Expanding the Ideals of Cosmopolitanism in the Classroom through Global Perspectives - National Council of Teachers of English
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Expanding the Ideals of Cosmopolitanism in the Classroom through Global Perspectives

From NCTE’s Standing Committee on Global Citizenship


This post was written by NCTE member Cynthia Ryman, who is also a member of NCTE’s Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.


“I am you and you are me. I am because we are one” (Moahloli 2020, 27, 29)

One of the charges of NCTE’s Standing Committee on Global Citizenship is to encourage the integration of strategies for intercultural understanding within classrooms. The types of texts that are used in classrooms have great potential to build bridges toward cultural understanding. Luke (2018, 42) points out that texts used in curricula are seen as imparting truth and “it is difficult to see those discourses and versions of culture, voices, experiences, and images that are silenced or excluded.” This becomes one of the great challenges for teachers who desire to build intercultural understanding. I have been seeking ways to incorporate the ideals of cosmopolitanism within the university courses I teach. In presenting the ideals of cosmopolitanism, I also recognize the necessity to include multiple voices and perspectives.

Cosmopolitanism is based on an openness to others and a commitment to inclusivity (Skrbiš and Woodward 2013). The philosophy of cosmopolitanism is attributed to the Greek Cynic Diogenes (c. 390–323 BCE); however, its ideals are not limited to Western European thought. Cosmopolitan ideals are found in cultures around the globe. “Cosmubuntuism” is a term developed by Davids (2018), a scholar from South Africa. He combines the term “cosmo” with the African philosophy of “Ubuntu,” which translates as “I am because we are.” This philosophy asserts that one’s existence is dependent upon one’s relationship with others. Likewise, Gandhi, the great philosopher from India, stated that we “should love all men—not only in India but in all the world . . . to become better people by contact with one another, and if that happens the world will be a much better place to live in than it is today” (as quoted in Nojeim 2007, 566–567). The early Mayans had a saying, “In Lak’ech, tú eres mi otro yo,” which translates as “you are my other me” (Valdez n.d.). Indigenous philosophies around the world call for a sense of responsibility through reciprocal relationships (Kuokkanen 2006). This philosophy sees the interconnected relationship of every person to every other person and everything, including the land.

In considering ways to include the ideals of cosmopolitanism and encourage students to reflectively see their part in a larger sphere, young people’s literature is a significant starting point for dialogue and discussion. As Choo (2020) points out, literature should open a hospitable space that challenges existing ideas around societal narratives. She contends that literature can enable students to immerse themselves in other worlds and to learn from the perspectives of others. These resources can open up that hospitable space in the classroom and invite students to gain a better understanding of the ideals of cosmopolitanism from global perspectives and more importantly, ways to enact these ideals within their world.

Listed below are some resources for expanding cosmopolitan perspectives in the classroom.

Resources based on the ideals of Gandhi: 

Gandhi, Arun and Bethany Hegedus. 2016. Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story. Illustrated by Evan Turk. New York: Antheneum Books for Young Readers. 

Along with this book, the following website provides an overview of the teachings of Gandhi: Philosophy of Gandhi https://www.apfet.com/post/important-lessons-that-kids-can-learn-from-mahatma-gandhi

Resources based on the philosophy of Unbuntu from Africa

Moahloli, Refiloe. 2020. I Am You: A Book about Ubuntu. Illustrated by Zindelda McDonald. New York: Amazon Crossing Kids. 

Along with this book, the following website describes the African philosophy of Ubuntu: https://www.africaw.com/african-philosophy-ubuntu-a-way-of-life

Resources from the Indigenous perspective: 

Kimmerer, Robin W. and Monique G. Smith. 2022. Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants. Illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt. Minneapolis: Zest Books.  

Along with this book, the following website provides resources for using Braiding Sweetgrass in the classroom: https://lernerbooks.com/teaching_guides/736

How one teacher used the Mayan philosophy of In Lak’Ech in the classroom:  http://johnpiazza.net/in-lakech-project/



Choo, Suzanne S. 2021. “Expanding the Imagination: Mediating the Aesthetic-Political Divide through the Third Space of Ethics in Literature Education.”  British Journal of Educational Studies, 69 no. 1: 65-82.

Davids, Mogamat Noor. 2018. “Re-imagining Cosmopolitanism in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Reviving Historical ‘Cosmubuntuism’ in Forced Removal Spaces for a Democratic Future.” The International Journal of Community Diversity, 18, no. 1: 23-34. 

Kuokkanen, Rauna J. 2006. “The Logic of the Gift: Reclaiming Indigenous Peoples’ Philosophies.” In Re-ethnicizing the Minds?: Cultural Revival in Contemporary Thought, edited by Thorsten Botz-Bornstein and Jürgen Hengelbrock, 251–271. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi BV.

Luke, A. 2018. Critical Literacy, Schooling, and Social Justice: The Selected Works of Allan Luke. Routledge.

Nojeim, Michael J. 2007. “A Gandhian Blueprint for Nonviolent Change.” Peace and Change 32, no. 4 (October): 546–573. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0130.2007.00463.x.

Skrbiš, Zlatko and Ian Woodward. 2013. Cosmopolitanism: Uses of the Idea. London: SAGE. 

Valdez, Luis. (n.d.) In lakech. chrome- extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://www.wlwv.k12.or.us/cms/lib8/OR 01001812/Centricity/Domain/1726/InLakech.pdf


Cynthia Ryman teaches at California State University, Monterey Bay. Her research focuses on the impact of literacy approaches that invite cosmopolitan dispositions and the critical content analysis of children’s literature. She is a member of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship. She also serves as a board member of Worlds of Words: Center for Global Literacies and Literatures.



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.