Holly Kain’s geography class at Hamilton High School goes well beyond mere borders. It’s not training kids to point to a place on a map or to list capital cities.
“It’s not just geography. Obviously people need to know where places are, but if you can only locate a place and don’t know anything about it? Big deal,” said Kain, who teaches Advanced Placement human geography at the Chandler school. “It’s not just where countries are, it’s how did it end up that way?”
Her students focus on complex issues inside the borders — religion, population, language, ethnicity and gender issues.
“You get to see the people aspect. It builds all year, so when we get to the political and economic stuff, the students already say, ‘Oh, I get it, that.’ ” she said. “It all clicks.”
That type of globally aware education, however, is all too rare in American schools, according to a study released earlier this month by Phi Delta Kappa, an international professional association for educators.
The report says that if U.S. students are going to compete successfully with their peers in other countries, American schools will need to dramatically increase their focus on international awareness and understanding.
It also calls for U.S. schools to emphasize second languages, provide cross-cultural experiences for students and teachers, and integrate intercultural lessons into subjects such as business, technology and science.
Scott Greenhalgh, a teacher at Tempe High School, agreed that most schools need to do a better job educating global citizens.
Unfortunately, he said, the state’s standards don’t always make it easy.
The state, he said, is “very much focused on a very little body of information. ... There’s very little about working with different cultures.”
And recent changes in the state’s graduation requirements now force students to take two additional years of math and one more year of science — while not raising overall credits needed for graduation. That, Greenhalgh said, could mean students will sacrifice learning more international lessons.
But Greenhalgh has hope in the new International Baccalaureate program at Tempe High — which officials hope will be approved for the 2009-10 school year. Currently, 22 students are already preparing to take the rigorous program in their junior year.
The IB program, he said, lets students see the world from a global perspective. Instead of students learning about other cultures only as outsiders, he said, they are able to get a sense of how people in other cultures think and perceive both history and current events.
“Traditionally, textbooks are American-produced, so we get a sort of myopic view of things, especially in the social studies areas. Even history and geography in Arizona is taught with this rather myopic viewpoint,” he said. “IB programs have input from people from various places and that helps shape the curriculum, so it’s not just a U.S.-based idea of what should be taught.”
Many of the textbooks are even written in other countries, he said.
This same goal can be met by teachers gaining international experience or training themselves, said Delisse Metcalf, an economics teacher at Chandler High School.
She will head to the Republic of Georgia to learn firsthand about the transition from communism to a free market economy.
Support from district staff and principals is vital to such experiences, she said, and it ultimately helps her students. Metcalf was chosen to attend the trip, which is sponsored by the National Council on Economic Education.
Teaching economics with a global perspective is essential, she said, for her students’ futures.
“Microchip has a factory in Thailand, and different banks have customer service centers in Bangalore, India,” Metcalf said. “When these students get into business ... almost all their careers will be touched with global economics.”
Matt Devlin, principal of Mesa’s Rhodes Junior High School, is trying to give his students that competitive advantage at an early age. Next year, the school will become a “world studies academy” that will focus on students learning the state standards by understanding the world economy, a foreign language, and political and environmental situations.
“We’re trying to give them an advantage so they can become more competitive in what we think is becoming a more competitive job market out there,” he said.