Transcending Boundaries: Educating Global Citizens for the Next Century
An address to the Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo, November 15, 2002
We are gathered here today to celebrate a connection that spans more than 6,000 miles and more than 100 years, a connection that binds together two distinguished institutions of learning through shared origins and shared ideals, through parallel histories of global engagement and a common goal of intensifying this engagement in the future. We share especially our respect for John Franklin Goucher, who, with his wife, Mary Fisher Goucher, established this connection not only through his generosity, but also through his vision: He imagined and realized a kind of education that would span the globe in its scope and impact. Through this visit, we from Goucher College, including alumnae and members of the Board of Trustees, rededicate ourselves to carrying forth his legacy. We are proud of the fact that there is a building named for Dr. Goucher here on the campus of Aoyama Gakuin University, and we hope there will be many more visits and exchanges over the years between our campus in Baltimore and this one in Tokyo.
It seems fitting that so much of what Aoyama Gakuin University and Goucher College have become today began with seeds planted by one family. After all, what drove Dr. Goucher to sow these seeds so far and wide was a belief in the transformative power that could be inherent in the education of the individual. He understood that one person’s knowledge can have a profound effect on the whole world; that ideas, if one knows how to put them into action, can transform communities, societies, states, and entire nations; that the more a person knows about the world in which he or she lives, the more likely that person will be to embrace a broader perspective and work to improve the world for all of its inhabitants.
Dr. Goucher understood these ideas because he spent much of his life putting them into practice. He was a missionary in the broadest and most positive sense -- a visionary who had an extraordinary impact. In the early 1880s, he joined fellow leaders of the Methodist community in Baltimore, where he served as a minister, in chartering a college to give young women access to a quality education. This was intended to level the playing field in a society where opportunities for women were often scarce. Originally called the Woman’s College of Baltimore City, the institution was the site of the first Goucher Hall, built on land and with funds provided by John Franklin and Mary Fisher Goucher. He later became its second president, and it was renamed Goucher College in 1910 in his honor.
As you know, at about the same time, halfway around the world, Dr. Goucher was helping to persuade the government of Japan to grant permission to foreigners to buy land outside the boundaries that had been established for them, and to use that land to organize a college. In 1882, he and his wife donated money to purchase land for an institution, then called the Anglo-Japanese College, near the Emperor’s palace in Tokyo, and to fund one of its first buildings, also known as Goucher Hall. That institution, of course, is what we all now know as Aoyama Gakuin. I learned only recently that I was born exactly one hundred years and three days after John Franklin Goucher, and I am sure you can imagine the pride, and the sense of history, that I feel today, standing before you as the tenth president of Goucher College.
The Gouchers’ influence, both direct and indirect, was felt in many other places. They provided funding for a hospital for women in Tientsin, China, and for the campus of the West China University in Chengtu. Dr. Goucher served as president of that university’s Board of Governors, and also as a trustee of the University of Peking and Fukien Union University in Foochow. In addition, during the last two decades of the 19th century, the Gouchers donated a total of $100,000 to found and finance more than 120 elementary and secondary schools in the villages of Northern India, open to boys and girls of all castes. In Korea, Dr. Goucher helped to organize hospitals and schools, and persuaded the government to allow foreigners to establish a mission. With the financial support of the Gouchers, one of the missionaries opened a school for women in Seoul in 1886; that school has grown to become Ewha Woman’s University, the largest university for women in the world.
The Gouchers’ travels around the globe, and their efforts to improve all of these communities, would be impressive enough if they took place today. But it is important to remember that at the time when the Gouchers undertook their work, international engagement and involvement on that scale was far from common. And it arose more from personal motivation than from any perceived necessity or geopolitical instinct. In that period, great distances, both literal and figurative, enabled people to live in relative isolation from their neighbors in the rest of the world, and to be quite content with that situation. But the Gouchers recognized that education is necessarily a global pursuit -- that events and advances and catastrophes in any one part of the world always have a significant effect on others, and that none of us, regardless of the physical and geographical characteristics of the places where we live or the nature of our personal and communal circumstances, should ever feel as though we exist outside the global currents of history. Progress or decline anywhere has an impact everywhere.
The strength of this world view, and the importance of this approach to education, has perhaps never been so evident as it is today. Technology, particularly with regard to the transmission of information, has bridged distances that in the past required great effort and long periods of time to traverse. Better communication and growing cooperation among the world’s political and economic systems, and vastly expanded trade among nations, has made our interdependence abundantly clear. The violent conflicts that rage -- or threaten to erupt -- in a disheartening number of locations around the globe have, and will continue to have, serious repercussions in all of our lives. Their outcomes will determine the character of our world for generations to come.
