When I was a kid one of the first colour TV ads I remember watching was about Coca-Cola. Remember the one? “I’d like to build the world a home… furnish it with love” etc. Lots of strategically arranged young people of various ethnicities, some in national outfits. All slim, good looking, blessed with decent haircuts and able to hold a tune. Nobody was in a wheelchair, or had a guide dog – and nobody seemed to be carrying a personal firearm. At least not that I could tell.
It was a vision of global harmony through the Nobel-Peace-Prize-Power of a sugary drink.
If only we could send the good folks in Gaza or Syria or Ukraine or Ferguson a few crates of fizzy drinks, maybe the world would be a far better place – or so that advert once led me to believe as a child.
My school-age education didn’t exactly teach me much about how to help achieve this ideal of global harmony. We learnt a heck of a lot about how messed up the world was, is and most likely was going to continue to be for generations to come. The 1970s and 1980s were not hopeful times in the UK. My undergraduate experience wasn’t much different except that the concept of taking action came much more to the fore in my understanding of how to respond when the world isn’t how you think it should be.
And nobody seemed to see a place for fizzy drinks any more.
A quarter of a century on I find myself leading an international school in a part of the world that has seen more than its fair share of challenges. My community is proud of its diversity of national representation as well as its strong Sudanese presence and identity. We are an IB World School accredited by the Council of International Schools, so we know that we buy into an international education aimed at … well, here is where we hit a problem.
What do we call it? International understanding? Intercultural awareness? International mindedness?? Are they interchangeable or somehow all different? Does the label even matter?
You may recall the famous case of US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 in his ruling on an alleged obscenity case. He famously coined the phrase “I know it when I see it”. Judge Potter couldn’t define the concept of obscenity but he knew it when he saw it. I’m coming round to the idea that this whole “interglobalmindednessnalism” thing is a bit like that. I’ve just finished Leslie Stagg’s excellent book International Mindedness: Global Perspectives for Learners and Educators and, though I’m clearer about the kinds of things that characterize this internationalthingummijig, I’m still a long way from a definition that I can explain simply to a colleague. Wasn’t it Einstein who said if you cant explain something simply then you probably don’t understand it well enough?
There are two things I think I know:
- We have to start by admitting that we don’t really know what we mean by all these interglobalmindednessnalism labels.
- Whatever interglobalmindednessnalism education looks like, it probably doesn’t involve Coca Cola.
My plan is to keep the conversation going, with teachers, students and parents. We can use the hints and hazy suggestions from the IB and accreditation standards to inform our thinking. But, when the dust settles, it is for us as a community to figure out what we mean and what we will do to make interglobalmindednessnalism a real, tangible and purposeful step in the evolution of our society.
After all, it’s the real thing…