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OneWorld US Special Report

Back to OneWorld US

Part I

Part II
Demographics and Values

Part III
The Impact of Seattle

Part IV
The Fairness Revolution

Part V
Bringing Globalization Home

Part VI
Scanning the Terrain

Part VII
Anti-Sweats and Ethical Consumption

Global Education

Part X

OneWorld US Special Report

Youth Activism and Global Engagement: Part IX

Different Approaches to Global Education

If global education represents a long-term strategy to cultivate a new generation of citizens who are internationally informed and engaged, it bears pointing out that as a movement, it is far from philosophically monolithic. (Even the nomenclature varies; other labels attached to similar education initiatives include "development education" "world studies," and "intercultural education.") But by and large there is a shared agenda, which combines intellectual capacity building, cross-cultural awareness, and hands-on group problem-solving. Youth develop skills to understand multiple perspectives and competing interpretations; to conduct research and formulate reasoned arguments; and to make connections across time and space. Students acquire and apply these skills as a community of learners embarked on a joint endeavor of consequential inquiry.

Such endeavors run the gamut from a focused and sustained classroom deliberation on a current global challenge (trade, the environment) or on an historical turning point (the U.S. in Vietnam); to a web-based forum where youth from different countries collect evidence about the local effects of global warming and compare notes on ways to respond; to "Project Dayís Work," a USAID-backed initiative (replicating a Norwegian model) in which middle-school students receive proposals from indigenous Southern NGOs, select a project to support, and then raise money through their own labor to provide funding. (100 of the 900 students attending a school in Connecticut worked to raise $90,000 for a Central American NGO caring for orphans.)

Anyone stumbling upon global education for the first time is likely to be struck by the wide range of its concerns, the extraordinarily high quality of its curricular content, and the compelling logic of its underlying premises. Given these strengths, it seems fair to ask why institutional traction has been so difficult to generate. What has allowed community service, in all its various iterations, to become infused and mainstreamed, while global education remains a well-kept secret, less likely to be understood by the public or championed by élites? Why hasnít global education been able to attract the high-profile leadership of a Harris Wofford or the depth and breadth of philanthropic support that the Kellogg Foundation, for example, has provided the community service movement?

A number of reasons that come to mind, not least the fact that the rise of service and volunteerism coincides with the bipartisan disparagement of government and a coordinated effort to substitute private giving for public responsibility. But surely another significant factor has been the absence of a robust and self-confident communications campaign to explain and promote what global education does and stands for. (This may be changing, with increased efforts to "sell" global education based on appeals to economic competitiveness; while such an approach may win allies, if taken too far it can wind up mislabeling or even denaturing the "product.")

Perhaps what we are seeing is the residual chilling-effect left over from the political controversies of the 1980s, when global education became part of the right-wingís demonology of world government and black UN helicopters. Perhaps the proper avoidance of heavy-fisted advocacy--of exhorting young people to go to the barricades, of mobilizing them as moral cannon fodder--has slipped over into a kind of self-censorship where global educators dampen down their own passionate beliefs out of fear that it contaminate the academic rigor of the content being taught.

Within his youth development framework, Erik Erikson defines competence as "disciplined devotion." The capacity for "disciplined devotion" can sometimes be coerced; but more often it takes shape as a labor of love. Young people become passionate about a subject or a cause; they "embrace" it. Such an emotionally laden commitment does not, of course, preclude the need for critical judgment. Indeed, deep devotion should serve to stimulate an appetite for increased knowledge and more stringent intellectual discipline. Young people want to be challenged and taken seriously. They seek a chance to come to grips with questions of right and wrong, of justice and injustice, and to make a difference.

International Campaign to Ban Landmines

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) provides an excellent example of a context rich in such opportunities for learning, engagement, and efficacy. The campaign itself has been widely chronicled and justly honored. Launched it 1992 after six NGOs met at the New York office of Human Rights Watch, ICBL eventually came to be joined by 1,200 other groups in 60 countries around the world--all responding to an issue that was simple and a message that was clear. There needed to be an international ban on the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of anti-personnel mines, and there had to be resources to clear mines and assist victims. This was the platform. Around it came together a loose-knit, and over time, increasingly vast network of civil-society activists and citizen volunteers. The ICBL not only anticipated the decentralized, bottom-up organizational inventiveness that led to the Seattle and Washington, D.C. demonstrations against international financial institutions, but also went beyond it. Unlike the anti-globalization movement, which represents a pastiche of strategies and concerns, consistency of focus and clarity of message have distinguished the campaign against landmines.

One of the central figures in the campaign, Bobby Muller, recalls that "when we did telemarketing in the phone banks, guys could get on the phone and in 30 seconds get a commitment for bucks out of somebody on the other end... The issue was simple, and people could visualize it, and it was a tragedy...."