The only appropriate response to the challenges that all of these developments represent is to intensify our engagement with the entire world -- to broaden our understanding of the circumstances from which such challenges arise and to expand our participation in efforts to address and surmount them. No one has the luxury anymore of hiding away from the world when its problems seem too frightening, too mysterious, or otherwise too overwhelming to face. Our lives as members of the global community are more tightly intertwined than ever before. If we are to arrive at solutions that are truly acceptable to us all -- viable and sustainable over time -- we must redouble our efforts to understand each other as distinct elements of one community. Although we may have vastly different histories, cultures, traditions, ideals, and goals for the future, we have no choice but to reconcile them, as we try to live together on a single fragile planet whose resources are finite, not inexhaustible.
One need only take a cursory look around the world to see that this is not, for the most part, the way some people have been accustomed to thinking and living. There are many obvious instances from the past century when differing world views led not to attempts at reconciliation, but to bitter and often horrifically violent conflict. But even setting those conflicts aside, evidence abounds that vast numbers of people simply are not ready -- or interested -- to learn about the events of the world that do not seem to have a direct effect on their own daily lives and personal interests. To use my own country as an example: I can cite a recent poll conducted in the United States, less than a year after the horrifying terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which indicated shockingly low levels of public interest in international news. Indeed, there was only a modest increase in interest from a similar poll that was taken the year before the attacks. The events of September 11 demonstrated to Americans in the most terrible and shocking way that circumstances in remote regions on the other side of the globe really could yield dire consequences right where we live. But still, in this survey, only 37 percent of the American public reported being consistently engaged by international news.
I cite this survey for two reasons. First, I think it is a particularly egregious piece of evidence of a long-standing problem. The American people have, for a very long time, had a bad reputation for their low interest in and knowledge of international affairs. Let me not, however, create the impression that I believe Americans are unique in this respect. A recent visit to England reminded me just how parochial Europeans can be – how utterly preoccupied with domestic issues and unaware even of each other’s attitudes, let alone those of the world beyond. And I can imagine that even in the island nation of Japan, and even in this era of technological innovation and accomplishment, internationalists may sometimes despair of building a constituency among the general public. But the disparity between the amount of information freely and readily available to Americans and the low level of effort they display in absorbing that information is a particular problem, and one that I may have a bit more standing to address.
The second, and perhaps more important, reason I cite this survey of Americans’ interest in international news is that, while it certainly reveals some disheartening trends -- and some ominous portents for the very idea of global engagement -- it also contains an interesting and hopeful statistic, one that I believe should convince the educational institutions of the world that we may play a critical role in reversing the negative trends. In addition to asking respondents to rate their level of interest in international news, the survey sought an explanation from those who expressed indifference about the world. Nearly two-thirds said they did not pay attention because they couldn’t. They felt they lacked the necessary background and education to follow international issues.
A statistic like this should give us, as educators, great concern. After all, the implication is that our educational institutions – at least the American ones -- have failed to provide our students with a complete enough understanding of the world to enable them to participate fully in it. I am guessing that the same may be true, in greater or lesser measure, in other parts of the world, perhaps including Japan. But this should also serve as a rallying point, because it identifies a problem that we can -- and we must -- remedy. If we are going to aspire to leadership in this arena, it will serve us well to keep firmly in mind that our own institutions -- Aoyama Gakuin and Goucher College -- have strong traditions of global engagement. We must consider how to build on these traditions and ensure that we prepare our own students for full, meaningful citizenship in the global community of the 21st century. We must set a good example and hope to inspire others along the way. I would suggest that we focus our efforts on the accomplishment of three major, overarching goals.
First, we must reevaluate and revise the curriculum at our institutions, with an eye toward infusing it, at every level and in every discipline, with an appreciation for the ways in which the various fields of study relate to one another and the ways in which all intellectual disciplines relate to the world. Our students must understand that the courses they take and the analytical abilities they acquire are pieces of a much larger mosaic representing the whole of human knowledge and understanding. Advances, discoveries, revisions, and other developments in any part of that mosaic change the configuration and character of the mosaic as a whole. Students should leave our institutions with a sense of how knowledge transcends boundaries not only between ideas and systems of belief, but also among nations and peoples. We must frame each and every one of the disciplines we teach in relation to the sweep of history and the global diversity with which they are permanently connected.
Second, at the same time we work to provide a more complete global context in our classes, we must create intellectual communities and environments that welcome a chorus – sometimes even a cacophony -- of voices from all over the world. We must encourage the free flow, discussion, and debate of a huge range of ideas, often expressed in surprising, even outrageous ways. It is only through considering a wide variety of perspectives that we may arrive at a broader understanding of the issues we face, and it is only through genuine diversity on our campuses that such a range of perspectives may be encouraged and reliably represented. Our campuses should serve as crucibles for the blending of ideas and approaches found throughout the world, testing them all and refining the best.
