Educating students to be global citizens

A Minneapolis Somali teacher, Abdikadir Adan Xiito (
A Minneapolis Somali teacher, Abdikadir Adan Xiito

Schools speak about making students “global citizens,” but if they do not engage the local communities they are neglecting a valuable resource.  Today I went to the education fair put on by the Minneapolis Public Schools.  I met my Somali friend, Ahmed, because he and I are trying to expand Somali language education.  So we met the most influential workers in world language education in the district with the largest population in the state.  We met someone who is already engaged in Somali language education, Dahir.  He has learned how to be a global citizen and now teaches others how to be global citizens.  Our city, he says, offers resources that can make us all become better global citizens.

“Global citizen” is a term used broadly, and I would like to define it more precisely.  I think that a global citizen is one who comprehends one’s position in the globe, geographically and culturally.  Comprehending this position requires learning about other cultures in order to perceive one’s place relative to others.  One can easily come into a discussion assuming one’s superiority or the other’s inferiority, but until one enters into discussion, one cannot know the facts–which may differ from one’s assumptions.  A global citizen engages in dialogue with people of other cultures and geographies; from this engagement, the global citizen constructs a clear, data-based vision of his or her place in the world.

Dahir is a global citizen, but he had to leave his country to realize the value of his country of origin, Somalia.  As an African, he said, he always felt the weight of colonial culture over him.  His father, though completely illiterate, spoke perfect Italian, and he taught Dahir’s brothers Italian.  (Italy colonized much of the Horn of Africa.)  Italian language held a mark of distinction, and so value came from their ability to emulate the colonial power.

Later Dahir moved to Germany, where he began to teach German expats moving to Somalia about his Somali language and culture, and teaching others these subjects taught him their value.  He recognized that something existed in his home country: a culture and a history and the Germans were working to learn about it.  This made Dahir curious about how to teach world language and culture.  His work with the German expats gave Dahir the ability to be the first Somali language teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools (and perhaps in any US public school system).  He teaches his Somali students that Somali language and culture have value.  By understanding the value of Somali culture, his students become more broad-minded and better citizens of the world.

The diversity of Minneapolis, he explained to me, is growing, as well as the emphasis on educating students to be “global citizens.”  This combination is exciting as Minnesotan children can learn about world citizenship as good citizens of our city.  He emphasizes that the various African immigrant groups–especially the Somali community–can help prepare all the students in our city to be world citizens.

We can familiarize ourselves about the geographic diversity of the world “out there” by getting to know the diversity at home.  To begin with, we learn in Minnesota that Africa is not a monolith.  Here in our city we have many people from the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Djibouti) who speak multiple languages.  Populations from West and South Africa, and some North Africans, live here, too.  This simple lesson begins our path to global citizenship, and the means to learning lie within 20 miles of my house.

Good global citizenship can help adapt us to future economic opportunities.  Dahir noted that the world will soon focus on Africa for business development.  As the Chinese economy grows, Chinese businesses increasingly look to Africa for natural resources.  Other countries will also likely look towards Africa, and so those who know the various languages and cultures of that continent will succeed in bridging that gap for those looking for business opportunities.

I desire most strongly that my children become successful global citizens, and thus better people.  By “successful” I do not narrowly mean financial success, but I want them to enjoy social success, intellectual growth, and spiritual connection with people different from them.  They can begin connecting with others through language-study, which will increase contact with people from other cultures and teach them how to live comfortably with people from other cultures for mutual benefit.  They can grow in many ways by constant contact with other cultures.

I’m grateful that Dahir learned the value of Somali culture and is teaching it to the children of Minneapolis.  I want to work with him so that his lessons can reach thousands of more students so that we all can become better global citizens.

What ways have you found to become a better global citizen in your own city?

3 thoughts on “Educating students to be global citizens

  1. Pingback: Teaching young language-lovers « Loving Language

  2. Pingback: Justice requires learning languages | Loving Language

  3. Pingback: Looking for differences: Polyglots have a solution – Loving Language

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