As many of us who are teachers settled into our first faculty meetings this fall, we heard the usual pious statements about how our job is to "serve the children." And, of course, it is.
But we need to broaden what we mean by this. Recent events around the globe remind us that serving the children requires that we try to make the world a better place. As educators, we can express our commitment to our students by serving the wider human community and the earth itself.
As we go to press, Indonesian soldiers and government-supported thugs have terrorized hundreds of thousands of people in East Timor. It's only the most recent outrage in a place where, following the U.S.-sanctioned Indonesian invasion in 1975, the highest percentage of a people since the Nazi Holocaust has been slaughtered - mostly with U.S. weaponry. As we reported in Rethinking Schools last spring, an estimated one million Iraqi civilians have died since the U.S.-initiated sanctions; according to UNICEF, almost half the 250 daily deaths are children under five.
And it is not only war and sanctions that hurt people. Institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have used the crushing Third World debt to demand "structural adjustment programs" -a neat, chiropractic-sounding term that masks the misery created by policies that throw millions of people off the land, cut wages, and slash social programs. Some of those displaced by these policies find jobs at pennies an hour in dangerous conditions in the sweatshops of multinational corporations.
This is all terrible, some might say, but what does it have to do with my students? Lots. First, they live in a country whose economic and political leaders make decisions that ripple through the world. For example, the U.S. exports more weapons than all other arms exporters combined. U.S. representatives have more say-so in world economic forums than those from any other country. Like it or not, U.S. policy makers speak in our names.