Finally, and most importantly, we must provide our students with meaningful opportunities to complement their coursework with genuine engagement with the outside world. These future leaders and engaged citizens must understand how the knowledge they gain in the classroom comes into play every day, across the globe, in all of the struggles and advances that define our lives. We can accomplish this through community service programs close to home and study abroad programs that span the planet. We can use practical internship programs to place students in businesses, governmental and multilateral agencies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. We can invite the greatest minds our world has to offer into our campus communities to share the knowledge and wisdom they have gained through their own work. We should do all of this and more, establishing as many connections as we can through which the members of our educational institutions can participate in the concentric communities -- local, national, and international -- of which they are a part. Through these connections, the members of those communities can also play an important part in the intellectual lives of our schools.
Attaining such sweeping goals will require bold efforts, and while I expect that we will approach them with confidence, I hope we will remember to temper that confidence with humility. Some of us would do well to learn better how to acknowledge our nations’ mistakes of the past and how to approach the future with an introspective frame of mind. The education community must continue to ask the hardest questions of the policymakers.
A visitor to the Goucher campus made a comment recently that I have kept in mind ever since. The place where any of us are today, he said – in Tokyo, in Baltimore or Washington, in some of the great cities and capitals of the world -- is not the center of the universe, but just the site of one little push-pin on the globe. In every challenge we face, as individuals and as nations, we must realize that there are many others throughout the world who have faced even greater challenges -- and have done so with a dignity and a grace to which we should all aspire. We must also remember that from these daunting challenges arise great and novel solutions which, at their best, represent the tenacity, inventiveness, and resolve of humankind. We should neither ignore nor dismiss the ideas of other peoples simply because they seem so foreign as to have little bearing on our own concerns. On the contrary, we should be tireless and unremitting in seeking them out. Even those ideas that seem like little more than intriguing academic exercises today may hold the key to a problem we confront tomorrow -- or may start us thinking in tangential new directions about the work we are doing now. People sometimes have a tendency, akin to jealousy, to think that acknowledging the struggles and celebrating the successes of others somehow diminishes our own worth or importance. On the contrary, I would propose that we banish this cynical, rather self-important response and instead do all we can to view the lives of others with the empathy we would ask them to show us. If we expect others to care about and identify with us, we will have to do the same for them. We cannot survive without each other.
Along the way, we must be cautious about indulging the dreams of superiority and exceptionalism that have been known to tempt both of our societies, and some others, too. If there is one thing I have learned in a long career engaged with international issues, it is that advanced industrial societies do not necessarily have all the answers – that we may have much to learn from the poorest and humblest peoples of Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, or Eastern Europe about fundamental issues facing us all.
Just as we temper our confidence with humility, we must also take care that in opening ourselves to the multitude of ideas and perspectives to be found in the world, we maintain our own intellectual discipline, rigor, and honesty in evaluating them. Ideas that lack empirical support should never be accepted simply because we find them appealing, nor should they be rejected just because they challenge what we think we know about our world. In all of the inquiries we undertake in all disciplines -- from biology to history, psychology to literature -- we must constantly measure every idea, no matter how widely accepted or controversial it may seem, against all available evidence. We must be as indefatigable in seeking out this evidence as we are in courting the thoughts and imagination of other people who may think differently from ourselves. Above all, we must be as forthright and honest in conceding the changes this process produces in our thinking as we are in trumpeting evidence that supports our views. At no time should we allow our understanding to be shaped by our desire to preserve what we would like to believe about ourselves, our nations, or our world. At all times, we must construct our understanding from all of the facts available to us -- even if those facts reveal difficult truths that we would just as soon not consider.
At Goucher College, we have just formulated a new strategic vision that we hope reflects all of these goals in innovative and exciting ways. I am proud of this plan and eager to implement it. But while our institutions of higher learning certainly play an important role in guiding students toward the kind of global engagement that will be required of them in navigating the world of the 21st century, they cannot do it alone. We must begin our efforts at the very earliest stages in our children’s education and sustain them until the day they graduate. Aoyama Gakuin is in a special position to do just that, comprising, as it does, not only a college and a graduate school, but also a junior and senior high school and an elementary school. Like Goucher College, Aoyama Gakuin’s history and traditions provide a strong foundation on which to build an exemplary program of international education. We can both engage students in close and lifelong relationships with their neighbors in the global community. I hope that, as counterpart institutions with common origins, we, too, can enjoy a close relationship with each other as we work in our own ways to attain this worthy and important goal.
Much has changed since John Franklin Goucher traveled the world, planting the seeds from which Goucher College, Aoyama Gakuin University, and other institutions of service and learning grew. Although he could not possibly have imagined some of the circumstances that have since made his views on education seem so prescient, the basic principles that guided him hold no less true in the world of today. Dr. Goucher believed that education held the key to the solution of, as he put it, “old world as well as new world problems.” In teaching our young people how to use their learning to participate fully, thoughtfully, and responsibly in the world they will soon inherit, we continue to prove him right.