"Young adults are activists, challenging the status quo and asking hard questions about why the world works in particular ways," says Kathy Short, a professor in the UA's Department of Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies, who is teaching a course this spring on teaching global citizenship through reading.
"Young adults are activists, challenging the status quo and asking hard questions about why the world works in particular ways," says Kathy Short, a professor in the UA's Department of Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies, who is teaching a course this spring on teaching global citizenship through reading.

Four Questions: Global Citizenship as a Necessity, Not a Luxury

The UA's Kathy Short says it is increasingly important to offer children opportunities to explore and wrestle with differing social concepts and beliefs.
Jan. 11, 2017
Extra Info: 

"Four Questions" is an occasional feature in which UANews asks experts from the UA for their perspective on current events or pop culture.

Also, Worlds of Words, an initiative of the UA College of Education, recently released a new issue of "WOW Stories," focusing on building bridges across multiple worlds. WOW Stories editor Tracy Smiles hopes the latest issue of the open-access journal will illustrate how teachers and students address and dispel fears of diversity prevalent in the public discourse, and engage in conversations that promote unity. In addition to Kathy Short, contributors include: Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer; Julia Lopez-Robertson of the University of South Carolina; Summer Edward of Anansesem; Debra Repak of the Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School; and Natalie DeWitt and Marie LeJeune, both of Western Oregon University.

The latest issue of WOW Stories and back issues are available online: www.wowlit.org. Also, the current call, submission guidelines and online submission are also available on the website. Specific questions or inquiries can be directed to Tracy Smiles or Mary Fahrenbruck at wow@email.arizona.edu. Jan. 16 is the next deadline for submissions.

Increasingly, people are aligning themselves as global citizens, a self-identification that respects cultural differences and encourages sensitivity to the condition of the world's immigrants and refugees.

GlobeScan reported that finding last year, noting that 49 percent of people surveyed in countries around the world — including the U.S., China, India, Peru and Nigeria — saw themselves as global citizens. That percentage is the highest since the survey began in 2001.

"Global citizenship is a stance or perspective that we bring to our interactions across cultures," said Kathy Short, a professor in the University of Arizona's Department of Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies. "That stance is first and foremost a stance of open-mindedness and stands in contrast to narrow, self-absorbed judgments that are based in unexamined and biased assumptions about others."

While adults may struggle to develop a global worldview, Short said children are more adept at doing so.

Short, the director of Worlds of Words, a collection specializing in global literature for children and adolescents that is housed in the College of Education, has for years worked to create and maintain an international network of educators, scholars and others who are committed to helping young people develop global perspectives.

The tool of choice: children's literature from around the world.

Short said that through reading, children receive opportunities to explore and wrestle with differing social concepts and beliefs. This process is critical for development, as lives increasingly are interconnected across regions and borders, she said.

"An understanding of global cultures and a sense of ourselves as global citizens is thus a necessity, not a luxury," she said. "Although we no longer can make a decision about whether or not we will lead global lives, the way in which we live those lives is open to question." 

Short, who this spring is teaching TLS (Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies) 286, called "Global Citizenship: Reading the World and the Word," answered some of our questions about teaching adults as well as children and adolescents about global citizenship through reading.

Q: What does it mean to be a global citizen, and what drives the need to adopt this perspective?

A: "Children today are growing up in a different world than we did" is a common refrain among adults. These words often reflect nostalgia for the "old days," when life was supposedly simpler and more straightforward. The world that we live in today is not all that different in complexity and societal issues — except that our knowledge of, and connection to, that world has changed. The fundamental change is that the world is visibly present in our daily lives through technology, mass media, economic interdependency and global mobility. Even if we never leave the small communities in which we were born, our everyday lives are constantly influenced by global societies and peoples. Globalization touches every part of our daily activities and relationships.

Q: Why is it important to cultivate a global citizenship perspective in youth, and how is that done through the reading of books?

A: Children are shaping their identities and worldviews. Their openness and flexibility as thinkers and their empathy for other people support the development of a global perspective. As adults, we have many more biases, perspectives and beliefs that are unconsciously shaping how we act and think about cultures that differ from our own. We have to first challenge those biases and ways of thinking in order to move toward more open perspectives and global citizenship. Also, children today face a future that is global, and they need to be able to function both professionally and personally as global citizens.

Young-adult books focus on the purity of telling a good story concisely without a lot of embellishment and subplots. This focus on the telling of the story has led many adults to prefer young-adult literature over adult novels. Also, young-adult literature focuses on a time period of great change in the lives of characters as they struggle with identity and the meaning and purpose of life. Young adults are activists, challenging the status quo and asking hard questions about why the world works in particular ways. These characteristics provide a rich context in which to consider their membership within a specific cultural community and as members of a broader global society. In addition, many young-adult novels are being translated from different global cultures and so provide an insider's view of living and thinking within that culture.

Q: In your course, TLS 286, how do you encourage intercultural understandings through the lenses of knowledge, perspective and action?

A: We start out by considering our own cultural identities and the role of family and friends in shaping that identity. Students read books set in the U.S. within family and school contexts and construct their own identity collages. From there we move into thinking about a national identity and what it means to be "American," or whatever nationality is native for each student. 

As we explore intercultural understanding as knowledge, we read historical fiction about events that happened in other parts of the world, such as Joseph Stalin's invasion of Lithuania, that are not familiar to most American students. Students are always surprised by how much history has been left out of their textbooks and how little time they looked at global events rather than American history in high school.

We then move to intercultural understanding as perspective, with a particular focus on books that depict youth involved in cross-cultural encounters in order to examine the characters' perspectives as well as our own. Students also interview an international student at the University to find out what their experiences have been moving into a new global culture and the kinds of adjustments and tensions they have encountered. 

Finally, we look at intercultural understanding as action, exploring what it means to take action in the world in order to make a difference. We do that both by reading literature in which characters take some kind of social action but also by considering the role of action in our lives. The class ends by returning to our identity collages and maps of our life journeys and thinking about how we are global citizens. 

Each week, we read a global young-adult novel that is paired with an academic article, instead of reading a heavy academic textbook on global citizenship. As we engage in dialogue around the novels and then step back to analyze how that novel challenges or influences our own perspectives, students develop a critical self-awareness. We discuss the books in small groups, with each small group reading a different novel around a common theme so there is choice and much more interaction and dialogue. The class is highly interactive, with different engagements and lots of dialogue. We also look at social media to see global perspectives in popular music, YouTube videos, films and elsewhere. 

Q: Critical self-awareness is an important capacity to build. How do you do this through your teachings and interactions with students?

A: We need to be able to step back and question what is considered the "norm" and the assumptions that guide our lives. Global literature is particularly useful, because as students encounter ways of thinking and living in the world that differ from their own, they come to recognize that they also have a perspective instead of assuming that their views are what is normal. They start to see alternatives. It's also important to provide many different ways for students to reflect on their own experiences by writing narratives about those experiences and then pulling back to analyze them. For example, we ask students to write a narrative about a cross-cultural encounter that surprised them. After sharing that narrative, they reflect on why they were surprised and what that indicates about their global perspectives. We also invite students to respond to the global literature that they read to identify issues and to dialogue about these books with other students. All of these reflective experiences help them build a habit of mind that is one of critical awareness of the world around them.