The establishment of public education systems was the result of the Enlightenment, an intellectual movement in the 17th and 18th centuries which espoused the power of human reason to improve society, and which promoted the use of science to understand the natural world and the place of humans in the world. Immanuel Kant defined the Enlightenment as the human transition from an era of ignorance to an era of reason with a consequent expansion in human freedom. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of the key philosophers of the Enlightenment, proposed the twin ideas that the legitimacy of a social contract depended on the extent to which it was accepted by those it governed, and the idea that education prepared people to accept the social contract or to build a new contract.


These ideas of the Enlightenment, particularly the challenges to the abuses of power by the State and Church, and the promotion of tolerance and of social progress as a result of reason and individual freedom, influenced the revolutionary movements for Independence in North and South America. Many of the leaders of these movements for self-rule, such as Thomas Jefferson, understood that the education of all people was indispensable to prepare them for self-rule and to participate in the public sphere.


It is this novel view of social progress as the result of the collaborative dialogue and work of ordinary people that undergirds the need for educating all persons. At its core, the project of the Enlightenment replaces the aspiration for salvation in the afterlife with the aspiration of reducing human suffering through individual and collective agency in this world. Education for all is therefore instrumental to preparing people to improve the world, to reduce human suffering. This is the idea of the “public sphere” which allowed citizens to shape, discuss, and spread Enlightenment ideas, informed simply by reason and evidence generated by science. The history of public education has cosmopolitan roots. It is therefore reasonable to assess the success of public education in terms of the extent to which it prepares people to understand the world and improve it.



Citizenship in the Global Public Sphere

Globalization, the result of increased and accelerating integration across nation-states resulting from trade, travel, and telecommunications, requires increased capacity for people to understand global affairs, to have the ability to work productively across cultural divides, and to recognize and address global challenges. The Enlightenment notion of the “public sphere” has become global; individuals need the capacity to participate in such a global public sphere and collaborate in reducing human suffering and advancing the pursuit of happiness.

A cursory examination of the state of the world confirms the need for much invention and engagement in the “global commons.” Whether we focus on income inequality and social exclusion, poverty, hunger, health, conflict, or environmental sustainability, it is evident that there are many areas in need of attention in order to advance human well-being and global stability. This need has been recognized in the past, most clearly after World War II when a group of global leaders worked to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a compact that would contribute to global peace and stability.

The creation of the UN helped advance the institutional transformations to achieve the aspirations drafted in the declaration. The inclusion of the right to education in the declaration, for example, and the creation of UNESCO to focus on that right, transformed the structure of global educational opportunity, providing most children around the world the opportunity to access basic education. More recent initiatives to advance the global commons include the Milennium Development Goals, a global compact to eliminate extreme global poverty.

The exponential increase in advances in scientific knowledge and technology has significantly enhanced the technical means to address these global challenges, although effective leadership to mobilize these resources is often lacking. The lack of global leadership stems from serious education gaps. These global education gaps are greater in the United States than in other countries around the world.

US Education for World Improvement

In spite of past and ongoing efforts to develop global competency, there is increased scrutiny and growing discontent with the extent to which schools and universities in the United States are preparing students for an increasingly interdependent world. A 2007 report commissioned by the US Congress to the National Research Council to evaluate federally-funded programs of foreign language and area studies concluded that there are growing gaps




between the global skills of college graduates and what is required for global leadership. A similar theme was echoed by a 2012 report of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The people of the US are significantly less likely to see themselves as global citizens than their peers in other industrialized nations. In the latest administration of the World Values Survey only two-thirds (69 percent) of US citizens strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that they viewed themselves as global citizens. Out of 47 countries where this question was asked, this percentage was smaller only in Italy (62 percent), Finland (65 percent), Bulgaria (46 percent), Romania (54 percent), Ukraine (60 percent), Moldova (65 percent), Georgia (48 percent), Egypt (57 percent), Morocco (46 percent), and Germany (53 percent). This percentage is greater in most industrialized countries, as seen in Table 1. Only 5 percent of Americans have heard of the ‘Milennium Development Goals, a compact to eliminate global poverty, the smallest percentage among the 47 countries.

When asked to decide between the priority of solving the world’s problems and solving the problems of their own country, only 7 percent of people in the US choose solving the world problems, one of the lowest percentages compared to other countries compared. It is lower than Canada (12 percent), Australia (13 percent), Switzerland (13 percent), India (10 percent), China (10 percent), Brazil (20 percent), and Mexico (28 percent).

The people of the US are also less supportive of global institutions than citizens of other countries. When asked who should decide international peacekeeping, a mission that the charter of the UN assigns to the UN Security Council, only 53 percent of people in the US say the UN, one of the lowest percentages among the nations compared in this article. Similarly, when asked who should decide on human rights violations, only 36 percent of those in the US choose the UN, only in India and China do fewer people recognize the UN as the body who should make those decisions. The UN General Assembly has a subsidiary intergovernmental body, the UN Human Rights Council, to work specifically on human rights.

