Search form

Advancing the Need for International, Global Studies


Caryn Stedman is so eager to broaden her students' views of the world that she has invited visitors from other countries to her school. Stedman, an award-winning social studies curriculum specialist, talks about her zeal for international literacy. Included: A description of a global studies approach to learning.

Caryn Stedman is a long-time champion of international literacy, and her social studies colleagues are honoring her efforts.

Stedman, a social studies curriculum specialist for international studies at the Metropolitan Learning Center Magnet School for Global and International Studies (MLC) in Bloomfield, Connecticut, is this year's recipient of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Award for Global Understanding. The NCSS is holding its annual conference this month in Baltimore, Maryland.

The award, which includes $2,000, identifies and recognizes an outstanding social studies educator, or a team of educators, who has made notable contributions in helping social studies students increase their understanding of the world, according to NCSS.

At the NCSS conference, Stedman is scheduled to give a presentation on teaching strategies that result in greater global understanding in social studies education.

Her approach to increasing international awareness calls for as much personal contact among people as possible. Sixteen days before the war started, she set up a video teleconference between MLC students and students in Baghdad so they could share perspectives. Stedman also set up a post-invasion teleconference so students could share their experiences on life before, during, and after the war.

She also arranged for a group of Moroccan students and their teachers to spend three weeks at MLC.

An author, editor, and adjunct professor, as well as a classroom teacher, Stedman has studied and traveled extensively in the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and Mongolia.

To help mark Geography Awareness Week, Education World talked with Stedman about her approach to global and international studies, and why she thinks they are critical to the future of the United States.

Caryn Stedman

Education World:What is the difference between global studies and international studies?

Caryn Stedman: They mean different things to different people and we use both, deliberately.

Global studies is not a course or topic; it is a way of understanding the world that de-emphasizes disciplines in favor of systemic understandings. Human knowledge and human understanding do not come prepackaged in neat units labeled "science" or "history." This way of dividing up knowledge is a culturally bound human construct. Disciplines, as we know them, are primarily the product of Western culture -- not that other cultures don't have divisions between spheres of knowledge and understanding, they might have been called something else, or two spheres that we consider "separate" might have been considered as one in another culture.

We try to help our students see the global systems that are interconnected and that require mastery of a variety of interconnected disciplines to understand. The environment is a global system that requires a mastery of not only science, but also math, the patterns of human settlement and consumption, and political systems, to name but a few, to understand. In the middle school at MLC, we have our students approach understanding through a series of case studies of global systems -- environment and health; cultures and societies; governments, politics and current events; and economics and interdependence -- using the disciplines as tools to reach broader understandings. This way, they see that math is an indispensable tool for understanding all of these systems, not just a self-contained end that might easily be dismissed as something that one is "not good at."

International studies is a term that originally referred to the study of relationships between nations, or more broadly, the study of nations or world areas in sequence. Naturally, this is an important part of what we do, but it does not bring the global, systems-based understanding with it. So we use both terms and do both at MLC.

EW: Why do you think there is a need for greater understanding of global and international issues?

Stedman: There are a multitude of reasons for a greater understanding of global and international issues, most of which existed before the events of September 11, 2001. But 9/11 certainly gave many more people a reason to re-examine them.

I recently heard a businessman whose company is involved in international trade speak. He mentioned that as he travels around the United States speaking, he regularly asks his audiences what percentage of the world population they believe the U.S. represents. His anecdotal survey revealed that most people estimate that the U.S. makes up anywhere from 10 percent to 25 percent of the global population. This is astounding! [The United States actually makes up about 5 percent of the world's population.] If for no other reason, our students need greater understanding of global and international issues to develop a realistic perspective of where we fit in the global scheme. None of the major world problems will be solved by any nation acting alone.

"Global studies is not separate lessons or courses -- it is a way of understanding the world," says Caryn Stedman, a social studies curriculum specialist for international studies at the Metropolitan Learning Center Magnet School for Global and International Studies in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

If we want our students to be successful, they need to be internationally literate. Some estimates indicate that more than 10 percent of new jobs will be dependent on international trade. Yet a recent survey of high school students conducted by National Geographic found that American students could answer fewer than 50 percent of the questions correctly (compared with 70 percent for high school students in Sweden, Germany, and Italy). Only one in seven American high schools students could locate Iran or Iraq on a map. More than twice as many students could name the island location of the most recent episode of Survivor than could locate Israel or Afghanistan on a map. This is not good news for Americans.

