Global Citizenship: Essential Skills for the 21st Century
As a child piled up in the backseat of a car while my parents drove us from Tennessee to Texas and back, the smell of fresh coffee from the front seat always signaled a new trip, a new adventure, and new experiences. Always ready to go, I’m now the one with the coffee in hand as I start a trip, regardless of its length! I’ve realized that part of my love of coffee is how it connects my nose and my brain with the thrill of travel, its experiences and excitement.
While I gladly travel anywhere, anytime, I no longer have to leave home to see the world. It’s on my screen, in my hand, in the people around me daily. I drink coffee from far-flung places at the coffee shop down the street! I am indeed a global citizen- right here in Tennessee- whether I embrace it or reject it, and so are our students! They will live in a future more interconnected and interdependent than mine, and they need to learn and practice the competencies of 21st century global citizenship.
Though traveling can make us aware of other cultures, it’s only one part of what these future leaders need to understand, but travel can remind us of the lessons our students need to be good global citizens.
1. Take a wide view of the world. When we travel, we’re sometimes thrown by something as simple as knowing that we’ve left our home time zone. We forget to reset a watch or to remember that appointments made on our phones in San Diego today won’t be on Nashville time when we return home. As simple as time zones are, they are an example of the awareness students need of how the world works, how things connect, how events and circumstances in one place hinge on those in other places, and what it means to think and act globally. Students need to see beyond the borders drawn on maps, the political borders, to consider the people, culture and resources that cover the globe and to recognize their own culture and the part they play in the world.
2. Think critically to solve problems and meet challenges. As a Tennessee native, I’m always amazed at the rapid transit systems of other places, and, though I get lost my fair share of times, I’ve learned that I can almost always get where I want to go as long as I read the maps and plan my route before I get aboard! More importantly, I’ve learned that wrong destinations are just opportunities to stop, get coffee, and think my way through the whole process again! As the academic demands on students grow alongside their expanding access to information, our students must learn to be careful collectors, consumers and users of information. They need to garner information from a wide variety of sources, analyze it, and synthesize it so they can use it wisely to get where they want to go. They must learn from experience, thinking critically and innovatively to collaborate with others near and far. All of this requires rich tech skills and an entrepreneurial spirit to meet tomorrow’s challenges.
3. Be open-minded. I’m always tempted to ask complaining fellow travelers why they travel at all if they expect to find everything the same as at home. Did they not expect new food, new beds, new toilet handles? Sure, the coffee is different, but it may be better! At least, it will be a new experience! For students to become contributing global citizens, they need to open their minds to new things, new people, new situations, and new ways of thinking about the world and its challenges. A true 21st century skill is the ability to work on teams with diverse members, and that is enhanced when they learn to enjoy diversity, both in the workplace (or a classroom) and in life. Students must be willing to take on new challenges and step confidently into new situations.
4. Act ethically. When we travel, we must take who we are, our values, manners and ethics along. It’s what helps us through both everyday and difficult situations, regardless of our location. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus told us to “do to others what you would have them do to you.” While that certainly applies to how students treat others socially, it also applies to stating values and sharing opinions respectfully, remembering how they would like to be treated. As importantly, it is also about understanding and ending social wrongs, as well as protecting and sustaining the environment. Students need to develop empathy for their fellow global citizens and understand the power they have to make a difference in the world, sometimes a life-saving power. Yes, it may matter where and how my coffee was grown and whether the person who picked it is treated as I want to be.
I’m already looking forward to the next time I set out on a journey, coffee in hand, eager for excitement and new experiences. Our students, too, deserve happy, productive travels throughout the world, throughout life. The skills that will make those trips successful are the same ones they need to be global citizens wherever they are, the skills we need to be teaching them today for the world and the workplace oftomorrow.