Cambridge Edition February 2019




F irst things first, what is said that they don’t think we should be internationally minded or that children and students shouldn’t experience its development in school and in their lives. Not even Donald Trump or the biggest Brexiteer would go that far. International mindedness often seems to be a huge dumping ground for everyone’s pet themes, such as peace studies, the environment, globalisation, the economy and more. I have been helped hugely by one sentence from the psychologist Howard Gardner, who said that the whole purpose of human development is ‘a decline in egocentrism’. In other words, less about ‘me’ and more about ‘us’. I find it helpful because it describes the journey we make as humans from the two year old screaming in the supermarket because they can’t get their own way, to Nelson Mandela coming out of prison to negotiate immediately and respectfully with those he had previously fought and who had been his captors. It means we develop an increasing sense of others alongside an increasing sense of self. What does this mean for different ages? Discussions and definitions of international mindedness (and so many other things) in education are too often driven from the perspective of 16- to 18-year-old school leavers. But international mindedness begins when children are very young and continues to develop through their schooling. We need to put as much work into defining what a ‘declining sense of egocentricism’ might look like when children are five, seven, nine or 11 as when they are 18; its roots are laid down during youth. What does brain research tell us about developing international mindedness? First, the brain hardwires continually revisited experiences (it doesn’t just hard-wire good experiences, the brain isn’t moral in that way). This is why the primary age is so crucial international mindedness? By definition, it ’ s a good thing. It would be a brave soul in 2019 who

in the development of international mindedness. The different repetitive experiences – good or bad, helpful or unhelpful – that the young child’s brain lays down are hardwired responses that are very difficult to unlearn. If we want children to be respectful of others we have to start practising as soon as possible. Second, the part of the brain that handles most complex thinking – the prefrontal cortex – hits its development between the ages of 18 and 24. The research tells us that international mindedness, because it is so complex, starts young and finishes somewhere in adulthood, if it finishes at all. What does ‘developing international mindedness’ mean as we help children and students grow and learn? In order to help children develop international mindedness we have to create practices that take into account where their brains are developmentally. A ‘declining sense of egocentrism’ at the age of five might be no more than coming to the realisation that when someone borrows your eraser they are not stealing it, and that letting someone borrow your eraser can help make your table a more pleasant place to be. At the age of 16 it might involve

students on projects that embed them inside cultures significantly different to their own. Other languages are important precisely because they are a way of finding our way respectfully into other cultures and having the opportunity to diminish our egocentrism in a context that would otherwise be very difficult. But learning languages isn’t a guarantee of anything. Depending on our hardwiring, even the act of learning them can increase our separation from others. It means that our behaviour in class and around children and students, and with colleagues, parents and others, has to model a declining sense of egocentrism, too. The idea that teachers are some of the most powerful people in children’s lives is not necessarily a good thing. The good news is that as we continue to refine and agree what we mean by international mindedness and as we develop our curricula, our practices in classrooms and at home and our mindsets as school leaders and parents, we can help children become the kind of people who can live successfully and happily in this very interdependent world of ours. l


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