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Assemblies Hopeful Education Optimism and progress Teaching and Learning

Global Citizenship – an assembly

Delivered to students at Bradford Grammar School, Friday 1 Oct 2021 

Before the assembly, I put a card and a pencil on a dozen seats along the middle row of the assembly hall, saying ‘Complete the sentence: “I am a citizen of…”.’ I had also asked my Year 12 tutees to do the same the previous day. 

Slide 1 – Global Citizen symbol

I wonder if anyone recognises this logo.  Tell the person next to you if you think you know what it represents. 

Slide 2 – Images from Global Citizen Live

A week ago, there was a global series of concerts, from London to Lagos, from Seoul to Sydney, and in many other places in between.  The event was called ‘Global Citizen Live’.  

But what exactly does being a Global Citizen entail, and why do many people believe that we should develop a ‘Global Citizenship’ mindset?  

Slide 3 – Emma Raducanu

Let’s start with this young person, Emma Raducanu. 

Professor of Leadership Guido Gianasso wrote these words a couple of weeks ago about Emma: 

A new tennis champion has emerged. 

Emma’s father is Romanian. Her surname is Romanian and she speaks Romanian fluently. Hence she is considered Romanian by millions of Romanians. But Emma has never lived in Romania. 
 
Emma’s mother is Chinese. She speaks fluent Chinese. Hence she is considered a Chinese hero by millions of Chinese. 

Emma was born in Canada but has lived most of her life and trained in the UK.  She holds dual British and Canadian citizenship.  She is considered British by most Britons.  But the British public that now celebrates her success is the same that voted Brexit with the objective to make it difficult for East Europeans such as Emma and her father to live in the UK. 

 At a time when many countries are going back to very ethnocentric models and policies, Emma is the best evidence that … we must embrace a geocentric mindset.  Emma Raducanu represents the future of humankind. 

A geocentric mindset?  What does that mean?  I am more familiar with another way of putting it.  Global citizenship.

A global citizen is someone who is aware of, and seeks to understand, the wider world. They have responsibilities to the world as a whole, as well as to their community or country. 

Slide 4 –  “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere”Theresa May 

Global citizenship can sound woolly, and indeed our last prime minister, Theresa May, said in 2016 “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere”.  Some people can see where she’s coming from: if you identify as a ‘global citizen’, they might say, you are abandoning any commitment to more local forms of identity.  

Slide 5 – England fans, showing allegiances to local clubs as well as to their country 

But are these England supporters any less loyal to their local club? The names on their flags seem to show otherwise.

Slide 6 – British Lions rugby players 

And are these British Lions any less loyal to England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland, even though they are playing for a bigger entity?

Slide 7 – BGS school logo

Which groups do you belong to? 

I put cards on some of your seats in the central aisle.  I also asked my Year 12 form members.  I asked recipients to finish the sentence “I am a citizen of…”  Here are some responses: [read out responses] 

[Of the twelve cards which Year 7-9 students had, one said the school, some said their home town, a couple said Yorkshire, some said England or Britain, and one said Earth. My Year 12 form gave a similar spread of answers.]

All of these responses are valid. How can that be?

Slide 8 – The World

Because we can live with more than one identity. 

Yuval Noah Harari points out that some fanatical creeds reduce people to single identities – e.g. fascism prioritises national identity over all others.  But you can be a patriot without denying others their identity. 

He also points out that “Human tribes… tend to coalesce over time into larger and larger groups… in the long run, history’s direction is clear-cut. … In recent generations the few remaining civilisations have been blending into a single global civilisation”.

Harari points out that people still have different religions and national identities.  But when it comes to the practical stuff – how to build a state, an economy, a hospital or a bomb, or how to measure things like time – almost all of us belong to the same civilisation.

Slide 9 – Globalisation cartoon (source)

So if we agree with Harari that we already belong to the same civilisation, why do some people – like me – feel the need to promote global citizenship? 

Well, yes, we already live in a cosmopolitan – or globally shared – condition.  It’s inescapable. 

