—hardly the classroom scene that most teachers hope for during the first week of school. Yet we have begun many school years and programs this way. As they play the card game Barnga, our students switch between groups during a tournament in which no verbal communication is allowed, only to discover that each group initially learned different rules to the game (Steinwachs & Thiagarajan, 1990).
In the midst of the conflict and chaos, we catch glimpses of student behavior that prove more constructive: One student overrules the selfish impulses of another and gives cards to a third student. Two students form a mutual understanding and work together. Enterprising students forge an alternative, new “counterculture.” Newly curious students study directions that they had breezed through earlier.
After chaos has completely broken down the tournament, students learn that other players who they had assumed were ignorant or cheating were actually playing fairly according to their respective “cultural identities.” This shared frustrating experience challenges students to get to know one another, understand one another's different perspectives, and think seriously about how they will work together to study the world.
An understanding of different perspectives provides a crucial framework on which to build a global curriculum for the 21st century. Students begin to view themselves as global citizens in a rapidly changing world when they encounter, compare, experience, and adopt multiple international perspectives. Throughout the school year, our students look back to the lesson in perspective that they gained from the Barnga experience as they consider why people around the world act as they do and as they carefully examine the sources they use to inform themselves.

A New Global Curriculum

The goal of a new global curriculum for the 21st century must be to broaden students' perspective. Broadening perspective enables young people to engage meaningfully in a complex world where steel tariffs affecting one region of the United States might result in boycotts on beef exports from another region, where efforts at economic development in Vietnam affect the lives of families dependent on coffee prices in Central America, and where Peruvian guerillas globalize their terrorist tactics by training Maoist rebels in Nepal.
Helping students develop a knowledge and skill base that has relevance to understanding and engaging in such a complex world requires three elements: content knowledge, exposure to diverse cultures and experiences, and authentic application. For seven years, the Global Classroom has built a network of more than 900 teachers in the Seattle, Washington, area to help them pull together the diverse resources they need to integrate these elements into their curriculum.
In the past, students enrolled in survey courses that were essentially superficial introductions to a number of countries, cultures, and customs. Now a growing number of Washington State educators teach a new global curriculum, one that helps students understand global interdependence by probing deeply into a few countries. Students focus on such overarching and transcendent themes as globalization, imperialism, nationalism, human rights, and democracy. Then they analyze how these themes play out in different areas of the world, mediated by culture and geography.
Notions of interdependence and interconnectedness in turn provide a basis for exposing students to real people whose lives and cultures are different from their own. Such exposure might include classroom presentations by visitors, immigrants, and travelers with inspiring experiences to share. It might include e-mail and videoconferencing exchanges with students in other countries or student participation in cultural experiences from around the globe. It certainly includes the study of foreign languages.
Students who are knowledgeable about the world and who have been exposed to diverse cultures and ideas can begin to apply what they have learned about their global neighbors to solve world problems in such forums as a Model United Nations. International bodies such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization operate on a basis of consensus, and this demands skill in grappling with multiple perspectives. This authentic application of learning leads students to an even greater sense of world citizenship.

Drawing on Real-World Resources

The challenge of integrating authentic learning experiences with an in-depth knowledge of countries and cultures and the diverse voices and stories that capture the human experience can overwhelm the most experienced teacher. Diverse and interdependent community organizations can serve as important partners to teachers as they model a diverse and interdependent world in their classroom. Educators in the Seattle area have found that they can greatly enhance the global curriculum when they look beyond textbooks and draw on rich, real-world resources to help develop students' global perspectives.

Global Themes

At Kamiakin Junior High School in Kirkland, Washington, students enrolled in a 9th grade Pacific Rim Studies class avoid shallow country surveys and instead delve into two- and three-month studies of a few countries. When studying China, for example, students begin by reading Wild Swans by Jung Chang, a memoir that charts the course of significant events in 20th-century China through the experiences of three generations of one family. The students explore the importance in Chinese history of such universal themes as revolution, power, and individuality, and later compare their conclusions with their impressions of George Orwell's Animal Farm. They debate current issues facing China, including economic liberalization, Three Gorges Dam, the one-child policy, and Tibet. By the end of the unit, students are ready to create their own Democracy Wall, modeled on the debates that broke out on the walls of Beijing in 1978.
In their postings on the Democracy Wall, students represent the views of Chinese citizens whom they have encountered throughout the unit. In one posting, for example, a student writing as “Mrs. Lu” berates the government for imprisoning her husband “without reason.” “Yes!” a student writing as “Chen Xi” replies to Mrs. Lu's posting, pushing notions of perspective further to imagine a full exchange between two Chinese citizens:The corrupt officials should be ousted. My wife was jailed because we could not pay our taxes that amounted to more than we made in a year.
Clearly the curriculum has challenged these students to see the world through new eyes.

