A good friend of mine lived abroad when she was of middle-school age. Her mother was in the military, stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Living abroad when old enough to notice the life going on around you, having a life in the States to compare to, and being old enough to appreciate the details and differences of people with whom your rub elbows with every day has an effect on a child. I would argue a good effect. While living abroad is rough on a young person, away from friends, having to learn to adapt to a different culture, she learned to appreciate the differences she saw. Having to adapt meant having to develop initiative to problem-solve, learning to use the subway, buses, eat a different diet, work at a different pace, and perhaps be differential towards elders.
Children, foreign nationals living outside their country of birth, may have a distinct advantage above children which do not live abroad, or later in life, choose to “study abroad.” Children exposed at early ages to different food, a different set of cultural or societal rules, different languages, and even different climates should develop skills and attitudes which should make them more successful later in life than their stay-at-home peers in our increasingly globalized world society.
I see adult students every day, living in fear of moving to another county or an adjoining state for education. Students, male and female alike, literally tremble at the thought of the unfamiliar a mere 60+ miles (90km) away. Meanwhile, 10%-15% of campus is comprised of students not hundreds of miles from home, but 8,000 miles or more from home.
The United States’ geography is both blessing and course. The U.S. has avoided the devastating effects of two world wars. Historically, North American was not the convenient cultural crossroads of Asia Minor or Europe. The benefit of distance has encouraged us to be aloof, buffered from political, economic, and cultural interactions common throughout Europe. Sure, we have experienced our own discord, our Civil War, our Civil Rights, literal battles over organized labor. We have had the added benefit, though, of not also having to worry about disagreements brought about by cultural factions, as evidenced by the controversial European Union, language barriers, or multiple currencies, to name only a few complicating forces.
Our geography has made us aloof, given us a sense of protection and ease, which few other global realms enjoy. We have only two immediate neighbors, Canada and Mexico. Canada is very similar to the United States culturally, politically, and with a shared British and French history. We expect immigrants to conform to our society and make little to no allowance to accept theirs. Immigrants fare better in urban areas where cultural diversity is normal and people from the same ethnic background offer support. Rural areas, locations of most state colleges and universities, immigrants and foreign students are met with more varied reactions.
The remainder of the world, I argue, does not realistically have an option to ignore or downplay the influence of their neighbors. They are forced to learn, listen, cope, i.e. interact with their neighbors as a part of doing business.
Children capable of handling diversity, being introduced to diversity in language, arts, culture, and expression I see as being the future.
For more reading: How To Raise A Global Kid (Lisa Miller, Newsweek)
The above article highlights many issues associated with the increasing amount of global interaction our current generation is a part of. But, we cannot simply be a part of the interaction without some analysis of how to better prepare both ourselves for what lay ahead tomorrow and prepare our children for lies ahead for them.
“I a worried that in this interconnected world, our country risks being disconnected from the contributions of other countries and cultures” (Arne Duncan, U.S. Education Secretary, 2010.)
I am worried, as well. I can’t raise a global child; I don’t have any children. I spend most of my time attempting to convince adults to become “Global Adults.” My hopes are my students will accept some of what we discuss in class, what they learn themselves by reading English-language editions of foreign newspapers, and what they read in their textbooks, and through what little exposure I coach, the realization will dawn on them how much they need to pay attention to current events, if not for themselves, but for their children, and their children’s children.
200 million Chinese schoolchildren are studying English
Some U.S. citizens say, “Yeah, our language is important. Good for them!” I don’t disagree but the problem is the learning transaction is only one-way. Few of us are learning Chinese. They have a greater ability to understand us than we have of understanding them – and there are 4x’s more Chinese than U.S. citizens.
“South Korean parents … demand that their children begin English instruction in the 1st grade, rather than the 2nd grade.”
Again, no argument from me, yet South Korea is one of the most important economies in all of East Asia and Southeast outside of China. Having competent people who can play well with others, and raising competent people who can play nice can has all sorts of benefits, from the individual to our general U.S. social fabric.
“Not training our kids to be able to work and live in an international environment is like leaving them illiterate.”
Raising a global child is about helping your kids be successful. Traits developed in making them a “global child” also make them into good people. There is no downside. Essentially, parents of “global children” are helping their children be “globally literate” and “globally functional.” Our geography impairs us, creating a sense of aloofness, a false sense of security, and an inflated ego, that we are better than we really are.
We can see evidence of our national ego today. Our foreign policy certainly exemplifies our national ego, e.g. “You either stand with us or against us,” and our unilateral policies associated with Afghanistan, Iraq, and our demands for China to devalue its currency against the dollar. We can literally stand apart and command without having to face any immediate threat or retaliation, unlike South Korea, Taiwan, or Israel.
Some U.S. schools are making some progress. Last year, I wrote a brief post on a Delaware school introducing Chinese language classes (“Red Clay CSD Building Chinese language program“.) I have not followed-up with the program, and one of the concerns voiced was how well the program would fare in light of the demands of state and federal curriculum standards and assessments. To wit, I respond with, to hell with those standards; those standards obviously not only do not set a very high bar, they do not address the future needs to students, the state of Delaware, or our country, in general.
At times, I often wonder why “algebra” has not been banned. Or, perhaps not banned, but legislation written, changing the name of the bane of all high school and some college students to a more Anglo-friendly term, like “Freedom Math,” or “Patriot Math,” or other nonsense. Our so-called “English” language is rife with foreign words and derivatives and I await the pronouncement from some heretofore anonymous group to announce they have written legislation removing all Arabic, Chinese, or African words from the American language lexicon. Yep, I’m cynical.
See, the another danger of being so physically remote from other cultures is the perceived threat Americans have from those different from us. Should our children learn Chinese, they could become stark raving mad atheist Communists. Or, even worse, should they learn Arabic, they might come home one day with a mullah beard, reciting the Qu’ran, and proclaim the house and all which falls under the roof as the “domain of Allah.”
Recently, in Arizona, some people were upset over the term, “haboob.” No, not because the second syllable references slang for human anatomy, but because the term is of Arabic origins, meaning “dust storm.” No seems upset over “alcohol” or “banana,” though.
For further reading: “Haboobs cause storm of complaints” (July 12, 2011; Time)
Antagonism towards diversity has only negative consequences. At an individual level, antagonism to diversity inspires fear, trepidation, bigotry, and bias. We succumb to stereotypes and myths are are no better off today than yesterday, and the future won’t be much different. Adults who ascribed to these traits pass them along to their kids. A mother in one of my classes related how her son was called names and berated for looking Arab during local high school games. Even more disgusting, the coaching staff of the opposing team not only did nothing to stop the abuse but assistant coaches were right there with the players shouting the same insults. The family was not Arab but Greek, but dark-skinned. The family has since moved from the area.
Old news, from last year, a Texas school tried to institute Arabic language classes. Community outcry halted progress on implementing the language program.
For further reading: “Teaching Arabic Is No Cause For Fear” (February 2011, CNN)
As long as all domestic policy is viewed through the lens of 9/11, we will never be as free, as creative, or as adaptable as we need to be in order to ensure our long-term economic and social success. Yes, 9/11 was tragic, yet the more insular we become, the more fears of diversity we harbor and pass along to our kids, the weaker our society becomes. Our leaders, from local school boards, governors, to National figures, have allowed our society to be compromised and undermined and weakened by the actions of 19+ men. Even Europe has overcome aversion to Germans, the Wehrmacht, and the Nazis, for the most part.
So, to you parents coaching yourselves to be “Global Parents” so your kids will be “global kids,” you tuck the Fate of the World in every night. You should be proud of that.