On the issue of climate change, 50 percent of US citizens recognize global warming as a very serious problem, with only South Korea, Switzerland, India, China, and Germany having equally low percentages of the population recognizing this as a serious global challenge. An even smaller percentage recognize the loss of biodiversity or pollution of rivers and oceans as very serious problems. This evidence suggests that US educational institutions underperform, relative to their global peers, in terms of equipping students to understand the global commons, and arguably to participate effectively in shaping the global sphere.

Paradoxically, the ineffectiveness of our schools and universities in developing global competency is not due to a lack of effort. There are long and deep cosmopolitan roots to education. In what follows I will explain how education has always had a global intent, systematize the approaches that have been used to develop global competence, and conclude with suggestions on how to prepare students to participate in the global public sphere and rebuild the global commons.



The long cosmopolitan roots of education

By and large, our contemporary system of education builds on a cosmopolitan tradition. Ideas about the purposes of education, about institutional forms to deliver education, and much of the content taught around the world have origins in aspirations to develop humanity reflecting a cosmopolitan tradition, with the goal to understand “The World.” Cosmopolitanism is the notion that humans are bound by a shared set of values, by commonalities that transcend other socially constructed aspects of our identities such as nationality, religion, or ethnicity. This idea is at least 2000 years old, expressed in the statement Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto – Nothing human is alien to me—an idea put forth by Terentius, a playwright in the Roman Republic.

This cosmopolitan aspiration for education has been particularly evident since the creation of the UN and the subsequent efforts to advance global education. The incorporation of education as a human right in the Universal Declaration, makes explicit reference to the aspiration that through education people will discover their common humanity with others of different cultural origins.

The long-standing cosmopolitan character of education is reflected by the fact that ideas about the purposes of education, and even about specific curricula and pedagogies to achieve those purposes, have generally travelled across national boundaries. The idea of establishing public education systems travelled initially across Europe, and eventually to the Americas. So did the idea that in building public education systems reformers could learn from practices implemented in other settings. The practice of establishing and improving education systems has been rooted in the comparative analysis of experience and from international cooperation.




In 1817 Marc Antoine Jullien proposed the development of a comparative approach to study educational practices, as a way to build a science of education. He was on the governing board of a journal, Journal d’Education, whose mission was to disseminate educational best-practices from different exemplary schools in Europe, such as the school established by Pestalozzi in Switzerland that focused on fostering a wide range of talents, and schools established by Bell and Lancaster in England that implemented the monitorial method of education, enabling the delivery of a graded curriculum at low cost using a system of monitors working under the direction of a teacher.

A number of study tours in the early nineteenth century facilitated the exchange of experience across national borders in support of the development of educational institutions. These study visits included a tour by John Quincy Adams, as US Minister to Prussia, to Silesia, in which he studied and reported on the system of schools he observed there. The establishment of the University of Berlin in 1810, as an institution committed to research and to cultivating independence of thought, set up a model that was also studied from delegations from a number of nations, eventually becoming the inspiration for the modern research university all over the world.



With the transfer across borders of institutional approaches to education, ideas about the content and purposes of education travelled as well. For example, Greek and Latin were subjects in the curriculum in many colleges and schools in Europe as well as in the Americas, in order to enable students to have access to common content. With the creation of public education systems two hundred years ago, in part to advance the consolidation of nation-states, school education helps consolidate national identity through the teaching of a common language and a set of common cultural views and knowledge, including knowledge of a shared national history. The common school curriculum also included geography and the structure and content of the curriculum was influenced by examples in other countries.

In that sense, traditional education was cosmopolitan insofar as the “classics” defined what should be learned much more than regional or local experience. In the United States, it was only at the beginning of the twentieth century that local literature was included in the college curriculum, which was largely composed of classical texts. This introduction of local content initiates a tension between the cosmopolitan tradition of education and its nationalist tendencies.

Movements to advance peace, which emerged in the late 1800s and early 1900s often resorted to education, as a way to share knowledge about the dangers of war and in this way help avert it. Many of these education efforts were aimed at adults, and did not involve formal school education, but at the beginning of the 20th century the Peace Movement included support for school-based peace education. A number of progressive educators at Teachers College advocated for education for global understanding, emphasizing cooperation as the goal, rather than competition. James Earl Russell, the third president of Teachers College, offered a course on “foreign education systems” in 1898 with the purpose of helping teachers in training develop their global awareness. Russell supported the creation of the first university based center of comparative education, at Teachers College, where faculty such as John Dewey devoted significant time to learning about education systems in other countries, and to contribute ideas to the advancement of public education abroad.

