How to Raise Global Learners

Living on a farm we don’t have the time or the means to travel. But we want our children to be global citizens. We want them to truly understand how fully they are linked to their fellow beings on this beautiful blue green planet.

When they were small we read stories, ate the foods, played the games and celebrated festivals from far-off lands. As they got older we paid close attention to a rich variety of in-depth materials that helped us discover the global fibers that run through history, art, science, literature, really through any field of interest.

More than any materials we introduce, the connections my kids find most pivotal are those they make on their own, person-to-person across any distance. For example, one of my musician sons got interested in acoustics. He joined special interest forums to talk with fellow aficionados around the world about technical details of repairing historic microphones, the artistic nuances of found sound recordings, and other topics. Friendships developed. Now they converse about everything from politics to movies. Some day, when he travels overseas, he plans to take them up on their offers to stay in New Zealand, Finland, Brazil and elsewhere. Already he’s visited friends made online in the U.S., finding the rapport they developed holds fast in person as well.

Perhaps the most important connections any of us can make are lasting, caring relationships with people who live far away. For our family, one of the most enduring relationships we made was with an effervescent girl from Belarus named Tatiana. She came as part of the medical program Children of Chernobyl. Even in her first week here, the strength of her personality more than made up for the few words of English she knew and our poor pronunciation of Russian words we thought we knew. Tatiana was horrified by my vegetarian meals, refused to participate in the activities my outdoor-loving children preferred and let us know that she hadn’t traveled so far to live like a peasant. She wanted to be entertained! Like anthropologists to our own culture, we explored shopping malls and tourist sites, we bought kids’ fast food meals for the prizes and went to amusement parks rather than wilderness areas. Tatiana displayed her brilliance in many ways, typically beating any of us at board games we’d played for years and she’d just learned. Tatiana lived with us for five summers. She became a member of our family, a family which feels to us as if it extends to Belarus.

Each connection made of understanding and caring warms our planet—but in a good way. Which leads me to recommend two new books about raising global citizens.

Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World by Homa Sabet Tavangar is packed with enrichment ideas, games, service activities and resources to help raise children with the world in mind. Here are five great ideas from Tavangar’s book:

*Boost cultural understanding and fun by listening to pop music from around the world.  (I suggest using online translation to figure out the lyrics.)

*Talk about the origins and trading routes of products used every day in your home. Try tracing back a chocolate bar or t-shirt.

*Discover what foods are said to heal common health conditions. Lime juice in armpits is recommended in Paraguay to solve odor, ginger and green onion tea is recommended in China to cure a cold.

*Learn about practices for welcoming newborn babies into the family and community. Consider adapting customs to commemorate a new arrival in your family.

*Make humanitarian work a family affair. It’s possible to extend benevolent choices even to the search engine you use. Try where 100% of search revenues help alleviate urgent global issues.

And for a vigorous “go there” perspective, give The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education by Maya Frost a read. A cure for any but the worst helicopter parents, Frost shows how learning in other countries best prepares today’s teens for the real global workplace. That means choices resulting in self-reliant, confident and bold adults.

Here are five great perspectives from Frost’s book.

*Stories throughout by young people who live and study abroad. Frost calls them “bold statements” and they offer invigorating examples of what travel can provide.

*Why Rotary International Youth Exchange program offers the best exchange programs. Frost says it has to do with the network of volunteers around the globe providing support to families and students, the affordable price and the commitment to humanitarian work.

*The stage of life between fifteen and twenty, when pivotal life skills are being developed, the reach of our young people tends to be limited. As Frost writes, “They zero in on the fit of their jeans rather than on the fit of a cultural identity within a larger population, and they devote hours to enhancing the clarity of their skin instead of the clarity of their thinking. They are digging into a plate of pettiness because that is precisely what we’ve served them. They deserve–and are ready for–so much more.”

*How to arrange study abroad credits outside of university affiliated programs for more freedom and frugality.

*Ways to connect with helpful people in countries around the world.


May your children become global learners. May our shared home be one of peace and goodwill.

Spreads Like Butter But No Calories: Kindness

No matter how many times someone claims that humans are naturally selfish and aggressive, they’re wrong.

We’re constructed for compassion.

It’s easy to tell. Our bodies function best when we’re in a state of cooperation and caring. Research shows this in our skin, our brains, nervous systems, our hearts. Research also proves this whether looking for physical, emotional or social benefits.

Kindness, generosity and compassion not only keep us healthy as individuals, they bind us together in networks of family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. These networks spread across the globe for many of us, drawing us in close circles of caring despite distance.

As we grow up we learn to emphasize some behaviors over others, but it appears we speak an innate language of kindness before we speak in words. Hard to believe? Take a look at babies. As reported in, Why We Cooperate (Boston Review Books), studies of babies between one to two years of age show them remarkably eager to help, share and cooperate. Not true of our ape friends. Similar studies of chimpanzees show them to be selfish, particularly when they can get more food for themselves.

