This post was written by NCTE member Kylowna Moton, a member of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.
“All of our problems today are thoroughly globalized. In fact, the problem with the world that we are living in at the moment is that our problems, our challenges, are more globalized than our solutions. This is the imbalance.” —Simon Anholt
As I write this, it is only July, but we seem to have collectively declared 2020 a bust, as we live through a pandemic that has interrupted the flow of human life around the world. In addition, the news reports suggest that all our social problems—racial injustice, police brutality, political corruption, public health, and more—are coming to a crisis point at once, right now. It would be so easy to give in to despair and negativity, but there is another option. We can look at the big picture—where we want to be after enduring these crises—and focus our energy on how we get from here to there. We have to find a way to tune out the doomsayers and find positive voices expressing hopeful, intriguing ideas.
A Good Generation can save the world. How’s that for an intriguing idea? It’s not mine; it’s Simon Anholt’s, and he has my attention. His is definitely big picture thinking, and if 2020 is not the time for big picture thinking, there will never be a time for it.
Anholt says the problems of every country today are the same, and we fail to solve them because we work in isolation. I am thinking about his words a lot this summer. Last September, Anholt gave a speech at the European Association for International Education (EAIE) conference in Helsinki.
I saw the video of this speech only because a Czech friend who was there posted it on his social media feed. I have not stopped thinking about it since then. I’ve shared it with students and discussed it with them. Now I want to discuss it with you.
I have long thought that most human problems stem from our failure to see ourselves in the “other” and how much we are alike. Anholt agrees and emphasizes that not only are we all in the same (soon-to-be-sinking) boat, but that the problems we are trying to solve in isolation are bigger than any one country or state or city, and will never be solved unless we all work together.
As a teacher and member of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship, I seek to connect the skills and information we English instructors teach to the task of living in the real world and to the challenges of making that world better (see my 2019 blog post).
This is why Anholt’s words resonate so much with me. Anholt posits that all our (major, global) problems are the result of human behavior: 1) how governments behave, and 2) how individuals behave. He has spent his career advising heads of state about how to make their countries “good” (see Good Country Index).
To impact the behavior of individuals and the way they choose government leaders, Anholt appeals to educators. He needs our help.
He acknowledges that there are myriad educational programs around the world doing a fine job of teaching precisely the kinds of content and thinking that upcoming generations will need to improve the world and sustain humanity. But they are working in isolation. He is calling for a coalescence of these individual programs in the form of a unified global compact where we will teach a Good Generation to “run towards big challenges rather than away from them.”
Anholt directs his appeal to university educators, whom he sees as already having the infrastructure in place to meet this challenge, but I think the members at all levels of NCTE—and the institutions they touch—can have an equally important role to play in building the Good Generation.
“If people are the problem,” Anholt says, “they [with the right education] are also the solution.” This kind of hope (with a plan) is the only tenable position to have in the face of our current confluence of crises unless we want to throw our hands up and give up on the future of humanity—which is not an option for educators.
In the Helsinki speech, Anholt suggests that interested educators around the world start a #goodgeneration conversation on Twitter to discuss and determine the “values and virtues” that should underpin a global educational compact. This conversation seems to have stalled, but we can pick up this mantle and restart the conversation. What educators do in classrooms every day can be the fulcrum on which the world’s problems and the world’s solutions are balanced.
Meanwhile, I discovered in June that Anholt has written a book, The Good Country Equation: How We Can Repair the World in One Generation.
I immediately pre-ordered it—even before I read the excerpt provided. We have an opportunity, in the midst of great disorder, to reimagine and reshape what we do, as humans and educators, going forward. Anholt’s ideas might help us figure out how we do that.
In the introduction to The Good Country Equation, Anholt explains,
“We all need to understand, because it’s going to take all of us to avoid these kinds of problems in the future, and to tackle the ones we already have. So in this book I’ve tried to explain where I think we’ve gone wrong in terms that most people I’ve ever met can understand and enjoy: a book about the present and the future of humanity that doesn’t require a degree in economics or political science to read. And I’ve tried to make it as fun and interesting to read about the issues as I have found it fun and interesting to learn about them. Just because these things are serious doesn’t mean they have to be boring. I also have some concrete suggestions about what we can all do to make the world work better, in one generation” (Anholt 2020).
If we can raise, educate, and equip a Good Generation, they will build good countries; good countries will change the world into one that is more safe, more just, more sustainable. Educating a Good Generation is a big challenge, but it’s a challenge that educators at NCTE and beyond can meet if we work together.
A Good Generation can save the world. Let’s help them do it.
Simon Anholt’s TED Talk: How to Make the World Work
For more about Anholt’s work: The Good Country
Kylowna Moton is an Assistant Professor of English at LA City College, and she taught English in the LAUSD for over 20 years. She is a member of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship. Her research interests include everyday rhetoric and decolonizing the classroom as a means of promoting lifelong literacy to reluctant and emergent readers and writers. Moton is an avid traveler and sees her work as integral to her experience of the world and its people.
The Standing Committee on Global Citizenship works to identify and address issues of broad concern to NCTE members interested in promoting global citizenship and connections across global contexts within the Council and within members’ teaching contexts.
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.