Governors James B. Hunt, Jr. and John Engler on citizenship in the 21st century and its implications on the education system.
Even before September 11 shattered any notion of American isolation, it ought to have been abundantly clear that American students know far too little about the rest of the world. In June 2001, the National Commission on Asia in the Schools, on which we both served, released a report that said that young Americans are “dangerously uninformed about international matters” and that “this knowledge deficit is particularly glaring in the case of Asia,” home to more than 60% of the world’s population. 
As the standards movement in American education made important strides in the last 15 years of the 20th century, we saw a refreshing and long-overdue focus on what our students should know and be able to do at various points in their education. Yet, as we confront the rapid changes of the early 21st century, our standards and our education system in general urgently need to be modernized to promote international knowledge and skills.
There are several reasons for this, all linked to globalization:
As governors, we spent a great deal of time trying to grow our states’ economies. For example, in Michigan, the Michigan Commission on Asia in the Schools, consisting of corporate, academic, and education leaders, conducted a comprehensive review of the state’s ties with Asia and what Michigan students know about the world outside the United States.  What the Michigan Commission found did not surprise the state’s corporate community. Michigan’s trade with Asia, like that of the United States overall, is more than double that with Europe. Most of our multinationals, such as Ford, GM, Dow, and Whirlpool, are already competing hard to expand their global market share by seeking to understand their Asian customers and competitors. Since Asia is likely to provide a disproportionate share of the world’s market growth in the 21st century, Michigan’s small businesses are trying to acquire similar understanding.
Yet Michigan schools teach little about Asia. A review of the Michigan Educational Assessment System found only one question that dealt with Asia, and in 2002 Michigan certified only one teacher of Japanese.
In North Carolina, as in other southern states, governors work to increase exports, especially of knowledge- intensive services and high-tech products; to rec ruit foreign investment; and to attract fore i g n tourists. The Southern Growth Policies Board, on which 14 governors serve, issued a report early in 2004 titled The Globally Competitive South (Under Construction). Based on extensive economic analysis and interviews with more than 1,000 southern residents, the report said that “global events used to be something that happened ‘over there,’ but today, globalization affects everyone’s lives.” Globalization is a contentious issue, with both negative and positive effects, but for the South to position itself for success, it needs a work force with global competence. The report issued a major recommendation to its member states, including North Carolina: “Internationalize P-16 and adult education to respond to evolving business and community challenges.” 
For the past 10 years, postsecondary institutions have been working to internationalize many of their programs and professional schools. Yet school curricula rarely reflect this new reality.To modernize our K- 12 schools, we will need leadership and assistance from many sectors:
Globalization is a fact, not an ideology. Everything from averting the spread of nuclear and biological weapons to opening new markets and business opportunities and from solving global environmental and health concerns to managing international conflicts will require our citizens to have greater knowledge of other world regions.
Given the terrorist attacks on our nation and its people and the long twilight war on terrorism in which we are now engaged, it is vital that the generation of Americans now in school develop and cultivate a broad understanding of the economic, cultural, religious, political, military, health, and environmental dynamics around the globe. For all of them affect our interests.
Studying other countries and cultures will help empower our young people to succeed in the marketplace. It will also help them contribute to the marketplace of ideas at a time when absolutist ideologies seek to destroy the very notion of competing ideas.
In an interconnected world, understanding other nations and regions is a cornerstone of democratic citizenship. This aspect of education deserves our swift and lasting attention.Authors: John Engler, who served as governor of Michigan from 1993 to 2001, was a member of the National Commission on Asia in the Schools, which was chaired by James B. Hunt, Jr., who served as governor of North Carolina from 1977 to 1985 and from 1993 to 2001. They are now co-chairs of the National Coalition on Asia and International Studies in the Schools.
This article was originally published in Phi Delta Kappan (November 2004). Reprinted with permission.