Intersecting Global Education with Anti-Racism Work: An Urgent Call to Educators

Jennifer D. Klein

I remember reading Adrienne Rich’s early work on the Feminist Continuum in graduate school, and finding it a simple yet rich concept, that breaking down the barriers between straight feminists and the lesbian community could only help both causes because, on a very basic level, their goals were the same.  I’ve always felt that global education and antiracism/intercultural work in schools are on a similar continuum, so interconnected that bringing them together could only positively increase impact for both.  I understand that the goals of these two movements are not exactly the same, and that global education has the potential to water down the goals of antiracism if we don’t do it well.  I agree completely with those who argue that antiracism work can’t be melded into other movements when doing so diminishes the importance of its specific goals.  But I am increasingly convinced that global educators are key allies and partners for the antiracism education happening in our schools, and that global educational experiences can help to build the kind of understanding we need across the globe. Today more than ever, I call on educators everywhere to join in this work, regardless of whether you believe racism is an issue in your country and classroom, because doing so can only improve life for our human family.  Whatever the issues that divide us, working together toward our common goals will help us all move forward.

#GlobalEdChat, hosted by Asia Society on Twitter, addressed these intersections with #Antiracism and their possible benefits in a chat on January 21st, 2021 (January 22nd in the Eastern Hemisphere), that included educators from around the world. The following provides a few of the questions I posed as host, which can be used to continue the dialogue in schools, and some of my favorite take-aways from the conversation.  

How do you believe the goals of antiracism and global education might intersect for greatest impact, given your subject area (or other role) and age group? Participants were quick to point out many powerful intersections between the two educational movements, including similar mindsets in both global and antiracism around the importance of hearing and honoring under appreciated and marginalized voices (see my work on Global Education Orientations).  Several discussions began about the need to ensure that anti-colonialist frameworks and lenses are at the heart of both movements as well, so that students dig into and understand the systemic, historical causes behind a given group’s marginalized experiences.  In my investigations of inequity and the dangers of the “white savior” mentality in The Global Education Guidebook, I saw this pitfall manifested far too often in the foundations of global partnerships, where one classroom helps or “saves” another instead of working together to understand and deconstruct the impacts of colonialism. Similarly, classroom experiences that focus on antiracism oblige those with privilege and power to listen and learn, not to save and fix, and to see themselves as allies, not saviors.

How might we use global education partnerships and strategies to support our antiracism goals in the classroom? Participants agreed that global partnerships and other global educational strategies can work alongside antiracism practices, helping to create a culture of equal respect and inclusion. The mentality of “learning from and with” permeates both movements, and both offer strategies to understand the legacy of slavery, both historical and modern, so that students learn to recognize a culture's systemic loss of basic rights and opportunities in a variety of global contexts. Participants discussed ways to leverage global educational technology and networks to open the world and understand intercultural conflict from different perspectives. Most importantly, participants insist that this work can’t be a one-time event but must be ongoing, continual, and taught across the curriculum, in all subject areas and at all grade levels, in age-appropriate ways.

Antiracist thought leaders like Martin Luther King are globally respected. How might we incorporate their thinking into our global educational projects throughout the year?  The resounding opinion in our chat was that every country in the world has its MLKs, its own thought leaders who help to lead more positive, constructive movements, and that the global classroom should play a role in exposing students to the common human principles they share. Participants suggested strategies that ranged from daily read alouds that support lessons of kindness, understanding, connectedness and interdependence in the early years, to the use of the Black Lives Matter Guiding Principles with older students.  I know my thinking as a global and local citizen has been deeply impacted by thought leaders from every part of the world, from the poets and fiction writers I studied in university, to the liberation theologists and critical pedagogical theorists I’ve read since becoming an educator. Some wonderful modern examples of constructive thought leadership can be found in The Elders, a community of global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela who have been working for over a decade to reshape equity and wellbeing across the planet.

How might we use books, stories and other resources to support antiracism in the global classroom? Please share a few favorites. Participants agreed we need to look first and foremost for organizations that clearly integrate both topics in their work, including organizations like The Global Oneness Project and My Hero. Other favorite books shared that can help deepen students’ understanding included Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, Refugee by Alan Gratz, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, “Stories for Change” (One Globe Kids), the “Children in the World” series by Louise Spilsbury and Hanane Kai, Scholastic Storyworks, and Teach Us Your Name (Globe Trottin’ Kids). Also shared were resources for equity from Asia Society and Lucy Gray, plus a wealth of global educational resources available at the Global Education Conference Network.

If I were still a high school English teacher, I’d add Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and other works that capture different individual and collective experiences in the United States, like the classic Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. I would also love to teach Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which captures the impacts of oppressive thinking and systems across multiple generations in both the US and West Africa. As a coach, I encourage teachers to use resources from Choices (Brown University), Facing History and Ourselves, and Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center that continues to provide excellent resources for teachers (I’ve always found the use of “tolerance” problematic, since the higher goal should be acceptance and understanding, but that is just semantics—their resources for teachers of all ages are excellent).  And if your school is ready to take on other aspects of identity, and to work to build a community where all students belong, Glsen is an exceptional educational resource for active belonging work around LGBTQ+ students and faculty, as is TSER, Trans Student Educational Resources.

There are various global perspectives on how to prioritize and address racism and engage in antiracism work. How might you incorporate these differing perspectives in your global classroom?  Participants shared ideas about how to infuse their courses with culturally-responsive media, scenarios, debates and virtual field trips to help get kids out of their local bubbles.  They also discussed the importance of building our own awareness proactively as educators, which many of the resources above can help to do.  They shared strategies for provoking deep discussions about global perspectives through good books, short videos, and looking at history from different perspectives.  In particular, educators shared how works like Caste offer international comparisons, which allows students to reflect back on their own country as well. Most importantly, we discussed the value of hooking into opportunities for community engagement with local immigrant communities, so that exploring global perspectives becomes an even more relevant, local experience for kids.  


Even if racism manifests itself in unique ways in the US, it does exist in different forms everywhere.  It is far from just a US problem, as one group believing in its own superiority lies at the heart of every colonization and enslavement humanity has experienced throughout history.  It manifests differently in every part of the world: in many places, oppressive behaviors and systems are based on differences in socio-economic status or religion, for example, but the causes of inequity and oppressive systems still have a great deal in common.  I call on educators in global educational circles to intentionally engage in these systemic problems and the history behind them, to help students see the incredible value of hearing and honoring the experiences of others, and of working together in a process of reconciliation and reconstruction that can begin in the schoolhouse.  Even our youngest students will understand an experience which unearths our common humanity, and which helps us understand how societies rely on values like kindness and belonging, not just laws against hatred, in order to flourish.  These can be hard conversations, but the moment requires it of us.  We are called to teach our kids to be kind, accepting, and collaborative again, not just for the sake of one community, country or culture, but for our collective, interdependent future.

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