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To identify major global issues, problems, and challenges, we examined 75 documents on global and international studies education to locate common topics. These documents spanned the last five decades and included several reports and surveys not written by citizens of this country. Unfortunately, few authors prioritized their recommendations. Thus, our compilation of global issues, problems, and challenges reflects only the frequency that a topic received mention. In some cases it was necessary to interpret the author's exact meaning or intent. Some collapsing or rearranging of topics was also necessary to hold the categories to a reasonable number. However, the ten resulting categories include virtually everything intended by those whose work provides the basis for this compilation.
The ten categories form a working list meant to be scrutinized, reacted to, and refined by those responsible for improved teaching and learning about the international dimension in K-12 schools. The ten categories are: (1) conflict and its control; (2) economic systems; (3) global belief systems; (4) human rights and social justice; (5) planet management: resources, energy, and environment; (6) political systems; (7) population; (8) race and ethnicity: human commonality and diversity; (9) the technocratic revolution; and (10) sustainable development. (See "What Should Students Study?" for further explanation of these ten topics.)
Why should students learn about global issues, problems, and challenges? All evidence indicates that global issues and problems are growing in magnitude and will neither go away nor resolve themselves. They require action. In turn, that action-if it is to be effective-requires citizens who are trained and willing to deal with difficult and complex global issues. Students should leave school reasonably informed and concerned about one or more of the major global issues, problems, or challenges facing the human race.
No one can claim to know with certainty what students in over 15,000 diverse school districts should study, know, and understand about their world now and in coming years. Nor can any student be expected to master more than a small fraction of the information available on any of the major issues facing our world; each is vast, complex, and changing constantly. But expert opinions, as well as all projected trends, indicate that few of these issues or problems will be resolved in the short run; probably most will not even be partially resolved in the long run. Nevertheless, those responsible for determining curriculum at the district and state levels need to address the following knowledge objectives as best they can.
Students will know and understand that global issues and challenges exist and affect their lives. Awareness is a necessary prerequisite to understanding. If we expect today's students-tomorrow's leaders and voters-to make intelligent decisions in the marketplace and at the ballot box, they must have a degree of literacy regarding the global problems, issues, concerns, and trends that increasingly impact their lives. Global literacy does not require in-depth expertise. Rather, it entails reasonable familiarity with a number of global issues that dominate the news, coupled with a working knowledge of the basic terminology and fundamental concepts of these issues. It means knowing enough about some global issues to intelligently analyze others.
Students will study at least one global issue in-depth and over time. When studying any complex issue, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. "Students may be left with the false impression that they have somehow become experts without expending the time and labor that genuine expertise necessitates. Schools may inadvertently contribute to this condition when they insist on coverage rather than depth. To be effective, the serious study of any global issue requires time and depth.
Students will understand that global issues and challenges are interrelated, complex, and changing, and that most issues have a global dimension. Students should be encouraged to find the relationships between different domains of knowledge in order to gain a realistic perspective about any global issue. They should become familiar with some of the mechanisms available for managing global problems and to what degree those mechanisms have functioned successfully in the past.
Students will be aware that their information and knowledge on most global issues are incomplete and that they need to continue seeking information about how global and international issues are formed and influenced. Global education is a lifelong process. New global issues will emerge in the future, and new insights into current global challenges will be generated. Opinions and attitudes about international topics are influenced by different channels: parents, peer groups, the media, and private and public interest groups. Students need the skills and abilities to examine and evaluate new information, including understanding the biases of the source.
Because global issues and challenges are not static, students need to develop the following skills to help them analyze and evaluate today's global issues and to be able to analyze and evaluate new issues in the future.
Students will learn the techniques of studying about global issues, problems, and challenges. The study of any global problem or issue requires time and depth. Having students learn how to learn about global problems and issues may be as important as learning about any single issue.
Students will develop informational literacy about global issues and challenges. In our over rich data environment, our chief concern should be to help students, in Charles McClelland's words, "develop criteria for discriminating, evaluating, selecting, and responding to useful and relevant data in the communication flow of reports about conditions and developments in the international environment." In other words, we must help them to become effective at processing data.
