I think of myself as a citizen of my local community (Eugene-Springfield), my county (Lane), my state (Oregon), my country (U.S.), and my world (Gaia). I am interested in how well “my” regions are doing, and what I can do to help improve the quality of life of the people in each of these regions. My approach is through helping to improve informal and formal education.
The local, county, state, national, and global media I read and view tend to over-emphasize the negative in terms of how well these various regions are doing. I describe this as overly focusing on the possibility that, “We are going to hell in a hand-basket.”
Fortunately, there are many people who do broad-scale, long-term analysis and produce evidence that humanity actually is making a great deal of progress. As an example, Steven Pinker’s most recent book is titled, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Quoting from http://www.amazon.com/The-Better-Angels-Our-Nature/dp/1455883115:
We’ve all asked, “What is the world coming to?” But we seldom ask, “How bad was the world in the past?” In this startling new book, the bestselling cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the world of the past was much worse. In fact, we may be living in the most peaceable era yet.
Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence.
Some Worldwide Examples of Progress
Recently, while planning a book-writing project, I started thinking about how well the world is doing. I made an “off the top of my head” list of some of the worldwide efforts to improve the world, and then I spent quite a bit of time using the Web to find more examples and more details. There are a great many international agencies and organizations working to improve our world and our quality of life. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_organization.
The following is a representative sample of what I found. You may not agree with all of these examples, or with my take about what is going on, but in total I feel they paint a quite positive picture. With most of these I have included links where you can find more information.
The World is Becoming “Smaller” and “Flatter”
We have made steady progress toward improving worldwide communication. For example, see http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm and http://www.statisticbrain.com/social-networking-statistics/.
Also see Thomas Friedman’s excellent book about the world growing flatter at http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/bookshelf/the-world-is-flat. Telecommuting has become worldwide, with an increasing number of people working nationally and internationally from their homes or local telecommunication centers.
There are a variety of search engines that help people find material on the Web. Google has put substantial resources into developing language translation software and making it available free. See http://translate.google.com/about/ for a list of the 71 languages supported by the Google system.
We also have made steady progress in air transportation. See http://web.mit.edu/airlines/analysis/analysis_airline_industry.html and http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IS.AIR.PSGR. Just think about the types of international agreements that it takes to have such an extensive and viable international airline transportation system.
There is considerable international collaboration in space travel and exploration. See http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html#.UifBJ7x1EUU and http://www.globalspaceexploration.org/.
We have many international amateur competitions and camps in areas such as music, dance, math, computer programming, science, and so on. See, for example, http://www.trycomputing.org/inspire/computing-student-opportunities.
Creative Commons and Free Online Reference Materials
The Web is a very large and rapidly growing world library. See statistical data at http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm.
The Wikipedia is a superb example of a worldwide effort to make information available free, and in many different languages. The website http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page indicates that currently the Wikipedia contains a total of more than 29 million articles in 287 languages. These are available under a Creative Commons license. Learn more about Creative Commons at http://creativecommons.org/. Quoting from that site: “Creative Commons develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.”
All of the books, newsletters, and other materials created for Information Age Education (IAE) are made available free to the world using a Creative Commons license.
There are a number of groups dedicated to substantially increasing the amount of free material available on the Web. The article “Half of 2011 Papers Now Free to Read” is available at http://www.nature.com/news/half-of-2011-papers-now-free-to-read-1.13577. It discusses progress on the movement to make research articles available free. See also http://iae-pedia.org/Open_Source_Textbooks, http://iae-pedia.org/Open_Content_Libraries, and http://www.doaj.org/. The latter site is the directory of Open Access Journals. More than 5,000 journals are available free on the Web.
There are now about 1,500 Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) videos posted on the Web at http://www.ted.com/pages/about. These provide information about projects and ideas developing throughout the world. The TED talks project is an excellent example of worldwide sharing of ideas and activities that address challenging problems. Quoting from the website:
TED Talks began as a simple attempt to share what happens at the TED Conference with the world. Under the moniker "ideas worth spreading," talks were released online and rapidly attracted a global audience in the millions. Indeed, the reaction was so enthusiastic that the entire TED website has been reengineered around TED Talks, with the goal of giving everyone on-demand access to the world's most inspiring voices. As of November 2012, TED Talks have been viewed more than one billion times.
The TED Open Translation Project brings TED Talks beyond the English-speaking world by offering subtitles, interactive transcripts and the ability for any talk to be translated by volunteers worldwide. We launched the project with 300 translations, 40 languages and 200 volunteer translators; now, there are more than 45,000 completed translations from our thousands-strong community. It's an ambitious project that radically enhances the accessibility of the talks—for the hearing-impaired, for those who speak English as a second language, for search engines (which can now index the full transcript of a talk), and of course for the vast audience of non-English speakers worldwide.
