The Middle Ground

Today, we live in a society where anyone with a smartphone can constantly connect with the rest of the world. When I was in middle school in 2004, I was far more likely to use my cellphone with preloaded minutes to call a friend to make a plan to hang out in person! At the time, phones served the role of quickly connecting us with our loved ones. That same year, Facebook was created (then only for Harvard University), and the world as we know it today would begin to take shape.

Our students can open up TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat and see, interact with, and communicate with anyone from anywhere in the world. Because they are exposed to global issues every day, it’s our job as educators to help students understand how interconnected our world happens to be and why they should care about global issues.

Shaping Global Citizens

Encouraging students to become active global citizens starts with inspiring kids to take a more proactive role in becoming a part of the global community. Consider these strategies as you work to get your students to think globally.

Make “global” feel local. Students do not realize that almost all their interactions on social media have strong connections to the global community; they just need to be shown how to use their social media more specifically for that purpose. We talk about following social media accounts that represent both sides or multiple sides of an issue. We also talk about the credibility of some websites or social media pages. We talk a lot about Googling habits and how the ways we phrase what we are Googling can determine the type of sources we see. Teaching our youth how to access their social media with a more deliberate and educational focus is not only helpful to them in the moment, but it also teaches them how to be informed.

Growing up, I was told to read the newspaper and watch the 5 o’clock news to keep up with current events. However, many people no longer stay informed through those methods alone anymore. We need to prepare our students for the future by teaching them how simple and easy it is to learn about global issues through their devices. Discussing current events for a few moments at the beginning of class is another way to expose kids to these issues. We would be doing our children a disservice if we didn’t address the ever-lingering presence of news through social media. They are going to be exposed to it throughout their lifetime, and teaching them how to responsibly consume this information will benefit them and our society.

Work with local officials. This is a strategy that has cultivated a great deal of student interest in my civics class. I will admit that I have an advantage here because I teach in Iowa, and we are almost always flooded with politicians. Some would consider this controversial, but I am thankful to have a supportive administration. Reaching out to local officials, congressional leaders, and even candidates for public office can be powerful. Students are exposed to their political ads constantly, so for them to see these people in person can spark their interest in various issues. Political candidates and current representatives are always looking for good publicity, so it never hurts to reach out to them with invitations to visit your classroom.

Over the course of a few years, I have had members of Congress, former governors, and even presidential candidates visit my classroom. The upside here is that students get to speak with and ask questions of these individuals, and they start to feel as if their voices are being heard. Remember, almost all elected officials are professional listeners. They know how to make people feel listened to and sometimes that is all a student will see in return. Making global issues come to life by inviting the people who deal with foreign affairs daily is about as real and relevant that any teacher can make their lesson plan.

Find a global issue that will capture their attention. My go-to content area is human rights. This is a concept for which nearly every student can clearly tell right from wrong. From my experience, kids get very invested in the fight for human rights, especially when it comes to discussing the civil rights era in America. Discussing civil rights is a great starting point for middle level students because they have likely talked about the time period before, and it is a topic they have been exposed to outside of school. Most students feel a sense of outrage when they learn about humans mistreating each other.

Over the last few years, I have discussed the human rights violations unfolding in China against the Uyghurs. We watched a lot of videos from Al-Jazeera, The Economist, and BBC to provide students with more context. Students can clearly see the wrongdoing that is taking place, and this issue immediately grabs their attention. Teaching about crimes against humanity such as this one can highlight the need for students to use their voice to protect others from the injustices of our world. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Again, these are suggestions. Every student is different, and it is quite a challenge to reach them all. However, I would like to reiterate the importance of demonstrating to our youth how to be more involved global citizens. We need to make sure we are meeting our students where they are from a technological standpoint. Unlike when many of us were growing up, we cannot expect students to read the newspaper when they get home or watch the news. Instead, we need to demonstrate how to responsibly consume news in ways that students are already accustomed to. Make it real and make it practical. Remember, we are dealing with our future leaders, and it is vital that we give them the best opportunity to contribute to our global community.


Tyler Stewart is a social studies teacher and student council adviser at Berg Middle School in Newton, IA. He is also the 2020 Warren E. Shull National Middle Level Adviser of the Year.

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