Students will develop the ability to suspend judgment when confronted with new data or opinions that do not coincide with their present understandings or feelings. When information or beliefs about global issues conflict with students' present perceptions, students must be able to demonstrate thoughtfulness and patience if genuine understanding is to result. Global problems and issues are complex and constantly changing, often reflecting strongly held divergent views. Students must learn to respect such views while maintaining their own right to respectfully disagree.
"Education is only worth the difference it makes in the activities of the individual who has been educated," said George Drayton Strayer in his 1912 textbook on teaching methods. Unless the study of global issues, problems, and challenges leads to some positive action, such study is difficult to justify, given the multiple demands already facing today's schools. To be effective, action need not be limited to the physical activities students often engage in to help maintain or improve their local environment. Action also means caring enough about global problems and concerns to become and to stay informed and to act intelligently when civic action is required. Further, it means practicing active US citizenship in an increasingly interdependent, conflict-prone, and changing global arena. Some actions that students should be able to perform when confronting the effects of global issues and challenges are noted below.
Students will approach global issues, problems, and challenges neither with undue optimism nor unwarranted pessimism. The study of any global issue or challenge can become stressful, particularly for younger students. Depending on the topic, such study can leave them fearful or guilt-ridden. Neither fear nor guilt are good motivators, and neither will lead to civic action. Thus, classroom teachers must select issues that are within both the research capabilities and the maturity level of their students. Leaving students frustrated by the enormity of a global problem or feeling guilty because of their inability to "solve" it serves no purpose.
Students will develop a sense of efficacy and civic responsibility by identifying specific ways that they can make some contribution to the resolution of a global issue or challenge. School systems have the obligation to foster effective civic action. Despite the complexity of global issues and challenges, students can contribute toward resolving or ameliorating their effects.
At the core of all contemporary international and global studies are two concepts, change and interdependence. Engineers quip, "If we can make it work, it's probably already out of date!" That expression also applies to the major, largely unresolved, problems, issues, and concerns that dominate both the popular media and scholarly journals today. About the time that someone claims to "have a handle" on any problem, a new manifestation of it occurs. Proposed resolutions or solutions are suddenly inadequate or, as is often the case, are found to contribute to a greater problem previously unknown or unacknowledged.
The metaphor of a spider's web applies remarkably well to today's global problems and challenges. Touch that web anywhere, even lightly, and it vibrates everywhere. Similarly, if one "touches" any global problem, one instantly realizes its connectedness or interdependence with another. As University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi stated, "It is imperative to begin thinking about a truly integrative, global education that takes seriously the actual interconnections of causes and effects."
Further, it is not overstating the case to say that the concepts of change and interdependence are so central to all of the social and physical sciences that they clearly deserve serious and continuous attention throughout the scope and sequence of any academic program to prepare globally literate students. A serious investigation of global problems and challenges demands that one deal conceptually with both change and interdependence. Together, these two concepts provide a baseline for developing global literacy.
Virtually without exception, those whose thinking we examined in this compilation identified unprecedented change in all aspects of life as something all schools should address. The concept of interdependence or connectedness-"systems perspective" or "systems thinking"-also received near unanimous mention. Even in those cases where one or both of these concepts were not mentioned specifically, both were clearly subsumed under one or more of the other topics recommended for study.
Although all of the answers concerning what students should study about global issues and challenges are not included here, we have tried to select the best thinking and writing on the subject. The categories we designated are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. In fact, there is significant overlap among some categories. However, despite differences detected, there exists far greater consensus on what should be studied.
While no individual teacher and very few school systems have available to them the resources necessary for their students to investigate all of these issues to any reasonable depth, students should be given the opportunity-and time-to develop the academic skills and techniques necessary to efficiently and systematically explore other global issues and problems in the future.
The ten categories we identified form a working list meant to be scrutinized, reacted to, and refined by those responsible for improved teaching and learning about the international dimension in K-12 schools. The ten categories are: (1) conflict and its control; (2) economic systems; (3) global belief systems; (4) human rights and social justice; (5) planet management; (6) political systems; (7) population; (8) race and ethnicity: human commonality and diversity; (9) the technocratic revolution; and (10) sustainable development.
