Terry Hyland explains the ideas which have led to a search for books with a global perspective.
Geography helps children make sense of their surroundings and understand the complex nature of the world in which they live. That is the message of Geography 5-16, the latest in the Curriculum Matters series from HMI. The paper, produced by HMI as the basis for discussion by teachers, goes on to suggest that as well as studying the local environment children ‘should be helped to develop a global rather than a parochial view of their environment’ and learn to recognise `how their own lives influence and are influenced by conditions and events in other parts of the world’. Geography is more than learning where places are; it’s about the relationships between people and environments.
Teachers in primary and secondary schools who have been involved in World Studies will be pleased to read this. The central objective of World Studies is to foster a global perspective, an appreciation of the interdependence of cultures and countries by examining how other ways of life are both different from and similar to our own. What is taught in our schools is still frequently very insular; pupils of all ages learn to view the world from the (dominant and superior) perspective of white Europeans. And this in spite of the fact that the origins of World Studies (or Global Education as it is called in America) lie nearly 70 years ago in initiatives which followed the horrors of the First World War. The International Committee of the League of Nations took on the task of training `rising generations in a spirit of peace and goodwill’ and furthering `mutual understanding between nations’.
Many schools took up the challenge in the inter-war years and the movement received even greater support after 1945 with the UNESCO initiatives. In 1974 the British Government, along with many others, signed the UNESCO recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding committing the signatories to implementing `an international dimension and a global perspective in education at all levels’. The idea has received longstanding support in DES publications. The recent Swann Report Education for All (1985), for example, which was concerned with the education of ethnic minority pupils, recommended that a `good education’ should provide pupils with the means to function effectively in the `interdependent world community’ of which they are members.
In recent years we have had the World Studies Project (1973-80) funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the DES. This work was continued in the Schools Council/Rowntree project, World Studies 8-13 (1980-83) which produced ideas and materials for teachers interested in working in this way.
Lately World Studies has been under attack for its so-called `political’ stance. It is not always easy to respond intelligently to such extreme and belligerent criticism, but I would claim that work in this area follows no distinctly `political’ line, unless it is `political’ to encourage children to think of themselves as citizens of a world in which all our futures are dependent upon a common natural environment, humanity, economy and spirituality. The values which underpin this approach are moral not political and, moreover, they are values which go to make up the universal moral code that informs all the world’s major religions.
World Studies initiatives are to be found in a growing number of LEAs. Like any other area of the curriculum, this approach needs to be supported by a variety of resources, books and maps in particular. Unfortunately far too many reference books, information books and text books still display the parochialism and bigotry to which teachers implementing this curriculum are so opposed. It is ironic, when faced with so many (even recent) publications which are Eurocentric and culturally and ethnically biased, to reflect that the first concern of the League of Nations back in 1918 was to eliminate racist, cultural and nationalist bias in school textbooks. The power of viewpoints fostered in the classroom was clearly understood.
Many publishers now actively seek to provide a `global perspective’ in their books. The point of view is ostensibly objective and neutral. Yet somehow a bias remains – not intentionally perhaps, more because prejudices lie so deep and remain so unexamined that there are omissions or forms of words that betray our conditioning. Or maybe, even though aware, a writer underestimates the slipperiness of the English language or the inability of the inexperienced reader to respond to subtleties of tone.
From Aztecs to Zulus: Inside the Museum of Mankind (British Museum Publications, 0 7141 1678 5, £1.95) published in January is in effect a guide to the museum, giving background information on work behind the scenes and highlighting some of the exhibits. Technically competent, with excellent photographs and illustrations, activities and quizzes designed to capture the imagination of children, the book often appears relentlessly Eurocentric. The introduction begins by referring to `some of the artificial curiositiesfrom far-off places’ which tickled the curiosity of the British Museum’s first visitors in the eighteenth century at a time when `large areas of the world were still unexplored by Europeans’. We may be intended to be amused at the ignorance of the eighteenth-century view, to see an irony in the italics and the `tickled curiosity’; but for young readers this needs to be made much more explicit. Later we are told that the people of the Pacific Islands `did not learn how to use metals until they came into contact with Europeans’. The way this information is expressed suggests a lapse into the cardinal sin of judging other cultures and civilisations solely in terms of the norms and standards of our own. For the sake of our children and their future we must try harder to avoid being misleading.
A look at some recent series
Where Does it Come From?
Sweater, 0 356 11553 4
Water, 0 356 115518
Lego Brick, 0 356 11552 6
Banana, 0 356 11554 2
Macdonald, £2.95 each
This series seeks to extend the understanding of younger primary pupils beyond the idea that everything originates in the local supermarket. However, the four topics chosen – sweater, Lego brick, banana and water – do not take us very far beyond these naive conceptions and, moreover, give little indication of our dependence upon the products and labour of other countries. The Banana book is perhaps the most seriously deficient. Although children are told that bananas have travelled a long way before they get to the shops, our total dependence on banana-growing countries could have been given more emphasis. More importantly, there is no mention of the fact that the people working on the ‘big farms in some of the hottest countries in the world’ are often callously exploited. `Banana story’ in The World Studies 8-13 handbook provides background information on the industry and explains that, for every £1 we spend on bananas from the Caribbean, only 111/2p goes back to the people who grew and harvested them. Even very young children are able to appreciate such simple economics. If we are attempting to provide factual information for children, why not make it as full and accurate as possible?
