This post is written by NCTE member Amanda Wallace.
“What is the purpose of education?”
If the purpose of education is to create innovative thinkers who can understand multiple perspectives and ideas, then we are not focusing on our purpose. A high score on a standardized test does not mean our students know how to ask questions, or to produce solutions that will solve the problems we face as a planet, or make us economically prosperous.
I am an English teacher in a public high school, and like other teachers in North Carolina, I was concerned with making my numbers grow on standardized tests, as if those growth numbers were reflecting all that my students had learned. I would look at the data to try to find patterns or weaknesses. Patterns of growth always seemed inconsistent. Some students who were insightful and creative in class scored lower than those who seemed uninterested and detached. Those who were good test takers did well while those who would look at the questions and see multiple perspectives and possibilities in the answers were sometimes penalized with lower scores. The tests given by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for High School English do not measure creativity, writing ability, communication, or listening skills. They do not measure kindness or empathy. In short, they measure little of the education we need to provide for our students.
In 2014–2015 I had the opportunity to participate in a State Department program called Teachers for Global Classrooms. I realized the most important skills are not the ones being tested by the state. My students need to be globally competent, and they need the skills to survive and compete in our globally connected world. Once our students leave public education, they will not be asked in a job interview if they can read a passage and mark a bubble. There will not always be one right answer to a question. For employment in the 21st century our students might be asked, “How do you cultivate productivity with your team?” How will you communicate with our global partners?” “How do you solve problems?”
I have been fortunate in my career that I have had the opportunity to travel to Europe, the Middle East, Southern Asia, and Southeast Asia. I have visited classrooms in Pakistan and the Philippines. My Facebook friend list is full of teachers I have met from a variety of backgrounds and faiths, including friends who are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians. Some of my students, however, may not have the same diversity in their circle of friends and acquaintances; their perceptions of people with backgrounds and faiths different from their own may be drawn primarily from what they see and hear on the news, and they may not realize the limitations of their sources. Although globalization has made a global perspective imperative in our society, schools are still behind in meeting this need for our students. My duty as an educator is to help my students become critical thinkers and avoid being indoctrinated into a one-sided vision of the world, so I have tried to build my classroom teaching based on four Global Competencies, outlined by the Asia Society (asiasociety.org), that will help ensure students are ready for the future:
Investigate the World: This means my students are researching and reading multiple texts from multiple views. As they look at different sources and try to determine if information is credible they look for bias, generalizations, and stereotyping. We want students to ask insightful questions. This is a key difference between 21st-century global teaching, and more traditional ways of teaching students. Instead of students who can answer questions on tests, I want students who are curious, students who have the skills to ask probing questions and the skills to find the answers. Our students and our economy will stagnate if we are still”training” students to wait for others to tell them the answers.
Weigh Perspectives: It is easy to teach perspective through literature, but I must also challenge my students to try to understand (if not always agree with) other perspectives and voices. When students are able to understand a text written by an author a world and a time away, they will truly comprehend more than any test can measure. In our globalized world, if students cannot see things from the point of view of others, they will not be able to make partnerships in their careers or communicate their ideas effectively.
Communicate with a Diverse Audience. This should be the goal of all English classes and most of school, but sadly it is a skill we ignore since it is difficult to test. If students cannot communicate through written and oral communication, they will have a difficult time achieving any job besides service or manual labor. Again, with standardized testing being the main objective, we are creating a generation of students who have learned how to figure out the answer, but not how to communicate their own ideas. Even in my honors classes, I have students who are afraid to speak up in class for fear that it will be “wrong.” They have grown up in a school system that has rewarded them for high test scores, but not for their verbal communication skills.
Take Action This competency helps a student apply his or her learning in the classroom to real issues in our world. This is akin to “Think globally, act locally.” When students understand the issues that face us as citizens of the world, they can apply these concepts in service learning at home or abroad. Education should not be about how high a student can score on a test, but how much empathy, insight, and action for change our students possess. They must have knowledge about their world to make these changes to help humanity. Ten years ago, many schools were implementing some type of service learning project, but again we have moved away from service learning and focused on testing.
North Carolina has started several new programs to help teachers teach for global competency, as well as a new certification for Global High Schools, but there is little awareness of these programs among most teachers and administrators, and little time to implement a global curriculum when the push is still for standardization of the curriculum and even more testing in the future. I urge all educators to advocate for the teaching of global competency in all areas of the curriculum, so that our students are prepared to ask the questions and seek the solutions that will make us a peaceful and prosperous planet.
Mansilla, Veronica Boix., and Anthony Jackson. Educating for Global Competence: Preparing Our Youth to Engage the World. New York, NY: Asia Society, 2011. Print.
Amanda Wallace teaches English at Watauga High School in Boone, NC. She is certified in Middle Grades Education, High School Language Arts, and she has a Master’s Degree in Reading Education from Appalachian State. She is also Nationally Board Certified in Language Arts. Amanda has been a cooperating teacher with the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program since 2011. She participated in the Watauga Pakistan Exchange Program in 2014, and she was awarded a fellowship with Teachers for Global Classrooms in 2015, a year long program which culminated with a field experience in the Philippines. She is currently a teacher fellow with Hope Street Group’s North Carolina Teacher Voice Network