For the first time in human history, the world is coming together as a single entity. But just because we're becoming more interconnected doesn't mean that we know how to deal with the challenges associated with it. The world as we know it is changing, and we must adapt to succeed. According to the National Research Council, one of the numerous research reports on this growing topic of discussion, Americans' "pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens the security of the United States as well as its ability to compete in the global marketplace and produce an informed citizenry." As Americans, we must see to it that our children develop the flexible qualities of character and mind necessary to handle the challenges that globalization poses. To become global citizens, they must learn how to communicate and interact with people around the world. We must raise global children.
But how does a parent do that, especially if American schools don't offer what is commonly referred to as "global education"? And despite the obvious need for cross-cultural understanding, we have no national requirement for foreign language education. It's not enough for our schools to produce individuals who can read, write, and do math and science. We need global education, or more accurately, education infused with global learning, to empower youth by providing them with the knowledge, skills and awareness necessary to become responsible global citizens.
Research indicates that children are most receptive to learning about other cultures between the ages of seven and twelve, before the onset of puberty when ethnocentrism and stereotypical thinking tend to increase dramatically. Although a complete national overhaul of our K-16 system to incorporate global education and foreign language learning seems warranted, it's not likely to happen. Global education, therefore, might be better served if local communities and school districts develop and implement curricula that work for their specific needs. Indeed small groups are taking action on their own. Pockets of school districts across the country have recognized the need to incorporate global education across the board in classes K-12. These districts are taking the situation into their own hands; they know that our children can't wait and are making changes - one school district at a time.
"We engaged local businesses in our school to create a career committee to discuss what our students were missing or lacking when they applied for jobs," said Dr. Salvatore Menzo, Superintendent of Wallingford Public School District in Connecticut. "We learned that besides soft skills, they're lacking global understanding and problem-solving skills. We adapted our curriculum, added a K-12 language instructor, and have strengthened our partnerships among the school, parents and businesses in the community because we respected and listened to what they said."
As parents and educators, we need to work together at the grass roots level to create change.
First, as parents, we must teach our children what it means to be a global citizen and how to more effectively communicate and interact with other people around the world. Raising global children does not have to cost much money, nor does it require hundreds of hours of free time. The single most important part of raising global children is to instill in them the right attitude. Traits such as curiosity, empathy, compassion and flexibility cannot be bought, they must be taught. To be sure, travel, ethnic restaurants and cross-cultural museum exhibits can enhance a child's global mindedness. But so, too, can the treasure trove of books, music, movies, magazines and maps available at the local public library.
Second, parents must get involved with their child's school and show interest in what their child is learning. Whatever classes your school has available in global studies, world history, geography, and related topics are well worth supporting, as they instill global awareness right along with the ABCs and 1-2-3s. Introduce yourself to your child's social studies, global studies and foreign language teachers, and ask how you can help them. And be sincerely interested in the topics yourself. When your first grader comes home to talk about the rainforest in South America, listen to him and get involved in further discussion and exploration of the topic. When your sixth grader tells you about the Geography Bee her school is having, get out the atlas and start practicing for the competition. When your teen talks about the Model UN initiative being considered as part of his high school curriculum, support it and even offer to help implement it if need be. And when your child -- at any age -- talks about history or current events, get involved and discuss the issues together, showing him or her that knowing about the world and what's going on in it is an important part of adult life. But be mindful to do as much listening as you do talking.
Third, parents can insist upon more cultural education in our school systems so that our children understand and are better prepared to deal with the complexities outside our borders in whatever career they choose. We must insist upon foreign language learning in our schools by at least first grade in order to give our kids a fighting chance to become proficient in at least one other language. We must support our teachers who embrace the importance of global education. We must work together to instill a proactive interest in the world around us. It's important to recognize, however, that with the Common Core academic standards now being implemented in the vast majority of states, teachers are already beset with changing how and what they teach. It's very important, therefore, to clarify that learning and thinking with a global perspective does not mean adding another course to already heavy student loads, but rather introducing them to global issues and concepts within and throughout the subjects already being taught.
To those who say we can't afford the "luxury" of foreign language and global education, I say that we can't afford not to educate our children with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. Addressing these issues starts with involved parents. We must come together to help our teachers and schools incorporate global education in a way that works locally, while also advocating for change with politicians and government both in-state and nationally.
Stacie Nevadomski Berdan is an international careers expert and author of four books on globalization and careers. Her latest, Raising Global Children, was published by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in November 2013. Follow her on Twitter @stacieberdan.