The State of Global Studies in Independent Schools

Last week, I had the opportunity to discuss the progress of global education with independent school teachers and administrators from around the country at the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Annual Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.  Unsurprisingly, the presentations that I heard as well as the many informal conversations that took place over coffee excited me about myriad new possibilities for GFA’s WPP. In addition, however, I’ve come away from the conference reassured that we are moving in a direction that is not dissimilar to that chosen by many of the other leading independent schools in the country.  The fact of the matter is that in many cases we are moving more quickly and more boldly than many of our peers around the country.

Perhaps the most interesting talk that I had the pleasure to hear was from members of the GEBG (Global Education Benchmark Group), a consortium of nineteen independent schools from all around the country that, having turned their focus to global education in recent years, are now seeking to communicate openly with one another about program, curriculum development and processes.  Of most immediate interest, however, are the statistics that they have compiled about global studies programs at the nineteen pioneering schools that make up the GEBG.  For example, among member schools 28% of Upper School students travel abroad annually.  Between GFA’s 2010-2011 World Perspectives Trips and our students’ association with B3 alone (to say nothing of other programs, and family travel), approximately 35% of GFA Upper School students will travel outside the country this year.  In addition, among the GEGB schools the most common destinations for schools are Germany, Italy, France, Spain, India (in that order).  While we have run, and will continue to run valuable programs in Europe, I am encouraged by the diversity of travel opportunities that GFA offers our students.  This June, for example, we will have students in the UK, Costa Rica, Senegal and in the Bahamas, which is in addition to the programs in Germany and in Canada that have already run this year.  In short, while our trips program is continually growing and changing shape, the diversity and robust enrollment or our programming is on par with, and in some cases out ahead of some of the most forward-thinking global studies programs from around the country.

In closing, I want to reflect on the challenge that is central to the WPP and that has seemingly been the most perplexing to other schools around the country.  To a person global education leaders from around the country have echoed the following question: How do we take the kind of programming and content that has traditionally been relegated to summer trips and special assemblies and create some elbow-room for it in the core curriculum? There is no doubt that this is the most complex part of this program’s mission.  In addition to the efforts that many faculty have made to integrate issues of global importance into their courses, there are several formal curricular developments that we have made in the past year which represent important progress in the right direction.  In our Upper School, the addition of a World Literature course in the 10th Grade, the increasing integration of Foundations of World History and Biology in the 9th Grade and the addition of International Relations as a required course are just a few of the major adjustments at the heart of GFA’s curriculum that will lead our students to think in an informed and innovative way about problems as seemingly daunting as pandemic, climate change and swelling populations. (Click here for a far more detailed outline of the WPP from K-12) From what I have observed and understood through conversation with other educators, this deep, interdisciplinary and intentional integration of the program into the fabric of the school’s curriculum, is something that sets the WPP apart from similar programs at other schools.  In short, the successes and challenges that have been part and parcel to the development of a program as comprehensive as the WPP are not dissimilar to those that leading independent schools around the country are finding.  My recent interaction with global studies educators assures me that not only are we moving forward quickly (comparatively speaking), but that we are doing so with the kind of thoughtfulness and focused purposefulness that is characteristic of the GFA community.

The State of Global Studies in Independent Schools

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