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Empowering Children With Limited Resources Through Global Learning

Empowering Children With Limited Resources Through Global Learning

by Miranda Bailey Danku

North Carolina State University

July 16, 2012


This paper discusses how what teachers can do to help children with limited resources (often referred to as “minority,” “at-risk” or “disadvantaged”) obtain a broader perspective on the world and the societies within it, and how that perspective gives children the ability to expand and embrace their identities regardless of their socioeconomic means.


My class and I recently Skyped a classmate who is in Morocco.  Sam’s family is there to pick up a baby girl that they have adopted, and he’s been out of school for a month.
“Why is he crying?” Ben asks.
“He’s tired and overwhelmed.  Ask him if he is okay,” I say.
“Are you okay, Sam?  Where is he? Why does his house look like that?”  Ben is bursting with questions about Sam’s unfamiliar surroundings.  We ask Sam a little bit more about Morocco, but he mostly says that he misses us and want to come home. After we hang up the classroom is abuzz with all-knowing chatter.  “It’s hot in Morocco.”  “That was a weird room.” “Sam’s getting a baby sister.”  “She doesn’t look like Sam.”  “That’s Amira.”  We talk more about Morocco; we talk about adoption; but their attention span is short and their interest is fleeting.It’s amazing how, at 5 years old, children have already discovered large pieces of the world they know nothing about.  This a window of opportunity that is cracked now and as teachers, we can either shut it or open it wider.

Over the past decade, the benefits of opening the window have taken the forefront in dialogue regarding education reform, and the issue of global learning as taken growing priority in the minds of educators and political leaders.  These people are aware of the “flat world,” a world where, due to technology and economics, “our lives are becoming increasingly intertwined with those of distant people.” (Legrain, 2002, p. 4).  In order to achieve their life goals, our children will need to be good global citizens — even if they never leave the United States.

In my mind, global learning is a lifetime experience that should begin early in life.  Global learning is the actions of individuals within a community taken to learn about and engage with communities from other parts of the world in order to:
1. improve knowledge of self and others;
2. find commonalities and appreciate differences;
3. learn to respect diversity, recognize stereotyping, and experience empathy;
4. accept the ongoing project of formulating questions and seeking answers;
5. and expanding foundation of life experience.
Limited by practical constraints such as time and money, an ideal setting for global learning is the classroom, and, for reasons expounded on here, it is crucial that teachers begin to integrate global learning into their curricula. 

The problem of poverty and marginalization 

In related news, over the past several decades, the United States government has been getting increasingly anxious about the persistent achievement gaps illustrated by legislated standardized achievement tests (Duncan, 2010).  It appears that minority students and student of low socioeconomic status (SES) — often referred to as “minority,” “at-risk” or “disadvantaged” students are falling behind in our public education system.   In 2010-11, in the elementary and middle grade of North Carolina Public Schools, for example, 79% of white students scored at grade level or better while only 48.5% of black students and only 54.4% of Latino students did the same (Public Schools of North Carolina, 2011).  Similarly, the percentage of achievement between groups of FRL (Free or Reduced Lunch) students and non-FRL students reflects a curiously similar gap. [more statistics here].  My point is that 1)  there is more than a significant overlap in the percentage of minority student and the percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged; and 2)  these students are lagging in our country’s definition of achievement.  I emphasize that this is due to a multitude of factors, including SES-linked questions on standardized achievement tests (Barton, 2004) and institutionalized racism.

The upside of this frustrating state of public education is that I believe global learning could do a lot to improve education for students with limited resources.  It may not solve the problem of flawed achievement tests, but it can certainly alter students’ attitudes and perspectives about human differences, thereby reducing in racism, religious intolerance, and ethnocentricity.

The importance of cultural identity

In early adolescence, students who are a member of a minority or marginalized group, become aware of negative stereotypes and treatment and respond “by immersing themselves in their racial or cultural groups or even actively reject the dominant culture during this period (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 309).  This may account for the self-segregation that occurs in so many secondary schools, particularly urban schools.  A cosmopolitan citizen may be alarmed to walk into a school cafeteria and find all the Black students sitting in one are, the Asian student in another area, and the Whites in still another.  