Crystal-clear choices were framed in ways that essentialized their meaning. With the end of the Cold War helping to de-couple humanitarian questions from ideological discourse, landmines could more easily be depicted as mindlessly malignant, as machines that lie in wait to maim and kill the innocent. "What are the depths of dementia we plumb when we permit such atrocities to be visited on our children?" asks a UNICEF official " May we be horrified and forever haunted by the images of children torn apart, fitted with prostheses, or simply handicapped for life." It must be underscored that such moral stigmatizing was able to draw upon solid documentation carried out over years. But the vision of the victimized child proved one of the most powerful thematic elements in maintaining worldwide support for the ban and in keeping public pressure on governments to pass the treaty.

Neither the passage of the treaty nor the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to ICBL, however, brought the campaign to a close. Though a new global norm was established, it needs to be solidified. As Bobby Muller explains, "You get the recognition of the Nobel Prize, and a lot of people think, ĎHey, you guys did it. Congratulations. Next!í They donít realize that it was a great step but, my God, you still have 80 or 90 million landmines in the ground... Thereís no magic wand to make it all better. Itís a matter of shifting the baseline."

Youth activism was not a primary force in creating the movement to ban landmines. (Again, it is important to clarify that a great many of the NGOs involved were staffed by people under 30 years old, and that many of the diplomats involved in negotiations were their peers. "The senior guys couldnít be bothered with an issue that they thought was petty, so they passed it off down the line to their juniors, which was fine, because it allowed us to forge a generational bond with a lot of them," recalls an ICBL veteran.) Throughout the ban campaign, young people have been symbolic figures in an iconography of innocence. The face of 17-year-old Cambodian landmine victim Song Kosal flashing her smile has become an international emblem of grace and resilience. More and more, however, young people are coming to occupy roles that transcend the symbolic and that enter the realm of practice.

Numerous adult-led organizations are supporting this kind of engagement, from the U.N. Associationís "Adopt A Mine-Field Project," to Physicians for Human Rightsí (PHR) new effort to recruit high school students as grassroots youth organizers for the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines. A high school teacher in Colorado who accompanied three of his students to Washington as part of PHR workshop says that young people "feel a tremendous comfort level getting involved in this issue. Landmines provide a very distinct evil that does far more harm to civilians of all ages than it does to soldiers. It also offers students something they can do that genuinely makes a difference for the better. For example, they can raise money to clear a portion (or all) of a minefield. They also can raise money for prosthetics for those maimed by landmines but unable to afford such devices. Both of these provide a solid connect to being able to make something positive happen somewhere in the world in a well defined, concrete way."

The landmine ban has become absorbed into the normative framework of human rights. The issue no longer sparks controversy. It is has become politically detoxified, and thereby far easier to incorporate into classroom activities. In conjunction with the US State Department, CTIR has developed an extensive curriculum series, "Landmines: The Hidden Crisis," where students beginning in elementary school "are introduced to the complexities of international politics and the horrors of war. Students learn how to study current issues and how to voice their concerns about an issue that involves real people and real solutions."

The great victory of the landmine campaign, and the great hope it inspires, lie not just in the diminished suffering it has brought about but in the transformation of public thinking that it has catalyzed. A weapon that barely a decade ago was considered as a standard and "normal" part of any arsenalís inventory now matter-of-factly inspires revulsion. The ban has migrated from the contentious realm of organizing and advocacy to become a question of simple moral decency.

But as Bobby Muller warned, "there are no magic wands." Even with the precedent-setting treaty, many places around the world remain infested with mines. The task of removing them, of caring for people who have and will continue to be maimed, (and, some would suggest, of mounting additional, follow-on campaigns against other categories of weapons), demands commitment that is abiding rather than episodic. In addressing issues such as landmines, global education is not operating as a youth ministry seeking to convert the young to faith in a new internationalism. Young people will save their own souls and discover their own truths. But young peopleís capacity for "disciplined devotion" can be nurtured through high adult expectations and through the seriousness and complexity of the questions they are challenged to confront.

The relation between global education and youth activism cannot be simply graphed. Certainly, issues like landmines or trade--or even sweatshops--lend themselves to sustained classroom inquiry. In some cases inquiry is linked to actions that teachers themselves promote and encourage. This has occurred most often around the landmine ban, human rights education, and environmental concerns. Two points are worth observing. First, the number of such issues is limited to those that have already become politically sanitized. It is hard to imagine teachers cheering on their students to support the Zapatistas or protest the "the prison-industrial complex." Adolescents are typically invited to help enforce norms once they are entrenched.

Second, and perhaps more important, there is a very delicate balance between teachersí encouraging initiative and controlling, or even smothering, it. Youth activism is most effective when young people themselves are in charge and adults remain in the background. The deep excitement that comes through from the testimony of teenagers attending summer camps run by the Sierra Student Coalition is rooted in the sense of social autonomy and shared moral purpose which the experience helped crystallize. Young people want to be on their own, with their peers, creating their own ventures, free to take risks and test themselves. This developmental process may sometimes be impeded more by the excessively tender mercies of adults than their baleful glances. Global education can prepare students intellectually; it can provide information about resources for engagement, from Amnesty to Green Peace to the Ruckus Society. But after that, high school students should be left to their own devices. There is a fine line--but still an important one¾ between the world of youth activism and the world of classroom-based academic inquiry. Stepping over it intrudes upon space that adolescents need to cultivate by themselves and with each other.

Next: Conclusions