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Cosmopolitanism and Education Today

Faculty essay by David Hansen
One of the words we hear a lot about these days is “globalization.” The term describes a process of migration, trade, communications and exchange across borders that has been going on for millennia. “Cosmopolitanism” is a less familiar word but it, too, describes a process that is very old. Cosmopolitanism represents a creative response on the part of people to the realities of globalization and cultural change. In this response, people learn how to develop what I call reflective openness to the world combined with reflective loyalty to the local. In other words, cosmopolitanism (unlike “universalism”) does not imply sacrificing local culture and tradition. Yet neither does it mean sacrificing the immense opportunities to learn and grow that the world provides. Instead, cosmopolitanism means learning to inhabit the “crossroads” where individual and cultural differences meet. It means learning to learn from other people, a process much richer and more enduring than merely “tolerating” them, as important as that aim can be.
I am fascinated by recent research, on the part of scholars the world over, which has documented cosmopolitan attitudes among working class people, immigrants, youth, retired persons, deeply religious people, artists and many others. Scholars have pursued their inquiries in countries such as Britain, Canada, China, Greece, Malawi, Thailand and the United States. They have illuminated the reality, the fragility and the resiliency of everyday cosmopolitan-minded interactions between people.
The recent turn to cosmopolitanism as a topic of research comes at a moment in the world when individual and cultural differences are meeting, daily, in almost every setting imaginable. The research promises to generate timely and helpful resources for educators. I believe it can ground a philosophical rationale for innovative curriculum and pedagogy that responds to the persistent human quest for lives of meaning, purpose, creativity and peace.
David Hansen is Professor and Director, Program in Philosophy and Education. He will be teaching a lecture/discussion course at Teachers College on cosmopolitanism and education in the fall of 2009.

Published Monday, Jun. 8, 2009