Included under this broad heading are several sub-clusters. The first cluster is sub-national conflicts, that is revolutions, civil strife, assassinations, and rebel or guerrilla activities (often today's "freedom fighters"). Recent lists also include genocide and ethnic cleansing as well as tribalism and secessionist movements, which may lead to violence. A second cluster centers on the proliferation of weapons-conventional, chemical, biological, and nuclear-and the arms race, which encompasses sales, sanctions, controls, and trafficking. A third cluster concerns terrorism-state-sponsored terrorism, sanctuaries, social revolutionaries, national separatists, religious fundamentalists-and cross-border conflicts based on irredentism or revanchism. Lastly, matters of national security, including the use of force by nations either unilaterally or in combination with other nations, is found on more recent lists.
Of great concern is that arms control, conflict resolution on an international scale, control of conflict, and the formal peacekeeping activities by the United Nations-with a few notable exceptions-receive far less emphasis in the sources consulted. Schools need to address this crucial area. Given the frequency and intensity of conflict-related issues dominating today's world events, to neglect the study of the methods available to prevent or mediate conflict is a serious omission.
The more recent the source consulted, the greater the emphasis placed upon economic problems and issues. The first cluster identified includes understanding comparative economic systems, for example, state socialism and other centrally planned economies that differ from our own, typified by the former Soviet system. Also mentioned are the transitional and mixed economies typical of many developing nations today. Finally, virtually every source indicates that a working knowledge of our own free-market or free-enterprise model is a prerequisite for understanding economic systems different from our own.
The second cluster relates to international trade, encompassing patterns, balance of trade and payments, free trade and zones, trade negotiations-protectionism, quotas, sanctions, and embargoes-as well as tariff and nontariff barriers. Currency exchange (rates, fluctuations) also received mention.
A third cluster focuses on foreign aid, such as purposes, forms, amounts, and conditions as well as the role of donors and multilateral aid programs. Some of the sources placed major emphasis on the need for better understanding of foreign aid. Recent public opinion polls indicate widespread public ignorance regarding all aspects of foreign aid and extraordinary misconceptions concerning the percentage of the national budget devoted to our foreign aid programs.
Direct foreign investment, including stress on the role of multinational corporations (MNCs), transnational enterprises (TNEs), and regional trading blocs (EU, NAFTA, GATT, etc.) were also cited as important topics.
Lastly, a cluster of economic concerns focused on the specific needs of the developing world such as debt crisis and relief, preferential trade policies, and protecting infant industries. An understanding of the increasing economic disparities (the rich-poor gap) within and among many world nations also received mention.
Publications from the Cold War period stressed the need for the study of comparative ideologies, that is, Soviet-style communism and its various off-shoots, particularly Chinese communism. Many of the sources consulted emphasize the need for students to study major world religions as a means of better understanding other cultures as well as improving students' understanding of followers of those religions residing in this country.
Several sources recommend the study of other nations' or cultures' philosophies. However, in most cases it is unclear exactly what this means. It appears that these references are primarily directed at either political philosophies or ideologies, for example, socialism, communism, and fascism, or thought systems identified with a particular religion, for example, Confucianism, Hinduism, or Daoism. This apparently is seen as a means to better understand and to develop empathy for other cultures.
The category of human rights and social justice includes a broad array of human concerns and topics related to the quality of life worldwide. The more recent the source consulted, the greater the emphasis placed on global human rights. The first cluster focuses on problems associated with human rights and social justice including gender and equity issues, the rights of children (child labor, street children, various abuses), equal access to justice, and rights' violations and abuses based on ethnic, racial, sexual, or political identities.
A second cluster-probably the one that has generated the most intense media attention and public concern-focuses on problems concerning food and hunger (chronic malnutrition, famine). Included here are global food security, unequal access to food, food aid, the green revolution, and diseases related to inadequate diet.
A third cluster focuses on broad concerns of heath, education, and welfare, for example, infectious diseases (particularly HIV and AIDS), inadequate sanitation, drug use (trade, prevention, prosecution), inadequate shelter or housing, illiteracy, low standards of living, and the lack of a social safety net.
Virtually every source consulted places major emphasis upon resource depletion-including energy-and environmental degradation or pollution as crucial areas for student study. The resource cluster includes renewable and nonrenewable resources, resource dependence, stockpiling critical resources, recycling, and the role of commodity power in international commerce. The more recent sources emphasize water-its management, reuse, pollution, scarcity, and cost. A few sources cited space as an often overlooked resource.