Immigrants and children of immigrants often experience a dual identity crisis, sometimes adopting a national identity and an ethnic identity.  A study by Baysu, Phalet, and Brown  determined that children with dual identity performed better academically in a “welcoming,” non-discriminatory school as opposed an ethnically hostile school environment (2012).  Adolescents need to explore issues of ethnicity and social status, to come to terms with who they are and where they fit in the world.  In the process of discovering identity, minorities must come to terms with the status of their identities.  They have to acknowledge that they do not enjoy white privilege and that they have reduced power and status and have limited access to resources under white hegemony.  Whether these students realize it or not, the status of their identities means that, do to institutionalized prejudice, they will be under-schooled.  In an essay about the construct of race, Hilliard suggests that it is the invisible, unspoken agenda of white hegemony using education to dominate and suppress African-Americans. 

We have two major concerns:  First, there is the need to access and to dismantle a tremendous array of aggressive negative beliefs, behaviors, and strategies.  Second, there is the need to construct normal nurturing. (Hilliard, 2009, pp. 29-30)

Some studies have shown that the more we commit to a “devalued ingroup,” the less we will tolerate discrimination towards that ingroup.

For both teachers and students in diverse low-SES communities, the key to success comes in knowing themselves and knowing their environment. (Gehrt, 2005).  Here’s where global learning comes in.  Teachers can help students learn about themselves through the process of analyzing the lives and traditions of people from other culture.  By comparing and contrasting, recognizing diversity and common stereotypes, students expand their perspectives and base of experience.  They can account for their own histories and appreciate the histories of others.

So how do we approach global learning with the goal of empowering students with limited resources — namely minority and low SES students?  First, let me define “empower.”  By empower, I mean to feel strength and pride from a sense of belonging.  Teachers should work to inspire students with the confidence to dig deeper intellectually and make connections with people who appear different than them.   

Global learning strategies

This process involves, first, reflection and self-awareness, and second, an awareness of those who are different.  We must be comfortable with our own identity and knowledge about other identities.  High school is a time when many adolescent are confronting identity issue, and it is a perfect time to engage in the reflective, investigative process of  global learning.  It is the perfect time to integrate multiple cultural perspectives into their curriculum and guide students’ natural inquiries through a more intensive exploration process.   Hilliard agrees that ethnic identity “implies history, culture, location, creativity” and that “we need to do whatever is necessary so that our children and our people accept themselves...” (2009, p. 29) Global learning should engage all students in the ongoing project of formulating questions and seeking answers.  Suppose, for example, the black students chose an opportunity to research the affects of British colonialism on the Namaqua tribe in South Africa. 

What other ways are educators who are interested in applying global learning in the classroom doing?   “Simply interacting with people from diverse cultures will help a person to become more culturally competent.”  (DeLong, 2009)  But often, as is the case with my own upbringing, students come from an ethnically and economically homogeneous community and they don’t have the opportunity to interact with people with diverse backgrounds.  In fact, the vast majority of our country’s teachers are white, middle-class women (myself included) and many come from sheltered, ethnically un-diverse settings.  These teachers may themselves be unprepared to engage in a dialogue of global learning.

In researching this paper, I have come across several exciting projects developed by teachers that I felt address both identity and global learning.  For instance, the Australian government has developed a practical and creative website designed to aid teachers with global education.   On the website Global Education: Teaching resources to encourage a global perspective across the curriculum, I found a wonderful project for 9th and 10 graders called “What is globalisation?”  Students work together to come up with a definition of globalization, and then reflect on a diverse group of images representing business, cultural identity, injustice, technology, etc.  In a second activity, students discuss how they have come to understand globalization and answer related questions.  Third, students work together to study the underwear market and survey peers regarding factors involved in purchasing underwear.  Fourth, students brainstorm, discuss, and report on their positive and negative feelings about globalization.  Lastly, students reflect on their learning and think about the connections with their families and school environment.

