Educational leaders in the Boston metropolitan area can be proud this academic year. With pupils in Boston Public Schools hailing from more than 100 countries and the fastest growing foreign student population in higher education in the nation, few places in the country match the diversity of our student body, from pre-K to post-grad. But the growing internationalization of our classrooms and communities is not reflected in the public school curriculum. And the Common Core, adopted by Massachusetts in 2010, offers no indication that this will change.
We must internationalize the curriculum so students feel as much at home in Beijing and New Guinea as in Boston and New Bedford. Only then will we prepare students to excel in the global marketplace of ideas.
Everyone, it seems, including teachers and their unions, parents and pundits, and politicians on both sides of the aisle, have raised concerns about the Common Core. The issues range from worry over federal overreach to opposition to the scientific truths of evolution and climate change. As a school board member with two children in high school, and as a college professor of anthropology, I have another misgiving about the Common Core, even as I support it: the failure of the curriculum “to prepare all students,” as the initiative declares, “for success in our global economy and society.”
The Common Core curriculum teaches English, reading, writing, speaking, listening, media, technology and math. This smorgasbord of subjects omits substantive engagement with globalization. There is no provision to ensure that students who satisfy the new skills will also be prepared to engage with confidence and skill with other cultures and countries, let alone with the child sitting, perhaps, in the very next seat. Without a truly global scope attuned to the realities of our interconnected world, the Common Core will not make good on its promise to educate global citizens.
The world may be getting ‘flatter,’ to invoke The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. But global diversity – with more than 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, according to linguists and anthropologists – thrives. Young people must master the intellectual skills necessary for navigating through this astounding global cacophony of morals, worldviews and strivings, of the many foibles and follies in the human family, from Framingham to Fiji. We must internationalize the curriculum so students feel as much at home in Beijing and New Guinea as in Boston and New Bedford. Only then will we prepare students to excel in the global marketplace of ideas.
This past November, I traveled to China with a delegation of public, charter and private school officials from New England. Like other tourists, we gaped at the Great Wall, stood awestruck in Tiananmen Square and admired the rich history of a vast nation. Just witnessing its hectic pace of modernization — mountain ranges of apartment blocks rising seemingly overnight — we had to catch our breath.
All politics is local, we often hear. Not so education. We fail our students if they do not, as a matter of urgent national priority, learn to think globally.
As educators, what really impressed us were the many students confidently preparing for college in the U.S. so they could embark on lifelong success in a global world. Their mission, it seemed to all of us, was to shift seamlessly between East and West. We saw this embodied in a performance at Wuxi No. 1 High School in Jiangsu Province, where students choreographed classical ballet to a traditional Chinese song.
America’s Common Core standards need to do likewise. We must teach our students to blend different cultural traditions into unique creations that will dazzle the world and forge a future of unseen possibilities.
All politics is local, we often hear. Not so education. We fail our students if they do not, as a matter of urgent national priority, learn to think globally. Only then will public education mirror the diversity of our classrooms and prepare American students for productive, purposeful lives anywhere, and everywhere, in the world.