sealPurdue News

July 19, 2001

Families shape global citizens, author says

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – There was a time when the average American child's awareness of the world outside the United States might have been limited to the 'It's a Small World' attraction at a Disney theme park.

But thanks to satellite communication, affordable and efficient air travel, abundant international trade and the Internet, a Purdue University child development specialist says the world really is considerably smaller than Walt Disney ever imagined.

"The social environment we live in today is truly global," says Professor Judith Myers-Walls, who recently served as lead editor of a new book, "Families as Educators for Global Citizenship."

"Technology has made long distances insignificant in some ways," Myers-Walls says. "It's no longer necessary to leave your home to interact with people in other countries and learn about other cultures and the issues facing people in places other than the United States."

Because the global environment now affects a family's daily life, Myers-Walls says it is inevitable that families will confront new values, behaviors and beliefs.

"When a teenager buys music in a language her family doesn't understand, or a father complains about losing his job because his company has relocated operations to Mexico, or a family hosts an exchange student from halfway around the world, these events communicate messages about global citizenship," she says.

The book, published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd. earlier this year, is a collection of research papers and related discussion by 30 social scientists from all over the world. Their fields of study range from sociology, anthropology and developmental psychology to history, gender studies and environmental education. The goal of the collaborative effort is to help both educators and families recognize the inevitability of globalization, as well as their responsibilities in preparing young people to be good citizens and potential leaders in this interconnected, diverse environment.

One observation shared among many of the contributors is the degree to which parents don't realize the role they play in shaping their children's attitudes about global issues.

"Most families would not even understand what we mean by 'global citizenship,' and so many of their actions are neither conscious nor intentional," Myers-Walls says. "It's also important for them to recognize that 'globalization' is not the same as 'uniformization.' The idea is to maintain the integrity of all cultures and learn from them."

Myers-Walls also points out that even parents who do understand their role in preparing their children to live in a more global society can be handicapped by the United States' position as the preeminent world power and a collective tendency to project American views and values on other cultures.

"Not only are we naturally inclined to think, 'Our way is the best way,' but also there are people in other countries who believe that as well, and we need to be sensitive to that," Myers-Walls says. "The best lesson we can give our children is that there are many ways to do things, and there is much to be learned from other countries. They don't have to learn it all from us."

Source: Judith Myers-Walls, (765) 494-2959,

Writer: Sharon A. Bowker, (765) 494-9473,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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