But as Ulrich Beck pointed out, as a society, we have yet to develop anything like the cosmopolitan awareness necessary for society and the environment to thrive or to operate sustainably. 

In other words, we live a globalised life, but we have yet to take full responsibility for our role in it. 

We too often stick to old allegiances at the expense of other people and the environment.  Let’s look at two examples. 

Slide 10 – Example 1: Covid-19 Vaccinations 

In 2020, the developed nations promised to help less developed countries to vaccinate their populations.  Gordon Brown, another ex-prime minister, insists that ‘No one is safe until everyone is safe’.  It would cost about £70bn to vaccinate the world – a lot of money.  But the cost of not vaccinating the world, in terms of lost productivity, trade, livelihoods, and so on, is estimated to be 50 times bigger, at £3.3tn.  But national self-interest and some degree of corporate self-interest keeps the world from the much cheaper global solution.  

Slide 11 – Example 2: Climate change 

In 2009, the developed world, who industrialised and prospered on the back of a fossil fuel led economy, agreed to pay $100bn a year to developing countries to help them to adapt to a changing climate and to invest in alternative energy sources to help them not commit as much environmental damage as we did.  But very little of this has been handed over.  And again, the cost of meeting the challenge of climate change is much, much less than the social and economic cost of suffering its consequences. 

These are massive global issues requiring huge shifts in our mindset.  And you might be thinking they are beyond you.  

Slide 12 – Recognise, Co-operate, Contemplate

But as you make your way in the world you can be part of this shift in our collective mindset. 

What could you do now though? 

Firstly, you could recognise that on top of your more local identities, you are a citizen of the world. 

But is that enough?  No, because I would argue that truly belong to a group entails responsibilities to that group. 

Slide 13 – Nichola Raihani

So the second action you could take is to co-operate beyond your immediate circle.  Nichola Raihani has written about co-operation in the animal and human world.  It’s not a silver bullet to solve all ills, but it’s underappreciated.   She points out that many people are misled by the word ‘selfish’ in the idea of the ‘selfish gene’: in most contexts, the best way to survive and thrive as an individual – to advance your ‘self’ – is to co-operate.  

Slide 14 – Recognise, Co-operate, Contemplate – and act? 

Thirdly, you could use your intellect to widen your horizons and find out more about the steps we’ll need to change our ways to deal with the global challenges of the 21st century, and you may then decide it’s time to act. 

Not only should we ‘think global, act local’, but we should also ‘think global, act global’.   

Slide 15 – There is No Planet B

Let me finish with Mike Berners-Lee, author of ‘There is No Planet B’: 

He says “If our sense of ‘tribe’ doesn’t embrace the whole world, we are going to be in for a very nasty time.  … All of us need to be able to keep in mind our shared and overarching global tribe.  We have to get our heads and hearts around the idea that we are in this together because that is the only way any of us can live well.” 

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Slide 16 – Global Citizen symbol

Thank you.

[ For a copy of the slides and the scriptContact me on Twitter at @DavidAlcock1, @HopefulEd, or email me – alcock_david AT hotmail.com.

As ever, feedback is welcome. I recognise that there are different conceptions of global citizenship and that cosmopolitanism is a complex beast; I have also necessarily simplified the messages of the people mentioned!]

Categories
Geography Hopeful Education Optimism and progress

The transition must start now

First published in the Yorkshire Post, 3 August 2021 under the title ‘Climate fight; how we can all play a part’

There are many ways we can transition to a more sustainable future (source)

Realising that we need to make changes to the way we live is hard to accept on a personal level.  It’s even harder on an organisational one, and it seems nigh-on impossible on a global scale.

But sometimes we need to change, and the current decade is one such time.  Our climate is in a state of flux, ecosystems are struggling, and people are becoming increasingly vulnerable to these pressures.  The scientific consensus on climate change is settled.  There is no place for denialism.  It is psychologically tough for us – residents of a wealthy and temperate country – to accept that our actions are causing so much damage, through incremental and invisible processes that mostly occur in far off places, to other people.  But we must accept it.  This is no time for ‘out of sight and out of mind’.

