The Global Education Conference held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. last month was used to teach educators how to bring global issues into the classroom. But, when it came time to practice the logistics of coordinating a debate the political opinions of the teachers could not be suppressed.
The organization that put together the conference, Americans for Informed Democracy (AID), claimed to be a non-partisan group established to “educate and engage Americans in global issues….[in order to] create a generation of Americans that will support a U.S. role in the world that is appropriate….” But what is appropriate?
AID promoted the use of the Choices Program, a series of activities, developed for K-12 educators who deal with spreading awareness on global issues. In a demonstration of one of these activities, the teachers in attendance participated in what was called a “fishbowl” debate in which each participant and everyone in attendance were given a handout concerning America’s role in the changing world. The organizers said that in a classroom, a teacher would assign each student to one of four possible policy approaches, which were detailed in the handout. The moderator told the audience and participants that they would not be assigned, and asked everyone to choose one policy approach to represent. One person advocating each approach was then selected to join the fishbowl discussion.
The possible policy approaches were:
1. “Lead the World to Democracy”- This outlined President Bush’s policy of pre-emptive war. One line read, “We should make trouble for hostile and potentially hostile nations instead of waiting for them to make trouble for us.”
2. “Protect U.S. Global Interests”- This represents another, more harshly worded outline of President Bush’s approach toward terrorism. The line that best summarizes this section is, “To lighten the load or defuse criticism, we should engage others where possible. But, if this fails, we must be willing to act alone.”
3. “Build a More Cooperative World”- This approach called for the U.S. to work and support the U.N. and said, “We should use military force outside of North America only under the leadership of the U.N. or other regional security institutions….” And concluded that, “…we must recognize our fate as Americans is bound together with the fate of all humanity.”
4. “Protect the Homeland”- This approach encouraged isolationism noting, “U.S. troops overseas should be brought home and strict limits put on military spending. As Americans, we have to put our own needs first.”
fter several minutes of debating, the moderator asked for new volunteers to replace the participants. One woman took to the floor to replace the representative of “Leading the World to Democracy” approach. But, instead of defending the approach, she took the opportunity to discuss at length why she disagreed with it. No one interrupted her to challenge her viewpoint.
The teachers participating in the fishbowl discussion clearly agreed with the third option, “Building a More Cooperative World.” Not by accident was the only pacifist approach the most popular with this group. The approach then was to be made more attractive to students by design.
One teacher, who spoke on behalf of “Leading the World to Democracy” was challenged by the other participants in the fish bowl: “we [Americans] don’t take into account that there are other ways to participate in governance.” Another participant added, “Democracy doesn’t have to look like the U.S. form…nothing is pure.”
The teacher responded in a sarcastic tone, “…you are thinking too culturally relativistically for me…don’t you know everyone wants an Ipod!”
The participant who advocated to “Protect US Global Interests” was challenged by the others in a similar way. He responded mockingly, “every right-thinking American will think in my way.”
At best, the activity proved to be destructive rather than constructive. The teachers who advocated the approaches that represented President Bush’s were sarcastic and unable to articulate good reasons for being in support of them.
These same teachers were being asked to moderate this activity in the privacy of their own classrooms. When given the opportunity to teach global issues and policy approaches, the personal beliefs and politics of the teacher are bound to be transparent to the students.
This may cause some of the more impressionable youth in K-12 classrooms to side with their teacher, turning the classroom into a dangerous place of political indoctrination.
Rosemarie Capozzi is an intern with Accuracy in Academia.