The conversations that we had at Seattle University on November 18, 2011 could not happen in Missouri yet.
I attended the Global Competence in Education conference after being gone from Washington State for five years, coming from another Washington – Washington University in St. Louis where I am a PhD student in cultural and educational anthropology. When my husband was stationed at McChord AFB in Washington State, I was able to work with Global WA, the Coalition for International Education, iEARN, WAFLT, and many other organizations dedicated to increasing global education in Washington State by helping organize conferences, curricula, and teaching immersion French at Sheridan Elementary in Tacoma. When we moved to Scott AFB near St. Louis, I went back to school for a Masters in Islamic and Near Eastern Studies with a thesis on the diversity of modern Islamic education in Turkey, Egypt, and Pakistan. In my PhD program, I now specialize in educational pluralism and reform in the Middle East. My interest in international and comparative education is tightly wound with an interest in developing multilingualism and global education in the U.S. However, in the four states I’ve lived previously and in the two states I’ve lived since, I haven’t found the passion for global education that exists in Washington State.
Though I’m also involved in education reform in St. Louis, the conversation is about financial propriety, increasing early childhood education, reaching full teacher certification, bus schedules, food service, parental involvement, desegregation policies, and other elements of how the education system is run — but not what or how we’re teaching the children of St. Louis to fit into the globalized 21st century. A large part of the panic is due to the loss of accreditation by the Missouri State Board of Education in 2007. However, many of the best success stories in St. Louis are through innovative school practice: the highest ranking high school in Missouri is the public, magnet Metro Academic and Classical High School (also one of Newsweek’s top 100 best public schools in America) and the highest ranking elementary school in Missouri is the public, magnet Kennard Classical Junior Academy.
While teaching at Sheridan Elementary School of International Language, we were encouraged to show that global education was not an elite luxury, but the definition of good public education in the 21st century.
President of Seattle University Father Sundborg, Karen Kodama, and others expressed how students, teachers, and business leaders do not need to be convinced that global education and competency-building are important. Father Sundborg said, “Students have a hunger and ability to connect with people around the world. We don’t need to put the global in young people, we need to educate it.”
Seattle BioMed’s Theresa Britschgi and Wells Fargo’s Marco Abruzzese noted that the largest problems in the world are global and can only be solved through global collaboration. Alan Burke from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction lamented that “there is a world full of jobs we’re not preparing our kids for.”
In an interview with Byron Clemens, Vice President at AFT 420, the local St. Louis teachers’ union, he noted how well the magnet schools were doing in St. Louis and pondered, “Why couldn’t they all be magnet schools?” His question gets at the heart of the need to change education in the US, since our public education system has not caught up with the 21st century. As Karen Kodama said, “Today’s high school students graduate into a world vastly different from the 20th century.” It’s time we taught them differently as well.
Susan Jeffords, Board Vice President of Global Washington and the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Washington in Bothell, challenged Washington State to be the leader of global education in the U.S. I am convinced that the work being done in Washington State, and the conference work on the roadmap to global education, could lead the other states in the right direction.
Although such a conference could not currently be held in St. Louis, the city and state exist in the same globalized, 21st century world as Seattle, Washington. In St. Louis, we may have to convince students, teachers, and business leaders that global education is the key to future success. And it will take time to develop the network of non-profits, development organizations, international schools, corporate sponsorships, and teacher professional development that Washington State has been developing for the last decade. Hopefully, it will not take Missouri a decade to hold our own Global Competence in Education conference since we can learn from Washington’s model and expand current best practices.
I commend all the participants and everyone involved in global education in Washington State for their work, their leadership, and their hope in a peaceful, prosperous, interconnected present and future.