The need to change

However, I believe that we can accept the need to change, and that we can collectively make such changes.  History shows that with a mixture of individual and organisational action, technological innovation and political leadership and regulation, humanity can combat environmental threats.  Acid rain?  Lead in petrol?  CFCs and their damage to the ozone layer?  Smog in our biggest cities?  Threats to the Antarctic?  We accepted the evidence, we raised awareness, we campaigned, we acted, we collaborated, we innovated, and we legislated.  We can do it again in the case of the climate emergency.

But this time, the challenge is global, and it is much more deeply ingrained into our way of life.  It is potentially so overwhelming that it has led to denial by some, to helplessness and eco-anxiety in others, and to many of us, it has led to procrastination.

A period of slowdown

We should not despair.  As geographer Danny Dorling has written, the world is already entering a period of slowdown in many respects.  We are coming to the end of the period of most rapid globalisation, the end of a period of pursuing economic growth at all costs, and, thanks to an all-time low global average fertility rate of 2.4 children per woman (and falling), we are on trend to reach a peak population of less than 11 billion by 2100.  But to reach the most important slowdown of all – that of greenhouse gas emissions – we all need to play our part.

We have changed our way of life before.  Consider the ban on smoking inside pubs, which was accepted as a way of life until just fifteen years ago, and laws about seatbelts, incandescent lightbulbs, and the adoption of facemasks in indoor and close-contact settings.  At the time, these felt threatening or disruptive to many people, but in retrospect we came to accept these changes, and indeed we scratch our heads and ask ourselves why we didn’t change our ways earlier.

Embracing ‘transition’

However, rapid change can be discombobulating, and it can turn us off the need to make any adjustments at all.  So, it is time to embrace the word ‘transition’, to allow us to adjust our lives in an orderly and unthreatening way.

But we need to start the transition now.  As the UK gears up to host the COP26 climate change conference in November, individuals, organisations, and governments need to make significant changes in the way we live in the next decade, as the first part of a process that will take the world to ‘net zero’ by 2050.

The importance of smaller steps - 9GAG
The importance of smaller steps (source)

What might this mean for individuals?  One of the key drivers of climate change is a meat- and dairy-rich diet.  Of course, we could go ‘cold turkey’ (excuse the pun) by going vegan, but a gradual reduction in consumption of animal-based products would be more acceptable to more of us.  Having meat-free Mondays in school canteens may be one way of achieving this in an organisational setting.

Stopping driving cars with combustion engines is another way to move to net zero, but it can be an overwhelming change in our habits.  Cycling or taking public transport once a week can be a great way to start.  Governments and organisations can also do more, by introducing more subsidies for electric bikes and cars, and public transport.  I could go on and consider the necessary transitions in terms of housing, industry, energy, and so on.

There is No Planet B

Mike Berners-Lee, author of ‘There is No Planet B’, places great store in the need to slow down, consider our habits, and “spend more time working up visions of futures that we’d want and which are realistic enough to be exciting”.  So, thinking about what really makes us happy – status-led consumption or spending time with friends and family – will also make us shift towards a more sustainable world. 

Recognising psychological barriers to change, and promoting the idea of transition, will give us a reasonable chance of meeting the goal of a sustainable future for our planet.  Looking back from 2030, we will wonder why we didn’t start the transition earlier. 

Postscript, 20 Sept 2021

I welcome all reasonable engagement with my writing. Some online response to this article (on Twitter) was supportive but some – from Paul Turner – was more critical. One part of Paul’s critique was that we need to transition faster than the article seemed to suggest, and I agree with this, but I wrote it for a broad readership, including people who may have not made many (or any) steps towards fighting the climate crisis. Governments and key corporate decision-makers need to have a more strident message rammed home.

Paul also critiqued my reference to the combatting of environmental threats, saying that “the examples of ‘successes’ aren’t [successes]”; however, I responded that I was careful to say that the problems weren’t ‘solved’ but were being ‘combatted’.

