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Introduction to the Book
Horton’s will be hosting another Civic Engagement book club this Spring based on the book The World: A Brief Introduction by Richard Haas.
As Haas explains in the Preface, books, and the choice of books for book clubs, have a backstory. Haas’s reason for writing the book is the appalling lack of attention to global civic literacy in education, at both the high school and post-secondary levels. Those of us who teach at those levels experience this on a regular basis. We regularly encounter students who have little or no understanding of current events in Latin America (much less other parts of the word), the impact (both political and economic) of the fall of the Soviet Union and rise of the European Union, or that Rwanda was not the only genocide in the 1990s. More broadly, students can recite the political rhetoric of the day but not understand how it is shaped by and reflects history.
Haas defines global literacy as having “everything to do with how much (or how little) people know about and understand the world” (p. xvii). As he explains, we live in a time when we influence and are influenced by events and ideas on a global, rather than national level. However, I feel the importance of global literacy goes beyond the need to be cognizant of the world around us. The definition of literacy not only encompasses being able to read, it includes the idea of knowledge. As reading allows one to increase their knowledge, having an understanding of the World allows one to learn from others.
I enjoy seeing the proverbial light bulb when citizens start making global connections, when they look beyond their immediate world and understand that issues and problems have international ramifications. While Americans debate immigration, we have little understanding of or appreciation for countries, such as Colombia or Turkey, that are receiving large numbers of migrants due to civil unrest in neighboring countries. While we disparage the lack of healthcare in America, we cannot appreciate that many countries, particularly during COVID, the healthcare systems are barely functional or have collapsed. How can we learn from the Canadian, German, Cuban, Brazilian and Venezuelan systems? While we talk about defunding police, we miss the lessons of countries where security is co-opted by criminal elements or completely non-existent in some areas. What can the Nasa Indigenous Guard or the Mexican Self Defense forces teach us? While we advocate for a Green New Deal, we are unaware of the unintended damage that ‘eco-friendly’ habits impose on other populations and cultures. What impact does lithium mining, necessary for eco batteries, have on the environment and the local communities? None of these issues can be addressed, much less resolved, without understanding the global nature of the issue.
So how does Haas attempt to address the lack of global civic literacy? He addresses four (4) areas that he feels are missed in current education: history, regional perspectives, global challenges, and global concerns. Consequently, he aims to help the reader understand how the world got to this point (the history), broaden their understanding beyond a particular national or regional perspective, and raise awareness of the complex political, social, and economic challenges the world is facing.
Even those who consider themselves globally literate should enjoy the reading and discussions associated with this book club. Currently President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Haas writes with a wealth of both experience and knowledge. Whether the reading provides new insight, reiterates current ideas, or challenges existing knowledge, the book provides a basis for lively discussion. The regular meetings provide an opportunity to engage with others in a friendly and inviting environment following CDC guidelines. Furthermore, this book club will compliment the Great Decisions program held each Spring.