It’s worth analyzing Baldwin’s arguments because recently the concepts that humane education covers and its general approach have come under fire, even if the authors of the critiques are not specifically using the term humane education. Baldwin calls the preparation of students for global citizenship a “political mission.” In its broadest sense, all education is political, but I do not think Baldwin is talking about a broad definition of the word. He believes that those educational efforts to promote sustainability represent anti-American, anti-human, and hate-based politics that have no place in our schools, and that global citizenship is meant to undermine our nation. As someone who has promoted education for global citizenship, I know this assertion to be false.
Like it or not, all of us in industrial countries -- and most in emerging nations -- participate in global economic, food, disposal, production, and other systems. My dictionary contains two definitions of citizenship.
1. the legal status of being a citizen of a country
2. the duties and responsibilities that come with being a member of a community
It is awareness of and appreciation for this second definition that humane educators seek to inculcate in their students. We are members of a global community. The choices we make affect people, the environment, and other species across the globe. If we buy bottled water from Fiji or a toy or a new sweater, we are participating in global economics, and we have a duty and responsibility to be conscious of the effects of our decisions on others as members of an interconnected community and to make choices based on our values and on accurate information. There are systems in place that foster child labor and slavery, the destruction of ecosystems and habitats for other species, and so on. We can choose to reject global citizenship, but that doesn’t mean that we are not influencing the lives of others. So, too, can we reject national citizenship and fail to accept the responsibilities and duties that come with being a contributing member of our country, but I don’t think that Baldwin would advise this. And I suspect he would like schools to promote the value of engaged national citizenship even as he rails against students learning about their duties and responsibilities as members of communities.
Baldwin writes: “Statist canon like ‘social justice,’ ‘global citizenship,’ environmental ‘sustainability’ and ‘multicultural education’ are now pervasive in American schools, but are not sustaining captive young minds.” I had to laugh at this comment. If only such humane education concepts were pervasive in schools! If only the purpose of schooling were to prepare students for their profound roles as engaged citizens who create healthy, just, sustainable and humane systems in which all benefit. As a humane educator who has introduced some of the pressing challenges of our time to students, fostered their critical and creative thinking, and encouraged their active engagement in creating positive changes, I can assert categorically that young people who receive such education are more than “sustained.” They come alive, are delighted to have relevance, are thrilled that their ideas and thoughts matter, and are desirous of a chance to use their minds, hearts, and hands to contribute.
Baldwin goes on to say:
“Parents, not educators, have the right to decide values, articles of faith and creeds for their children. Of course, children are free to make up their own minds whether to accept them over time. But it is not the job of public servant educators to undermine or contradict parents. That would be hostile.”Does Baldwin not realize that values and bias are embedded in the standard curricula as well? Students ought to be free to make up their own minds, but they are rarely provided with enough or varied information to do so. This is why I begin many of my humane education programs with the request that the students not believe a word I say. Humane educators want their students to question the information they receive, whether from themselves or from people like Baldwin. It is the blind faith that everything American is good and right, just and healthy that is undermining critical and creative thinking, as well as system-changes in food production, energy, transportation, etc., that would, if encouraged, be of great benefit to all -- especially the students themselves. It is as silly to love everything American as it is hostile and extreme to hate everything American. Such polarization should be the very opposite of education. I can only imagine our founding fathers rolling in their graves at the thought of school children disengaged from the act of critical thinking for a better America or a better world. They created a political system that enabled our country to continually forge wiser and more humane choices. It is their system that enabled us to abolish the American slave trade, give women the right to vote, establish civil rights and to elect Barack Obama as President.
Baldwin does have a suggestion that I wholeheartedly support. He writes: “Lodge formal complaints where appropriate.... Unless of course you feel that America’s students - our Posterity - should not be burdened with varying viewpoints in public school....” I agree. We need people to eagerly debate the purpose of education and the need for varying viewpoints in public schools. We need people who will lodge complaints about schooling that does not prepare students to be critical and creative thinkers who can solve problems, large and small, and contribute to a more peaceful, sustainable, and humane world.