Topics relating to energy sources-particularly petroleum and nuclear energy-appear on almost every list for study. Production and consumption patterns, proven reserves, costs, the security or dependability of sources, and future oil shocks (OPEC) make up one group of concerns. A second group focuses on alternative energy sources (solar power or hydro power), the problems and potentials of nuclear energy, and the need for conservation.
Studying the condition and care of the environment includes topics such as air, land, water, and seabed pollution; global warming and cooling; ozone depletion; toxic and nuclear wastes (disposal and international trade in); and acid rain. A second set of issues focuses on degradation of the land through erosion, deforestation, drought, or desertification, and reductions in generic, biotic, and species varieties. Some sources also mention carrying capacity and environmental instability as concepts students should understand.
Perhaps no other topic mentioned reflects as high a degree of concern-in a few cases bordering on alarmist-as does the condition of the environment and its care. Schools planning studies of environmentally related topics would be wise to take extra precautions to assure that students are presented with the most balanced and scholarly data currently available.
Many of the sources examined stressed the need for the study of political systems and ideologies (as with economic systems above) that differ from our own. Under the institutions cluster, the United Nations and its agencies dominate most lists, but the increasing role of regional organizations (NATO, SEATO, OAS, OAU, etc.) also are recommended for study. A second cluster of concerns focuses on the role of alliances, treaties, and negotiations (regarding arms, refugees, trade, and human rights violations). More recent sources mentioned political disintegration, irredentism, secessionism, devolution of nations, separatism, and the opposing trends of regional integration and increased democratization and autonomy.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and their increasing role and presence in international affairs, are also recommended for study. Finally, a cluster focuses on international law and the role of the World Court. Formal study of US foreign policy is also recommended by some authors.
No single problem or concern is listed more frequently than population, particularly its control. Some authors feel that unless present growth rates are checked, particularly in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, solutions to most other global problems will continue to elude us.
Basic information on population growth (birthrates, death rates, fertility rates, replacement rates, migration, immigration, and emigration), and its changes, patterns, and trends make up one cluster. Another cluster focuses on issues that can be controversial, such as family planning and contraception practices, including state-sanctioned abortion or sterilization. It would appear wise that public schools dealing with these topics exercise extreme caution.
A third cluster includes a variety of population-related issues, for example, guest workers, illegal aliens, aging, drift to the cities, political asylum, dependency ratios (percentage of a population under 15 or over 65 years old), and the rapidly increasing numbers of refugees and displaced persons worldwide.
Most of the sources consulted feel this topic should be studied by all students, but few provide details. In most cases, "reducing prejudice," "avoiding stereotypes," or "eliminating discrimination" are listed as the goal for such studies. Others stressed "celebrating diversity" or "enhancing students' self-image/concept" as the primary goal.
Some scholars and others who included this topic on their lists stress specifics such as race and immigration quotas or preferences, exclusion laws based on race, problems of indigenous ethnic groups, ethnic/cultural roots, color consciousness, and, in more recent sources, ethnic or racially based genocide as well as the ongoing debate concerning Eurocentrism vs. multiculturalism. In any case, serious consideration of this topic would appear mandatory given our pluralistic society and world.
With the exception of communications-often coupled with transportation-this category of issues receives little attention in the earlier sources examined. However, virtually all of the more recent sources emphasize the role that science, technology, and communications play in the lives of all humans. Several individuals note correctly that the study of science and technology provides an ideal vehicle for social studies, math, and science teachers to develop cross-disciplinary lessons and units. Having students discuss both the pluses and minuses of the impact of science and technology on peoples' lives worldwide is suggested.
The communication cluster includes innovations, networking, freedom of use, the information revolution (access to, balanced flow, and censorship) and increasing speed coupled with decreasing costs.
Included under this heading is what might be called the "neo" cluster: neocolonialism, neomercantilism and neoimperialism, all manifestations of broader dependency theory issues that include increasing foreign debt and economic imperialism.
A second cluster of concerns centers on drift to the cities and explosive urban growth (megacities), often accompanied by increasing social and economic problems and growing city-countryside disparities that cause political instability, often leading to violence.
A third cluster includes the role of commodity power and the attempts to form cartels among those developing nations that possess raw materials needed by the more industrialized nations. Also included is the nonaligned movement that, at times, influences voting at the United Nations.
A final cluster centers on the internal regional disparities existing in many developing nations, the mistreatment of indigenous peoples in some, and autonomy movements in others.
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