03 April 2009

Can We "Think Globally"?

There was a discussion at work recently about some new "global" standards that are in development. These are not for the state, but will be put out by a private educational entity. Most people seemed really excited by the discussion. Me? Not so much.

I was remembering a former co-worker talking about a book or article he had read that made the case that the human brain just doesn't have the capacity to consider global ramifications of our actions. We were hunters and gatherers---we are adapted to focusing on local concerns and issues within our own territory. Even if technology is making the world "smaller," the fact is that most of us really do stay within a very small range. This doesn't mean that it is okay to be irresponsible with resources, but the basic understanding we need to have about our actions is that they have consequences (good and/or bad). That's it.

Can we teach children to "think globally"? Not little ones. Sure, they can learn geography and sociology/cultural information. But to actually conceptualize their relevance to the world at large? Well, you probably need some well-developed frontal lobes for that...so we're talking teenagers as the first potential batch of "global thinkers." And even then, do they have enough life experiences to make those connections?

At my advanced age, and with the advantages I've had in life, I'm not sure that even I can fully display an ability to think on such a large scale. I can wrap my mind around "actions/consequences." I understand that resources are finite. I have the capacity to make good choices within the locus of control that I have (including how I spend my money). Beyond that, I don't know how much more global I can be.

I'm just having a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea of having these targets. Do we need standards for being a global citizen? Do we need them just for American students...or do we expect Zimbabwe, Chile, Bosnia, and everyone else to have the exact same ones, too? If I live in a jungle in the Amazon, do I really need to think globally? Or do I just need to be responsible for myself and the environment around me? If everyone did this part, wouldn't we be acting globally? And wouldn't that be more important than just thinking about it?


doyle said...

Very few of us can imagine the face of the person who touched our newly made clothes before they were shipped on a large boat, unloaded on cargo containers placed directly on truck beds, trucked off to a warehouse, and eventually sent to your local store.

Thinking globally is simply not possible in our culture. Thinking locally is possible, but is demonized as selfish, as parochial, as limited.

If you cannot identify at least three wild plants within a hundred yards of your home, you are lost.

Most of us are lost. That we can even entertain the idea that standards for global citizenship are possible while we continue to hurt children by our unconscious (and unconscionable) actions shows how lost we are.

Standards for global citizenship applied by the global haves is just another layer of blindness.

I am ranting, not healthy. You do not need a book to realize that you cannot wrap your head around the concept.

The Science Goddess said...

And yet there is this sense that we should place more importance on thinking globally. I'm not sure where this comes from---other than hearing rumblings that our students must compete for jobs in a global economy. That may be true for some, but I believe that local jobs will be here for most.

Limited or not, it seems like the best each of us can do would be to have that local awareness you allude to...and take responsibility for the space we occupy. It is only selfish if I don't consider anyone else's needs in that process or am careless about consequences.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

A little historical perspective: for a Virginia man in 1861, thinking globally might have meant embracing the idea of an undivided United States of America.

Folks had a little more difficulty adapting to change in those days because the means of communication were limited and took, well, for fricking ever.

Nowadays, with our connectivity and education goals and district strategic plans, I think we're doing the job of preparing the globally prepared citizens of tomorrow.

At least as well as the schools of the 1860s did for their time.

Point being, we do as well as we can with whatever limitations up with which we must put, call it good, and work like hell to make it better.