Why the US Needs Global Citizens

By Cheryl Duckworth

Perhaps one of the barriers to global citizenship education has been a fear that one must necessarily choose between two identities—being either a citizen of one’ s country or a citizen of the world.  In light of the increasingly nationalist and xenophobic dynamic observable in many countries over the past decade, challenging this false choice is urgent. Peace educators and global citizenship educators must make the argument that one can be both a citizen of one’s country and a citizen of the world.
I would even go further to argue that in today’s increasingly interconnected and increasingly armed world, the U.S. needs global citizens more than ever.  What is a global citizen and why does her country need her?
A global citizen has a secure and multifaceted identity.  What this means is that no one particular aspect of his identity (race, class, religion, gender) dominates the others.  Research on identity suggests that this is a kind of “inoculation” against extremism.   When someone has a monolithic identity, they are much easier to mobilize to violent conflict.  Ervin Staub’s chapter in Ashmore’s volume on social identity and conflict (2001) makes this point powerfully through examples from Rwanda.
A global citizen is cross-culturally competent.  She has developed an awareness of her own cultural blind-spots and biases and can apply this to avoiding (or at least resolving) misunderstandings that can often occur in intercultural contexts.   A global citizen would be aware of the inherent social violence seen in video games in which players shoot at Mosques and minarets in Austria, and would feel a responsibility to speak up.
A global citizen understands, I would argue, the rapid and increasingly interdependent reality of the 21st century.  Flowing from this, he understands that the most pressing challenges humanity faces today (environmental destruction, global terror, authoritarianism, poverty, the Great Recession) are inherently cross-border challenges.  They simply cannot be solved by one country alone.
This is not a comment on the strength or weakness of any particular nation.  Rather it is a comment on the qualitative nature of the problems the global community faces.  Attempts to address these problems unilaterally will be partial and therefore will ultimately fail.
This brings me to a final quality of the global citizen which benefits the “home country”.  A global citizen not only has the values and perspective which nations so urgently need right now, she has the skills to actually begin addressing these challenges.  She can resolve conflict, build relationships and problem solve in diverse contexts.  She can think in ways that are flexible, innovative and holistic, seeing how systems operate at a global systems level—without losing sight of local impacts and contexts.  (And she is probably multi-lingual.)
The more of these sorts of citizens a nation in the 21st century has, the stronger, the more agile and the more able to meet current challenges that nation will be.  Those who suggest that we must choose between one or the other—being a citizen of the U.S. (or any other nation) or a global citizen—are giving a false choice.  They are putting forward a framework that limits our human potential.

© Marc Gopin