I agreed with Paul when he said that “a lack of understanding of the urgency and severity as well as just how simple and close the solutions are means society isn’t shifting as fast as it needs to” and I stressed that my article was meant to promote action and hope: once journeys towards a sustainable future begin, I hope they’ll gather momentum.

Excuse the immodesty, but I quite liked this sentence: “Thinking about what really makes us happy – status-led consumption or spending time with friends and family – should make us shift towards a more sustainable world”. However, I wonder whether placing it at the start rather than towards the end of the piece might have set the general reader off in a more philosophical mood, allowing them to consider the reasons behind making the fundamental lifestyle changes which climate activists believe are necessary.

But overall, I am happy with the piece, and I implore as many writers, teachers and other people who deal with ideas to keep the topic of climate change alive in the public’s consciousness – not just from the point of view of bottom-up behaviour change, but also to nudge them to ‘pass it on’, and to create a groundswell for governmental and organisational action too.

Further feedback is, of course, welcome!

Categories
Hopeful Education Optimism and progress Uncategorized

Hopeful Education

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is young-people-hope-luke-ellis-craven.jpg
Luke Ellis-Craven, Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/_tfFjSyIUZY

“Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up” – David Orr

How should we respond when young people express their worries about the future of the world to us? There is, of course, a need to listen, empathise, and support. But what if the education system can do more than that? What if we can instill hope – active hope – so that our young people can be more confident about the future?

Hopeful Education aims to do just that, by encouraging young people to understand progress, believe in humanity, and help to create a better world. Let’s look at Hopeful Education’s take on these strands.

Progress is a complex notion, but in terms of Hopeful Education, it will be understood as collective social improvement in spheres such as health, education, cooperation, democracy, and prosperity.  Global improvements in all these areas have been recorded in the modern era, with a marked acceleration since 1950, but they are under-appreciated.  Highlighting such improvements often leads to disbelief, warnings of complacency, accusations of naivety, and even accusations of conspiracy with ‘the establishment’.  Some commentators believe that publicising and celebrating progress strengthens the status quo, therefore stifling future progress.  These concerns should be recognised and interrogated, but they should not stifle the public’s understanding of progress.  Hopeful Education encourages learners to engage with and interrogate the notion of progress, understand the gains that have already been made and why they have been made, and use this understanding to inform debates about future progress.

Belief in humanity has been under increasing threat in recent decades.  Humans are social animals, who have thrived largely because they have learned to co-operate, trust, communicate and co-exist with each other.  These qualities are still evident in abundance, but they are under-appreciated and are being eroded by polarising and divisive political and media discourse, both deliberate and subconscious.  Blaming others, accentuating differences rather than similarities, and an over-representation of the negative side of human nature in media output (including social media) has led to a growing mistrust in human nature.  Hopeful Education seeks to reaffirm the potential of human nature to work collectively for the common good, whether that be in the classroom, inter-generationally, locally, nationally, or in the context of global governance and co-operation.

Striving for a better world can, at first glance, be accepted as a given for pretty much everyone in any society, although debate remains as to what constitutes ‘better’, and whether the scope should be restricted to humanity or expanded to cover the whole biosphere.  But – especially for children – admitting that one should strive for a better world can come across as self-evident or cliched at best, and crass or indicative of weakness at worst.  Striving for a better world is also under threat from both a resurgent nationalism and populism, and from a political focus on the economy over the environment or social wellbeing.  It also has a reputation, fostered by some social commentators and politicians, for being vague, hair-shirted, and anti-progress.  Hopeful Education champions and facilitates futures thinking and education for sustainable development, taking these crucibles beyond their current homes in citizenship and geography into the broader educational sphere.

Hopeful Education seeks to understand the reasons for nihilism, mistrust, and complacency, but as an avowedly positive movement it seeks to weaken their influence.

