Perhaps few concepts in modern times are as problematical in their implications – but also as profound in their impact – as that of ‘internationalism’, or its close relative, ‘globalism’. The recurring rise of ‘nationalism’ in some countries is one sign of this, and the anti-globalisation movement is another – both showing how inextricably mixed politics and economics are, and how the status quo is continually being challenged.

Schools across the world have increasingly recognised the importance of educating young people about, and for, internationalism; and they do so, of course, under various names, such as ‘Global Citizenship Education’, ‘Development Education’,  Intercultural Education’, etc.

I have headlined this section ‘International-mindedness’, rather than, say, ‘Global-mindedness’, mainly because it is a concept that resonates with the growing number of schools that call themselves ‘international’ – not least IB schools, for which, indeed, it is a core concept. But this is not at all to exclude other schools. On the contrary, many local schools, at least in my home country of the UK, serve communities where many different nationalities are represented; and even those that have less diversity recognise that learning about other nations and cultures is vital for their pupils and their future social and economic lives.

Well, so far, perhaps so politically correct!

It is exactly now that philosophical inquiry can and should kick in. My claim is that the very concept of ‘nation’, let alone the more subtle one of ‘nation state’, or the even more complex ones of ‘international’ and ‘international-mindedness’, need to be introduced and explored philosophically if they are to have a sound meaning for, and healthy impact on, young people.

To promote such concepts without raising awareness, from the earliest age, that they are among the most powerful, but also potentially pernicious, invented by humankind is to create the very problems that naive prescription of them might have hoped – but without sufficient reason – to resolve.

A proper, philosophical, approach to the task, then, would start with questions of meaning and value as well as statements of fact and pictures of other people’s ‘reality’. It would provoke dialogue that deepens with opportunities for private research and reflection, and would maximise opportunities to listen to different arguments and reasons, and to respond reasonably.  Above and after all, it would help participants to determine and develop those qualities or virtues that seem called for by their greater understanding and appreciation of the concept under consideration.

I have worked for nearly twenty years alongside GCE / DE / ICE teachers who have wonderful provocations to get dialogues of this sort going, and I would gladly add some of their suggestions to this website. For those who are looking for new philosophical provocations, I have put some ideas of my own about international-mindedness and other vital concepts into the resources tab.

Note: One might argue, of course, that ‘international-mindedness’ should be promoted as one of the 8 key social virtues or strengths. Important though I think it is, I actually regard it as a compound virtue, made up of two key virtues in my list: open-mindedness and team-mindedness.

Copyright © 2017, Roger Sutcliffe, All rights reserved