Taking up the challenge of educating for cosmopolis today

Educating for such a dynamic cosmopolitan vision as Lonergan suggests, that empowers young people to become authentic protagonists not only in their own lives but also in the drama of human history as local and global agents of change, may strike some as hopelessly naive or somewhat, or even totally, Pollyannaish. At the same time, in the context of the contemporary globalized world, this task may seem even more daunting, given the polarities that exist along various ideological spectrums that impinge on students’ consciousness and that seem to work against any vision of dialogue across differences, let alone cooperation among them.

Babel certainly is here and babel certainly lives among us now; or, more accurately, we live in the midst of babel in the contemporary globalized yet polarized world. If that be the case, then overcoming babel is one of the key tasks that educators face today in preparing young people to take their place as democratic and global citizens. At its core, teaching for cosmopolis invites conversation across differences. Pluralism is not a threat to such conversations; rather, it is at the heart of such conversations. Overcoming babel is not so much about finding a common, unifying language as it is about entering a common conversation that allows us to dialogue with one another in spite of our differences. This is the essence of Lonergan’s cosmopolitan project for education that calls us to be attentive to the other, that encourages us to be intelligent in the questions we ask for understanding the other, that exhorts us to be reasonable in the judgements we make of the other, and that requires us to be responsible in the decisions that we make regarding how we engage with the other.

No doubt, engaging in such cosmopolitan conversations presents a seemingly insurmountable challenge in the face of polarizing discourse in the public sphere. Yet, building off Lonergan, I would argue that teaching students to engage in such conversations is an urgent and necessary call for educators today. As Friedman (2005, 469) suggests, flourishing in the “flat world” takes “the right imagination and the right motivation.” Educators who want to prepare democratic and global citizens who will flourish in the twenty-first century can and must inspire students to engage the world imaginatively, passionately, and hopefully. They must help students find their own voice. And, they must motivate students enough to want to care.

Overview of chapters

Chapter 1 identifies the problem of educating for democratic and global citizenship in an age of fragmented discourse. It considers the challenge of engaging students in authentic dialogue and critical conversations that invite a reflective stance on their own worldviews in relation to others. And, it highlights the problem of addressing counter-cosmopolitan rhetoric in the classroom and beyond. Chapter 2 suggest a theoretical framework for addressing the problem of educating for global citizenship, based on Bernard Lonergan’s epistemology, and the work of David Hansen and Kwame Anthony Appiah. It examines the process of worldview construction through the unfolding process of experiencing, understanding, judging, and deciding. And, it provides a theoretical understanding and practical application of the notion of Cosmopolis as an ongoing educational process, inviting encounter, dialogue, and engagement with others.

Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 identify the skills that students need to develop in order to become critically reflective democratic and global citizens. Chapter 3 outlines the skills of attentive listening, intelligent questioning, reasonable positioning, and responsible dialogue. It explores how these skills can further civic dialogue and foster civility as a civic virtue. And, it suggests ways that teachers can model and facilitate the development of those skills through strategies such as questioning for clarification, reframing rhetoric, and imaginative repositioning. Chapter 4 suggests ways for developing the critical thinking skills necessary for global citizenship by identifying and testing assumptions, examining values and beliefs, and promoting dialectical reasoning. It suggests ways that teachers can nurture those skills in the classroom by helping students think dialectically, on multiple sides of a particular issue. And, it offers specific pedagogical strategies such as Model Congress, Model UN, and values and policy debates that teachers can incorporate into the classroom in order to ignite an interest in and foster civic engagement.

Finally, Chapter 5 emphasizes the cosmopolitan competencies needed to promote democratic and global citizenship in the twenty-first century, including dialogic competencies, critical competencies, and creative competencies. It stresses the need to foster a cosmopolitan imagination as an integral component of civic education. And, it offers a hopeful vision for the future of cosmopolitan discourse in schools. Overall, this work addresses the challenge of educating for democratic and global citizenship in the contemporary world by insisting that classrooms themselves can become authentic cosmopolitan spaces that allow students to learn the skills necessary to engage in civic dialogue even in an era of uncivil discourse. Such authentic conversations invite the world to become just a bit more civil, just a bit more human, and just a bit more sane, one conversation at a time.

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