For the last decade, a technological revolution has been drastically changing the fundamentals of our lives, work, and personal and professional relationships. The world’s social systems and cultures are quickly evolving. Our immediate social environment has significantly expanded, shifting from families and local communities to the entire world. To succeed in this very different world, young people need a very different set of skills.
Global competence is a multi-dimensional concept that covers a variety of aptitudes and attitudes that students need to develop in order to productively live in the global society: from critically thinking about the world and how it works to being able to work in various cultural contexts and diverse groups to developing an acceptance of differences.
I believe that cultivating a student’s confidence in his or her global self- “identity and sense of belonging to see ourselves as participating actors in a rich global matrix”- requires knowledge and understanding of history.
Recognizing Time and Place in History
To a large degree, confidence stems from knowledge, which is often rooted in the past. Whether local or collective, history contains lessons: lessons of intentions and outcomes; of causes and consequences; of failure and success.
We can teach engaging topics of global significance by connecting events in the world history to those in students’ own lives.
As our country is experiencing a shift of a historical magnitude (the value of which is yet to be determined by generations to come), educators can use current events as opportunities to uncover the complexity of our times, analyze economic and cultural trends, and make connections to students’ individual and collective past. As unique as our present circumstances might seem to students, there are very few things that have never happened over the thousands of years of human civilization. The sooner our youngsters understand this, the sooner they start looking at things from a global, rather than purely local or individual, perspective.
Confidence is also connected to a strong sense of identity. As the story of human existence, history is an invaluable framework for cultivating children’s ability to interpret the world around them, and consequently, for figuring out who they are.
We can offer students activities that require them to form hypotheses, research, and analyze historical evidence to either prove or reject the original claim. In the process, students will likely realize that perspectives differ because they are based on different evidence and beliefs, but this doesn’t make them less valid.
Entertaining different points of view on various topics in history will expose students to experiences of other cultures and people to demonstrate that history allows for multiple angles. Our world is too complex for only one way to look at things. Young people need to become conscious of the fact that no one person or group knows everything or has all of the answers. Diversity of views is necessary for humankind to strive.
It is important to acknowledge that tolerance doesn’t come naturally to us: it is a disposition that has to be continuously reinforced and developed. The aftermath of the hard-fought 2016 Presidential elections, for example, is a good starting point for a conversation on how much (or little) sensitivity we, human beings, exhibit towards beliefs and feelings that we don’t share. History provides many opportunities for our students to comprehend reasons for a lack of tolerance as well as consequences that our predecessors had to suffer because if it.
When learning about various times and places in history, students can see how people formed their beliefs in the context of times and environments created by families, cultures, and society at large. They can further detect how a unique vantage point leads people to justify and rationalize their beliefs with reasons that reflect their representations of truth. When a vantage point changes, beliefs and perceptions change as well.
The most important part here, however, is that our collective history leaves no room for injustices and divisions. No matter where our political and cultural considerations fall, as human beings, we are fundamentally connected to one another by our collective past and our shared present and future. This understanding will help our new generations develop dispositions to celebrate differences and create alliances.
Connecting the Past and the Future
The world needs a self-aware, adaptable, ethical generation of human beings, willing and capable to act on issues beyond local significance. In many matters – from environmental and economic sustainability to communication of ideas across cultures and borders, what our young people learn and do today will largely determine our world of tomorrow.
History gives our youth the gift of a different vantage point – the lens through which they can take a deeper look at themselves and the world around them. It provides a fertile ground for perspective taking and developing tolerance towards others.
Arina Bokas is a producer and a host of the Future of Learning television series on Independence TV and the editor of Kids’ Standard magazine in Clarkston, Mich. She is also a faculty member at Mott Community College in Flint, Mich. Connect with Bokas on Twitter.