I recently attended The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) Global Symposium in Long Beach, CA and I have to say it was not at all what I expected. But that is the great thing about attending a conference with one’s peers, particularly at a conference with the intention of discussing Global Issues.
While the whole conference was about global issues, I was struck by the passion with which schools are addressing the ethical and worldwide issues that confront young minds today. A friend of mine the other day mentioned that the world is no longer “white” but in fact, is increasingly diverse. This is definitely true of the boarding and day school populations in the US today. Of particular note is the breadth of Chinese students attending a variety of schools in the US – not just boarding but day schools both public and private. So while we have long acknowledged the world is round, it is now increasingly diverse. With both these factors in mind the educational conversation needs to change. From the presentations at the Global Symposium it appears that many schools are engaging the Global and ethical issues confronting this totally different environment.
Many schools have in place pre-college courses in ethics and philosophy not only to discuss vital issues like water, social justice, human trafficking, global warming and gender issues, but to engage in deep questioning to help develop empathy and resilience. Students today need to be armed with these two characteristics, among others, to be prepared to engage in the social human construct of our evolving world. Deep questioning provides opportunities to harness thought provoking discussion, deep analysis of issues while grappling with challenging perspectives.
Many schools are approaching these topics through multi-disciplinary projects; Ethics or Philosophy classes looking at how events impact the world we live in while helping students develop the language to engage in these vital conversations. Other schools are adding ethical inquiry into existing courses such as English, Math, History, and the sciences.
A multidisciplinary project might take on Human Trafficking looking at the topic from historic and political aspects, which would include law, human rights, moral decision-making, literature and even math. Another project might look at waste production of a school calculating the amount of waste and how to decrease that waste and the effects on recycling and who is affected. This topic would include human factors as well as science and political consequences.
One of the issues of developing programs such as these, aside from the fact that students need to engage in these conversations is the inherent discomfort, disruption and perplexity young minds will confront as they attempt to digest and communicate. The process is derived from learning by unlearning. Deconstructing current biases to understand from other points of view, emotional attachment to issues and the concept that this learning process will entail being disgusted by the lack of moral empathy in order to provoke change.
At the heart of Global ethics is a reinvention of education with the following in mind:
- Understanding global ethical issues is not enough; students need to learn to act in order to transform the world they will inherit
- However, students will also need to confront preconceived emotions, biases, prejudices or learned behavior to transform morally
- To have “Global Competency” there needs to be ethical discourse and examination incorporating intellectual tools to evaluate complex situations and dilemmas
Newton’s Third Law – “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” could not be more evident in issues confronting our world today. As a simple example – electric cars: They make sense because they are not as polluting as cars using gas, but to create the electricity to power the batteries needs to come from power producers using coal, gas or water which also have damaging effects. Electric car batteries are usually made from rare earth or highly toxic chemicals, which also have potentially disastrous outcomes.
So you can see the answers are not easy but the issues need deep questioning to provide solutions. Schools provide the best and safest environment for the deep analysis for these debates, which is why so many schools are adding into current courses or developing new courses to address the complexity of our shrinking and increasingly diverse world.