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Educate for Global Justice: A Key Lesson from Sept. 11

By the editors of Rethinking Schools

The last year has not been an easy time for educators. After the deadly events of September 11, 2001, we all needed to help students grieve, to help them try to make sense of an event that shattered so many lives. Then we had to respond to the war in Afghanistan, the demand for patriotism at all costs, the demonization of those who questioned the status quo or those who simply resembled the 9/11 hijackers in any way, and the stripping of our civil liberties in the name of security.

As educators committed to social justice, we believe that students need something different than a daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Whether we teach elementary students or older ones, young people need global education. All students, starting with the youngest, need to develop empathy for people who are different or live under different conditions. They need to learn basic geography and history and they must unlearn damaging stereotypes. And we can help students develop other critical skills: to question the policies of our government, to consider alternatives, to ask about who benefits and who suffers from particular policy choices, to evaluate media coverage of world events. We need to direct students' attention to the broad trends that continue to make the world an unequal and dangerous place.

We believe that the ability of fundamentalists of all stripes to sustain themselves and gain new recruits rests principally on the widespread despair and oppression that hundreds of millions of people experience daily. The old adage "without justice there is no peace" has never been more true.

Our students live in a society that makes up about 5 percent of the world's population, but consumes more than a third of the world's wealth and creates half of the world's non-organic waste. Our government's policies dominate international affairs. The U.S. government refuses to sign international treaties ranging from child labor and women's rights to global warming and international war crimes. The United States is the world's top spender and exporter of weapons. U.S.-based transnational corporations employ millions of people under sweatshop conditions, pollute the environment, and move at a whim to increase profit margins.

Because the United States dominates the world in numerous ways, and because this world has grown increasingly perilous, we believe that it is the responsibility of teachers, professional organizations, schools, and districts to promote a rigorous global justice education. We recognize that this challenges the national emphasis on standards and high-stakes testing. But the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the "war on terrorism" that followed demonstrate that a deep knowledge of global dynamics has become a "basic skill." This is the world our students will inherit; they ought to understand it.

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