I. Global Issues, Problems, and Challenges

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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;
  10. sustainable development.

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.

Knowledge Objectives
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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Skills Objectives
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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Participation Objectives
“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 U.S. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.