Chinese artist Ai Weiwei received a global citizenship award in Toronto this week, and on Friday, former U.S. president Barack Obama spoke in the Canadian city about the importance of global citizenship.
And recently, tens of thousands of New Yorkers attended the annual Global Citizen Festival in Central Park.
Now, before you react to this article’s headline and rail against yet another apparent plea for the creation of an elitist one-world government, give your typing fingers a rest.
I will state at the onset that this piece advocates neither for an elitist perspective nor for a single planetary authority. What it does argue for is the cultivation of a global citizenship sensibility, particularly in the education of our university and college students.
Internationalization in higher education
Internationalization policies and practices within the higher education sector have ostensibly been fuelled by pressures on colleges and universities to better prepare students for the effects of globalization.
Recent research suggests that university graduates are increasingly required by prospective employers to have the so-called soft skills necessary for working in global environments.
A university education offers an important pathway that hopefully leads to gainful employment after graduation. But including global citizenship within educational curricula is an investment that can produce dividends far greater than simply securing a job.
Global citizenship: What it is and what it isn’t
Global citizenship is a concept that has produced varied and contested understandings, not the least of which is the argument that the privilege of legal status inherently associated with national citizenship is not a feature of global citizenship.
British Prime Minister Theresa May recently opined: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”
Notwithstanding this sort of misguided criticism, there’s a general consensus that the term orients towards recognizing the interconnectedness of life, respecting cultural diversity and human rights, advocating global social justice, empathizing with suffering people around the world, seeing the world as others see it and feeling a sense of moral responsibility for planet Earth.
Global citizenship usually involves three dimensions — awareness (of self and others), responsibility and participation. The enlightened global citizen understands that there doesn’t have to be a tension between a nationalistic sense of duty and a moral obligations to the rest of the world.
Global leaders who state otherwise are mired in old and tired ways of competing for the planet’s resources and securing the welfare of its inhabitants and ecosystems. Global citizenship offers hope for embracing a mindset that can ensure the future sustainability of our planet and all of its living forms.
Global citizenship and Soka education
Soka, or value-creating, education was formulated in the 1930s against a backdrop of Japanese industrialization, expansionism and increased militarism.
Founder Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) vehemently opposed the aims of Japanese nationalist education at that time, which was ostensibly used as a platform for political indoctrination and support of Japan’s war efforts.
Makiguchi believed that education was the key to ultimately securing individual and societal well-being, or happiness. And that happiness was discovered through a transformational process of creating value through one’s everyday interactions in society.
Ikeda is president of the lay Buddhist global peace movement, Soka Gakkai International. He founded the Soka Education network of schools around the world. Ikeda’s vision for these schools is deeply connected to global citizenship, aiming to nurture global citizens who will contribute to society and help strengthen the foundations of peace.
My case study research of Soka University Japan (SUJ) reveals an educational environment that cultivates global awareness, global citizenship identity and pro-social values.
Two interview participants’ quotes from my research highlight the synergies created at SUJ between education for global citizenship and the prospect of societal well-being:
- “Cultivating a feeling of concern for the welfare of others is considered an extremely important part of Soka education, of humanism. I think the otherness, of connecting one’s happiness with the happiness of others, is a part of it.”
- “The well-being, happiness and betterment of society are possible when you can think from the perspective of not just yourself but you as a member of this world. In other words, society doesn’t become happy on its own.”
Makiguchi’s Soka education principles for promoting a peaceful and harmonious world are well-aligned with a global citizenship perspective. Although never stepping foot off his native Japanese soil, Makiguchi was deeply concerned for the well-being of all people and for future generations. His insightful treatise on how countries should best cooperate for the collective good of humankind gives a clear sense of the promise and virtues of global citizenship.
In 1903, Makiguchi published his book, The Geography of Human Life, which contains his ideas on the nature of competition. He suggested that competition for survival is common to all species, and that major forms of competition have changed over time in line with changes to natural and social environments.
Makiguchi argued that nations have variously used strategies of economic, military and political competition to maintain control of society.
He speculated that a fourth type of competition — in the arena of moral character — would evolve to guide international relations in the other three realms.
Labelling this form of competition as “humanitarian,” Makiguchi states that it aspires to: “…a goal of well-being and protection of all people, including oneself but not at the increase of self-interest alone. In other words, the aim is the betterment of others and in doing so, one chooses ways that will yield personal benefit as well as benefit to others.”
He adds: “It is a conscious effort to create a more harmonious community life, and it will take considerable time for us to achieve.”
Competition that is based on humanitarian principles and practices fits with a global citizenship perspective.
I believe there’s an important place for these principles in the curricula of higher education as we look to cultivate future generations of global citizens who can ensure the harmonious survival of planet Earth.