Where existing school curriculum leaves out a global perspective, Watertown-based nonprofit Primary Source
hopes to step in and change this.
For the past 25 years, Primary Source has pushed educators to advance a global education in classrooms. The program currently works with over 50 districts and schools as collaborative partners.
At a time when classrooms in the country are becoming more and more diverse
, Primary Source is working to expand its programs and reach more teachers throughout the state.
Currently, they offer online courses, teacher workshops, book discussion groups, summer institutes and international outings in an effort provide teachers with tools and resources to globalize curricula.
School and districts may partner with Primary Source at various levels
and receive free access to seminars and workshops. Non-partner educators may attendindividual seminars
for a fee.
This week, Learning Lab sat down with Primary Source Executive Director Julia de la Torre
to discuss global education and Primary Source’s role in the current K-12 landscape.
1. At this moment in particular, what is the importance of a global education in K-12 classrooms?
The world around us is rapidly changing, and political boundaries no longer inhibit global interaction. In addition, changing demographics here at home mean that students don’t have to go far to realize how interconnected our world has become; they live it in their schools every day. At Primary Source, we believe that to prepare students to thrive in a global community, move beyond cultural stereotypes, and engage in global collaboration, education must look different. Global education is no longer a “nice to have”—today’s schools need to prioritize it and advocate for its inclusion into the core curriculum.
2. What is missing in existing classroom curricula? Is global education just for specific subjects?
In today’s classrooms, there is a mismatch between what we know kids need to understand and do in order to succeed in a global community, and what their curriculum asks of them. We might host an international day of food, flags, and festivals, and feel we are educating about the world—but we need to do more. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that students are learning about the world, thinking critically from diverse perspectives, and working across cultures as part of every subject in school. The problems that our current students will be called upon to solve require a global mindset and a set of skills that are fundamentally different. Unfortunately, curriculum today is still very U.S.-centric, and we have a long way to go to make sure that our classrooms reflect the world we are preparing students to enter.
3. Why educate the educators instead of reaching out to students directly?
One teacher reaches an average of about 100 students a year. Multiply that times the number of years a typical educator teaches over the course of her career, and the exponential impact of our work is huge. Since our founding, Primary Source has asserted that teachers are the key to significant change in schools. We partner with teachers to bring global understanding to students. The educators we work with recognize that there are gaps in their own understanding of the world. Our job is to fill those gaps and provide educators with resources, tools, and the deeper knowledge they need for globalizing their curriculum and instruction.
4. As technology is changing and connecting the world, it can be argued that a global education is already part of the everyday experience. Does this affect your teaching?
Just because you can access the world doesn’t mean you understand it. We certainly believe that the latest advances in technology, social media, and connectivity are an incredible opportunity to level the playing field and to give global access to all students—not just those who can afford to travel. But how can we, as educators, move beyond superficial understanding to one that gets at the heart of another’s culture and viewpoint? Take a teacher in Brookline who has her 1st graders following students in China, Mexico, and Japan via Twitter. She not only uses the tool to connect with another part of the world, but she has now worked on collaborative projects with classrooms thousands of miles away, in order to foster deeper cultural understanding. Social media brings people together, but it’s the teacher who helps students to become responsible and curious global citizens and digital citizens.
5. If Primary Source is effective, what will success look like?
In the future, we want to see all schools embrace global education as a key priority, across all grade levels and subjects. Success for us means that the world is accessible to all kids, and not just a privilege for a few. If we do our job right, we are breaking down the access gap that exists in schools today and creating an education that moves beyond stereotypes to foster empathy, curiosity, and collaboration, so that all young people can have a positive impact on the world around them.
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