The purpose of our article is to report on practices to advance global citizenship through Education for Sustainable Development. We use the Critical Cosmopolitan Theoretical Framework as a lens for our article. Critical Cosmopolitan Theory (Byker, 2013; 2016, 2019) emerged from grounded, empirical research on the implementation of global competencies in teacher preparation courses. Critical Cosmopolitan Theory combines the Asia Society’s (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011) global competency matrix with Paulo Freire’s (1970) notions of conscientization and with Kwame Appiah’s conceptions of cosmopolitanism. The Asia Society’s four global competencies are: (1) investigate the world, (2) recognize perspectives, (3) communicate ideas, and (4) take action. In a nutshell, Critical Cosmopolitan Theory describes the “symmetry of knowledge and skills to act critically as a citizen of the world” (Byker, 2016, p. 265). As teacher educators, we have found that undergraduate students and teacher candidates are often curious about the Asia Society’s four global competencies. They can readily identify these competencies, give examples of each competency, and complete activities related to each competency. However, undergraduate students and teacher candidates tend to compartmentalize the global competencies rather than seeing the competencies as a continuum towards the development of critical consciousness for global citizenship (Byker & Marquardt, 2016; Byker & Putman, 2019; Byker & Xu, 2020). Thus, Critical Cosmopolitan Theory emerged as a framework for supporting undergraduate students' and teacher candidates’ development of the interrelationship among global competencies and conscientization or being critically engaged with global issues. Sustainability is an area of global engagement for global citizens. There is a need— starting even at the early childhood level of education— for young people to understand the importance of sustainability. It is critical that future teachers are prepared to engage with issues of sustainability.
We define sustainability as society’s ability to meet its needs without depleting the ability to meet the needs of future generations. Sustainability can be thought of as being anchored in three pillars: the environmental, the economic, and social (Cabezudo et al., 2010; Mensah, 2019). Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a facet of global education that attends specifically to the three pillars of sustainability (Cabezudo et al., 2010). ESD prioritizes and cultivates students’ capacity for problem solving so as to equip students to be oriented towards sustainable action in economic, environmental, and socially responsible ways. We contend that to develop a shared sense of responsibility for the planet, educators must appeal to the affective, as well as find ways to make sustainability content resonate with students. This is becoming harder and harder to do in a highly technological world as many young people are not spending as much time outdoors connecting with nature as in generations past (Byker, 2014). For this reason, it is imperative that educators find ways to bring these experiences to students during the school day, whether it be through the planting of a pollinator garden, taking walks through nature, or connecting with wildlife. Positive experiences with nature are key in order for students to not just acquire knowledge of sustainability issues, but to act on this knowledge to create change.
Many educators find it difficult to find time to teach sustainability topics in the wake of mandated curriculums, standardized testing, and constant pivots in instructional time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges are valid during this unprecedented time. However, a shift in mindset may open up new possibilities for sustainability education in the classroom. Rather than viewing sustainability education as another content area to be taught, discovering its intersection with global education could be the avenue by which we ensure its place in the everyday school curriculum. For example, children’s literature can provide teachers with a starting place for talking about global sustainability challenges (Holshouser & Medina, 2021). These books can provide the language needed to discuss these issues with children without oversimplifying the connection between many of our sustainability challenges. In fact, global education and sustainability education can support one another. For example, the integration of sustainability education and global education at Global Ready schools in the State of North Carolina, the United States of America, has revealed that global education without integration of sustainability education runs the danger of over-simplification. Focusing only on holiday traditions, clothing, and foods without understanding why these ways of life or patterns of living were developed in the first place may give way to stereotypical thinking and surface level cultural understanding. This sentiment was communicated by a Global Ready school teacher who explained the importance of young people understanding the “why” behind so much of what people do, whether it is the types of homes they have, the clothes they wear, the foods they eat and those kinds of things. Many of these “why” questions can be answered through the lens of Education for Sustainable Development, which reflects the broader goals of critically engaged global citizenship.
In 2015, the United Nations directed our attention to some of the most pressing sustainability issues we are facing globally through the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Comprising 17 goals, the SDGs provide a framework that directs our attention to shared sustainability challenges. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is addressed explicitly in Target 4.7 which delineates the following sub-goal: “By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles” (United Nations, 2015, p. 22). These challenges are rooted across all three pillars of sustainability, ranging from climate action (environmental), quality education (social), and industry, innovation, and infrastructure (economic). While not created as a resource solely to be used by educators, we have found that the SDG framework, when used by teachers, can be a helpful tool in content level integration. In fact, we have found that Education for Sustainable Development is the means by which we can go beyond the surface level of global education and advance towards a critically engaged global citizenship for a healthier and more sustainable planet.