Moonlight Publishing„ £2.95 each
The first batch of titles in what promises to build up into a very useful series for all ages. (Moonlight suggests 6+; secondary teachers have been enthusiastic about putting those with ‘older looking’ covers into the library for use by less able readers.) There are sub-divisions within the series: World of Food, Animal World, World of Nature, Human World, World We Use. Together they offer well-designed and sharply written accounts of a diverse range of topics (Bread, The Potato, Crocodiles and Alligators, Air, Eskimos, Paper, for example). The treatment of other people is sympathetic and The Story of a Grain of Rice (1 85103 001 8), The Story of Paper (1 85103 015 8) and Chocolate, Tea and Coffee (1 85103 002 6) make it clear that many of the everyday items and products we depend on were first introduced and developed by non-European peoples (though here too economic issues are left out). The books are informative and beautifully illustrated and there is a distinct conservationist line in evidence (e.g. ‘crocodile skin looks better on crocodiles’). For teachers interested in fostering a global perspective from many angles the series provides useful material.
The Macmillan World Library
How People Live Series, £5.95 each
Published this year, this is another useful series combining detailed factual information about different countries and cultures with an imaginative sensitivity to our shared environment. On the Move (Tessa Potter, 0 333 42622 3) is concerned with human migration of all kinds from the Bakhtari nomads of Iran to migrant workers of Turkey and South America to circus travellers and touring musicians of Europe. The concept of migration is sympathetically handled in a way which challenges younger pupils to compare their own ways of life and surroundings with those of other peoples. Jenny Vaughan’s
Families Around the World (0 333 42626 6) is a superb source book from which to organise a topic with tremendous potential. Beginning with the idea of a family group, comparing human with animal families, the wide variety of family units and their diverse social and cultural backgrounds is comprehensively illustrated with sections on housing, recreation, religion, social customs and work. The idea of sharing and the need for mutual cooperation is stressed throughout, and is an ideal vehicle for highlighting the values associated with a global perspective. Designed for the 8-12 age range, other titles in the series are: Life in the Tropics, Farming, Living by Water and The Crowded Cities.
Our World: How? What? When? Why?
Ernest and Helen Lucas, Lion, 0 85648 948 4, £4.95
This single volume attempts to answer the fundamental questions of science in an extremely novel way. Obviously inspired by the fundamentalist drive in America to include creationism alongside evolutionism in science teaching, the book presents scientific explanations of the origin and nature of life on earth in tandem with Christian interpretations of the same phenomena. The result is interesting if not entirely successful. Although it is true that a Christian (or any other religious) perspective can accommodate scientific theories of the origin of the world, it is not quite correct to say that the Bible account remains intact in the face of secular explanations. Similarly, it is naive to suggest that the Genesis story can be completely reconciled with the theory of evolution. If children are to be presented with alternative explanations they need to know the difference between scientific knowledge and religious mythology, and the authors do not deal adequately with this distinction. However, teachers of top juniors may find some useful material in certain sections, and the concluding recommendations about tomorrow’s world could be shared by teachers of all persuasions.
Atlases make statements too
The Illustrated World Atlas
David and Jill Wright, Piccolo, 0 330 29896 8, £2.95
is comprehensive and well illustrated with colourful maps and photographs. Suitable for top juniors and the early secondary years, it provides succinct descriptions of countries including facts about population, physical geography and the economy. However, in spite of its emphasis on the technicalities of map-making (very useful for primary pupils), on measuring distances and on the relative size of countries – `Europe is a smaller continent’, `France is the largest country in Europe’, ‘The USSR is the biggest country in the world’ – the atlas surprisingly reproduces in its introduction the traditional Mercator projection of the world which gives a distorted Western European impression of the relative size and importance of different countries. The Peters Projection (UNICEF) of the world accurately shows different countries in proportion to their surface areas and actual relative size. Using this map, pupils can see at once that Europe really is very small compared with India, Africa or South America, and is also a long way from the centre of things. I would have thought that this should be amongst the first geography lessons taught to young pupils.
The Gaia Atlas of Planet Management
Norman Myers (ed), Pan, 0 330 28491 6, £9.95
is a lavishly illustrated account of the current state of our fragile planet. There are sections on the oceans, the forests, the animal and human population, and our present stage of evolution, each written in a clear and concise style by a leading expert in the field and text is supported by excellent photographs and beautifully constructed diagrams. David Bellamy’s introduction clearly establishes the conservationist perspective which informs the books, but this always manages to avoid the extremes of naive optimism and negative doom-mongering. The central message is clear: if we continue to live as we are doing at present, squandering natural resources and threatening the natural and human environment, then our precious heritage might well be lost for ever. A superb reference book for a whole range of subject areas, The Gaia Atlas should be on the shelves of all school libraries.
For more information
World Studies 8-13: A Teacher’s Handbook, S. Fisher and D. Hicks, Oliver and Boyd, 0 05 003845 1, £5.50
There is also a World Studies Journal published by the Global Education Centre at York University.
The Southern Examining Group has approved a GCSE Mode III syllabus in World Studies.
Terry Hyland was Education Worker at the Lancashire Development Education Centre, teaching and developing World Studies in schools. He now teaches in the Education Department of Bristol Polytechnic.