For more in-depth discussions of the multitude of reasons students need a greater understanding of international issues, I strongly recommend that teachers, parents and students go to International Ed.

EW: How do you think educators' views about global studies changed over the past few years?

Stedman: I think that educators have become acutely aware of the need for greater global understanding, especially since 9/11/01. I think one of the biggest impediments to this becoming a regular part of the curriculum is that many educators themselves do not feel prepared. There is very little in most formal teacher preparation that emphasizes helping students make global connections. Most states do not require that their teachers-in-training take courses that will help them understand global systems, so these teachers are ill-equipped to help their own students.

The many wonderful educators with whom I have had the honor of working have become true global/international educators because they have educated themselves. They have done this by taking advantage of university-based Title VI outreach programs or other teacher support programs, such as "The American Forum for Global Education," participating in Fulbright seminars abroad programs, reading widely in international journals such as The Economist, and traveling on their own. The sad fact is, though, that as brilliant and amazing as these global educators are -- and there are many of them across the United States -- few of them receive any official recognition for their efforts.

EW: How can elementary and middle-level teachers who are tight for time work global studies' lessons into their teaching?

Stedman: Global studies is not separate lessons or courses -- it is a way of understanding the world. It is quite easy for elementary- and middle-school teachers to infuse the global perspective into their lessons -- much easier than for high school, in fact, because much of what is done in top middle and elementary schools is already interdisciplinary.

Teachers do not need to rewrite their curricula; they need to think about the connections and to help their students think about the connections. They need to deepen and broaden their curriculum so that global understandings and connections are a part of each lesson. In many ways, the students, because of their experience with the Internet, are already aware of global connections and can bring much to any class. A good way to think about this is to ask what happens to a piece of paper or foil discarded into a trash can by a student and follow this to its global conclusion.

EW:How are global and international studies woven into the curriculum at your school?

Stedman:In the middle school, students in all three grades approach their understandings through a series of eight systems-based case studies. For example, the sixth graders begin a study of environment and health with an exploration of health and pollution issues in urban North America. Since asthma is a major health issue and is something with which they are familiar, they do an in-depth study of asthma, but instead of just studying the physiology of the disease and stopping there, they look at statistics for all of North America, do scatter plot graphs of asthma, examine the direct and indirect causes of asthma (for example, one direct cause -- indoor environmental pollutants; one indirect cause -- poverty). They read a novel about life in urban America, they write letters to city council members and state representatives, the compile statistics to support their arguments in their letters; in short, they use their discipline-based skills of scientific inquiry, math, literacy, social studies and health to do what people in the real world do -- synthesize the skills and knowledge in a meaningful way.

The high school curriculum is much more discipline bound, largely because of state requirements, but we still infuse global and international studies into almost everything we do. All students must take three years of a world language and pass an oral proficiency exam in order to graduate. All students take a two-year interdisciplinary course called "Global and International Studies" which is a skill-building course designed to help students strengthen their literacy and numeracy skills using topics in global and international studies. Our three-year language arts and social studies sequences are interdisciplinary and global.

EW: What sort of activities outside of class do you use to promote global understanding?

Stedman: We emphasize co- and extra-curricular global activities. First of all, we put a great deal of emphasis on people-people communication worldwide. We want as many of our students as possible to have a meaningful international experience by studying abroad, hosting an international student, or participating in an intensive summer program that has students from around the world. We make it a priority, not an add-on.

We have opened up MLC to five year-long international students each year. We have ongoing short-term exchanges with students from Pakistan and Morocco, we have recently established a sister school in China, we have groups going to Costa Rica and France this spring, and we are working on trips to China, Japan, and Morocco. A number of our classes in the middle and high school currently are engaged in collaborative, on-line curriculum-based international projects through iEARN. Two years ago, through the Global Nomads Group, we participated in two live teleconferences with students in Iraq, and recently, one of the Iraqi students was a guest at MLC.

Of course, we also encourage and support our teachers' international education. We have sent teachers to China, Spain, and Egypt as well as to the International Studies Schools Association annual conference each year.

This e-interview with Caryn Stedman is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.