Bicycle Diaries: Tools of the trade

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24.5.06

Tools of the trade

I've been a global educator for over a decade. What that means is that I work with American education institutions, mostly colleges and universities, that want their students exposed to the world. And overseas, I work with NGOs (non-governmental organizations or non-profits) that are working to improve local education in the global context.

There are a lot of different ways to do global education. Much of my work concentrates on three areas:
1. Civic Education, encouraging young people to be more engaged politically
2. Leadership Development, preparing them to be the next generation of communiity leaders
3. Education Reform, training educators how to be better teachers inside and outside the classroom

I guess that's why I like biking around Chicago. Every time I get on my bike it's like a little foreign adventure in what is decidedly a global city. Each of the 80 or so neighborhoods in Chicago has its origins in an immigrant community. And over the years while the boundaries of these neighborhoods have remained the same, the faces have changed. For example, Lincoln Square where I live has always been known as the German neighborhood. But since the 1960s it's seen an influx of Greeks, Yougoslavs, Hispanics, and Thais.

If you appreciate and enjoy this kind of diversity, you should definitely read Isaiah Berlin. His work provides the right tools for dealing with difference in our daily encounters with other peoples and communities. He wrote that each community naturally feels its particular values and ways of doing things are the best in the world. How then should each community deal with the fact that all others have their own idea of what is best?

The trick is for every community to accept the reality of fundamental differences while each remains loyal to its own ideals. To explain this, Berlin uses the metaphor of fans along a football pictch. Since they stand throughout the match they have to constantly shift their weight from foot to foot. Basically tolerating diversity is a constant balancing act shifting between the weight of our own community loyalties and our acceptance of other fundamentally different communities. Without it, we would be brawling in the streets!

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