A syncretic approach

The three strands of Hopeful Education are not new, but their combination into a coherent educational movement is novel and potentially powerful.  Hopeful Education has been informed by a variety of influences, both from within and beyond the world of education.  This syncretic approach has its strengths, as it brings together, and builds upon, ideas which may have never been combined in this way before.  However, as Hopeful Education develops, inconsistencies, contradictions and gaps will emerge, and it will prompt a myriad of philosophical questions.  These should be viewed as strengths, a source of vibrancy, and a basis for deliberation, rather than as weaknesses.

A new type of hope

Names are powerful, and the choice of the name Hopeful Education was a long journey.  The author used alternative titles such Optimistic Education in some of his writings in 2018-2020, reflecting his personal worldview.  But this was felt to be too prescriptive, and its apparent complacency put it in danger of overshadowing the significant problems and threats faced by humanity and the planet.  Other names were also considered – see this blog post for more on this.  The author is fully aware of the body of educational literature based around the ‘pedagogy of hope’, inspired by Paolo Freire’s 1992 book of that title (republished in 2004), and including more recent additions such as ‘Educating for Hope’ by David Hicks (2014).  Hopeful Education shares some of the philosophy of the pedagogy of hope, for instance the belief that inequality and injustice should be challenged, that educating for hope should be interdisciplinary, and that it is a collective pursuit.  However, it differs in that many writers on the pedagogy of hope seem to overlook or dismiss the gains made by humankind in recent decades.  There is also sometimes, ironically, a sceptical view of human nature, and the language used in some of the output could be accused of fostering anxiety.  As the Hopeful Education movement develops, the author looks forward to engaging with adherents of a pedagogy of hope, and he trusts that his use of the root word ‘hope’ will be taken as a homage rather as a co-option or dilution of a ‘pedagogy of hope’.

Hope, progress and optimism

Hopeful Education chimes with the claims of the one of the key proponents of the pedagogy of hope – David Orr – who wrote that “Realistic hope… requires us to check our optimism at the door and enter the future without illusions” (Orr, 2009: 185).  Elsewhere, Orr has opined that “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up” (Orr, 2008) – which sits comfortably with Hopeful Education – but in the very next sentence he goes on to show why at least his conception of a pedagogy of hope diverges from that of Hopeful Education: “I don’t know any reason to be optimistic now, or to predict great success for the human species” (ibid).  Whilst Hopeful Education recognises environmental and social challenges, Orr’s bleak statement is in opposition to the first strand of Hopeful Education: it encourages learners to engage with and interrogate the notion of progress, understand the gains that have already been made and why they have been made, and use this understanding to inform debates about future progress.

Vision 2050: the fruits of Hopeful Education

What would the world look like in 2050 if its citizens had undertaken a Hopeful Education?

  • People would be able to make more reasoned judgements and action, leading to more effective individual, corporate, and government decision-making
  • People would be less fearful and stressful, resulting in a better place in which to live and to foster future generations, measured by wellbeing and health metrics
  • People would be more emboldened to take action to resolve the remaining challenges, secure in knowledge that other challenges have been overcome: “When we have a fact-based worldview, we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems – and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better” (Rosling et al, 2018, Factfulness)
  • People would have more chance to examine, and act on, local issues, as they will have contextualised global trends

In the spirit of openness, it is worth considering some of the challenges which a realisation of this vision might bring: one is that such a world might be more complacent (leading to a reduction in efforts towards realising a better world), and another is that it might become more parochial.  Also, one of the assumptions behind this vision is that the world will have experienced a continuation of the current trends in terms of human development – which is possible, but not certain, to occur.

The project begins

Achieving such a worldview will take a monumental, long-term, and multi-pronged approach.  Education will play a crucial role.   It has the power to instil hope comprehensively, and at a time of life when opinions and critical thinking are being formed.  It will not be able to succeed alone: some ideas for how a hopeful worldview might be possible outside of the world of formal education will be given due consideration, and it will be important to bear these in mind when cohesive strategies are being developed.  But Hopeful Education is where this project begins.

In my next post I will offer some ideas as to how Hopeful Education could be enacted. In the meantime, please do contact me in the comments below or via @DavidAlcock1 on Twitter. Thank you.