Time for global thinking in schools

Published 9:37 pm Wednesday, July 16, 2014

By Alyssa Nierman

The state of being globally minded or having the ability to adapt is, unfortunately, not something with which we are born. It is a learned trait.

As someone with experience both as a student and a teacher at a small, private school, I understand just how crucial it is for a teacher to encourage this particular trait.

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One mother I know, who is also an educator, often says, “Teachers are molders of young minds. Without knowing so, teachers create an army of miniature versions of themselves.”

I wholeheartedly agree. As a teacher, it is my job to ensure that I am instilling a thirst for the world in each of my students. If a student is encouraged and inspired to know more about something, regardless of the topic, his passion can be inflamed. But if a student is left feeling unsupported or uninspired, the passion dies.

Thus, my duty as a teacher is to enthusiastically provide an ignition to their spark and the guidance for them to discover the answers in which they are seeking.

I worked steadily to fulfill my duty. As an example, my world geography class was the first class in school history to be involved with the People to People International Classroom Program.

My eighth graders were thrilled to be partnered with a class from Ukraine. They exchanged handwritten letters, which not only allowed them to reacquaint themselves with the ancient art of penmanship but also allowed them to absorb quite a bit of Ukrainian culture, as well.

When I realized that my class was entirely unaware of the atrocities of the Second Sudanese Civil War, I invited a “Lost Boy” of Sudan to speak to the school. My students’ questions ranged from the raw, heart-wrenching (“What happened to the babies who had to travel across Sudan?”) to the less serious (“What do you think about Walmart?”)

Within the United States, an urgent need exists for students to become more globally minded. Though many teachers confirm this idea without hesitation, few follow through with confirming action.

A globally minded teacher nurtures — no, expects — global understanding and respect from his or her students and works toward creating globally minded adults. Global-mindedness, both within children and adults, requires compassion, empathy, and emotional intelligence. It expects that one will aim to respect the uniqueness and value of everyone.

It is vital to develop a firm, unprejudiced grasp of culture and identity. Diversity should always be considered an asset. But just as important as embracing differences is talking about commonalities. Regardless of a person’s skin color, spirituality, sexual preference, dress, diet, or customs, humans are humans. We all breathe, we all laugh, we all cry.

The moment one stops teaching what is wrong or right by individual standards and begins teaching what is wrong and right by human standards is the moment one has matured into a globally minded human.

Alyssa Nierman, a Suffolk resident, teaches middle-school English at Isle of Wight Academy. Email her at alyssanierman@gmail.com.