Partner Schools

Direct contact with people from different cultures piques students' curiosity and engages them in learning. At Mercer Middle School in Seattle, for example, 6th graders are motivated to learn everything they can about India. Such knowledge enables them to communicate more effectively with their e-mail buddies in Mercer's partner school in Baramati, India. The partnership was established through a collaboration with the World Affairs Council and Digital Partners. Similarly, French-language students at Foster High School in Tukwila, Washington, have reason to bone up on their speaking skills when planning for their annual videoconference with students in Dakar, Senegal.

International Visitors

Mercer Middle School teachers integrate a focus on broadening students' perspectives into their language arts/social studies blocked classes. For example, they use firsthand experiences with other cultures as writing prompts to build fundamental literacy skills in students. Mercer frequently hosts international visitors, and students eagerly write paragraphs to win the right to serve as official escorts. A large banner at the front office welcomes visitors to the school, as does a host of nervous student-escorts waiting to introduce themselves with well-choreographed handshakes.
During small-group discussions, students ask questions and take notes to gather information about their visitors' cultures. Students use these notes to write essays about Kenya, Nicaragua, Australia, or Japan after the visitors leave, simultaneously developing their literacy skills and broadening their global perspectives. Students then post their essays about the Zambian reporter, the Burmese nonprofit leader, and the New Zealand student on bulletin boards in Mercer classrooms. One student reflected on her experience with an international visitor: “I never liked social studies much, but now I know that it is about real people.”

Travelers' Tales

Textbooks and the traditional curriculum tend to reinforce stereotypes rather than tackle current events and challenge perspectives. By contrast, a simple slide show highlighting images of recent social and economic change in China captivates students' attention at Kamiakin Junior High School. The slide show is the work of their teacher, who toured China with the University of Washington's East Asia Resource Center.
When the local director of the Catholic Youth Organization reported to students in suburban Seattle on his visit to Rwanda to bear witness to the remains of the genocide there, the students learned of real people who were rebuilding their lives and their communities after unfathomable tragedy. But they also learned that the world community had stood by and watched the massacre unfold for three bloody months. A powerful moral imperative confronts students who acknowledge that in today's world, U.S. citizenship is world citizenship (Clark, 2000).

Community Partnerships

Educators in schools throughout Seattle relied on community partnerships when thousands of protesters converged on the city in November 1999 to protest the meeting of the World Trade Organization. Seattle's World Affairs Council convened a group of 150 high school students for an all-day World Trade Organization simulation, engaging community experts, from trade specialists to anti-sweatshop organizers, to guide students through actual World Trade Organization cases. Seattle area teachers working with a professor from the University of Washington's Business School developed role-plays that put students in the shoes of Japanese apple growers, U.S. beef producers, Mexican tuna fishermen, and World Trade Organization judges. Teachers established the historical, economic, and political contexts for the cases, and students built on this knowledge with the help of their community mentors. Together, they crafted strong cases to present before student judges trained in World Trade Organization protocol. Educators quickly dispersed the case study curriculum through the Internet to schools across the state.
Community partnerships play a particularly important role in times of conflict. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Seattle's World Affairs Council coordinated a youth forum that brought together area high school students and international students from the University of Washington for discussions about Islam, foreign perceptions of the United States, and the role of the United States in the world. The experience challenged all participants to question their firmly held perspectives of themselves and the world and the stereotypes they had fallen back on to make sense of recent events.

The World Within Our Schools

One way or another, we end up modeling our world within our schools. Indeed, any model of a global curriculum that puts understanding perspectives and authentic application at its core is a curriculum that cannot be taught in isolation. It demands that teachers and schools model the level of involvement and curiosity that we hope to inspire in our students. Classrooms are greatly enriched when they are defined not by the four walls that enclose them, but as a nexus of community resources that teachers can draw on to build understanding of the greater world.

Clark, L. E. (2000, November/December). Other-wise: The case for understanding foreign cultures in a unipolar world. Social Education, 64(7), 448–453.

Steinwachs, B., & Thiagarajan, S. (1990). Barnga. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

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