Getting to the Heart of Global Education
Originally published in The Social Studies Review, the official journal of the California Council for the Social Studies.
Exploring one's culture is an essential part of lifelong learning. It establishes a foundation for one's personal identity and family history, connects to place, and sparks curiosity and respect for cultures around the world.
Language, family, art, music, economics, social structures, beliefs, and traditions are just a few cultural elements that shape how we live and relate to others. Cultural influences create the world we live in, as they form the foundation of our interactions and experiences and affect who we are and how we perceive others.
Supporting students' exploration of these cultural facets at every educational level can help connect them in an increasingly complex world where individuals and communities around the globe are struggling to overcome differences in diversity, beliefs, and values. As American artist and social activist Robert Alan wrote, "Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity."
This is one of the concepts at the heart of global competence. According to the Asia Society, the core components of global competence include students actively investigating the world, weighing perspectives, communicating ideas, taking action, and applying disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge. How can teachers support and prepare students to engage in a fast-changing and culturally diverse world?
As storytellers at the Global Oneness Project, we are committed to the exploration of global cultures. The intention of the Project is two-fold—to house a rich library of multimedia stories highlighting cultural, social, and environmental issues, and to offer companion curricula for teachers. Our stories connect the local human experience to global meta-level issues, such as climate change, water scarcity, food insecurity, poverty, endangered cultures, migration, and sustainability. Through featuring individuals and communities impacted by these issues, the stories inherently include universal themes highlighting our common humanity—identity, diversity, hope, resilience, imagination, adversity, empathy, love, and responsibility.
The themes are a foundation for the companion lesson plans that I began to develop four years ago when I created the education arm of the Project. One of the primary goals for the lesson plans is for students to walk away with an expanded experience of the world through witnessing powerful, real-life stories. Activities within the interdisciplinary lessons engage students further with the media"s subject matter, providing collaborative discussion questions, creative group activities such as mini-debates, and reflective writing questions to assess critical thinking skills. Standards are aligned within the lessons, including the Common Core Standards, C3 Social Studies Framework, and Next General Science Standards.
The Project uses the power of stories as the foundation for learning. Stories can innately draw us in with basic human elements, connecting us through their universality. In many ways, stories are essential in that they convey the essence of what it is to be human—to love, to create, to engage, and to learn. This is why the best stories remain powerful through time, across continents, with the potential to transcend boundaries. Today, as our educational systems become a mirror of our complex world, with increasing and sometimes contradictory rules and policies, stories continue to provide simple access to the essential material of life and learning.
A decade ago, Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee—musician, filmmaker, and founder of the Project—said he was "drawn to tell human stories that explore the connection between culture and ecology, which bear witness to the tremendous changes we're experiencing around the world." In 2006, he was invited to spend a month with various Maori and Aboriginal leaders and communities in New Zealand and Australia, interviewing them about their cultural traditions. He met and spent several days filming Bob Randall, a traditional owner of Uluru's Rock, one of Australia's Aboriginal stolen-generation, resulting in the first short film released by the Project, The Land Owns Us.
This was the first of many films by Vaughan-Lee, and shortly after its release, the Global Oneness Project was born. The Project since has produced dozens of films—from 5-minute shorts to feature length documentaries—and currently distributes films by partner filmmakers from around the world. The online platform features these films, as well as numerous photo essays, articles, and interviews with global thought leaders.