At a lecture given to the national association of secondary school principals in 1925, a leading figure in Teachers College Comparative Education Center, Professor Isaac Kandel, advocated in favor of infusing the high school curriculum with knowledge that would prepare students for international understanding. Kandel defined international understanding as “that attitude which recognizes the possibilities of service of our own nation and of other nations in a common cause, the cause of humanity, the readiness to realize that other nations along with our own have by virtue of their common humanity the ability to contribute something of worth to the progress of civilization.” He explained that international understanding was different from communism, or antithetical to nationalism. Kandel proposed, as a way to foster international understanding at the high school level, not a new subject in the curriculum but a special emphasis in the international dimensions of the existing subjects, including arts, science, geography, literature, and history. Kandel saw the existing curriculum as holding the potential to foster international understanding, and in this sense his views reflected the understanding described at the outset of this article, that all curriculum has the potential for a cosmopolitan orientation.




A contemporary of Kandel who also advocated global education for international understanding was Stephen Duggan, the first president of the Institute for International Education, which he founded with Nobel Laureates Elihu Root, former US Secretary of State, and Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University. Duggan, known as the apostle of internationalism, was also the first president of the Council on Foreign Relations. The Institute of International Education was established to support international understanding, as a way to achieve lasting peace. The Institute’s founders believed that student and teacher exchanges were a valuable way to foster such international understanding. The Institute also sponsored the creation of International Relations clubs on college campuses.

In the 1920s a few colleges in the United States, including Harvard University, offered their students the opportunity to participate in simulations of the League of Nations, with the purpose of educating them on global issues, interdependence, and on the factors that threatened peace and security. Following World War II, the creation of the UN and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which included education as one of the basic rights whose pursuit would help achieve peace, reflected a cosmopolitan aspiration for education: that it could help students discover their common humanity with others across the world.

The preamble to the constitution of UNESCO, the specialized agency established to advance the achievement of the right to education, makes explicit reference to the need to educate students on the focus of the United Nations and in advancing human rights. UNESCO, in collaboration with governments around the world, advanced a number of programmatic initiatives to promote global education, peace education, and human rights education. These included a series of affiliated schools, starting in 33 schools in 15 countries 1953, to “encourage the development of education in the aims and activities of the United Nations and the Specialized Agencies and in the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” UNESCO also contributed the development of curricula for peace and human rights education.

In the 1960s two important education programs emerged to promote global understanding. One of them, the International Baccalaureate Organization, was established in 1968 in Geneva to develop and support a university preparatory curriculum –a diploma program—for students who had to move between countries as a result of their parents’ occupations. In developing this curriculum the organization initially built in a UNESCO handbook, published in 1948 and authored by then-Director of the International School of Geneva, Marie-The?re?se Maurette, presenting a framework for Peace Education.



The second program to promote global understanding was created in 1962 by Kurt Hahn, a German educator, who established the United World College (UWC) of the Atlantic in South Wales. This program was created to foster international understanding among students aged 16 to 20. Students came from different countries and learned through a shared residential pre-collegiate educational experience aligned with the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma. The explicit goal of the UWCs is to foster peace and sustainability. The organization expanded to 13 colleges, located in different parts of the world, of which 12 remain today.

The curriculum actively promotes a series of values aligned with international understanding including valuing difference, personal responsibility and integrity, mutual responsibility and respect, compassion and service, respect for the environment, idealism, personal action, and example. The early development of the IB was intertwined with the early development of the UWC as the experience of students in the UWC in Wales was studied by those developing the IB diploma and as the UWC was one of the first adopters of the IB.

Analyzing Global Education

These various approaches to global education which developed during the twentieth century vary with respect to two related dimensions: the purposes of global education and the definition of global competency.

The purposes of global education have included advancing personal and national goals through better understanding of others, as well as international cooperation towards the mutual advancement of shared interests. Various curricula emerge from these diverse purposes: education in world history or geography, education for international business, education for the advancement of human rights, peace education, and education for conflict education.

Underlying these various approaches to global education are also diverse ideas about what global competency entails. One approach views global competency as knowledge, and to some extent as the ability to use such knowledge to solve problems. This idea translates largely into curricular approaches that include specific content –such as geography, or world history, or the study of international organizations—as well as in efforts to infuse existing curriculum of more established disciplines –such as science, or history, or literature—with topics which are global in nature.

Examples include specific curricula on global education, such as Oxfam’s Global Citizenship Curriculum, an initiative of Oxfam in the United Kingdom consisting of a series of lesson plans and support for teachers to foster the development of Global Citizenship. In the United States, infusion of global education in the more established subjects of the curriculum, such as social studies, or history, language or sciences, is the prevalent approach to global education. A few states, such as Wisconsin, have developed curricular maps that explicitly identify opportunities for infusion in the entire curriculum framework for the state.




