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Winter 2004
Acting Local to Think Global
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Illustration of children learning amidst greeneryIf we are truly to educate new generations of global citizens, it is essential that we give teachers the tools they need to bring the world into their classrooms

by Jonathan Friedlander
Illustration by Philippe Lardy

Not long ago, I asked a freshman enrolled in an Arabic-language course what motivated her to learn this important but difficult language when she was already bilingual with native Spanish and acquired English. It was her middle and high school teachers, she said, who stimulated her interest in the Middle East and its people. This interest led her to major in Middle Eastern and North African studies at UCLA, with plans for graduate study in business and a career in international banking.

As it happens, her teachers, and more than 1,250 others, are graduates of workshops and seminars organized by the UCLA International Institute, where they learned to inspire students to think outside of their immediate cultural settings and explore the world beyond their own doorsteps. In this age of globalization and worldwide interconnections, such programs are a high priority for the U.S. Department of Education, with the aim of giving teachers expertise to nurture young minds and cultivate student interest in global regions deemed vital to America’s interests.

Meeting the national interest has been a significant function of our education system since the founding of this country. Our schools rallied to the cause in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and we realized that the United States was lagging far behind in math and science education. Some 20 years later — on the brink of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran — a U.S. presidential commission concluded that our students’ knowledge of the world was lacking and that as a matter of national security it was imperative to improve teaching about international issues and promote the study of foreign languages, especially those that are less commonly taught.


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