Liberal Education

From the Editor

In “Second Thoughts on Globalization,” an essay written at the end of the last century, James Schall says that “globalization is when a man with a cell phone on the Metro in Washington talks to a colleague in a skyscraper in Tokyo about opening a branch office in Hamburg.” In this issue of Liberal Education, Charles King, Schall’s Georgetown colleague, observes similarly that “young Americans can play video games with their peers in Cairo, chat online with friends in St. Petersburg, and download music from a punk band based in Beijing.” To work and play on a worldwide scale is not just possible, it is now commonplace. “But,” as King points out, “consuming the world is not the same as understanding it.”

Understanding the world—especially a world being transformed by the forces of globalization and marked by a host of complex “global” challenges—is certainly important and, if students are to operate successfully and responsibly on a worldwide scale, it is clearly necessary. Liberal education has always been directed outward in this sense, and developing a greater understanding of the world is key to the dimension of liberal learning that we now call “global learning.” But global learning is not only about understanding the world.

Associated terms like “global citizenship” suggest that, as we become ever more globally oriented, we may risk diminishing the importance of the local or downplaying the importance of place in any rooted sense. Put differently, the more we consume the world or allow ourselves to be consumed by what’s going on elsewhere and faraway, the more we risk becoming like Mrs. Jellyby, the “telescopic philanthropist” from Dickens’s Bleak House whose way of addressing what today we would call “global issues” led her to ignore the needs of her own household and neighborhood.

In addition to understanding the world, then—or, indeed, as a part of it—global learning involves developing an understanding of the interaction between the local and the global and the ways in which the issues and challenges students are being educated to address in their working lives, their lives as citizens, and even their personal lives are increasingly implicated in the unavoidable interconnectedness among peoples, places, and cultures.

So, how can all this be accomplished in the context of undergraduate education? Along with exploring in greater detail what is meant by “global learning,” the current standing of its various components, and why it is so essential, the essays collected in the Featured Topic section of this issue present some best practices for developing global learning outcomes and for making global learning accessible to all students.—DAVID TRITELLI

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