Schooling for a small planet

Is your child being educated for the world of yesterday or the world as it is? The essential criteria in an African village are no different from those in an American city. The customary sense of literacy is not enough. Going ''back'' to the basics of reading and writing has to be accompanied by going forward to other basics. These are the often taken-for-granted ones of food, land, oceans, skies - all the things that link universal challenges to what individuals as well as institutions can do about them.

As the challenges become more urgent, so does the preparation of the coming generation for meeting them. Some teachers, whether in the bush, the ghetto, or the suburb, have instinctively provided such preparation without using the phrase that has now come to identify it - global education. As yesterday's Monitor education section pointed out, the concept has not gained the public acceptance the times demand. But at least conferences are being held. Examples of global education can be cited. What is needed is the kind of aroused parent - and student - opinion that has pushed for better three-R's schooling in various parts of the world.

Now, to take but one example, agricultural literacy has to have a place in the curriculum of city students whose dependency on food production is no less for their remoteness from it. No one would abandon the enriching endeavor of mining the poetry of William Blake ''to see a world in a grain of sand/ And a heaven in a wild flower.'' But it can be fruitful also to see a world in the backyard compost heap. Here is a means of restoring the soil, whose erosion is a global problem; of producing food at the point of consumption, which eases in some small degree the drain on fuel and other resources caused by transporting and distributing food over long distances.

It's not just the affluent urban dabbler who is part of the global education scene.In the African nation of Benin it is the women's club in each village that channels seeds, advice, and encouragement under a state gardening program. In Britain community groups in various cities have worked out garden loan programs, with gardeners exchanging produce for the opportunity to cultivate the land of nongardeners.

Similar efforts could be described in such fields as energy, housing, health care, where what individuals and communities do for themselves can ease the larger situation and thus help their neighbors on a small planet as well. The promise of global education is hinted in the Worldwatch Institute's book by Bruce Stokes, ''Helping Ourselves: Local Solutions to Global Problems.'' Resources for global education can be found in virtually every day's newspaper.

Note the recent report that a number of international food experts see the global problem of malnutrition as owing not to actual scarcity of food but to the poverty and inequality of income that distort the distribution of it. Note the reports of weaponry in space, of the struggles over seabed minerals in the Law of the Sea Conference - all the international points of friction or potential war that have to be understood to be reduced.

What are the many sides of such issues? Finding out would be the essence of education. With discussion attuned to each school and college level, here would be the global education for a globe that is beginning to seem classroom size.

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