An alternative approach to global education views global competency as dispositions, ways of thinking and doing. This idea translates into pedagogical approaches to global education. Maria Montessori’s emphasis on pedagogy as essential to developing peaceful and democratic dispositions, in contrast to authoritarian pedagogies which she believed reflected and reinforced the mindset that accepted authoritarian regimes, John Dewey’s emphasis on pedagogy as the way to cultivate autonomy of mind, and the IB’s emphasis on interdisciplinarity and research all reflect this perspective.

Some approaches emphasize the role of experience in learning over exclusively intellectual engagement with cosmopolitan knowledge. Study abroad, for instance, reflects this emphasis on embedding students in a cultural setting different from the one they are most familiar with, and to expose them to interactions with people of different cultural backgrounds, as a path to developing cross-cultural understanding. Following from this view of the importance of social experience with cultural difference are a range of programs that focus on structuring the social context that students experience in their schools or in designing activities to expose them to culturally diverse contexts on the assumption that global competency emerges from cultural exchange.

This view is central to the approach reflected in the student and teacher exchange programs of the Institute for International Education or in the United World Colleges, or in the Fulbright Exchange Programs, or Peace Corps, or in the myriad programs of study abroad supported by higher education institutions for instance, as well as in other programs that deliberately bring together students or teachers from diverse backgrounds.

At present, efforts to explicitly develop global competency include the following six types, or variations of them: 1. A global movement in support of educating all children and youth. This movement originates with the creation of UNESCO, after World War II, and continues through the efforts of national and supra-national governmental, non-governmental organizations, and businesses. Increasingly, telecommunication technologies and the availability of financial resources allow relatively small groups of individuals to contribute to the global quest for education for all. Undergirding this movement has been the notion, first expressed by Jon Amos Comenius four hundred years ago, that universal education would provide people the skills, competencies, and intellectual tools to live in peace with one another and relate across national boundaries.


2. Curricula to teach world history, geography and topics that have global dimensions, such as science, or literature. Part of what students learn in school provides access to the common cultural heritage of humankind.

3. Curricula to specifically educate for peace, non-violence, and to promote international tolerance and understanding.

4. Foreign language studies, which provide the means to communicate with individuals and texts across language divides.

5. Programs that foster interaction among people from different countries and regions, such as student and faculty exchanges and foreign student and faculty recruitment, or programs of varying duration in which students from a range of countries participate in a common educational experience, such as Model UN simulations or the UWCs.

6. Immersive experiences to enable students to experience another culture and interact with people in other countries, such as study abroad.



Reinventing Global Education

The effectiveness of programs to foster global competency has not been evaluated. Except for foreign language skills, other domains of global competency are largely unexplored in terms of including standardized assessment instruments or evaluations that establish the contributions of alternative modalities of global education to specific global competencies. Educational institutions adopt variations of these approaches, without an empirically-based understanding of the relative effectiveness of these alternatives. We do not know, in spite of decades of practice with global education, which specific global understanding outcomes are fostered by each of these modalities, and how their effectiveness compares. In addition, most of these approaches are more focused on promoting understanding of the world, rather than on cultivating the skills to transform it.

This is the opportunity of global education in the coming years to develop programs and approaches that develop the capacity to do, to create, and to innovate in addressing shared global challenges. It is an opportunity to educate to “improve” the world, not just to “interpret” it. Doing this will require a focus not just on the traditional objects and methods of global studies, world history, geography or foreign languages, but especially in the study of the process of globalization itself through the study of future trends and scenarios, and in the study of current global challenges and opportunities.

With a group of colleagues, for example, I have designed a K-12 curriculum for global studies, the “World Course” which is a core component of the curriculum of a global network of global schools, the Avenues Schools. We designed this curriculum defining the competencies that students should have in order to understand global trends, and the risks identified in the global risk assessment framework developed by the World Economic Forum, and we focused on the concurrent and integrated development of cognitive skills, as well as interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies. We emphasized project based learning, providing students opportunities to demonstrate understanding and to develop the agency and capacity to address global challenges as they engaged with them from Kindergarten to High School.




The development of global competency should be supported in a way that cultivates the capacity to create and innovate. It should foster deep learning rather than superficial exposure or understanding, and it should engage the mind in integrating and applying knowledge, often across disciplines, to produce solutions to these challenges.

We will not overcome the evident deficits in global competency by doing more of what has been done in the past, an education with a heavy bias towards contemplation, and too little focus on developing the capacity for engaged and effective global citizenship. We need new approaches, supported by serious design, research, and evaluation. Developing these programs anew is a task of design and invention, not of replication of what has been done in the past.

This task can be facilitated by investing in systematic development and study, by developing metrics to assess various domains of global competency and by conducting evaluations of new and traditional approaches to global education. As with other global challenges, this one can also benefit from the opportunities that technology and access to capital offer small groups of ordinary people to innovate in doing what larger and more established institutions have not yet done.