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The First Globals

Last week, I wrote about new survey data on what our graduates know about the world. Today, Gerhard Fischer, International and World Languages Education Consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, looks at research on the generation of 20 and 30-year-olds John Zogby calls the "First Globals."

by Gerhard Fischer

A recent report on NPR alerted me to John Zogby's book, The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream. This book is a joy to read, especially if you are interested in quirky polling questions, or if you want to know more about the correlation between shopping at particular stores and political party affiliation. Yes, if you shop at Target or Macy's, you tend to vote Democratic, while a majority of customers at Sears and Walmart apparently lean Republican. At least this is what Zogby's polling has revealed.

To me, though, the most interesting story line in this book deals with shifting attitudes among young people. Zogby calls them the "First Globals," because this generation of 20+ year-olds (at the time of the book's publication in 2008) tends to be much more open to diversity and a global world view than older Americans or young people their age decades ago. "First Globals," Zogby writes, "want a foreign policy as inclusive and embracive as they are. They expect impediments to trade to be removed so they can shop anywhere, and they want developing countries and their peoples protected from predatory multinational corporations and fiscal policies that hold the world's poorest people ransom. For First Globals, the American Century is already over and the Whole Earth Century has begun."

This is definitely a strongly worded interpretation of many different polls conducted by Zogby, and you may not trust the conclusion. We all know many young people who appear not to be interested in global issues. At the same time, take a look at the polls, and your impressions may shift. This may be a good time to adjust our own perceptions of who the young people in our schools are, what they think and believe in, and to what extent they lead and we follow. The dynamics of this conversation are complex and fraught with many questions, assumptions, and stereotypes. That is precisely why I find Zogby's thoughts refreshing: We can argue with his conclusions, but we will have to do so on his turf: What do his polls really reveal? Do his conclusions stretch the assumptions that underly the polling questions? Well, I invite you to acquaint yourself with Zogby's First Globals and to accept the challenges for educating globally competent citizens and employees.

These are some defining characteristics of this generation:

  • Eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year-olds actually care about more than just themselves.
  • Not only do young adults live in a world dominated by diversity, they celebrate it, and they expect marketers and politicians to realize that.
  • The entire world excites them, not just their community or nation of birth. The young think and buy globally, and they are sensitized to global issues from human rights to AIDS and poverty, even though they might not always command the facts.
  • They have passports, and they use them much more frequently than previous generations.

"What we do know," writes Zogby,"is that the attitudinal and opinion gap between those who have a passport and those who do not is wide enough, particularly among the young, to suggest that foreign travel might be among the experiences that most separates Americans."

Let me return to the question of whether older generations, especially educators, lead or follow the emerging global mindset of our students. I think we have to ask if we encourage all students to learn world languages, if we encourage thinking globally, if we prepare students for opportunities well beyond their home communities, and if we are willing to help them to open their minds and not to close them. Whatever it is that we think we are doing or would like to do, and whatever the rhetoric of education policy makers suggests, this is the perception among the First Globals, again according to Zogby:

"When we asked First Globals if 'high school programs in the United States are adequately preparing our young people to understand current international affairs,' a staggering 93 percent said no."

So I ask you: Are we as educators serious about leading our students into a bright and exciting world with unprecedented opportunities and challenges? Are we?

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