One Good Question with Chris Plutte: Can global understanding help us address race issues in the US?

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International Education / One Good Question

This post is part of a series of interviews with international educators, policy makers, and leaders titled “One Good Question.”  These interviews provide answers to my One Good Question (outlined in About) and uncover new questions about education’s impact on the future.

In what ways do our investments in education reveal our beliefs about the next generation’s role in the world?

There’s a genuine interest in wanting to be global but folks don’t know where to start.  When you ask someone how they’re working towards the goals of being global citizens, they are very few examples.  We’re still a « current event » on a Friday at 1pm.  That’s how schools go global.  I don’t think we’re preparing kids for a global society at all.  We’re failing at that.   We are thinking about right now, but not 2030 or 2045 when we’ll be more connected than we already are.  We’re not teaching the kids skills of communication and collaboration across countries.  There’s a shift that needs to happen from competition against Finland and Singapore to collaboration with Finland and Singapore.  Then we need to work backwards with the skills that young people need to develop for that new economy.

Personally, I come to this from a peace-building lens.  How do you bring people together who don’t understand each other and are in perceived conflict with each other?  We’re living in a world where people are bouncing up against each other and don’t have the skills to navigate that.  Ten to fifteen years ago, we had diplomats sitting in capitals representing our values and cultures to other communities.  We’re now side-by-side engaging and we don’t know how to do that intercultural communication.  We won’t be able to do that until we engage whole communities—parents and educators to become global citizens.  Give them the tools, experience, and opportunities to inquire about how the world is outside of their own city.  Then they can be inspired to share those with the young people that they’re educating.  The investment is really with the adults right now as much as with the students.

You’re the first American educator in this interview series to bring up peace as a function of education.  When we talk about race, there’s a conversation there about peace, but we’re looking for peace within our communities.  I’m curious about how global can help local.  I’m stuck on Einstein’s idea that no problem can be solved in the conditions in which it was created.  The idea that you have to leave the environment to solve the problem.  I wonder if there’s an opportunity to expand on that and talk about race issues and conflict issues. There’s such massive Islamophobia in the US.  At Global Nomads Group, we focus on linking US schools and Muslim-majority countries.  Part of it is building compassion and empathy for one another.  That’s a muscle that gets developed.  It’s perhaps easier to have a conversation around Islamophobia than race issue in your own community. Can you build that muscle globally and then pivot and use it to address race issues in the US?  As an organization, we’re trying to explore that possibility.

When we think of global citizenship in the US, we think about teeing up Americans to be global citizens.  But you can’t be a global citizen by yourself. There’s a perspective called Ubuntu– I am me because you are you.  You need the « other » to be a global citizen.  Right now it’s a taking, how can we take from other places to be global?  It’s not about taking.  It’s about navigating within an ecosystem with others who are also global citizens and navigating yourself with different experiences.  It’s a long-play.  It has to be cultivated and integrated over years.

What are the first steps to change ?  I need to articulate to people what the world actually is and be a bit of a futurist.  When the educator or administrator sees themselves as a global citizen, then they can champion it.  Peace Corps, Army Brats, and Third Culture Kids seek out Global Nomad Group to impact their classrooms.  The big question is how do you move beyond those converted communities and get the larger community engaged in demanding it?  That’s what we need right now.  We need larger communities demanding it for their children and their schools in an authentic real way.

So many educators in urban settings regard this work as esoteric or enrichment.  How do you start from that perspective ? Where we are, you have to work with the willing : networks, districts and charters who are willing to partner with you and can be an example to others.  People need to be able to have some type of anchors and understand that they can do that too. I certainly felt in my fellowship that I was with these rock star educators who are trying to get kids to graduate high school.  Who am I to say, « By the way, you should also go global. »  I struggle with this.  We have a problem here in the US, but in comparison to rural schools that meet under trees in the blistering sun, we also live an extraordinary opportunity.  We can create a community in which people are engaging globally and that will help their local communities.   That’s how I approach it with those folks:  Problem-solving.  For me, if you would weave that together with problem-solving and peace-building and race issues—that woven together often will resonate with the ed reform community.  Not everyone, but enough entry points to move away from being the fringe in order to get a small place at the table.  And we need those entry points right now.

With Global Nomads group, you answered one of the fundamental questions about access to get youth in developing nations connected with their global peers.  What student-led action are you seeing for youth on both sides of the experience as a result of their participation? 

All of our programs are project-based.  So when you’re paired with a school, you have to identify a problem within your community that your going to help answer based on this program.  We had a group in Pakistan focus on girls’ education and girls in their community not going to school.  In the US, it was a recycling and environmental program for trash in their community.  We work together and compare and contrast and offer ideas to each other.  The results for the Pakistan students were that they actually did a community awareness about girls’ education, met with families of the girls, raised money and got scholarships for local schools to get the girls enrolled in schools.  Just last week, a US school who is connected in Gaza actually planned a whole week(!!) to do a program around educating their community on Islam.   The action was really inspired by the young people in the US hearing from their Palestinian counterparts on how their own stereotypes and stigmas impacted their community. That was a result of their programs.

Chris Plutte AGLNChris’ One Good Question: How do I get global citizenship to be as important as trigonometry?  How do I get the broader ed reform community engaged and demanding this?

Chris Plutte is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Global Nomads Group (GNG). Founded in 1998, GNG is an international non-profit whose mission is to foster dialogue and understanding among the world’s youth.  In 2008, Plutte worked overseas for Search for Common Ground (SFCG) as Chief of Party and Country Director for Rwanda. He opened and directed all of SFCG’s programs in the country and oversaw cross border initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. During his two-years in the African Great Lakes region, Plutte introduced innovative programs for peace building using technology in the classroom and secured new funding for program growth and expansion. He rejoined GNG in 2010 as the Executive Director. Plutte received his B.A. in International Communications from the American University of Paris.



The Author

Passionate about education reform, multilingualism, peace, diaspora dance forms, and intersectionality.

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