Sokolower uses a demanding and interesting global learning strategy in her ELL classroom comprised of a very ethnically and socioeconomically diverse group of high school students.  Sokolower initiated a child-directed project to build global awareness.  After they discussed globalization as a whole system of interconnected systems, each student began his/her independent work with an oral interview of a parent or older caregiver regarding the family’s person history of migration to the United States.   Then the class mapped out the interviews on a huge sheet of paper, organizing it by region. The students then used the information from the survey for writing the story of their own migration, sharing the complexities and pain of their own situations.  Next they went to the library and researched a country (most chose their own) and designed a poster showing how colonialism applied to the country’s history, and many applied prior knowledge from their own life experiences.  Lastly, the class decided they wanted to compile the work to make an ELL text on globalization that included personal writings and poetry as reflections at the end of each chapter.  The project was an innovative strategy for learning about identity, applying the English language in many ways, learning from a personal perspective about the cultures of others, and addressing the very individual effects of colonialization.  The project also required the students of various language backgrounds to discover creative ways to collaborate and problem solve.


I believe the keys to engagement in global learning are 1) to make the work about self-identity as much as about the cultures of far away places; and 2) engage our student population and our global audience engaged by honing the strengths and interests of our students.  Educators are going to have to be find ways to build multicultural classrooms, integrate global perspectives, and engage self-absorbed adolescents.   With standardized achievement testing and a narrowing curriculum, educators are going to have to cultivate what Zhao touts as the American forte: creativity and innovation.


Barton., P. (2004).  Why Does the Achievement Gap Persist? Educational Leadership, November 2004, 8-13.

Baysu, G., Phalet, K., & Brown, R. (2011). Dual Identity as a Two-Edged Sword: Identity Threat and Minority School Performance. Social Psychology Quarterly, 74(2), 121-143.

Broderick, P. C. & Blewitt, P. (2010). The Life Span: Human Development for Helping Professionals, Third Edition.  Boston: Pearson.

DeLong, M., Geum, K., Gage, K., McKinney, E., Medvedev, K., & Park, J. (2011). Cultural Exchange: Evaluating an Alternative Model in Higher Education. Journal Of Studies In International Education, 15(1), 41-56.

Duncan, A. (May 6, 2010). International Engagement Through Education [speech at the Council on Foreign Relations Meeting].  U. S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

Gehrke, R. (2005). Poor Schools, Poor Students, Successful Teachers. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 42(1), 14-17.

Global Education: Teacher resources to encourage a global perspective across the curriculum. Retrieved July 7, 2012, from

Hilliard, III, A. (2009). What Do We Need to Know? Rethinking Multicultural Education.  pp. 21-36.  Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools Ltd.

Legrain, P. (2002). Open World: The Truth about Globalization.  London: Abacus.

Patterson, L. M., Carrillo, P., & Salinas, R. (2012). Lessons from a Global Learning Virtual Classroom. Journal Of Studies In International Education, 16(2), 182-197.

Public Schools of North Carolina. (2011). Quick Facts: Raising Achievment and Closing Gaps. State Board of Education, Department of Public Instruction [website].  Retrieved on July 9, 2012, from 

Schniedewind, N. (2005). "There Ain't No White People Here!": The Transforming Impact of Teachers' Racial Consciousness on Students and Schools.  Equity & Excellence In Education, 38(4), 280-289. doi:10.1080/10665680500299668

Seal, K. (2004). Make Minorities Thrive in High School and College. Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed For Quick Review, 70(1), 29-37.

Sokolower, J. (2009). Bringing Globalization Home. Rethinking Multicultural Education. p. 181-190.

Zhao, Y. (2010). Preparing Globally Competent Teachers: A New Imperative for Teacher Education. Journal Of Teacher Education, 61(5), 422-431. doi:10.1177/0022487110375802

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