Disease and Medicine
We have wiped out smallpox, are close to eliminating polio, have greatly reduced the incidence of measles, and have made many other major strides toward improving world health care. We are now taking a global approach to research and the implementation of this research helps in dealing with a variety of health problems. See http://health.howstuffworks.com/medicine/healthcare/who.htm.
The world is struggling with AIDS. Learn about AIDS and children at http://newsletter.childrenandaids.org/. The United Nations agency UNICEF takes a worldwide approach to this and other problems faced by children. Quoting from http://www.unicef.org/about/structure/index.html: “With its strong presence in 190 countries, UNICEF is the world's leading advocate for children.”
We have many international “relief” organizations such as the International Red Cross, and a great many Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) that work internationally. We make worldwide efforts to combat poverty. See http://www.worldbank.org/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-governmental_organization.
We have a Universal Declaration of Human rights and a United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The world strongly supports the educational right of children. See http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ and http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx. In some sense, we are developing an increased worldwide level morality when it comes to the “rights” of children. See http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/251-consciousness-and-morality-recent-research-developments.html.
We have many international educational opportunities at both the precollege and higher education levels. See http://www.ets.org/toefl and http://www.afs.org/afs-and-exchange-programs/. The Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are bringing low or no cost high quality educational opportunities to people throughout the world. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/supersized-online-courses-moocs.html.
And, of course, very large numbers of students travel to other countries to obtain part of their education.
Teaching Students Some Important Ideas
In recent years, the topic of Carbon Footprint has received a lot of attention. Students are likely to encounter this topic in courses about the environment and/or health. There are many good websites that cover the topic. See, for example, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_footprint. A good Carbon Footprint Calculator is available at http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/carboncalculator.
There are also many websites that present information of population and population growth. For example, the Population Reference Bureau at http://www.prb.org/ discusses the topic and includes a World Population Clock. At 7:02 PM (West Coast Time Zone) on 12/19/2013 the clock read 7,192, 122,007. A more extensive clock for the United States is availabel at http://countrymeters.info/en/United_States_of_America_%28USA%29/.
We have an International Colurt of Justice, which is part of the United Nations. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Court_of_Justice. Through this court and other components of the United Nations we address issues of chemical weapons, genocide, apartheid, and crimes against humanity at a worldwide level. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimes_against_humanity.
We have the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) and other vehicles to deal with international crime in an international manner. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpol.
We have the Law of the Sea (see http://www.un.org/depts/los/index.htm) and have developed mechanisms to help deal with fresh water rights conflicts between nations (see http://www.internationalwaterlaw.org/).
We have extensive and growing worldwide businesses and world trade. We have international stock markets, commodity markets, and currency exchanges. See http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/whatis_e/whatis_e.htm. We have a World Bank with a motto, “Working for a world free of poverty.” See http://www.worldbank.org/.
We have had a “green” revolution that led to substantial increases in food production. The movement of food between countries is a very large international business. See http://geography.about.com/od/globalproblemsandissues/a/greenrevolution.htm.
Sustainability and the Environment
We are making worldwide efforts to address issues such as sustainability, over-population, global warming and other aspects of climate, air pollution, ocean pollution, the ozone layer, the growing problem of not enough fresh water, and so on. See http://yosemite.epa.gov/r10/oi.nsf/8bb15fe43a5fb81788256b58005ff079/398761d6c3c7184988256fc40078499b!OpenDocument.
Renewable energy has become a global topic for research and development. See http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/06/steady-but-modest-progress-found-on-sustainable-energy-for-all.
As I re-read the list of examples given above, my spirits are buoyed by the progress that has occurred toward addressing worldwide problems and issues. We have a long way to go, but we have shown that progress is possible.
What You Can Do
Some problems are best dealt with at a local level, some at a county or regional level, some at a state level, some at a national level, and some at a global level. Many problems cut across some or all of these levels. Think about what you are doing to help yourself, your students, and your colleagues to develop perspectives and insights that cut across all levels. Pay special attention to things you can do to help prepare your students for adult life in a complex, rapidly changing world that is facing and dealing with many wide-scale problems.
Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications
A somewhat expanded version of this IAE Blog entry is available at http://iae-pedia.org/Thinking_and_Acting_Globally.
You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.
Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.
Here are some examples of publications that might interest you:
40th anniversary of the cell phone. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/40th-anniversary-of-the-cell-phone.html.
Deep insights into problems with our educational system. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/deep-insights-into-problems-with-our-educational-system.html.
Learning for one's possible futures. See http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2009-14.html.
Progress in developing better rechargeable batteries. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/progress-in-developing-better-rechargeable-batteries.html.
Some grand global challenges. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/some-grand-global-challenges.html.
Supersized online courses (MOOCs). See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/supersized-online-courses-moocs.html.
What the future is bringing us. See http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us.
World problems identified by B.F. Skinner in 1971. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/world-problems-identified-by-b-f-skinner-in-1971.html.