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September 1999 - Issue No. #36 (p.8)

This article is reprinted with permission from Green Teacher magazine Issue #57 (Winter 1998-99)

World Citizenship: Global Villager or Global Consumer?

by Sandy Ockenden

Victoria Int. Dev. Edu. Assoc., Canada

In a world of increasing globalization, one of our tasks as educators is to help students understand their rights and responsibilities as world citizens. There are no precedents in this, for the very concept of global citizenship asks us to locate ourselves in space in a way new to human experience. We can start by asking "Who are we as global citizens?" and "How then should we act?"

Students are frequently presented with two polarized images of a world citizen. The first is a member of the global village, sharing the planets resources in a way that is ecologically, socially and economically sus-tainable, and sharing rights and responsibilities with fellow humans. This global villager embraces multiple perspectives, values cultural diversity, fosters respectful relationships, and seeks to understand the common-alities of experience between diverse and far-flung peoples. The global villager recognizes that poverty, hunger, racism and environmental degradation are local as well as global issues, and that global sustainability begins with building healthy local communities

At the opposite end of the spectrum lies a sense of identity rooted in global consumerism. This places fellow humans as economic and social antagonists, competitors for limited resources and power. For a global consumer, protecting lifestyle and social position is paramount and the struggle to do so fosters individualism and nationalism. Those whom we see as different from ourselves are perceived as threats. Rather than valuing diversity, the global consumer ignores or exploits differences. Respectful relationships are not of prime concern, nor is the welfare of individuals, communities and environments outside one's own region or nation.

Encouraging students to be aware of these opposing concepts of world citizenship - and of the different attitudes each brings to current issues - can help them begin to define their own roles as members of the global community. Let's consider, for example, how these polarized views might influence attitudes toward immigration. Of the 100 million migrants and 20 million refugees, in the world today, 10 million have left home because they can no longer make a living while environmental destruction may make 50 million more landless or homeless by the end of the decade. North Americans are the greatest per capita consumers of resources and producers of waste, taking an enormous toll on the global environment. As world citizens, how do we respond to environmental refugees? What is our responsibility when their plight is linked to our consumer lifestyle?

Global villagers accept immigrants to their countries and communities as fellow citizens, valuing their diverse heritages and unique contributions. The global villager not only allows space for refugees, but creates space, inviting their voices to be heard in the community. Conversely, the global consumer sees refugees (especially those who are poor and speak a different language) as a threat to economic security, to national integrity and to community identity. Despite evidence that immigrants bring valuable skills and know-ledge to the work force, pay taxes, and contribute to local economies, the global consumer persists in the popular myth that refugees are a drain on the economy, as stealers of jobs and diluters of culture. These opposing views are typical of the attitudes that come to play in the classroom as current events and global issues are discussed.

One of the best ways to cultivate students' sense of themselves as global villagers is to build an understanding of globalization which is anchored in their local communities. Studying issues at the local level provides a context from which to understand global phenomena. Action within the community can instill a sense of responsibility that transcends boundaries and recognizes the common needs of people everywhere.

When the concept of community is expanded to include everyone on the planet, the struggle for universal rights becomes everyone's responsibility. Faraway issues become local issues and local issues have far-away implications. Linking local community issues to global issues, or juxtaposing them with similar issue in faraway communities, helps develop this global village perspective.

The why, how and what of teaching are fundamental questions when educating for global citizenship. Let's help our students experience and interpret events and issues in a way that fosters ecological sustainability and human dignity. Let's help them envision a just and hopeful future in which they choose to act on behalf of all the world's people as thoughtful and democratic global citizens.

<!-- Sandy Ockenden, Victoria Int. Dev. Edu. Assoc., #407-620 View St., Victoria, BC V8W 1J6, CANADA -->
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