Ferguson and Global Education

Ferguson Protest DCWhat do the uprisings about white police shooting black men have to do with global education? Everything. We don’t relate to what we don’t understand. Fifty years after desegregation, we are still largely a segregated society, in some geographical areas more than others. When we lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., our neighborhood and the schools my children attended were diverse ethnically and socioeconomically. Here in Seattle, Washington, where I live now, despite   that fact that I have vivid grade school memories of passing out leaflets to support an Open Housing initiative, our city is largely divided along racial lines. On the one hand, we have a very diverse city filled with people from all over the world, and on the other hand, depending on where you live, you might only see people of one ethnicity in your neighborhood. This arbitrary division leads to ignorance at best, and mistrust and hatred at worst.

10258054_670934492942013_2368045362965548353_nWhen it is possible to go about the day to day business of life without interacting with people from different walks of life, it is easy to stay inside your comfortable bubble. And we like easy, we like comfortable; let’s face it, taking in all the news about racism and violence and power and stalemate is not comfortable. But if we don’t step out into discomfort, if we don’t interact,  we don’t know the stories, the struggles, and the perspective; we can’t begin to open the door to understanding. If there’s one thing travel has taught me, it’s that people are the same, made up of the same hearts, minds, and blood coursing through their veins. However, our particular geography, language, culture, history, background, opportunity, and ethnicity distinguish us one from the other, give us the chance to step out of our own skin, reach across the barriers and seek to understand another’s opinion, perspective, and life. It seems to be to be ever rarer, even among white people, including the mostly white, mostly men who make up our elected officials, to talk “across the aisle” in order to understand each other’s points of view and work together for the common good. So if they have trouble, is it any wonder that people of different races are having difficulty?

MO07-6-25-002One criticism some people have about global education, especially when there is a service component, is that there are so many issues to work on here at home; why are we going halfway around the world? It is a valid point only if you see issues abroad and issues at home as separate entities, which I do not. A truly immersive experience in another culture requires entering the world of another; it changes hearts and minds forever. Shifting perspective can be easier when difference is thrust upon an outsider in another country, speaking a new language, far away from home where everything is unfamiliar. But once the shift happens overseas, all new encounters carry that empathetic thread, even those happening right across town. In my work with students over the years, I have watched this process unfold hundreds of times, and it gives me great joy. I know that many of those students who spent time overseas are marching in the streets today, working for social justice for all people. Though there’s never only one cause of their motivation, conversations I have had, posts I have read, and life choices I have witnessed confirm the connection between global experience and local action.

The following appeal is from a former student who has always stood for truth and justice; her views broadened and deepened after a high school project where she lived and worked in Senegal:

“Who will stand on the side of justice, if not my family, neighbor, friend, colleague… myself? Who will work to change unjust systems if not us? Who will determine that tomorrow is not “business as usual” if not us? ALL lives are equally valuable. I want to have faith that if any folks I knew made up that jury, they would stand on the side of justice. What if everyone could say that and it could be true? We need more spaces to gather, as people, to share our stories, to heal, to connect and to build a new way of relating to each other that is not based on fear, violence, or simply financial transactions… My heart is heavy for this family and all the others whose lives were taken by a hand that was supposed to protect.”