Norman Rockwell would have loved MPA. Way ahead of his time, in the 1950’s, he viewed himself as a citizen of the world. He would have appreciated our diversity, our global perspective, and our acceptance of one another. As Americana as Rockwell was, he was also a man who understood the interconnectedness of the world he was part of, the need for global understanding, and a man who, through his talent, cleverly forced his fellow citizens to come to terms with the injustice, discrimination, and bigotry in the society of which they were a part.

rockwellitHis painting “Golden Rule” (pictured right) is a famous image that was created for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. This beautiful image is not unlike the United Nations, the organization it was produced to commemorate, or MPA for that matter, in that it is both multicultural and ideal in the sense that it is reflective of a world in harmony and a reminder of our shared humanity. The “Golden Rule” first appeared on April 1, 1961, as a dedication to the United Nations to “reflect his appreciation for humanity as a citizen of the world.” Think of what a revolutionary idea that was in the 1950’s! The UN later adopted Rockwell’s image and today, a mosaic of it hangs in their headquarters in New York City, reminding us that, “it is about narrowing the gap between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be.”

Rockwell painted this at a time that challenged the world as it was and, in retrospect, helped to define what we, as Americans, actually wanted the world to be: The 60’s, a decade that addressed the injustice of social issues. Segregation. Integration. Bus boycotts and sit-ins. Religious intolerance and women’s rights. The War on Poverty. The Greensboro Four, Rosa Parks, Kennedy, and MLK. A time when “Do Unto Others” was too frequently interpreted to mean “Do Unto Others who look like you.” And here was Rockwell, confronting the hypocrisy of the world around him and creating this beautiful image of an America he envisioned –  a collection of global peoples, laying it out for the rest of America to digest and, in the comfort of their own homes, reconcile who they were, with who they wanted to be. The world today needs to take a fresh look at Rockwell.

On October 24, the world will commemorate the UN’s 71st anniversary. All these years later, we are still striving to answer Rockwell’s challenge and close the gap between who we are as Americans versus who we want to be. Are we the nation Emma Lazarus saw or are we a divisive, bitter people, fearful of our neighbors? The UN can help us reconcile these differences. Its creation out of the most catastrophic and deadliest war in history, its mission to maintain peace and security, and its additional responsibilities of fostering self-determination of peoples and promoting basic human rights around the world make it the model schools should look to when we talk about global education, the continued strive for a world of peace, and our interpretation of Rockwell’s image of the “Golden Rule.”

Last year the UN developed 17 goals for sustainable development which take aim at transforming our world by 2030. Putting an end to poverty and hunger, guaranteeing education, teaching about responsible consumption, reducing inequality, and the rest of the goals remind us that we are all connected and are deserving of these basic human rights.

In order to accomplish this and introduce global awareness in the classroom, here are some ideas we should consider when working with our students:

  1. Understand that education is about relationships. It is a human experience and human beings are complex. Interestingly, recent studies have shown that the type of college one chooses has little to do with success later in life, but connections to the real world, becoming a “do-er” in the educational process, and finding at least one teacher who challenges you, does!  
  2. Empathy is critical to a strong global program. Without it, it fails. Understanding the perspective of others is critical and powerful to building peace.
  3. Cultural humility is key. As teachers, we need to create experiences that allow our students to understand that the world they are a part of is big. This generates humility, which creates the space for empathy to develop.
  4. Reflection is critical to the learning process and the creation of global citizens. Use reflection activities in the learning process such as:” I used to think” and “Now I think…”
  5. There are multiple opportunities to globalize our curriculum. This requires continued reflection and support of all teachers, not just those in the humanities.

As we approach the UN’s anniversary, it is my hope that we see this as an opportunity to take a good, long look at Rockwell’s image, its message, and reflect on the kind of person and educators we aspire to be.

By Colleen Amberg

Ms. Amberg teaches Middle School English and Social Studies. She is also the Director of Global Learners Program.