James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis, authors of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives write that cooperative behavior is not only natural, it’s contagious. When people benefit from the kindness of others they go on to spread the compassion. The tendency to “pay it forward’ influences dozens more in an enlarging network of kindness. And even more heartening, the effect persists. Kindness begats more kindness, blotting out previously selfish behavior.

These findings amplify what anthropologists are now saying (see Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace), that the long progress of humanity has been made possible through generosity and cooperation.

Christakis says, “Our work over the past few years, examining the function of human social networks and their genetic origins, has led us to conclude that there is a deep and fundamental connection between social networks and goodness. The flow of good and desirable properties like ideas, love and kindness is required for human social networks to endure, and, in turn, networks are required for such properties to spread. Humans form social networks because the benefits of a connected life outweigh the costs.”




“If there is anything I have learned about men and women, it is that there is a deeper spirit of altruism than is ever evident.

Just as the rivers we see are minor compared to the underground streams, so, too, the idealism that is visible is minor compared to what people carry in their hearts unreleased or scarcely released.”

Dr. Albert Schweitzer




Butter image Creative Commons.  Children holding hands image thanks to Bill Gracey’s Flickr photostream.

Singing From the Inside Out

I can’t sneeze in a roomful of my friends without hitting a number of talented singer-songwriters who’d love to make a living through music. (Yes, a metaphorical sneeze.) Yet nearly every gifted artist any of us know has to ignore his or her gifts in order to make a living.

What cultural transformation might we see if those drawn to poetry, sculpting, composing, painting or other mediums of expression had some hope of living by their art?

Well here’s some hope.

A homeschooled guy who chose to help out with a worthwhile project now appears with John Mayer, Sheryl Crow and the Dave Matthews Band. His songs are heard on House and Ugly Betty. And more importantly, he sings about what matters to him.

See if the questions posed by this deceptively beautiful piece, “Ain’t No Reason,” resound long after the music is over.

Brett Dennen grew up in rural California, homeschooled along with his brother and sister. In an interview with Frank Goodman for Dennen describes his mother’s homeschooling approach as “experiential.”  He says, “…so she rarely had a lesson plan or anything like that. She would give us books, and we would read the books. And we did a lot of gardening, and we did a lot of science education through being outside. We took camping trips with other kids who were homeschooled. And when we were out camping, we learned about rivers and forests and mountains and geology. We’d take books out camping with us, and we’d read about it, and we’d look for what we’d read about. Experiential education basically means instead of being in a classroom and being taught or told something, to actually go out and see it, and see how it works and learn through experiencing it instead of learning through being taught or told it. And that was really valuable to me.”

Dennen took the same approach when learning music. As he says in the same interview, “Because of the way I was homeschooled, I got into the idea of trying to learn how to do things my own way. And so when I started playing guitar, I taught myself. I took lessons for a while, but I lost interest in them because I think I just didn’t like going to my lessons, I didn’t like my teacher, I didn’t like what I was learning. So then I quit. And after I quit, then I really started to learn.”

He went to college planning to become a teacher. While a student, Dennen met Lara Mendel at a wilderness-safety class and the two of them wrote a humorous song about backwoods diarrhea for a class assignment. Mendel happened to be developing a powerful hands-on program for children, one that tackles intolerance and violence head on. She named it The Mosaic Project. Dennen wrote songs to reinforce the activities. Now his music and her project teach hundreds of California children about acceptance, friendship and peace in each session of The Mosaic Project.

The creative and independent spirit of Dennen’s homeschooling background hasn’t left him. Goodman’s interview opens with these comments. “He’s like a new kind of human being to me, this Brett Dennen. After spending time with him this week, I feel that way even stronger than after the positively confounding impression that his new CD, There’s So Much More, left on me. If he’d said that he was an alien, I could have swallowed that; it would even have made sense to me. Because I’m simply not accustomed to meeting and spending time with people that appear to be so incorruptible, so odd and yet so self-assured; so, uh, enlightened and inner-directed, if I might venture all that.”

I don’t know if Dennen’s life up to this point says more about homeschooling or about doing the work of one’s heart. I do know there’s no separating the two.

Dear Cleveland




Dear Cleveland,


What’s with the lonely sidewalks? You’ve got so much to offer. No, I’m not saying that because I feel sorry for you. You have a great personality and a good heart, that’s what matters.

Wipe that look off your face right now. How many times have you been told to stop putting yourself down? I don’t care who called you America’s Most Miserable City. Someone didn’t raise those name callers right. That’s right, you laugh it off.

You don’t need to prove yourself with casinos or a med mart or port development just because everyone else is doing it. Stop comparing yourself to all those other cities.  It’s how you treat one another that counts.

You know you can sing and dance with the best, and that’s after you beat them all in science class. If no one asks you to play, don’t think about it another minute. You already know how to party hearty don’t you Cleveland?

When you feel small, know that’s because the bounteous arms of Sister Erie embrace you and the blessed skies look upon you. So clean that grime from your windows. Smile at the weather, greet your neighbors and tell your stories.  Remember, you are wise as your oldest people and lively as your newest baby.

You’ll always be my Cleveland. Don’t you forget that.







Photo courtesy of ifmuth’s Flickr photostream