Phi Beta Cons

Educational Citizens of the World

I think there is some overkill in the criticism of Obama’s “citizen of the world” remark, which was, after all, a figure of speech. It is a phrase with a lot of resonance.
Don’t we want students to absorb through their education the feeling that they are connected to something larger, that they are heirs to a rich heritage of culture that links their local experience to something beyond them? When I first went to Europe, I remember being so excited to see actual paintings with which I had become acquainted in grammar school through inexpensive, postcard-sized reproductions. This is the kind of felt knowledge that is absent from today’s reigning “diversity” curriculum, as well as from an arts education that has become almost entirely devoted to “creativity” and self-expression rather than to instilling some familiarity with the tradition of which the student is a part.
Also, the term is flexible and has a lot of positive connotations. The main character in Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, a man who grew up in the American Southwest, thinks upon first coming to Florence and exploring its treasures:

Anyone who reads, even one from the remote Southwest at the far end of an attenuated tradition, is to some extent a citizen of the world, and I had been a hungry reader all my life. I could not look up the Arno without feelings of recognition, as if, somewhere off downstream, the river drained into the Rio Grande. I knew names, books, some of the art. I was myself the product of ideas that had been formulated right here. 

Maybe Stegner is not using the term in the same sense as Obama, but I think Obama knows the difference between a sovereign country that protects the rights of its citizens and a world consciousness that is mainly the expression of good will.

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