What exactly IS “global citizenship”?

By Dulce María Gray, PhD

Madeleine F. Green reminds us that “global citizenship” stems out of precepts developed in ancient Greece. Today, the concept and enactment is generally defined as an attitude toward learning, teaching and living that is rooted in principled decision making and cultural empathy, awareness, commitment and engagement in both global and local communities—as well as the interconnections, the “glocal.” Yes, the definition includes components of civic responsibility, ethics, politics, global education and diversity, and thus it is indeed a complex combination of factors, but at the core is the notion that each human being ought to live fully invested in working toward social justice that transcends national borders, because all of us on earth are interdependent and are affected by each of our actions.

Other major precepts of global citizenship include recognizing, understanding and perhaps strengthening local-global connections, recognizing the commonalities that all humans share, making personal and systemic change for a more just and sustainable world, purposely challenging ethnocentrism, cultural relativism, exoticism and othering; engaging comparative critical analysis of diverse and conflicting points of views, and continually practicing interdisciplinarity and cross-cultural/transnational/cooperative/collective/experiential learning.

For those of us in higher education, global citizenship is particularly important, since for most students college presents the capstone opportunity for formal learning before stepping out into the world. Therefore, our teaching and learning (even before college!), as Merry Merryfield affirms, has to prepare all of us to “understand and interact within a culturally diverse and globally interconnected world” (Knighten). We have to see our communities through multiple perspectives and in relationship to the rest of the world—and to see the rest of the world as integral to our own communities.

All members of the college community can enact and foster the core precepts of global citizenship; all of us can unpack stereotypes, exotica, simplifications of cultures and ways of being that are “different”; we can challenge sweeping generalizations and misinformation, seek and compare knowledge from varied perspectives, engage in continual professional development, use technology to bring the world into our own corners, and consistently step out of our comfort zones and home communities. All of us can aim to grow in sound awareness of other nations, social milieus, political and economic processes and power, and in the skills we use to think comparatively, critically and to resolve conflict; we can take greater ownership of civic duty, social action, empathy and altruism; we can cultivate habits of mind that allow us to coexist authentically and peacefully; we can share our vision and responsibility, grow our global competence and forge leadership/leaders. Importantly, all of us can clarify and emphasize the “learning objectives” in enacting global citizenship:

  1. Understanding a citizen’s responsibilities to others, to society and to the environment.
  2. Examining the meaning of citizenship from differing points of view including non-dominant, non-western perspectives.
  3. Evaluating and reflecting upon one’s own life, career and interests in relation to the general welfare of the global society.
  4. Locating information from a variety of sources, identifying underlying values, investigating veracity, and synthesizing.
  5. Identifying problems, formulating solutions and taking actions.
  6. Practicing self-empowerment, assertiveness, media analysis and collaboration.
  7. Deepening concern for and sensitivity to human diversity.
  8. Broadening interest in and concern for world affairs.

Abdi, Ali A. and Lynette Shultz, eds. Educating for Human Rights and Global Citizenship. SUNY Press, 2009.

Bonk, Curtis J. The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education. Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Greene, Madeleine F. “Global Citizenship—What Are We Talking About and Why Does it Matter.” Inside Higher Ed 11 March 2012.

Kirkwood-Turcker, Toni Fuss. Visions in Global Education: The Globalization of Curriculum and Pedagogy in Teacher Education and Schools: Perspectives from Canada, Russia, and the United States. Peter Lang Publishing, 2009.

Knighten, Brian. “The Importance of a Global Education: Interview with Dr. Merry Merryfield.” Outreach World: A Resource for Teaching Kids about the World 24 September 2004.

Peters, Michael A. et al., eds. Global Citizenship Education: Philosophy, Theory and Pedagogy. Sense Publishers, 2008.

Schattle, Hans. The Practices of Global Citizenship. Rowman and Littlefield, 2008.

Stearns, Peter. Educating Global Citizens in Colleges and Universities. Routledge, 2009.

Dulce Maria Gray teaches composition, literature and women’s studies in WVC’s Department of English. In addition to her active involvement in the WVC Global Citizenship Committee, she is the General Editor of the college’s eLearning blog

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